TEL AVIV (Aug. 22)
Two Israeli experts on the Middle East, speaking at a public meeting here, have come to the conclusion that Syria is preparing for an eventual confrontation with Israel.
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Aharon Levran, editor of “Middle East Military Balance,” a publication of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Yossi Olmert, head of the Syrian and Lebanese desk at the university’s Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies, Syria is nonetheless bent on some stage of war with the Jewish state in the future.
Levran, a former deputy commander at the National Defense College, said that the Syrians “are doing everything to prepare themselves for war, but I would risk saying that I doubt they will initiate a war with Israel so long as they are alone and without an Arab coalition partner, particularly Iraq and Jordan.”
He said that “while Syria is not planning to embark on a premeditated war with Israel in the short term, this does not mean that a circumstantial war cannot occur between Israel and Syria.”
Levran pointed out several “friction points” in Lebanon, in regard to Syria’s support for terrorism, and in the Golan Heights.
In fact, while leaders of the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organization were meeting at their headquarters in Tunis to consider plans to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, the Syrian press was dismissing such an attempt as “a big conspiracy against the Palestinian cause” because such a move would lead to a recognition of Israel.
ARAFAT BACKERS TOSSED OUT
Syria and its Palestinian allies have systematically thrown adherents of PLO leader Yasir Arafat out of their Lebanese enclaves. The guerrilla alliance opposed to Arafat is based in Damascus.
Olmert told questioners during the question-and-answer session that “Syria would prefer quiet in the area until the upcoming Lebanese elections, so as not to give Israel an excuse to intervene in them.”
But Lebanon’s Parliament was unable to muster a quorum to choose a successor to President Amin Gemayel at last Thursday’s session. Great care had reportedly been taken to ensure a calm election process, through an intensive effort by Syria and the United States to find some candidate acceptable to all sides in Lebanon.
Friday, Ahmed Jabril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, vowed more guerrilla operations.
Levran voiced concern over Syria’s possible deployment for a future war, because Syria has made numerous improvements in the sphere of conventional warfare, he said, particularly in enhancing its ground-to-surface missiles with chemical warheads was prompted by the Syrian air force’s inability to contend with the Israeli air force.
Levran said the Syrians have emphasized unconventional means of warfare because “they know that Israel is much more advanced in nuclear potential.”
Levran compared Syria’s use of chemical warfare to Israel’s unclear potential. Although chemical means “are not an equal answer” to Israeli unclear possibilities, he said, “at least it’s something. It’s unconventional, and it’s a mass weapons system which can cause a lot of casualties. They know that Israel is very sensitive to casualties.”
Olmert, brother of Likud Knesset Member Ehud Olmert, said that the Syrian regime’s basic technology, which views the Israel-Arab conflict as “a clash between two civilizations,” precludes reaching a comprehensive settlement between the two sides, or a separate peace between one Arab country and Israel, and necessitates the attainment of Arab “strategic parity.”
“Strategic parity is, first of all, what the Syrians regard as the best way to deal with Israel,” said Olmert.
He added that the Syrians view the results of the Yom Kippur War of 1973 as proof of their conception: “Together in a coherent way, the Arabs inflicted enough military damage on Israel to force it to make concessions that it otherwise would not have dreamed of making.
“This is the whole idea of strategic parity: to extract from Israel, by force, what you will never be able to get peacefully, or — even if you can get it peacefully — to do so in a humiliating way.”