Emergency call-ups deploy 5 extra battalions of Israeli reservists

DEBKAfile Intelligence

Sunday, October 19:

Amid rising military tensions with Syria, five battalions of Israeli reservists have taken up positions in embattled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

DEBKAfile military sources report the reservists were mobilized on emergency call-up orders issued ten days ago after a deadly Palestinian suicide attack in which 21 Israelis were murdered at a Haifa restaurant.

At the time, Yasser Arafat’s health was seen to be in sharp decline. The extra forces have been recruited to meet a potential surge of Palestinian violence in the face of their leadership crisis, whether in the form of escalating terrorist attacks or factional warfare. This uncertainty has also been accompanied by heightened Syrian combativeness.

Saturday, October 18, senior Israeli government spokesman Maj.-Gen Amos Gilead accused the Assad regime of fueling the flames of Palestinian terror for the past two years. He warned Syria that its failure to heed the message conveyed by the Israeli air force raid of a Palestinian Jihad Islami site 15 km from Damascus the day after the Haifa attack would cause Jerusalem to review its options and take appropriate action.

The decision to warn the Syrians off yet again came from prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz. It followed a fighting speech delivered by president Bashar Assad at the Islamic summit conference in Kuala Lumpur last week. Vowing he would not be deterred from backing Palestinian “freedom fighters”, he assured the conference that Syria and the Arabs would overcome Israel’s military might with brainpower.

General Gilead’s warning drew a swift response from Damascus. For the second time in a week, Syrian chief of staff Lt. Gen. Hassan Turkmeni ordered his troops to be on the highest alert and prepared for more Israeli military action.

DEBKAfile’s military sources interpret the war talk coming from the Syrian capital as indicating an imminent all-out effort to pump Syrian, Hizballah and al Qaeda combatants across the borders to scale up the level of Palestinian terrorist combat against Israeli targets - on the pattern of Damascus’s role in abetting the flow of pro-Saddam fighters infiltrating Iraq to fight US and allied forces.

The Assad regime’s overall objective is to bring about a sharp downturn in security in Israel to parallel the situation in Iraq.