The Times (UK): Israel plans for war with Iran and Syria


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,2089-2340486,00.html

The Sunday Times
September 03, 2006

Israel plans for war with Iran and Syria
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv, and Sarah Baxter, New York

THREATENED by a potentially nuclear-armed Tehran, Israel is preparing for a 
possible war with both Iran and Syria, according to Israeli political and 
military sources.

The conflict with Hezbollah has led to a strategic rethink in Israel. A key 
conclusion is that too much attention has been paid to Palestinian militants in 
Gaza and the West Bank instead of the two biggest state sponsors of terrorism in
the region, who pose a far greater danger to Israel¹s existence, defence 
insiders say.

³The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defence agenda, 
higher than the Palestinian one,² said an Israeli defence source. Shortly before
the war in Lebanon Major-General Eliezer Shkedi, the commander of the air force,
was placed in charge of the ³Iranian front², a new position in the Israeli 
Defence Forces. His job will be to command any future strikes on Iran and Syria.

The Israeli defence establishment believes that Iran¹s pursuit of a nuclear 
programme means war is likely to become unavoidable.

³In the past we prepared for a possible military strike against Iran¹s nuclear 
facilities,² said one insider, ³but Iran¹s growing confidence after the war in 
Lebanon means we have to prepare for a full-scale war, in which Syria will be an
important player.²

A new infantry brigade has been formed named Kfir (lion cub), which will be the 
largest in the Israeli army. ³It is a partial solution for the challenge of the 
Syrian commando brigades, which are considered better than Hezbollah¹s,² a 
military source said.

There has been grave concern in Israel over a military pact signed in Tehran on 
June 15 between Iran and Syria, which the Iranian defence minister described as 
a ³mutual front against Israeli threats². Israel has not had to fight against 
more than one army since 1973.

During the war in Lebanon, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, the Iranian founder of 
Hezbollah, warned: ³If the Americans attack Iran, Iran will attack Tel Aviv with

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, both 
Iran and Syria have ballistic missiles that can cover most of Israel, including 
Tel Aviv. An emergency budget has now been assigned to building modern shelters.

³The ineptness of the Israeli Defence Forces against Hezbollah has raised the 
Iranians¹ confidence,² said a leading defence analyst.

In Washington, the military hawks believe that an airstrike against Iranian 
nuclear bunkers remains a more straightforward, if risky, operation than chasing
Hezbollah fighters and their mobile rocket launchers in Lebanon.

³Fixed targets are hopelessly vulnerable to precision bombing, and with stealth 
bombers even a robust air defence system doesn¹t make much difference,² said 
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative.

The option of an eventual attack remains on the table after President George 
Bush warned on Friday that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

While the American State Department favours engaging with President Bashar Assad
of Syria in the hope of detaching him from the Iranian alliance, hawks believe 
Israel missed a golden opportunity to strike at Syria during the Hezbollah 

³If they had acted against Syria during this last kerfuffle, the war might have 
ended more quickly and better,² Perle added. ³Syrian military installations are 
sitting ducks and the Syrian air force could have been destroyed on the ground 
in a couple of days.² Assad set off alarm bells in Israel when he said during 
the war in Lebanon: ³If we do not obtain the occupied Golan Heights by peaceful 
means, the resistance option is there.²

During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Syrian army briefly captured the Israeli 
strategic post on top of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights.

Some Israeli analysts believe Syria will try again to take this post, which 
overlooks the Syrian capital, Damascus.

As a result of the change in the defence priorities, the budget for the Israeli 
forces in the West Bank and Gaza is to be reduced.

The Israelis are integrating three elite brigades that performed well during the
Lebanon war under one headquarters, so they can work together on deep 
cross-border operations in Iran and Syria.

Advocates of political engagement believe a war with Syria could unleash Islamic
fundamentalist terror in what has hitherto been a stable dictatorship. Some 
voices in the Pentagon are not impressed by that argument.

³If Syria spirals into chaos, at least they¹ll be taking on each other rather 
than heading for Jerusalem,² said one insider.

Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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