Israel preparing for `large scale war` in Middle East: Wikileaks

Israeli Army chief is quoted to have said that he was preparing for a large war in the Middle East.

Updated: Jan 03, 2011, 00:39 AM IST

Oslo: Israel`s army chief told a US Congress
delegation in late 2009 he was preparing for a large war in
the Middle East, probably against Hamas or Hezbollah, leaked
US diplomatic cables showed Sunday.

"I am preparing the Israeli army for a large scale war,
since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than
to do the opposite," Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi was
quoted as saying in a cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

The document, dated November 15, 2009, was quoted today
in Norwegian by Oslo-based daily Aftenposten, which said it
had obtained WikiLeaks` entire cache of 251,187 leaked US
embassy cables.

"The rocket threat against Israel is more serious than
ever. That is why Israel is putting such emphasis on rocket
defence," Ashkenazi told the US delegation led by Democrat Ike
Skelton, the cable showed.

The army chief lamented that Iran has some 300 Shihab
rockets that can reach Israel and stressed that the Jewish
state would have only between 10 and 12 minutes warning in
case of an attack.

However, it was Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon
that posed the most acute threat, he cautioned.

According to the quoted cable, Hezbollah is thought to
have more than 40,000 rockets, many of which are believed
capable of reaching deep into Israel.

US officials meanwhile reportedly estimate the militant
group has acquired an arsenal of around 50,000 rockets.

A 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel killed 1,200
Lebanese, many of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of
them soldiers.

And in his comments made nearly a year after Israel on
December 27, 2008 launched the deadly Gaza war, Ashkenazi said
"Israel is on a collision course also with Hamas, which rules
Gaza."

"Hamas will have the possibility to bombard Tel Aviv,
with Israel`s highest population concentration," he was quoted
as saying.

The Gaza war, a response to hundreds of rockets fired
into the Jewish State, killed some 1,400 mainly civilian
Palestinians and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers. It ended on
January 18, 2009.

Israel had been harshly criticised for putting civilians
at risk during fighting in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

However, in the cable leaked today Ashkenazi is quoted
saying Israel next time will not accept "any restrictions on
warfare in populated areas," and insisted the army had never
intentionally attacked civilian targets.

PTI