A collection of the week's news from Israel
8 Tevet 5760
December 17, 1999
Issue number 250
Barak and A-Shara in Washington
Farouk A-Shara, Foreign Minister of Syria, refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Ehud Barak at their official meeting in Washington Wednesday. There is a news-blackout during the talks, at the request of the Americans. (arutzsheva.org Dec 15)
Temple Mount Suffers Great Blow
A resident of Ma'aleh Zeitim - the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras el-Amoud - noticed suspicious midnight activity not far from his home Sunday night, and promptly called MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) and an official of the Antiquities Authority. But it was too late: At least 100 trucks, hired by the Moslem Waqf, had already begun a sudden midnight mission to transport tons of dirt filled with unsifted and unexamined artifacts and dump it in the Kidron Valley. The dirt was the by-product of the ongoing illegal Waqf construction activity at Solomon's Stables under the Temple Mount. Only the police had been informed of the dumping operation - despite an arrangement made three months ago between Ehud Barak and the Waqf, according to which the Waqf must coordinate all its construction works with
the police, the Antiquities Authority, and the Jerusalem Municipality. The trucks sped out of Lions' Gate, on the eastern wall of the Old City, towards the adjacent Kidron Valley, in order to complete the dumping as fast as possible. A senior archaeologist told television reporter Benny Liss, "There has been no bigger blow to the Temple Mount since the destruction of the Temple itself." MK Elon, participating in a Knesset Education Committee session today together with Jerusalem Police Chief Ya'ir Yitzchaki, strongly rebuked Yitzchaki for permitting the Moslem Waqf to take this action and for neglecting to inform the Municipality or the Antiquities Authority. "It seems that the police did nothing except to help the Waqf break the law," Elon told Arutz-7 Tuesday. "Yitzchaki wants quiet, and the Jewish People will have to pay the price for generations." (arutzsheva.org Dec 14)
A group of ten people, including an archaeologist, were stopped Wednesday morning by the police from examining the hill of dirt and archaeological remains. Yehuda Etzion of the Temple Mount Faithful, one of the leaders of the group, told Arutz-7 with amazement that he is being accused of "robbing archaeological findings. This is unbelievable," he said. "The police allowed the Waqf to remove these 100 truckloads of dirt, containing these holy stones that are of primary importance to the Jewish People, and yet we - who are trying to sift through it in order to salvage some of the knowledge that is going down the drain here - are being accused of robbery?!" Etzion said that already, "pieces of pottery anywhere from one centimeter to 20 centimeters (8 inches) in size have been found here." Moshe Feiglin, speaking with Arutz-7 from the site, made a startling announcement: "The association that passes though my mind here is of an Israeli Kristallnacht - when the Germans destroyed synagogues and scattered and burnt the holy books of the Jewish people on the streets, the world was aghast - but now, when the Waqf scatters to the dust the very foundation of our national identity and our people, and when we try to save them, the Antiquities Authority tries to stop us. I can simply no longer tolerate this, and I hereby announce here and now that I am re-establishing the Zo Artzeinu (This is Our Land) Movement, in full force, and the struggle will begin here." Zo Artzeinu was instrumental in leading the public protests against the Oslo Agreements some years ago. Later in the afternoon, Yehuda Etzion informed Arutz-7 that a compromise of sorts had been reached with the Antiquities Authority, and that his group had been allowed to sift through the dirt mountain for a "sampling" of finds. He said that among other finds were a number of First Temple porcelain and pottery pieces, many such pieces from the Second Temple period, and several from later periods. Etzion also informed Arutz-7 during the course of the interview that he had just been informed that a judge had responded positively to a suit by the Temple Mount Faithful regarding the Waqf's illegal construction activities. The suit demands Israeli supervision over the refuse that is being discarded by the Waqf in the course of their illegal construction on and beneath the Temple Mount. The court ordered the Antiquities Authority to respond to the suit by 2:30 PM tomorrow. (arutzsheva.org Dec 15)
Police Silence Peaceful Protestors
