JERUSALEM (Nov. 28)
As preparation began for Foreign Minister Yigal Allon’s trip to Washington Dec. 9 to talk with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, some highly placed sources here are expressing fears that the U.S. will urge Israel to agree to an Egypt-Syrian linked settlement as a second-stage of the peace process. The notion is particularly disturbing since Israeli strategists believe they cannot undertake another pull back on the Golan Heights without seriously prejudicing Israel’s strategic control of the Heights. They therefore counsel no withdrawal on the Golan in exchange for anything less than peace–or at least something approaching a peace settlement.
The Israeli concern that Kissinger might press for an Egyptian-Syrian linkage is based in part on reports emanating from Washington that the idea of a 4-5 kilometer pullback by Israel on the Golan is being circulated by American officials. They are said to feel that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is not prepared to conclude another separate agreement with Israel, and might insist on a parallel Israeli agreement with Syria. Syria apparently was given to understand at the Rabat summit conference that Egypt would not make any further moves without its Yom Kippur War ally and would hold out for an Israeli withdrawal on both fronts.
Observers here believe that even a second-stage accord with Egypt alone would be extremely difficult to attain given the wide gap between the positions of both sides. They feel such an accord with Syria would be well-nigh impossible and hopelessly complicate negotiations with Egypt. Syria adamantly refuses to entertain any notion of Israel retaining any part of the Golan. It refuses to contemplate a non-belligerency pact-let alone a full peace treaty–unless all of its land is returned.
President Hafez Assad of Syria may possibly agree to another disengagement-type agreement to gain time–in return for another sizable Israeli withdrawal. But, in the view of the military experts, Israel cannot afford to give up any more territory on the Heights without a commensurate political return. A minor pullback in the Bnot-Yaacov-Kuneitra axis would mean abandoning the hills around Kuneitra, the main topographical obstacles in the way of a Syrian advance towards Galilee, the military experts point out.
INSIST ON POLITICAL QUID PRO QUO
A further Israeli pull-back on the Sinai, as envisioned by Sadat, would probably be at least 25-30 kilometers, and Cairo is expected to demand much more. The question posed here is can Israel risk such an extensive withdrawal in return for nothing more than an ephemeral relaxation of tension? Military experts say it cannot.
The return of such large areas of Sinai to Egypt would allow Cairo to mass its forces on the east bank of the Suez Canal, pinning down large Israeli forces even if not actually engaging them. The canal, now in the process of being reopened, would be out of range of Israeli artillery-Egyptian strategists are confident that their massive Soviet-made air defense system can protect the canal zone and its towns from Israeli air attack.
Thus the sacrifices and risks involved for Israel in a Sinai pullback, while not as crucial as those in the Golan, would still be strategically significant–over and above the symbolic significance of abandoning the Mitle and Gidi passes. For these reasons. Israel will insist on a meaningful political quid pro quo in any second-stage settlement.