Israel dismisses "tensions" following Syrian reserve call-up

Apr 3, 2008, 11:52 GMT

Tel Aviv - Israel said Thursday neither it nor Syria were planning a war this summer, responding to a newspaper report that Damascus had called up three reserve divisions.

Israeli government and military officials unanimously rejected speculations that Syria was preparing for an offensive against Israel, and said Israel was not preparing one either.

They were responding to a report in the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi daily of Wednesday.

'Syria isn't interested in attacking Israel, and vice versa,' Amos Gilad, the head of the Israeli Defence Ministry's security bureau, told Israel Radio.

'Israel has no intention of attacking Syria,' Israeli Deputy Premier Haim Ramon also told the radio, adding the 'anxiety' sparked by the report had 'no basis.'

Israel's Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel was dismissive too, saying 'I see no reason at all for unusual tension in the North and I do not think that any side is interested in a military confrontation.'

Major-General Harel, speaking to reporters Wednesday, nevertheless did note that 'Anyone who tries to harm Israel needs to keep in mind that Israel is the most powerful country in the region and its response will be hard and painful.'

Lending his voice to the reassuring messages, Israeli President Shimon Peres told reporters in the southern Israeli town of Arad Thursday that Israel had publicly declared it had no intention of attacking Syria, which in turn had made similar statements.

Peres said the media reports had caused 'artificial tension,' which would pass.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak nevertheless cancelled a trip to Germany scheduled for next week, Israeli media reported, apparently to follow up on the situation along Israel's northern - as well as its southern border with the Gaza Strip.

Israel defence officials say the report that Syria called up three reserve divisions is 'incorrect,' but confirmed Damascus did call up some reserve troops. Israel estimates the measure is primarily a precaution, preparing for a scenario under which Hezbollah would revenge the assassination, allegedly by Israeli agents, of its top military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus on February 12, and Israel would respond, sparking a regional war.

A 40-day mourning period since Mughniyeh's death ended Sunday last week, and Israel has stepped up security at its representations abroad. Israel has denied involvement in the assassination, but Hezbollah has blamed it.

Mughniyeh had been implicated in the 1983 bombings of the US embassy and peacekeeping forces in Beirut, the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners in Lebanon in the 1980s. He was wanted by Israel for years, but also by a host of other countries, including the US, Argentina and other European and also Arab states.