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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Damascus Provokes War Jitters In Israel

JERUSALEM -- Syria has given Israel its worst case of war jitters since the bitter enemies began unfruitful peace talks five years ago.


While world attention has been focused on U.S.-Iraqi tension, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad has redeployed up to 12,000 troops in Lebanon, moving some within striking distance of a key Israeli position on the Golan Heights.


Israeli commentators said Tuesday he was sending a clear message to the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Talk peace seriously or risk the prospect of war.


"They are preparing an infrastructure for a military option, if their signals do not bear fruit and if the diplomatic process gets stuck," military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai told Army Radio.


Unlike the previous Labor-led government, Netanyahu opposes trading occupied Arab land for peace and says the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East, must remain under Israeli sovereignty.


Before it returns to peace talks broken off by Israel after Moslem suicide bombings in February and March, Syria wants an Israeli commitment to return all the strategic plateau.


None of Israel's top military analysts or leaders predicted any immediate outbreak of hostilities.


"I think it is hard for us to understand why this redeployment has taken place," said Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani. "It appears to me that it is partly aimed at getting the diplomatic process moving."


But Assad's decision to shift the troops -- a redeployment undertaken after Netanyahu visited south Lebanon last month and said Hezbollah guerrilla attacks against Israeli soldiers were "not good for Syria" -- put war on the public agenda in Israel.


"This movement of forces and tension that has continued already for more than two weeks are the first such developments since [the 1991 Madrid Middle East peace conference]," said Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's former chief negotiator with Syria.


Newspapers carried maps showing new Syrian positions after a government briefing for Israeli military correspondents.


If Assad is waging psychological warfare, he has managed to push all the right buttons.


According to the Israeli reports, Syria moved troops near scenes of past battles with Israel that left deep scars in the Jewish state. One brigade moved from north of Beirut to the Bekaa Valley, near the site of an Israeli-Syrian tank battle during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, reports said.


The reports also said special forces redeployed from Beirut to an area east of Mount Hermon. Syrian commandos captured Israel's outpost on the mountain at the start of the 1973 Middle East war. In subsequent fighting, Israel retook it at a heavy cost.