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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Syrian missile buildup continues, Israel calls situation 'tense'

TEL AVIV Syria continues to deploy missiles supplied by Russia and has established an anti-aircraft umbrella around Damascus and the Golan Heights.

Israel's military has reported that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad deployed a range of surface-to-air missile assets in southern Syria. The military said the assets were purchased over the last year from Russia and financed by Iran.

"The situation is tense," a senior Israeli officer said.

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On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi met at the military's Northern Command headquarters near the Lebanese border. The three men, on the first anniversary of the conclusion of the 34-day war with Hizbullah, received briefings on Syrian military preparations.

"I don't think it is in Syria's interest to start a war," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said. "It is not in our interests to start war. This tension is unnecessary."

Military sources said Syria has been deploying short- and medium-range missiles and rockets in southern and central Syria. They said the Assad regime has been engaged in accelerated deployment of the Scud C and D missiles, with ranges of 550 and 700 kilometers, respectively.

"There are more than 100 mobile Syrian launchers in the Golan Heights," a source said. "This means that within an hour, they can fire at least 400 missiles into Israel."

The Syrian military has also accelerated training in commando and anti-tank weapons tactics. The sources said Syrian commando units have been receiving Russian-origin AT-14 Kornet anti-tank missiles.

The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that Syria has more than 200 anti-aircraft batteries in the south. The newspaper, quoting a senior military source, said Damascus has received the latest anti-aircraft weapons from Russian manufacturers in 2007.

The Syrian procurement included the Pantsir-S1 air defense system, also ordered by the United Arab Emirates. Damascus has also upgraded its SA-3 and SA-6 systems and plans to purchase the S-300.

The military sources said Iran plans to fund huge Syrian weapons purchases over the next year. The sources said Damascus has already ordered a large quantity of SAMs and anti-tank missiles, most of which have not been delivered.

"They will arrive over the next six to 12 months," a military source said.

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