JERUSALEM — Israel deployed a battery of its Iron Dome missile defense system to the Tel Aviv suburbs Friday to defend its citizens against possible retaliation if the threatened U.S.-led military strike against Syria is carried out.
As part of preparations against rockets that could be fired either by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or by Assad’s allies in the Lebanon-based Shiite militant movement Hezbollah, the Israeli air force also deployed Iron Dome batteries north and south, in Haifa, Ashkelon and Eilat, and is ready to move two additional units, Israeli officials said.
The United States and its allies are considering a military strike in coming days against Syria as punishment for its alleged use of chemical weapons last week. A poll released Friday by the newspaper Israel Hayom found two-thirds of Israeli Jews in favor of U.S. and European military intervention in Syria. But a majority also said such an action would probably lead to retaliation against Israel.
In the northern Israeli city of Safed at the Ziv Medical Center, which cared for 1,500 casualties during the Lebanon-Israel war in 2006, doctors said they were ready for anything, including chemical or biological attack.
The hospital, which specializes in war-related injuries and has surgery suites and intensive care units in air-tight bomb shelters, is already involved in the Syria conflict. In the past six months, it has quietly received 76 severely wounded patients from Syria.
The patients have been shot or injured by shrapnel, bombs and mortar fire. They arrive in Israeli military ambulances after being allowed into the country through border gates normally closed to Syrians in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Many of the wounded are women and children. Others are fighters, most of them probably rebels, as Syrian army forces would have their own field hospitals. When several reporters sought to interview two young, wounded Syrian men lying in beds, they were shooed away by two Israeli soldiers.
“We don’t know and we don’t want to know who they are,” said Itzhak Koifman, a doctor at the bedside of a Syrian man who had been shot in the stomach. “We don’t ask. To us, they’re just patients.” The hospital says it has spent $1.5 million treating Syrians.
Shokrey Kassis, a plastic surgeon, was treating a woman from Daraa, in southern Syria, whose leg and foot had been severely injured. In many hospitals, “they would have amputated,” Kassis said. “But we are saving her leg. She will walk again.”
The woman, who was prevented by hospital officials from giving her name for fear of what might happen to her or her family if it became widely known that she was being treated by Israelis, said she wanted to return home as soon as possible.
“I will ask God to help the hospital and to bless the staff. I can say nothing but good about my care here,” she said, wincing as her foot was prepared for another round of surgery.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Friday with security chiefs and made a toast to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, according to a statement from his office. The leader of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, reflecting on the past year, said, “There have been many operations, which we cannot expand on in front of the cameras, of course, and preparations for what may come.”
In the Golan Heights village of Majdal Shams, a few miles south of Syria, Taisseer Maray, a leader of the nongovernmental organization Golan for the Development of the Arab Villages, said he opposes any outside intervention in Syria.
“I am very much worried about what the Americans will do,” said Maray, who suggested that he supports Assad and played down the alleged use of chemical weapons. “The Americans, Turks, Russians, Iranians, even the Israelis have their own interests,” he said. “Whatever happens, we will pay the price.”
But the Druze — a monotheistic social and religious group that is distinct from Islam, Judaism and Christianity — are divided on Syria, he said. About 20,000 Druze live in the occupied Golan Heights; many consider themselves Syrians, while others have accepted Israeli citizenship.
Alaa Abo Jabal, a university student who had studied in Damascus before Syria’s civil war broke out, said many young Druze in Syria consider Assad a dictator.
“They want freedom,” he said.
He was ambivalent about the prospects of a U.S.-led strike, saying it would probably be limited and do little to tilt the conflict one way or the other.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.