ON THE DAMASCUS ROAD (Oct. 22)
This concrete highway from the Golan Heights to Damascus was relatively quiet Saturday–at least for a time. But the stench of war was everywhere–the stench of corpses mouldering under the hot sun, the acrid odor of gun powder that permeates everything, the smell of the charred metal of burnt-out Syrian tanks. This road was the highway the Syrian invasion forces took in their surprise attack Oct. 6.
Now it is littered with the debris of the Syrian retreat. There are some huge Russian-made tanks–T-54s, T-55s and new T-62s–abandoned intact by their crews. Their speedometers register less than 100 miles–almost factory fresh war machines that became booty of war. Israeli soldiers are loading them onto vans. They will be repaired, painted and sent back into action against the enemy.
The scene bears evidence of Israel’s astounding victory achieved against the enemy’s advantage of surprise. But there were also sharp reminders that the war is not over.
As we toured the front lines this bright Saturday afternoon–the JTA correspondent, the driver of the jeep he hired and an Israeli intelligence officer–an artillery duel broke out ahead Shell fire thundered and as we scrambled for the cover of a clump of rocks a black mushroom cloud rose over the road where a shell exploded a half mile from where we had been standing.
A moment before, the scene had been peaceful. Two brown cows were grazing on the dry yellow grass. A donkey moved near a cluster of small houses surrounded by a garden and cultivated fields. Now smoke and fire seemed to erupt from the ground as shells fell in rapid succession.
BATTLES RAGE ON GOLAN HEIGHTS
The shelling lasted for 20 minutes. Then, suddenly, all was quiet. We adjusted our steel helmets and flack vests and returned to the jeep. Israeli oil tankers sped by us on the road on their way to refuel tanks and armored cars. Our jeep bounced along the pavement, pock-marked with shell holes as we came closer to the outskirts of Damascus.
The sound of gunfire that had been remote was now much louder. Ahead, over the crest of a hill, was the Syrian village of Sasa. Israeli tanks there were under Syrian artillery fire and were returning the fire. Clouds of dust and smoke filled the air. Overhead we spotted the vapor trails of two Israeli jets speeding on a mission over Syria, Syrians missiles fired at them exploded in little puffs of smoke. They scored no hits.
This was as far as we were allowed to come. Just beyond Sasa the battle was raging. Behind us were other abandoned villages and houses. What a contrast this was to the Golan Heights through which we had passed on the way to the front. To be sure, there were scars of war. Kuneitra, the Golan capital which the Syrians had occupied for barely more than a day when the war began, was ravaged. The Syrian soldiers appeared to have smashed everything they could get their hands on before they retreated.
There were similar sights at Ein Zivan and Ramat Magshishim–Golan settlements heavily shelled by the Syrians. But now life on the Heights is almost back to normal. There is even civilian traffic on the roads again, though most private cars are driven by women or elderly men.
At one village, Israeli soldiers driving to the front had a flat tire. Two men who had been praying in a nearby synagogue came out to help them, wearing their flowing prayer shawls. It was the Sabbath. But it was also a “mitzvah” and a privilege to help win the war.