For years the Israeli intelligence establishment operated, or at least thought it operated, a top agent in the heart of the Syrian establishment via the Mossad.
This agent, termed internally "The Acre Walls," provided real time information on what is deemed most important in strategic intelligence: Namely, what went on between the leader's right and left ears, and in this particular case inside Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's head. Eventually it became apparent that at least during part of the time he had operated there, if not the entire period, the information he had supplied was actually devised in the mind of his operator, Yehuda Gil.
Either way, now more than ever Israel needs this type of agent, who would not only provide technical information as to the deployment of forces, arms acquisition and upgrading of capabilities, but would know how to decipher the leader's intentions.
This is of course without ignoring the key lessons drawn from the Yom Kippur War, according to which even if there is certainty as to the full and reliable information regarding the leader's intentions, it should be disregarded the moment the enemy army has amassed enough forces and is prepared to embark on a war.
The current situation in the Syrian army does not resemble its state of preparedness prior to the Yom Kippur War. Far from it. If what the Syrian army is undergoing in recent months can be considered preparation for war, then the IDF's armament in the last decade, which is 20 times greater than that of the Syrians, can certainly be considered as such.
There is no dispute that the Syrian army is undergoing a basic change. The question pertains to the nature of this change and where Basher Assad is headed. The argument within the intelligence branch and the Mossad continues between those who see Syria's maneuvers as nothing more than reinforcing its defense capabilities, flexing of muscles and fear of a surprise attack by Israel, and those who believe that the Syrians are seriously weighing an attack.
The claim that Syria's training of forces is primarily of a defensive nature is countered by the argument that Damascus is substantially strengthening its commando units.
'Syria is not Hizbullah'
What further substantiates the fear of a Syrian attack is the steep rise over the past year in the number of shepherds, farmers and weirdoes claiming they "accidentally crossed" the border from Syria after being captured by IDF forces. Such a rise can only be attributed to a Syrian attempt to gather intelligence.
The Syrians played a crucial role in Hizbullah's performance during the last war and they are continuing to arm it even now. Despite this, some change is being detected recently. The Syrians are attempting to leverage the achievement in Lebanon to obtain other international gains; primarily to rid themselves of the imposed isolation. To this end, they wish to keep a low profile.
If the First Gulf War highlighted the gap in Israel's favor, the Second Lebanon War came along and created a different impression. It led to an overall shift in the Syrian army's armament. Moderate Arab states raised an eyebrow of disappointment in face of the IDF's capabilities. Syria watched our performance and was delighted.
According to Syria, the war was another indication of the process that began earlier on, where it is trying to bridge the tactical and operational gap vis-à-vis the IDF. This process includes large ammunition acquisitions and there are further deals in the making.
"The Syrians reveled in Hizbullah's achievements; perhaps they reveled too much," a senior source at the intelligence branch said recently in closed circles. "On the other hand, Assad understands that a Dahiya scenario could also occur in Damascus, and that we have a lot more targets to attack there. He understands that Israel did not strike at power and oil stations in Lebanon, and he is one of the last to attribute great capabilities to Israeli intelligence. In short, he realized that he is not Hizbullah. Hence, I believe that both evaluations are correct – he wants to free the Golan peacefully, but would also be prepared to do so by other means."