TEL AVIV (Dec. 26)
Israeli officials were quick to express surprise today over a report in the London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly that Syrian forces were poised to attack Israel on the Golan Heights.
Their prompt reaction was intended to defuse the tension that the report itself could create. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin stressed that contrary to Jane’s report, which was headlined in the Israeli media, there has been no change in the deployment of Syrian forces facing the Golan Heights.
Officials admitted that there has been an escalation of tension in recent weeks since the Syrians moved SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles close to their border with Lebanon, posing a potential threat to Israel’s reconnaissance flights over Lebanon. But this situation is hardly new. Israel has already conveyed a warning to Damascus, through the U.S., and the U.S. itself has cautioned both sides to exercise restraint.
Israeli leaders, senior ar my officers and researchers at the Center for Strategic Studies have noted often in the past that Syria’s defensive deployment along the Golan Heights could very quickly be altered to an offensive posture. But they stress there is no indication the Syrians would effect such a change before they ach ieve their goal of strategic parity with Israel. So far, the tension over the missile deployment has not spread to the Golan Heights where the Syrians take pains to abide by the terms of the 1974 disengagement of forces agreement reached in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
Premier Shimon Peres told a meeting of Israeli editors today that Israel is keeping a close watch on developments along its northern borders but has no intention of escalating the situation with Syria.
NO NEED TO PANIC
Health Minister Mordechai Gur, a former Chief of Staff, discussed recent events during a tour of northern Israel today. He said Israel should not react to the movement of Syrian missiles. “We are stronger than the Syrians and they know that,” he said. “Therefore we shouldn’t panic whenever they move their missiles and make the entire region nervous.”
Gur recalled the recent incident in which Israel Air Force fighters downed two Syrian jets over Syrian territory. “It was not our intention or part of a special policy. But from the Syrian viewpoint, they were shot down in Syrian skies and you cannot expect the Syrians to over look that in silence,” Gur observed, apparently referring to the missile movement that followed the incident.
“We’ve seen such ups and downs in the past, and if there is anybody who cannot restrain himself and cannot discuss the issue calmly, I can only regret that but won’t allow him to pass reasonable bounds,” Gur said. “I think the government’s present policy is the correct one and we should continue along this line and only reconsider if there are any new developments,” he added.