TEL AVIV (Oct. 11)
Israel forces launched an offensive this morning at the Golan Heights cease-fire line, broke through enemy defenses and began advancing toward Damascus, the Israeli army spokesman reported tonight. He said Israeli armored units, backed by massive attacks by Air Force units, made the breakthrough and had advanced about four miles past the cease-fire line into Syria proper along the “Kuneitra-Damascus axis.” Damascus is about 30 miles from the cease-fire line.
The announcement came shortly after Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said Israeli units were moving on the road to Damascus. Speaking at a military position in the Golan Heights during an inspection tour, Dayan said, “I don’t exactly know the point our forces have reached but they are moving on the road leading from Kuneitra to Damascus.” Observers said, however, that the Israeli target in the new offensive was probably the Syrian defense line, which runs about parallel to the cease-fire line, rather than Damascus.
During the day, Israeli planes continued attacks against military targets in Syria, including hits on eight military airfields. The spokesman said that on both fronts, 11 enemy planes were shot down by Israeli jets.
Fierce fighting continued on the Sinai front where Israel claimed yesterday that its forces have regained the banks of the Suez Canal at least at one point. An Israeli commando attack across the canal last night struck at Egyptian convoys and installations well behind the west bank of the waterway. The raiders returned to the east bank after completing their mission. Commentators noted that both the Israeli and Egyptian forces were engaged in what they termed a cat and mouse game, waiting to see what the other side might do first and digging in for the next round of fighting which is expected to be as brutal as that up to now. Reports from this front have been coming in slowly and piece-meal.
Israel’s apparently stunning defeat of Syrian forces was described by Gen. (Res.) Chaim V. Herzog, a leading military commentator, who said today that the Syrians lost 800 of its 1400 tanks deployed on the front lines. He said the equivalent of 3-4 Syrian divisions suffered devastating losses but added that the Syrian Army is continuing to fight. Asked on a Tel Aviv radio interview whether Israel has now won the fight for the Golan Heights, Herzog replied, “Most definitely yes.” He added that Israeli forces “have carried out a brilliant campaign under the most trying conditions.”
ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
This time of the year the Golan Heights has a brownish yellow look, the aftermath of the summer’s parching heat that has dried out the fields, withered the grass and denuded the trees. But today the plateau is more black than yellow. It is strewn as far as the eye can see with the blackened ruins of Syrian armor–tanks, half-tracks and armored cars–destroyed in a fierce two-day battle that drove the invader back across the cease-fire lines under hot pursuit by Israeli forces.
The Golan is, in fact, a vast junk pile of Syria’s Yom Kippur invasion. The remains of an estimated 800 tanks lie here, some still smoking, jagged holes in their turrets and sides, guns twisted with heat, drive chains askew. The scene is grim testimony to the devastating effects of Israel’s Air Force that halted the Syrian advance and the power of Israel’s counter-attack that sent the Syrian Army into retreat. The motors are still running in some of the smouldering tanks and half-tracks, the soldiers who manned them having died or fled on foot.
Otherwise, this sere plateau is quiet today, the tumult of battle having passed. But the distant echo of bombardment can be heard from beyond the cease-fire lines and the scream of Israeli jets across the sky is a reminder that the war goes on. Looking back toward the valley, the scene is placid. Cattle are once more grazing on fields recently furrowed by tank tracks. Settlers evacuated when the Syrians attacked six days ago are back repairing the damage. Most of the young men are at the front and the work is being done with the help of volunteers.
There is a lot of work to be done at Ramat Magshimim which was evacuated and occupied briefly by the Syrians. Ein Zivan and Elal are back to normal. Civilian vehicles are visible again on roads that were closed to all but military traffic two days ago. And in a few days one expects to see tourists coming to have their pictures taken alongside the burnt out ruins of Syrian armor, the tortured and twisted metal of which bears tribute to the bravery of Israeli troops and the spirit of the Golan settlers.
A strange vehicle, the likes of which cannot be seen in any other army in the world, lumbered down a Golan Heights road this evening. Soldiers and newsmen alike stared with surprise at an Israeli half-track with a succah on top on its way to war against the Syrians. One of the soldiers in the half-track, an observant Jew, persuaded his comrades to erect the succah complete with palm fronds–a symbol of peace on a vehicle of war. He said he wasn’t going to let the war deprive him of the pleasure of sitting in a succah on the Succoth holiday.