JERUSALEM (Mar. 11)
The possibility of aggressive action by Syria continues to trouble Israeli political and military leaders. Premier Shimon Peres warned Tuesday, with reference to Syria, that “we must not be blinded by our desire for peace.” If Israel is attacked, it will fight back but will use its military might only in self-defense, he said.
Peres was addressing students in Ashdod. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Tuesday that recent “aggressive statements” by Syrian President Hafez Assad required Israel to be on the alert to “prevent an undesired war.”
Speaking to reporters Monday, Rabin accused Syria of “encouraging and aiding terrorism in general.” Damascus Radio retorted by accusing Israel of waging psychological warfare against Syria.
The preoccupation with Syria as a potential menace to peace in the region was noted earlier this month when Peres, briefing the same Knesset committee, referred to that country’s severe economic crisis. He implied it posed a danger to Israel should Damascus try to divert public attention to mounting hardships at home by military adventurism abroad.
At the same time, Peres said, the economic crisis could impel Syria to abandon its traditional hard-line policy and possibly even participate in the Middle East peace process. Peres noted Tuesday that Damascus continues to honor the separation of forces agreements on the Golan Heights, which was arranged with Israel after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He urged Syria to go all the way and make peace with Israel.
But recent remarks by Rabin, Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy and Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled, who will shortly succeed Gen. Uri Orr as commander of the northern region, pointed to Syria as the primary military threat to Israel at this time.
Rabin also warned that recent events in Egypt could jeopardize peace in the region, a reference to the two days of rioting by police conscripts in Cairo which has caused many political pundits here and abroad to voice concern for the future of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
Levy told an Israel Television interviewer that it was irrelevant whether or not Syria actually orders terrorist groups to try to infiltrate into Israel. It is sufficient that the Syrians shelter Palestinian rejectionist groups and provide them with an infrastructure. He noted that Lebanese Shiite extremists nurtured by Iran have their headquarters in Damascus, train terrorists there and receive the wherewithal to attack Israel.
“It is very comfortable for the Syrians to keep us busy (in south Lebanon) and if they want to attack us they just have to make sure there is no quiet there,” Levy said. He said the same applied to the various terrorist splinter groups active in recent weeks.
Levy noted that the main problem in the north is that Israel has a border with a country (Lebanon) whose government has no control and there are many elements which exploit that fact.
Peled warned that Syria is preparing for an all-out military confrontation with Israel. They now have long range weapons that enable them to strike further inside Israel than ever before, he said, and an Israeli counterattack would have to overcome minefields, anti-tank ditches and other dug-in emplacements not encountered in previous conflicts.