The police did not allow a group of pro-Golan citizens to hold a peaceful demonstration Tuesday. Special-unit police officers confiscated the license of the bus driver and delayed the group in other ways, prompting Golan Residents Committee spokesman Uri Heitner to say, "We protest the totalitarian methods used by the government to silence public objections to its policies. It appears that in the framework of joining up with Assad, the government has also adopted his standards of government." The details of the incident are as follows: Special-unit police officers boarded a bus carrying 15 pro-Golan protestors Tuesday morning on its way to Ben-Gurion International Airport, where a peaceful protest of Barak's departure to Washington was to be held. The police confiscated the driver's license, and returned it to him only an hour later, at which time the bus was allowed to continue. Other police contingents then held up the bus three additional times on its way to the airport. The policemen did not provide identification, nor did they explain their actions, saying only, "You'll be able to go when we say so." The police later announced that the group did not have a permit to demonstrate, and that left-wing groups had also been held up. Atty. Mordechai Haller told Arutz-7's Ron Meir, however, that only a group of 50 or more is required to obtain a permit to hold a rally. In addition, some pro-Barak groups were allowed to show their support for Barak close to the airport. Likud MK Limor Livnat has demanded that Police Commissioner Yehuda Wilk clarify the circumstances of the incident. (A7 Dec 14)
Public Doesn't Believe Barak
A poll carried out by the Geocartographic Institute finds that 65.2% of the public does not believe Ehud Barak's assurances that he did not promise anything to the Syrians. Only 18.6% of the public, according to the poll, believes Barak. Pro-Golan protestors, undaunted by Tuesday's attempt to silence them are expanding their activities. The Betar movement has erected a protest tent outside the Prime Minister's home. Another protest tent was set up at Kfar Haruv in the western Golan earlier this week. NRP head Rabbi Yitzchak Levy met with Yisrael B'Aliyah leader Natan Sharansky Wednesday morning, and the two pledged to work together to thwart the intention to withdraw from the Golan. "There will most definitely be cooperation among all those opposed to such a withdrawal," Rabbi Levy said, "and Barak knows that the NRP will play a leading role in these efforts." Both government ministers intimated that their respective parties would have trouble remaining in the coalition if Barak signs an agreement to abandon the Golan. MK Yuli Edelstein of Yisrael B'Aliyah said more specifically that his party would leave the government in such a case. The dispute about "what Netanyahu would have given the Syrians" continues. The former Prime Minister said Wednesday that the reason he did not come to an agreement with Syria is because he refused to withdraw from the entire Golan. Ehud Barak said, however, that if the protocols of secret talks between Netanyahu and Syria are published, a "microscope will be needed to find the differences between the positions of Netanyahu and those of Rabin and Peres." (arutzsheva.org Dec 15)
An issue up for debate is whether the government will fund the two sides' information campaigns in the promised referendum on a Golan withdrawal. Likud MK Limor Livnat has said, "Democracy costs money. A public referendum demands an informed public. Each political party must be provided the means to present its position on the issue, so that the public may be as fully informed as possible." Prime Minister Barak, however, is against such funding, and Labor party sources explained that it is not logical to provide monies for political parties on this issue, as some of them plan to abstain or split their votes. An alternative proposal to provide funding for private organizations such as Peace Now and the Golan Residents Committee "has been raised," according to Golan leader Avi Ze'ira, "but is not considered practical. First of all, who will determine which organizations will receive the funding? Secondly, it is not likely that the political parties will give up on the chance to get money for themselves." Ze'ira, speaking today with Arutz-7's Yosef Zalmanson, concluded, "In the end, I don't think that there will be public funding, and we will have to depend on raising our own funds." Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA notes that this will give pro-withdrawal elements a strong advantage, in that non-Jewish American business sources - who expect to make good money from constructing and equipping the many new facilities required by the withdrawal - will likely donate generous sums in order to promote a withdrawal.
