JERUSALEM – Syria has embarked on an “unprecedented” effort to bolster its armed forces with Iranian and Russian help, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Thursday.
Damascus has large numbers of surface-based missiles and long-range rockets, including the Scud-D, capable of reaching nearly any target in
Israel, the report said, and the Syrian navy has received new Iranian anti-ship missiles.
Haaretz also said Russia was about to sell Syria thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles, despite Israeli charges that in the past Syria has transferred those missiles to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Syrian officials did not immediately comment on the Israeli reports, but President Bashar Assad said in a television interview immediately after the fighting that Syria was preparing to defend itself.
Israeli defense officials confirmed that Syria had ordered new stocks of the anti-tank weapons after noting Hezbollah’s successful use of them against Israeli armor in last summer’s fighting in south Lebanon.
Syria also ordered new supplies of surface-to-sea missiles after Hezbollah used one to hit an Israeli warship, killing four crewmen, off the Lebanese coast last July, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The officials said Syrian ground forces adjacent to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights had been reinforced after the outbreak of last year’s Israel-Hezbollah conflict and had not yet fully returned to their prewar footing.
Israel and Syria are officially at war, though there have been no open hostilities between them for decades. Syria has demanded the return of the Golan, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed, as the price for any peace deal. Israel says it will not discuss a formal treaty with its northern neighbor as long as Damascus continues to back Hezbollah and the radical Islamic Hamas group.