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Israel Plans Attack To Create And  Occupy 10 Mile "Buffer Zone" Inside Syria

A 10-mile strip filled with troops and tanks is being considered to fend off Islamists should Assad fall, writes Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv

By Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv

February 04, 2013 "
The Times" -- February 03, 2013 - ISRAEL is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to 10 miles inside Syria to protect itself from fundamentalist rebels on the other side of the border.

The proposal, which has been drawn up by the military and presented to Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, is intended to secure the 47-mile border against a growing Islamist threat if President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime loses control of the area.

The buffer would be modelled on the Lebanese security zone, in which the Israeli defence forces patrolled jointly with the South Lebanon army, a militia, up to 16 miles inside Lebanon from 1985 to 2000.

“We’ve presented the prime minister with a comprehensive plan to defend Israel’s border after, or perhaps before, the fall of Assad’s regime,” said a source close to the military planners.

“A buffer zone set up with the co-operation of local villagers lies at the heart of the plan. If the country remains unstable we might have to stay there for years.”

In recent months jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front, which Washington regards as a terrorist organisation linked to al-Qaeda, are reported to have infiltrated several border villages. Two of the villages, Breika and Bir Ajam, are less than a mile from the Israeli border.

Netanyahu, who visited Israeli outposts overlooking the rebel villages last month, watched construction workers erect a 20ft steel wall along the border to replace a rickety fence.

“The old fence was fine for more than 40 years,” said the military source. “We knew then that there was a strongman in Damascus. But not any more. The new wall will be good when it’s ready but without the buffer zone mortar and rocket attacks on Israel would be a daily event.”

The plan envisages two Israeli infantry brigades and a tank battalion being based at outposts in Syrian territory. The current border, which is not internationally recognised, was redrawn after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

According to defence sources, Israeli intelligence is now devoting all available resources to Syria as pressure on the regime increases and fears mount that its neighbour could be plunged into anarchy.

Israeli airstrikes carried out last week, including one on a convoy believed to be carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles near Jamarya, northwest of the capital, Damascus, will not be the last, the sources warned.

Time magazine, citing western defence officials, reported yesterday that among the targets hit had been the Scientific Studies and Research Centre in Jamarya. which has been described as a biological and chemical weapons research facility.

Last night Syrian state television showed the first footage of the damage. To the accompaniment of sombre music, its cameras panned across burnt-out lorries, buses and cars on a tree-lined road with houses close by.

A separate sequence showed an office where chairs were covered by fragments of glass from a shattered window.

The gravity of Israel’s concern about the convoy and the research site was underlined by reports that officials briefed not only America but also the Kremlin before the attack.

Major-General Aviv Kokhavi, the head of Israeli military intelligence, visited Washington shortly before the raid and talked to colleagues in the Pentagon and CIA. At the same time Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu’s head of national security, visited Moscow to brief Russian officials, who are among Assad’s closest allies.

No mention was made of a specific target but the Russians were warned that Israel would not tolerate any Russian weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah.

Until now, Israel has been careful not to interfere directly in the Syrian conflict. But there are increasing fears that Iran is attempting to retain its influence in the country in the event that Assad falls.

The Sunday Times has learnt that a heavily fortified Iranian signal intelligence facility near Dara’a, about seven miles from the Israeli border, is among the Israelis’ future targets.

“The Iranians are still major players in Syria,” said the military source. “They’ve a defence pact with Assad and for the past two years they’ve been trying to help him. But they know he’s doomed and want to win as much lasting influence as possible before he goes.”

The Iranian monitoring station is just 10 miles from a similar Israeli facility in Har Avital.

“We know they are monitoring our army communication, gathering intelligence and trying to log into our military computers,” said the source. “This is a serious problem for our forces.”

There is growing awareness in the Israeli military that the collapse of the Syrian regime could suck the Jewish state into a long-term commitment in Syria.

“Israel will miss the Assads,” said a veteran intelligence source. In a reference to the mountain range that divides Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights he added: “The Assads, father and son, were very nasty people. But with them, we knew that a promise was a promise, and an agreement was solid as the boulders of Mount Hermon.”

© Times Newspapers Ltd 2012

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