President Weizman said Wednesday that if an agreement with Syria is not approved in the referendum, Israel will be returned to the cycle of war. He had just concluded a meeting in which he attempted to convince Shas Minister Eli Yeshai to support a Golan withdrawal, amidst much public protest against the Presidential intervention in the issue. Golan Residents Committee Chairman Eli Malka wrote a strong letter of protest to Weizman, and the Likud called for the President to desist from his political activity on behalf of a withdrawal. Even representatives of the Kibbutz Movement met with President Weizman this morning, and asked that he refrain from expressing public support for a withdrawal from the Golan. (arutzsheva.org Dec 15)
Barak Meets with Golan Leaders
Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with Golan leaders in his office for over an hour Tuesday, in a meeting the latter described afterwards as "very difficult." They related that Barak appears to be determined to transfer the Golan Heights to the Syrians in exchange for a peace treaty. Golan Residents Committee Chairman Eli Malka said, "If he heard what we said, and if he does not have a heart of stone, then he will give up this terrible plan of dismantling communities, expelling citizens from their homes, endangering Israel's security, and losing our water sources." At least two staffers of the Prime Minister's Office were teary-eyed during the meeting, and Golan leader Yehuda Volman explained afterwards, "We presented our case not only in very rational terms, but also emotionally as well. We cannot forget that Zionism is an emotional issue, a spiritual one. There is something very unique about the Golan in this respect." The meeting may have achieved an end to the freeze on Golan construction; the representatives successfully convinced the Prime Minister that such a freeze might lead to even more public outrage and possibly violent results. The Prime Minister's Office is disappointed at the results of Monday's Knesset vote, in which Barak's meeting with Syria received the Knesset's blessing by only a 47-31 vote, with 24 abstentions. The supporters included mostly Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties, while the right-wing opposition parties and the NRP voted against. Shas and Shinui abstained, and coalition-party Yisrael B'Aliyah split its votes between voting against and abstaining. Itim correspondent Yoram Levy reported that Barak's official response to the vote is that this is only the first stage, but that if and when he presents a complete plan, it will enjoy wide public support. (arutzsheva.org Dec 14)
Yesha Council Braces for Construction Freeze
Yesha leaders held an emergency meeting Monday in response to reports that the Prime Minister plans to announce a complete freeze on all housing construction in Judea and Samaria. Yesha Council spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef told Arutz-7 that the meeting was called because of a report in Ha'aretz Monday - "which we have no choice but to believe" - that the freeze in Yesha will complement the simultaneous signing of an agreement on final-status principles with the Palestinians. "The rough copy of the agreement apparently even stipulates the exact size of a Palestinian state, in terms of percentages of Yesha," Mor-Yosef said. "We must remember that this is a war for our very homes - not just withdrawals on a map, or release of terrorists, but our own homes. The Barak principle according to which most settlers will remain under Israeli sovereignty will be maintained - meaning that some settlers and communities will find themselves either evacuated or under some sort of Palestinian control. Everyone has to ask himself how much he is willing to fight for his own home* This is a war that we cannot afford to lose." (arutzsheva.org Dec 13)
Minister Matan Vilna'i, a former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, warned Sunday that peace in the Middle East is not necessarily forever. "The moment that the Arab nations feel that they can achieve their objectives using force, they will do so," he said last night at a lecture at the Fischer Institute for Strategic Studies. "We are not in North America or Europe, but rather in the Middle East. This is a very tough neighborhood, and whoever is not strong enough doesn't have a chance." (arutzsheva.org Dec 13)
New Neighborhood in the Golan
A new neighborhood in the Golan city of Katzrin was dedicated Sunday, in the presence of hundreds of residents. The ceremony was to have been held some time from now, but was moved up in light of the diplomatic developments with Syria. The new neighborhood has 320 housing units. Another new neighborhood, however, in the southern Golan town of Bnei Yehuda, has apparently been blocked. Yossi Kucik, head of the Prime Minister's Office, recently informed the Golan Regional Council that he had ordered the relevant authorities not to sign the necessary permits for the 52-unit complex. Housing Minister Rabbi Yitzchak Levy (National Religious Party) took part in the groundbreaking ceremony there only three months ago (arutzsheva.org Dec 12)
Arab MK Meets with Terrorist, Presents Syrian Position
Reuters reports that an Israeli-Arab Knesset Member met not only with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara last week, but also with a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization, led by George Habash. Israeli law prohibits any contact with terrorist organizations officially committed to Israel's destruction, as the PFLP is. MK Azmi Bishara met last Friday with terrorist Maher al-Taher, according to Palestinian sources quoted by Reuters. Taher later expressed his group's objections to "the so-called final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority." Bishara skilfully presented the Syrian position on Israel's Channel Two television news yesterday: "The Syrian leadership has decided to come to Washington with good intentions," he said, "and to do everything to ensure that the negotiations succeed; it hopes that the same goes for the Israeli side. But if the talks fail, the Syrians fear that the situation in the region will deteriorate." (arutzsheva.org Dec 12)
A Prelude to War By David Bar-Illan
What supporters of the proposed agreement with Syria expect is clear.
