TEL AVIV (Nov. 23)
Israel faced a serious dilemma today over how to respond to last Thursday night’s murder of three 19-year-old yeshiva students–all of them soldiers–and the wounding of two others by Arab terrorists who infiltrated the religious movement settlement of Ramat Magshimim on the Golan Heights. The terrorists entered Israel-held territory and escaped through the heavily-manned Syrian lines on the Golan with the obvious complicity of the Syrian army and probably the knowledge and endorsement by Damascus of what an Israeli spokesman described as a “kill-and-run” mission.
Although tension is running high on the Golan and Israelis are infuriated over the latest outrage, military retaliation by Israeli forces is not feasible at this time; circles here acknowledged, The government has a specific request from the United States to exercise maximum restraint in face of Syrian provocation, especially as the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observers Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights expires Nov. 30 and Syria has not yet indicated whether it will agree to a renewal. (State Department spokesman Robert Funseth said in Washington Friday that the U.S. is taking the killings “very seriously” and reiterated U.S. “opposition to terrorist acts” which “work against the calm necessary for progress in search of a settlement.” However, ‘Funseth would’ not say at the time whether the State Department believed Syria was involved and would not comment on the possible motivation of the murders.)
Brig. Gen. Dov’ Sion, an army spokesman, said Friday that Israel holds Syria fully responsible for the murders which he termed a violation of the letter and spirit of the separation of forces agreement and the specific undertaking by President Hafez Assad of Syria to U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger that he would not permit terrorist activity through Syrian lines.
The victims, who were buried Friday, were identified as Nahum Fenigstein, Michael Nadler and Benzion Leibowitz. All were members of the Hesder Yeshiva program which permits religious youth to serve half of their required three years of military service on active duty and complete the balance while continuing their religious studies. All held the rank of sergeant.
Fenigstein, the son of a Mizrachi Bank branch manager in Jerusalem, and Nadler, who came to Israel from the United States five years ago and was the son of a lecturer on social work at Bar Ilan University, were burled in Jerusalem. Leibowitz was burled in the Ponewezh cemetery in the religious settlement of B’nai Braq.
The two wounded students were reported today in satisfactory condition in hospitals. One of them, Yehuda Cohen, was left for dead by the terrorists. The other, Shalom Mocha, of Jerusalem, was abducted by the killers but managed to break away and sustained slight wounds from shots fired at him.
According to security sources the five youths were spending the night at Ramat Magshimim, a Golan settlement sponsored by the Orthodox Bnei Akiva youth movement. They were carrying bedclothes in one of the settlement buildings when the terrorists broke in and opened fire with small arms and grenades.
A subsequent search by Israeli military patrols aided by helicopters failed to find the killers but footprints were found leading to and from the Syrian lines. Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur told newsmen here Friday-night that the infiltration and murders would not have been possible without full knowledge and coordination between the Syrian army and the terrorists.
NUMBER OF QUESTIONS PONDERED
Israelis, meanwhile, pondered whether it was in Israel’s interest to continue the UN presence on the Golan Heights. Sources noted that the UN troops were no hindrance to terrorist infiltrators but effectively prevented Israeli retaliatory action. Israelis were also questioning whether Thursday’s tragedy was the beginning of a new campaign of terror on the Golan Heights, aided and abetted by the Syrian army whether or not Damascus agrees to renew the UNDOF mandate.
The killers were originally identified as El Fatah members. The Popular Democratic Front, for the Liberation of Palestine subsequently claimed credit for the murders in a statement issued at its Beirut headquarters.