Despite US delay of Syria action, Israel remains on guard
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: IDF is stronger today than ever before • Israeli official: There is excellent coordination between the U.S. and Israel on Syria situation • Lebanese media report increase in Israeli overflights.
Lilach Shoval, Shlomo Cesana, Daniel Siryoti, Gideon Allon, Mati Tuchfeld and Israel Hayom Staff
An Iron Dome battery in the Tel Aviv area
Photo credit: KOKO
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz observes a drill on the Golan Heights on Friday
Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
U.S. military action in Syria may not be imminent, but Israel remains on alert, despite the fact that Israeli officials believe the chances of Syria retaliating against Israel for any U.S. action are very low.
"We must wait and see how things develop," defense officials said cautiously on Saturday after U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that he would seek congressional approval for military action.
"The Prime Minister's Office and Defense Ministry are satisfied," a senior Israeli official said. "Israel has a clear message that has been sent to the Syrians and Iranians, as well as to friends of Israel. The message is that Israel is not part of this fight, but any attack on it would prompt a severe response.
"There is excellent coordination between the U.S. and Israel. Government ministers are acting responsibly and not violating the dictate to refrain from commenting on the Syria issue."
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Israel is calm and has faith in itself. The citizens of Israel know well that we are prepared for any possible scenario and they should also know that our enemies have very good reasons to not test our strength and might. They know why."
On Friday, Netanyahu met with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, as well as other top military officials.
"Today, the IDF is stronger than ever," Netanyahu said in a Rosh Hashana toast. "I rely on you, we rely on you, and the people of Israel rely on you. I am certain that you are capable of carrying out any mission that we charge you with. We will see to it that the people of Israel have a good year."
Also on Friday, an Iron Dome anti-rocket battery was deployed in the Tel Aviv area. This comes after several Iron Dome batteries were deployed in northern Israel in recent days. Also, Patriot and Arrow missile defense systems have been put on alert.
In addition to defensive preparations, the IDF has also been readying plans for how it will respond if Israel is attacked.
The IDF said it was "prepared for any scenario." Over the weekend, several units within the Israel Air Force, Intelligence Corps and Homefront Command remained on high alert.
Lebanese media outlets reported over the weekend that the IDF had been bolstering its forces in the north. According to Lebanese reports, there has also been a noticeable rise in IAF flights over the region of Lebanon that borders Syria.
Meanwhile, a number of Israel politicians responded to Obama's speech on Saturday. Opposition Leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) praised Obama and said that Israel should trust him to weigh the moral and strategic components of taking on “a tyrannical regime that murders its own people."
Labor MK Nachman Shai said Obama "acted wisely" and noted that the delay of U.S. action had given Israel "a narrow window to speed up the production and distribution of gas masks, to fill readiness gaps and prepare the civilian population for any possible scenario as best we can."
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi), on the other hand, had a negative view of Obama's speech.
"In Tehran, they're opening champagne and definitely shifting up a gear on the road to nuclear weapons," Ariel wrote on his Facebook page. "Anyone who thinks this president will attack Iran based solely on evidence that the Iranians have crossed the red line toward nuclear weapons is probably hallucinating."
Habayit Hayehudi MK Yoni Chetboun said, "It's impossible to get rid of a chronic disease with paracetamol. It's important to understand that without a surgical ground operation, the [chemical weapons] will remain in insane hands."
On potential Israeli involvement in the Syrian conflict, Chetboun said, "As a people who went through the Holocaust, we know better than anyone how cruel the silence of the world is. However, Israel's current interest is to not get involved in the swamp of the Syrian quagmire."