TEL AVIV (May. 22)
Israel has officially informed the United States that it considers the Syrian-Lebanese “brotherhood pact” signed Wednesday in Damascus a serious new security threat on its northern border.
But Israeli officials denied foreign news reports that the Israel Defense Force was massing “hundreds and possibly thousands” of tanks on the northern border for a pre-emptive strike in response to the Damascus-Beirut pact.
The IDF said troops were put on “normal alert” in view of the event, but there were no special military preparations.
Reports of an Israeli military buildup were also denied by Timor Goksel, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
The pact, officially known as the Brother- hood, Cooperation and Coordination accord, was signed Wednesday by Presidents Hafez Assad of Syria and Elias Hwari of Lebanon.
It is referred to in Jerusalem as the “Assad Anschluss.”
According to the Israelis, it amounts to the virtual annexation of Lebanon by Syria, comparable to the 1938 “Anschluss” that ended the independence of Austria with its incorporation into the German Third Reich.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens said that by getting Lebanon to sign the pact, Assad had managed to do quietly what Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had failed to do in war: incorporate within his country a neighboring Arab state.
Arens spoke to reporters during a visit to Kiryat Shmona, near the border with Lebanon.
NEW SETTLEMENT IN GOLAN HEIGHTS
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon observed that Syria’s domination of Lebanon opens a “new front, which is closer to important industrial areas in the Haifa Bay district.”
He spoke at the dedication ceremonies for a new Jewish settlement established Tuesday in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1980.
But Israel’s concern is more over the pact’s long-range implications than any immediate threat.
Experts said they expect quiet to prevail on the Golan Heights border with Syria, if only because the border is just 22 miles from Damascus, putting the Syrian capital within Israeli artillery range.
The fear here is that the brotherhood pact will allow Palestinian and other terrorist groups active in Lebanon to launch attacks on Israel under an expanded Syrian umbrella.
Israeli retaliation for Syrian-backed terrorism would wreak havoc among the Lebanese on Lebanon’s soil, leaving the Syrians unscathed, it was pointed out here.
Israelis say the incorporation of Lebanon has been Syria’s ambition ever since the two countries were carved out of the old Turkish empire after World War I. They were regarded as one administrative territory under the French Mandate from 1920 to 1941, but were given separate independence after World War II.
The new Syrian-Lebanese accord is part of the Arab-brokered Taif peace pact, which ended 16 years of civil war in Lebanon. Syria has about 40,000 troops in that country.
On the Golan Heights, meanwhile, 30 families moved into homes in the new settlement, called Kanaf, which overlooks Lake Kinneret.
It is the fourth Jewish settlement established in disputed territory since the Persian Gulf War ended and the United States began another round of diplomacy aimed at achieving peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The three earlier settlements were set up in the West Bank, two of them while Secretary of State James Baker was shuttling between Jerusalem and Arab capitals, in an effort to arrange a peace conference.
The United States has repeatedly told Israel it considers the settlements an obstacle to peace.
But Sharon scoffs at that view, claiming that the settlements strengthen Israel. The more secure Israel feels, the better able it will be to make peace, he says.
“Settlement in the Golan, as in the West Bank and Gaza, adds additional security for Israel,” Sharon told a reporter on Tuesday.