In a secret message relayed to Jerusalem, Syria warned the Israeli government that should it continue to reject Damascus’ peace overtures, a war of attrition may break out in the Golan Heights, according to a report published Thursday.
Yedioth Ahronot has learned that in recent days Israel received reports of increased Syrian presence on its side of the Golan Heights in preparation for a possible war.
During the past year the Syrian government has encouraged its citizens to settle in the Syrian side of the Golan Heights; Israel has recently learned that many of those who have made the Golan their new home were officers in active or reserve army duty who had lost their jobs following Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005.
Should a military conflict erupt in the region, these officers are expected to spearhead acts of attrition against Israel.
'Syria unpleasantly surprised'
For dozens of years Syrians wishing to visit the Golan Heights were required to apply for special entry permits, but in recent months citizens have been allowed to pass freely to the city of Quneitra and other towns in the region.
In addition, soldiers enlisted in Syria’s reserve units have been forbidden to leave the country to ensure that they could be called up quickly in the event of a military confrontation with Israel.
Such a confrontation would divert global attention from the international tribunal investigating Damascus’ responsibility for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
“Syria has an answer in case Israel attacks its cities,” a senior official in Damascus said recently, adding the President Bashar Assad’s regime was “unpleasantly surprised” by the messages relayed by the Israeli government in the past few days, according to which it refuses to return to the negotiating table.
On Wednesday Assad said Syria was “determined to retrieve every grain of land in the Golan Heights. We are stronger than we have been in the past. Syria will not succumb to pressure or be deterred by threats.”
However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem stated that Syria would be willing to take part in a US-sponsored peace conference, saying "Syria will support and participate in any international conference for peace. The objectives, participants and grounds for such an initiative must be made clear.
According to a recent poll sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow, an American bipartisan organization that seeks to erode support for international terrorism, 51% of Syrians favor a peace treaty with Israel if it withdraws from the Golan Heights and recognizes Syrian sovereignty there.
AP contributed to this report