Israel not looking for Syria fight, but still getting ready
by Mehdi Lebouachera
Sat Jul 29, 2:55 PM ET
Israel insists it is not looking for a fight with Syria, but is still taking precautions it becomes embroiled in a war with the neighbor it accuses of sponsoring Hezbollah.
"We have said on numerous occasions that we have no intention of an offensive toward Syria," Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Friday, after Israel mobilized more reservists for its onslaught against Hezbollah.
"We are doing all so that the situation on the front with Syria remains unchanged, and we are sending the message with the hope that it will be heard," he said.
"We hope that Hezbollah does not drag Damascus into the conflict."
**I wonder what pretext Israel will use this time?**
**how could they not be with Israel right on the border?**
But Israel is also sending another message to Syria that says "if pushed we will hit you hard."
"If necessary we will use all the force necessary to defend Israel and complete our campaign," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday. "The Syrians know we are on alert."
A senior official quoted Friday by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper said that "nobody can close his eyes to what's going on on the Syrian side."
More than 420 people, mostly civilians, have died in Lebanon since Israel launched its massive offensive after Shiite militants of Hezbollah captured two soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid on July 12.
A total of 51 Israelis have also died in cross-border fighting, the majority of them soldiers.
Professor Eyal Zisser, a Tel Aviv University expert on Syria and Hezbollah, said he thought a wider war was unlikely. But he warned that blunders on either side could be very dangerous.
"Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad isn't as smart as his father and he could make a mistake. As could Israel," he said. "Either party could misinterpret the actions of the other side."
It was in neither side's interest to provoke a wider regional war, Zisser added -- "especially Syria, which doesn't want to be completely destroyed like Lebanon."
The Israeli press appeared more worried.
"This week the (Israeli) army attacked convoys (of arms) as soon as they entered Lebanon (from Syria)," wrote an editorialist in the Maariv daily. "The next time, that might happen five minutes earlier, in Syrian territory. Then it's only one step to war."
An editorial in Yediot Aharonot was even more alarmist.
"We are starting a week with much diplomatic hope but with the possibility of a deterioration of the military situation of a magnitude that the region has not known in a long time," it said.