NEW YORK (May. 26)
Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens said that it is an “optical illusion” to view the situation between Israel and Syria in the last few weeks as something different, that did not exist in the past.
“In fact, the danger of war between Israel and Syria had been in existence a year ago and two years ago, and will continue to exist next year as well,” Arens, the former Defense Minister of Israel, contended in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“The Syrian ruler, President Hafez Assad, is hostile to Israel. He has a large army. At the moment that he will conclude that war with Israel will advance his interests, he will start a war,” Arens said. “Israel is in principle against war. We know that we can win a war with Syria, and we are willing to pay the price–but we want to avoid paying the price. If it is up to Israel–there will be no war with Syria.”
Arens, a leader of Herut and a close associate of Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is scheduled to replace Shimon Peres as Premier next October, said that it is unclear what indeed can force Assad to launch a war against Israel. “None of us can say whether a worsening in the economic situation of Syria or growing terrorist acts inside that country could trigger a war. The answer is not clear-cut,” he said.
Arens, who described Syria as “Israel’s major enemy today,” ruled out the possibility of a territorial compromise on the Golan Heights as a way of reaching a comprehensive settlement with Syria.
Referring to a statement Assad recently made in which the Syrian President declared that Syria wants the Golan Heights to be “in the middle of Syria,” Arens said that in his view the equation of territories for peace is not applicable to Syria. “We don’t hear them knocking on our door to start negotiations,” he quipped.
ISRAEL’S RELATIONS WITH EGYPT
Turning to the issue of Israel’s relations with Egypt, Arens said that “there is not even one single person in Israel who would tell you that the relations between the two countries meet his expectations.” He contended that Egypt is in clear violation of its peace treaty with Israel, by continuing to refuse to send its Ambassador back to Israel after he was recalled at the start of the Lebanon war in June, 1982.
Arens was also skeptical that the resolution of the Taba dispute would bring “real peace” between Israel and Egypt, noting that Egypt insists on complete Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and resolution of the Palestinian question before any meaningful improvement in relations with Israel takes place.
“The Egyptians are taking a position which is against the letter and the spirit of the peace treaty. The peace treaty was not conditioned on the Palestinian problem. They agreed to keep an Ambassador in Israel–and they don’t fulfill it,” he charged.
The former Israeli Ambassador to Washington said that “relations between Israel and the United States today are better than ever.” He said that the good ties between Washington and Jerusalem are getting even “better and stronger” every day.
He said that the strong relations between the two countries are built “on the mutuality of values and ideals of the two countries which are expressed in shared strategic interests.” He claimed that Washington has recognized the shared strategic interests “and the ability of Israel to contribute to these shared interests.”
Asked about the Administration’s proposal for a large missile weapons package to Saudi Arabia despite the “shared strategic interests” between Israel and the U.S., Arens admitted that Israel and the U.S. do not agree on the issue.
He said Israel does not agree with Washington on arms for “moderate” Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, “It is hard for us to agree (with the U.S.) that Saudi Arabia is moderate while she is still in an official state of war with us,” Arens said. He added: “Our policy has not changed; we are against any sale of arms to countries that are in a state of war with us.”
UNITY GOVERNMENT WILL CONTINUE
In reply to a question whether the “rotation,” which will elevate Shamir to be Israel’s Premier next October, will indeed take place, Arens said: “This is a very popular question and people, naturally, are very curious about it. But there is an agreement between Labor and Likud, and everybody in Israel, including Peres, says that agreements must be honored. We know that the Israeli public wants to see the national unity government continuing.”
As for the possibility that Labor will decide to leave the government after the rotation, Arens said: “Theoretically it is possible, but this will be in violation of the agreement” since the agreement stipulates that the unity government must serve a full four-year term.
Arens said that Shamir, whose leadership of Herut was challenged during a chaotic convention of the party in March, has the support of the “majority of Herut” to serve as Premier. He said that whoever claims that Shamir is not fit to serve as Premier “says in effect that Herut has to abrogate the rotation agreement” which provides that Shamir, and none other, will replace Peres as Premier.