By Ron Bousso for AFP:
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Syria has positioned on its border with Israel thousands of medium and long-range rockets capable of striking major towns across northern Israel, military and government sources told AFP.
This deployment, coupled with other recent reports of Syrian troop mobilisation, is seen in Israel as an indication that Damascus may be preparing for future “low intensity warfare,” they said.
What is described below begs the definition of “low intensity.” Additionally, while supposedly applying lessons learned from last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria cannot rule out a high-intensity response by Israel to a “low intensity” lobbing of rockets. Nor can it, as a sovereign state, expect a similarly restrained reaction from Israel as was the case with Hizballah, which is not entirely one and the same with the Lebanese government. Then, this deployment of rockets seems either like a strategic miscalculation, or likely a piece of a larger puzzle, always with the suspicion of Iran pulling the puppet-strings.
The report comes only two weeks after Israel held war games on the occupied Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, in a bid to learn the lessons of last summer’s conflict in neighbouring south Lebanon.
The Syrian army accelerated its deployment of medium and long-range rockets in the wake of the Lebanon war, during which the Hezbollah militia fired moe than 4,000 rockets against northern Israel.
“We have noticed that in recent months Syria has deployed hundreds, possibly thousands, of medium and long-range rockets along the border (with Israel),” one military source said.
“Many of the rockets are hidden in underground chambers and in camouflaged silos, which make them very difficult to locate,” the source said.
Three of the sources were from the military and two from the government, and they all spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity. They said Syria has built a system of fortified underground tunnels along its border with Israel.
Most of the rockets deployed are 220 millimetre, with a range of 70 kilometres (43 miles), and 302 millimetre rockets capable of striking targets at a distance of more than 100 kilometres (56 miles).
The latter would be well within range of the main population centres in northern Israel such as Tiberias and Kiryat Shmona.
These long-range rockets could also reach Israel’s third largest city of Haifa and its industrial zone, which is home to several essential industries, including oil refineries and a deep-water port.
It is also believed that Syria has deployed several FROG rocket launchers, with a a 550-kilogram (1,200-pound) warhead and 70-kilometre range, in areas between the border and the capital Damascus, 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.
According to the sources, such a massive deployment of well entrenched rockets poses “a real strategic threat” to Israel.
While Syria concentrates most of its long-range surface-to-surface missile arsenal in the north of the country, its decision to deploy rockets so close to the border may indicate that Syria is mulling an attack on Israel, experts say.
“Syrian President Bashar al-Assad realised after the Lebanon war that Israel was not as strong as it seems and that it could be threatened by simple means rather than an advanced army,” the director of the Begin-Saadat Centre for Strategic Studies, Ephraim Inbar, told AFP.
Inbar, as well as the military sources, believe that “Assad could be preparing for low intensity war, a type of war of attrition with Israel, where Syria fires several rockets against Israel without provoking full-fledged war.”
“Israel has absolute superiority in several fields in warfare,” a senior government official said, referring mainly to Israel’s advanced air force and “smart” weapons.
“So Syria is investing in fields where it can have an edge. It has invested in recent years in anti-aircraft weapons, rockets, missiles and bunkers. The war in Lebanon proved to the Syrians they were right to do so.”