Israel Holds Major Drill as Syrian Situation Worsens
    2012-09-19 18:37:30     Xinhua       Web Editor: haipeng

Israeli Air Force and army's northern and central command ground units on Wednesday held a major day-long drill on the Golan Heights.

As a part of the drill, reserve troops residing in the center of the country received telephone alerts to immediately join their units in order to be flown north for the drill, Army radio reported.

Overnight, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz announced the start of the comprehensive preparation and readiness drill, the army spokesman's office told Xinhua in a statement.

The maneuver, which was to include airlifting and deploying large forces to the area and offensive fire, was planned ahead of time and did not reflect current tensions with Syria over its bloody civil war, army sources told Israeli media.

However, an army source told the Haaretz daily that a similar drill last year deploying two divisions was "more than a coincidence," in light of Israeli concerns that the government in Damascus could attack Israel, in an attempt to divert attention away from fierce battles between government and rebel forces.

Additionally, the Syrian army last month tested preparing chemical weapons for use against rebel forces, according to a defected Syrian senior officer who was in charge of the army's stockpiles -- considered the third-largest in the world, Army radio reported Wednesday.

Israeli officials have hinted that they would take action to foil any such use of the internationally banned weaponry, and U.S. President Barack Obama has called any such transfer a "red line."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime also planned to hand some of the stocks over to Lebanon-based Hezbollah, adding to Israeli concerns of such use sparking a large-scale conflagration, Maj.-Gen. Adnan Sillu told the Times of London.

Wednesday's drill comes only a week after the IDF held an even larger, multi-day maneuver, in the adjoining Galilee region facing the Lebanese border.

This and last year's drill were held mere days before the onset of the 24-hour Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) fast, when the Jewish state comes to a near standstill.

Israel has traditionally been on increased alert during the solemn fast day ever since it fought back from a near-catastrophic two-front attack by the Syrian and Egyptian militaries on Yom Kippur in 1973.

Israel Defense Forces Chief Artillery Officer Brig.-Gen. Roei Riftin is in charge of the drill, the spokesman said, noting that it was part of ongoing readiness preparations throughout the year.

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