As U.S. talk of attack escalates, Israel builds up its defense

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The Israeli Cabinet on Aug. 28 authorized the Israel Defense Forces to call up a limited number of reserve soldiers ahead of a possible U.S.-led attack on Syria feared to occur as soon as the following day.

“We’ve been given a mandate to recruit thousands of reservists, but we will recruit only up to 1,000 to vital arrays in the air force, Home Front Command and IDF intelligence,” a senior IDF official said. “We’ve instructed the relevant units not to allow soldiers to go on leave [Aug. 29].”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Syrian President Bashar Assad will most likely not order his forces to attack Israel in response to any military operation against his regime.

Israelis pick up gas masks at a distribution center in Tel Aviv on Aug. 26. photo/jta-getty images-uriel sinai

“Our borders are stable despite momentary anomalies. Our responses clarify our red lines and are based on deterrence. This is why our borders are quiet and the situation in the territories and Sinai is calm,” Ya’alon told an economic conference in Tel Aviv on Aug. 28.

However, Syrian and Iranian officials have said that if the United States attacks Syria, Israel will come under attack by the two countries and other allies in the Middle East.

“No military attack will be waged against Syria,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a member of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly, according to the Times of Israel. “Yet if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”

In a radio interview, senior Baath party official in Syria Khalaf Muftah said Damascus would consider Israel as being behind any military strike on Syria and would respond with “strategic weapons” in strikes on Israel, according to the Times of Israel.

An Israeli soldier near an Iron Dome rocket interceptor battery deployed near Haifa on Aug. 28 photo/ap-tsafrir abayov

Israel’s security cabinet has been meeting daily this week to consider its options, and a high-level meeting between Israeli and U.S. defense officials took place Aug. 26 in Washington. Meanwhile, the IDF has deployed another Iron Dome missile defense battery in northern Israel in addition to the one already deployed in the Haifa area. The army may place another battery in central Israel, and the Israel Air Force may also deploy Patriot batteries in the Galilee region.

Israelis have been visiting post offices throughout the country to pick up their atomic biological chemical protective kits, or ABC kits, over fears of a chemical weapons attack from Syria or Iran, according to reports in the Israeli media.

Some 60 percent of Israelis possess gas masks. To equip the remaining citizens, a budget allocation of $362 million is necessary for 2014, according to reports.

“Striking Israel is inevitable,” said Eyal, who was waiting in line for over an hour at a Tel Aviv distribution site. “If the U.S. attacks, they will definitely fire at us.”

“I’d like to stay optimistic,” said Hadas from Tel Aviv, who arrived with her 3-year-old son. “They say war is upon us and I’ll do everything I can to keep my children safe.”

Senior U.S. officials told NBC News the U.S. could hit Syria with three days of missile strikes, perhaps beginning Aug. 29, in an attack meant more to send a message to  Assad than to topple him or cripple his military.

“The Syrians crossed a red line set by the Americans — the use of chemical weapons. These are horrific scenes, but the matter is being dealt with by the West and the U.S., not us,” Ya’alon said. “We are prepared, but there is no panic or escalation. Our [finger] is not light on the trigger, but anyone who assumes he can threaten us will be met by our force.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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