The Israeli army has decided that war with Syria is unlikely and is rotating forces out of the contested Golan Heights after months of cross-border tension, security officials say.
The decision by Israel’s military followed months of growing tensions along the frontier and concerns that the escalation could result in war. Over the summer, media reports of impending war alternated with announcements by Syrian and Israeli leaders that they had no interest in hostilities.
The Israeli officials said Syria’s military has now reduced its war readiness, but offered no details because the exact steps taken by the Syrians are classified. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the information to the press.
Israeli forces scheduled to hold maneuvers on the Golan Heights would now be moved away from the border to the country’s south to further reduce friction, the officials said, and the army’s war-readiness status on the Israel-Syria border is now considered over.
In Israel, speculation that Syria might initiate a war on the Golan was rooted in concerns Syria had been emboldened by the performance of Lebanese guerrillas in their conflict with Israel last summer.
The Lebanese Hezbollah militia, a Syrian proxy, ignited the war by attacking an Israeli border patrol, killing three soldiers and capturing two others. It managed to survive a monthlong Israeli offensive during which it bombarded Israeli towns with thousands of rockets.
Israel captured the strategic heights in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed them. Israel and Syria haven’t fought a war on the Golan since 1973.
Syria demands that Israel return the heights in return for peace, but negotiations between the sides last broke down in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal.