Officials in both Syria and Israel continued to state that unusual Syrian troop movements have not been occurring. Indications suggest that Syria has in fact been engaging in military posturing, however, as both countries probe each other while regional tensions escalate over Israeli plans for a new conflict with Hezbollah.
Israeli and Syrian military officials continue to deny that any unusual Syrian troop movements have been taking place since April 3. In a defense briefing, Israeli Military Intelligence officials added that Syria had not mobilized its reserve forces. STRATFOR sources earlier said three Syrian divisions had been sent to the Lebanese border near the western Bekaa Valley. Despite the denials, a number of indicators suggest Syria has indeed been engaged in some military posturing over the past couple days. According to a Lebanese military source with ties to the Syrian regime, the Syrians sent three divisions (two armored and one mechanized) along the Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli border. Two of the divisions were redeployed from the Golan Heights, where Syria maintains three forward divisions by the cease-fire line, to positions near the western Bekaa Valley. Though the Syrian military is not in stellar shape, these units tend to be somewhat more proficient than the rest of the regular army. Syria reportedly redeployed another armored division from Dira (near the Jordanian border) to positions near the western Bekaa Valley. The predominately offensive armored divisions are reportedly positioned behind the mechanized division. Our source indicates that Damascus is attempting to portray these tactics — in part through unit disposition — as a defensive posture. But the deployment of three divisions to the border is hardly defensive in nature — and it is unlikely Israel will read these as defensive moves. Though the Israelis are making a strong effort to deny that any such action is taking place, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's cancellation of his trip to Germany (citing "scheduling problems") the same day as the reports on the Syrian military buildup probably was not coincidental. Moreover, a Sudanese news agency cited Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem as saying April 4 that Syria is preparing for an Israeli attack and further contention with the United States, but has chosen peace as its strategic option. The same day, the daily Al Hayat reported that Syria and Israel were in back-channel discussions involving talk of a possible truce, as well as warnings from both sides against instigating a military confrontation. As STRATFOR has discussed, following the failure of the March 29-30 Arab League summit, Syria was expected to turn more aggressive. Damascus has closely eyed Israel's preparations for a military offensive against Hezbollah, a military organization in Lebanon. Syria wants to undermine Israeli confidence that the Syrians would remain on the sidelines of an Israeli-Hezbollah rematch. The Syrians are not delusional about their severe military disadvantage vis-a-vis the Israel Defense Forces and what would be an assured Syrian defeat if Damascus followed through with its threat to enter any Israeli-Hezbollah fight. Damascus also knows the Israelis would much rather have the Syrians stay out of the conflict and ensure the stability of the al Assad government. But by such military maneuvers, the Syrians hope to give Israel some pause in its planning, and open a back door for negotiations. The flurry of apparent diplomatic and military activity in the past two days suggests the Israelis and Syrians are trying to probe each other as regional tensions continue to escalate about whether Israeli plans a new conflict with Hezbollah. While neither side can be certain of the other's intentions, such military posturing is part and parcel of this diplomatic game.