Israel plans Syrian border fence

As elections approach, Netanyahu takes strong stance against volatile conflict nearby

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JERUSALEM -- Israel announced Sunday that it was constructing a border fence along the length of its armistice line with Syria in the Golan Heights and was coordinating its intelligence with the United States in light of the deteriorating security situation in Syria.

In remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Syrian army had moved away from the frontier and that jihadist forces had moved in.

"Therefore, we will defend this border against both infiltration and terrorism," Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, "I also submit to the Cabinet the fact that the Syrian regime is very unstable, that the question of chemical weapons here worries us."

He said that Israel was coordinating with the U.S. and others "so that we might be prepared for any scenario and possibility that could arise."

Mr. Netanyahu's announcement came as he sought to reinforce his security credentials as a strong leader ahead of national elections on Jan. 22, and as he appealed to his traditional supporters to cast their ballots for the conservative Likud-Beiteinu ticket he is leading and not be lulled by polls showing that he is favored to prevail.

"Whoever wants me as a strong prime minister cannot have a strong prime minister while weakening me," Mr. Netanyahu told Israel Radio in an interview broadcast Sunday. "I think there is only one way to guarantee that the right continues to govern Israel, and that is to vote for me."

Political polls in recent weeks have consistently shown that Likud-Beiteinu is bleeding votes to the Jewish Home, a far-right party led by Naftali Bennett, a dynamic newcomer to national politics who is a former Netanyahu aide, settler leader and technology entrepreneur. Mr. Netanyahu also warned of possible efforts by centrist and leftist parties to create a united bloc aimed at thwarting his chances of forming the next coalition government.

Last week, in a pre-election move intended to highlight one of his government's achievements, the prime minister toured the new security fence that runs almost the entire length of Israel's border with Egypt. Accompanied by a group of Israeli journalists, Mr. Netanyahu noted that the barrier had sharply stemmed the flow of African migrants into Israel and had provided more protection against militant groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Mr. Netanyahu has pledged to erect a similar barrier along the Syrian frontier, with changes to suit the topography. A section of an old and rickety border fence near the Golan Druse village of Majdal Shams has already been fortified with a steel barrier after protesters, most of them Palestinians, breached the frontier in 2011, drawing deadly fire from Israeli soldiers.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria, but in recent months a number of stray Syrian mortar shells crashed into the Israeli-controlled territory as Syrian government forces battled rebels across the line.

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