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Israel prepares for reprisals as Syria strikes loom

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-28

Possible US-led military intervention against Syria has prompted fears in Israel of retaliatory attacks by the country’s regime and its allies, with Benjamin Netanyahu vowing Tuesday that Israel will “respond forcefully” to any aggression.

Israel has vowed to respond “forcefully” should Syria and its allies launch attacks on the country in retaliation to military action against the Bashar al-Assad-regime.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday that "the state of Israel is prepared for any scenario" and that “if we identify any attempt to attack us we will respond and we will respond forcefully".

Netanyahu's remarks were later echoed by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, who said the government was “hearing the threats aimed at Israel” coming from Syria.

"In the face of these threats we are acting in a level-headed and responsible manner, but also say in a clear and determined voice - whoever dares test us, will encounter the force of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces)," he said at a military ceremony in remarks carried on Israeli television.

Momentum has been building for Western military action against the regime of Syrian Bashar al-Assad since the purported use of chemical weapons in an attack on civilians on August 21.

US Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that “there is no doubt” the Assad government was behind the attack and that “those who use chemical weapons … should and must be held accountable”.

American forces in the region are “ready to go” should President Barack Obama give the order, according to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, while Britain and France have also moved to back the use of force against Syria.

Israel ‘will be set on fire’ if Syria attacked

The growing likelihood of military intervention has prompted concerns Syria and its allies including Iran and Hezbollah may seek to retaliate in the form of attacks on Israel.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency quoted a senior Syrian army source as saying Tuesday that any attack on Syria would result in an immediate attack on Tel Aviv by Damascus and its allies.

"If Damascus comes under attack, Tel Aviv will be targeted too and a full-scale war against Syria will actually issue a license for attacking Israel,"

"Rest assured that if Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire," the source added.

In a visible sign of growing apprehension among Israeli civilians, large crowds lined up at gas mask distribution centres across the country on Wednesday, with the population fearing Syria could turn its chemical weapons on Israel.

Maya Avishai of the Israeli postal service, which oversees gas mask distribution, told the AP news agency that demand has tripled in recent days and that about five million Israelis, roughly 60 percent of the population, now have gas masks.

Iran warns Israel of reprisals

Iran, Syria’s main ally in the region, also issued stark warnings Monday that an attack on Syria would trigger military action against Israel.

“The Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria," said Iranian MP and former ambassador to Syria Hossein Sheikholeslam, according to Fars.

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Wednesday that should the US intervene in Syria, the situation could spill out into a wider conflict across the region.

"The US intervention will be a disaster for the region," Khamenei told a meeting with the cabinet of President Hassan Rowhani, state television reported.

"The region is like a gunpowder depot. (Its) future cannot be predicted,” he added.

Israel steps up missile defence

Israel is also bracing for further rocket attacks from Hezbollah in the wake of any military strikes on Syria. The militant Shiite organisation is heavily involved in the Syrian civil war, with Hezbollah fighters joining Syrian regime forces in battles against Syrian rebels in recent months.

Israel says that Syrian ally Hezbollah has some 60,000 rockets and missiles aimed at it from neighbouring Lebanon.

As a precaution, the country has begun deploying its full range of missile defence systems, Reuters reported Wednesday.

In July 2006, Israel and Hezbollah fought a bloody 33-day war, during which the Lebanese-based organisation fired thousands of missiles over the border.

“Israel is prepared for the possibility of other players, such as Hezbollah, acting from Lebanon," Israeli public radio's veteran military affairs correspondent Carmela Menashe told the AFP news agency

However she added that the possibility of such an attack remains low “mainly because of opposition within Lebanon to Hezbollah's activity and its involvement in Syria”.

Date created : 2013-08-28

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