Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Israel Bolsters Air Defenses Amid Talk of US Strike on Syria - San Francisco Chronicle

(Updates with confirmed reinforcement of defenses in first paragraph, Ya'alon comment in fifth, gas masks in seventh.)

Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Israel's military bolstered its defenses near the northern border and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against any retaliatory attack on his country, amid signs the U.S. is preparing to strike Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

With talk of war escalating, the prime minister sought to reassure Israelis they were in safe hands. "There is no reason not to follow routine," Netanyahu said in an e-mailed statement today. "At the same time, we are preparing for any scenario. The Israeli military is ready to protect the people of Israel and to respond forcefully against any threat."

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the government approved a "limited" reserves callup, primarily personnel from the air force, military intelligence and home front units. "Right now we are only calling up a few hundred, but have approval for more if needed. We are also deploying air defenses as needed," Lerner said, without elaborating.

The army deployed a second Iron Dome missile defense system outside the city of Haifa and put an Arrow missile defense battery on alert for medium-range weapons including the Shihab missile developed by Iran, the Ynet news site reported, without saying where it got the information.

'No Panic'

"We are getting ready and are prepared, but there is no panic, no escalation, and things are being done judiciously." Israeli Defense Moshe Ya'alon said today at a Tel Aviv conference. "Our fingers are not on the trigger, but those who assume they can threaten us will encounter our might."

Both Syria and Lebanon, home to the Hezbollah militia backing the Syrian government in its war against rebels, lie to Israel's north.

Demand among Israelis for government-supplied gas masks has risen sharply this week, said Fiona Shai, deputy spokeswoman for the Postal Service, which is distributing the masks at its branches. The government is having trouble meeting the demand, said Shas lawmaker Eli Yishai, who chairs a parliamentary subcommittee on home front defense.

"We won't be able to supply enough if, God forbid, something happens," Yishai said on Army Radio. "We need a bigger budget."

According to some Syrian opposition groups, 1,300 people died in an Aug. 21 chemical attack in the Ghouta area outside Damascus. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the alleged assault as a "cowardly crime" requiring a response.

Foreign Intervention

It would be the first foreign military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since fighting broke out more than two years ago, claiming more than 100,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates.

Iranian officials have said any Western attack on ally Syria could result in reprisals targeting Israel. During the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at the Jewish state after the U.S. attacked Iraq for invading Kuwait.

In recent years, Syria has avoided engaging the Israeli military even when it was suspected of direct attacks on Syrian targets, including a reported nuclear site in 2007 and arms convoys and facilities this year.

--With assistance from Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem. Editors: Amy Teibel, Karl Maier

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at
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