The Israeli army staged its largest snap exercise in recent years, deploying troops in the occupied Golan Heights as contingency planning for possible conflicts with Iran and Syria.
Source: Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem
Thousands of soldiers were summoned from their homes during the night after the Jewish new year holiday and flown to the territory, which Israel captured from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967.
The unannounced manoeuvres come a week before Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he is expected to give warning that time is running out to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Mr Netanyahu has engaged in increasingly bellicose rhetoric towardsIran in the past few weeks, raising fears that Israel could strike against its nuclear facilities unless the United States explicitly threatens military action of its own.
With many in the United States and Israel believing that military action cannot be delayed beyond next year, Israeli generals are visibly escalating efforts to ready the armed forces for conflict.
But speculation of an Israel attack over the next few weeks has faded in recent days and a military officials were quick to insist that the exercise was “part of a routine inspection” that “does not indicate any changes” in the country’s alert levels.
A similar snap exercise was held at the same last year, when speculation of an imminent Israeli strike against Iran was equally fevered.
Some in Israel’s defence establishment now consider it possible that the country is more likely to become entangled in Syria’s civil war before the eruption of any confrontation with Iran.
Senior intelligence and military commanders have given warning that Syria’s chemical weapon sites are becoming increasingly insecure, raising the possibility of its nerve agent stockpiles falling into the hands of radical Islamists if order in the country breaks down altogether.
They also fear that the Assad regime could supply Hizbollah, the Damascus-backed Shia Muslim militant group based in Lebanon, with chemical weapons in an act of desperation.
Suggesting that Syria could be the prime focus, yesterday’s manoeuvres appeared to simulate a cross-border attack on Syria.
However, an even larger Iran-oriented exercise was held along the Lebanese border a fortnight ago.
An Israeli attack on Iran could see Hizbollah, which is funded and armed by both Tehran and Damascus, retaliate by firing rockets onto Jewish territory.