Tue, Jan 08, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Israel plans Syrian border fence, citing security fears

BAD NEIGHBOR:Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election later this month, said the fence was a measure to protect against jihadist forces fighting in Syria

NY Times News Service, JERUSALEM

Israel on Sunday announced that it was constructing a border fence along the length of its armistice line with Syria in the Golan Heights and was coordinating its intelligence with the US in light of the deteriorating security situation in Syria.

In remarks at the start of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Syrian army had moved away from the frontier and jihadist forces had moved in.

“Therefore, we will defend this border against both infiltration and terrorism,” Netanyahu said, adding, “I also submit to the Cabinet the fact that the Syrian regime is very unstable, that the question of chemical weapons here worries us.”

He said that Israel was coordinating with the US and others “so that we might be prepared for any scenario and possibility that could arise.”

Netanyahu’s announcement came as he sought to reinforce his security credentials as a strong leader ahead of national elections on Jan. 22 and as he appealed to his traditional supporters to cast their ballots for the conservative Likud Party-Beiteinu Party ticket he is leading and not be lulled by polls showing that he is favored to prevail.

“Whoever wants me as a strong prime minister cannot have a strong prime minister while weakening me,” Netanyahu told Israel Radio in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

Political polls in recent weeks have consistently shown that Likud-Beiteinu is bleeding votes to the Jewish Home, a far-right party led by Naftalie Bennett, a dynamic newcomer to national politics who is a former Netanyahu aide, settler leader and technology entrepreneur.

Netanyahu also warned of possible efforts by centrist and leftist parties to create a united bloc aimed at thwarting his chances of forming the next coalition government.

Last week, in a pre-election move intended to highlight one of his government’s achievements, the prime minister toured the new security fence that runs almost the entire length of Israel’s border with Egypt. Accompanied by a group of Israeli journalists, Netanyahu said that the barrier had sharply stemmed the flow of African migrants into Israel and had provided more protection against militant groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Netanyahu has pledged to erect a similar barrier along the Syrian frontier, with changes to suit the topography. A section of an old and rickety border fence near the Golan Druze village of Majdal Shams has already been fortified with a steel barrier after protesters — most of them Palestinians — breached the frontier in 2011, drawing deadly fire from Israeli soldiers.

Israel seized a large portion of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that overlooks northern Israel, from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move that has not been internationally recognized. The ceasefire line was established in the aftermath of the 1973 conflict and though Israel and Syria are still technically at war, it has remained mostly quiet for decades.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria, but apprehension has been mounting, with Israeli experts warning that Syria is becoming a haven for Islamic extremists. Israel says that thousands of Islamic militants have entered Syria to fight against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli leaders have expressed particular concern that chemical weapons and advanced weaponry, like ground-to-air missiles, amassed by the al-Assad regime could fall into the hands of radical groups.

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