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IDF Begins 'Extensive' Military Drills in Golan Heights Amid Heightened Tensions With Syria

The drills come as Turkey, Iran and Russia try to end the fighting in neighboring Syria

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The Israeli Defense Forces began "extensive" military drills in the Golan Heights on Sunday. The exercises are expected to last one week, according to Israeli military officials. 

The Times of Israel reports:

The exercises in the Golan Heights come at a time of increased tension with Syria, following several reported Israeli strikes on targets in Syria and a Syrian attempt to shoot down an Israeli warplane.

On Saturday a Lebanese paper reported that Syria had sent Israel a message via Russia, warning that it would fire Scud missiles at Israel in the event of further Israeli airstrikes.

Israel has said it would continue to act against attempts by Iran to send advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria.

However, the IDF insists that "the drills were planned in advance as part of the army’s 2017 schedule, and that the exercises are intended to maintain the army’s preparedness."

We've heard this before, though. From September, 2012:

The Israeli Defense Force has begun surprise live-fire war games on the Golan Heights, bordering unstable Lebanon and Syria. Officially, the Israeli military is practicing combat readiness to repel possible sudden attack from Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

The IDF insists the drill is a routine scheduled event, but for unknown reasons withheld from making public how many troops and what military vehicles are being involved in the war games.

<figcaption>The Israeli military claims the drills were planned in advance</figcaption>
The Israeli military claims the drills were planned in advance

But Israel Radio’s military affairs correspondent who is in regular contact with senior officers, said on air that the timing of the exercise was “not mere coincidence.”

What was coincidental about the drills? RT explains:

The IDF has expressed concerns several times that the situation in neighboring Syria, where a civil war is in full swing, might get out of hand. 

And things are still looking like they could still "get out of hand".

Israel's ambassador was summoned by Moscow earlier this month after Israeli airstrikes targeted "Hezbollah weapon shipments". Damascus says that the airstrikes aided Islamic State near Palmyra. 

Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Jaafari later claimed that Syria's use of anti-aircraft missiles against Israeli fighter jets was a "message" from Putin.

However, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the exact opposite; according to Netanyahu, Putin understands that "if there is a feasibility from an intelligence and military standpoint - [Israel will] attack [targets in Syria]".

The IDF drills in the Golan Heights certainly come at an interesting time: "Addressing the flurry of Israeli attacks against Syria in recent days, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says he believes Israel is deliberately trying to help ISIS in an effort to prevent ISIS from suffering outright defeat in Syria amid growing pressure."

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