The Israeli army has begun preparing for a possible ground invasion of Syria, Israel's Channel 2 news reported Sunday. The Israeli military began large division-scale training in the occupied Golan Heights over the weekend, preparing for how Israel would react if attacked by rocket fire from Islamic State group militants in Syria.
The group also known as ISIS has taken over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria as Syria has been devastated by a civil war between President Bashar Assad's regime and various rebel groups. The group is trying to establish a theocratic Sunni Islamic caliphate across the region.
Exercises in the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, in preparation for a possible ISIS attack also include defense against chemical weapons, given ISIS' reported stockpile of chemical weapons. Israeli defense officials have said the odds of a chemical attack by ISIS on Israel are very low, though they want to be prepared for anything.
New reports of chemical attacks by ISIS began appearing Thursday after Kurdish fighters returning from an artillery barrage in the village of Sultan Abdullah, south of Mosul, Iraq, showed symptoms consistent with the use of mustard gas. The chemical, made infamous in World War I, is a blister agent that works by liquefying the skin. The offensive being prepared in the Golan would be the first Israeli ground invasion in the fight against ISIS.
Israeli military officials said that while the border area is relatively quiet, that could change very quickly and they want to be prepared for all possibilities. Israeli authorities estimate that near the demarcation line with Syria in the Golan Heights there are hundreds of militants of Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terror group that is allied with the Assad regime and Iran.