Israeli authorities went out of their way on Thursday to calm fears of a regional war, even as military sources said they anticipated US-led intervention in Syria early next week..
“There is no need to change our routine at this time,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a YouTube video released Thursday (Hebrew link) of him speaking at the start of a meeting with defense officials at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. “Israel is prepared,” he said.
Responding to reports of heightened IDF mobilization, including the deployment of additional missile-defense batteries to the north, Netanyahu suggested the steps were taken as a precaution.
“Despite the low probability that Israel will become involved in what is happening in Syria, we decided to deploy the Iron Dome batteries and other interception systems,” he said.
Netanyahu, who was meeting with security chiefs in Tel Aviv late into Thursday, added: “We are not involved in the civil war in Syria, but let me reiterate, if someone tries to harm Israel’s citizens, the IDF will respond with immense power.”
IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz made similar comments Thursday night, telling Israelis they could go about their daily lives as usual, and that the army was “ready for any scenario.”
Some reports also surfaced Thursday that the IDF had frozen all leave for units deployed in the north, though other sources said there had only been a reduction in weekend leaves.
An IDF source told The Times of Israel he was not aware of any overarching ban on soldiers’ leave in the north, but added, “It is logical to assume that the army will not let most soldiers serving in the north go home.”
The source added that “no unusual measures have been taken by the army beyond a slight uptick in overall preparedness.”
Israeli military sources said that despite signs of hesitation from the US and UK, they anticipated US-led intervention in Syria — punitive action in the wake of last Wednesday’s alleged use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians — would take place early next week. The US-led action would not seek to oust President Bashar Assad but rather to underline that the use of chemical weapons was unacceptable, and to deter any further use.
The Israeli sources said they believed the US had the capacity to strike regime targets in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of an escalation that might embroil Israel. Several Syrian and Iranian officials have threatened that any attack on Syria would prompt retaliation against the Jewish state, though Assad himself has issued no such threat.
Israel’s Channel 2, which reported on Monday that families of key Assad regime figures were fleeing Syria, said Thursday that this exodus was swelling, and that along with those families that were flying out of the country, others were taking refuge in parts of Syria where Assad’s Alawite sect was strong.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Health Ministry issued instructions to the country’s hospitals and community clinics that emphasized they were to continue routine operations for the time being, but instructed that preparations be made for a possible upgrade to emergency footing.
“For now, we are under routine standing orders and there is no change in the level of readiness,” began a Health Ministry memo to hospitals publicized Thursday night.
“However,” the memo continued, “it is possible that we will be called into immediate action with little notice. Due to the possibility, however small, that we may find ourselves quickly shifting from routine to emergency [preparedness],” hospitals “should take a series of steps to ascertain and improve the organization’s readiness.”
These steps included preparing on-site bomb shelters, manpower lists for heightened around-the-clock operations and checks of emergency equipment.”