Once the treaty is signed, the dream of comprehensive peace in the Middle East will finally materialize. Israel and its neighbors will be swamped with investors. Tourism will burgeon. And free movement of people and goods will transform the Arab dictatorships into enlightened, advanced societies. Surely, relinquishing the Golan, painful though it may be, is not too high a price for so promising an outcome.
True, even the terminally optimistic realize that the Golan will not be the last Israeli concession. The "root cause" of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian problem, must also be addressed. But the momentum created by peace with Syria, they believe, will persuade the Palestinians to reach a reasonable compromise.
To debunk this utopian scenario is all too easy. The expectation that, once Israel "returns to its natural size," the Arab regimes will discard antisemitic incitement, change textbooks, reduce military budgets, seriously fight anti-Israel terrorism, support Israel in the international arena, and promote peaceful cooperation instead of Israel's delegitimation is a wish-dream that belongs in fairy tales, not in Middle East reality.
As recent experience has shown, the more concessionary and conciliatory Israel is, the weaker it is perceived to be, and the more likely it is to be subjected to escalating demands. Nor is there any evidence that peace and stability attract investors rather than the prospect of profits and a business-friendly environment. Some of the poorest countries in the world are peaceful and stable.
Before surrendering the Golan, it may be useful to remember that unlike Israelis and other Westerners, whose passion for instant gratification is quintessentially summarized in the slogan "peace now," Arabs view the conflict with an historic perspective. They believe the Zionist enterprise is a foreign invasion like the Crusades, and that regardless of its current viability it is doomed to fail.
When the 1973 war made them realize that Israel could not be defeated in a frontal military attack, they changed tactics, not goals. The Arab League and the PLO constructed "the plan of stages," which envisioned retrieving as much territory as possible by peaceful means and attacking Israel only after it becomes diminished and demoralized.
In Arab eyes, the plan is proceeding nicely despite internecine bickering. Israel's gains in the 1967 war are being gradually eliminated, and the military balance is changing. Egypt, which in 1967 was a second-rate power equipped with inferior Soviet arms, now has a powerful, American-armed military force. Despite traditional American promises to maintain Israel's qualitative edge, the Egyptian army has been supplied with sophisticated arms Israel does not have. The Syrian army now expects to undergo a similar transformation.
Ill-equipped and strapped for funds, it will be armed and trained by the US. And since the administration has not demanded that it withdraw from Lebanon, it will be able to threaten Israel on two fronts.
The basic premise of President Clinton's Pax Americana now being imposed on the region is that the main players should depend on American aid and arms, giving Washington control over their military moves. That in the volatile Middle East such calculations do not always work was evinced in Iran, where the vast American-built military infrastructure fell into the hands of the ayatollahs.
To make the impending agreement palatable, a campaign of purification of the Assad regime has been launched by both the US and Israel. But Assad has not changed. He is a ruthless despot, a sponsor of terrorism, and a major drug exporter who has kept Syria isolated, oppressed, and poor.
Touted as a man of his word, Assad has broken virtually every agreement he has ever made with Turkey, the Arab countries, and the US. The only area in which he avoids trouble is the Golan, where the Israeli army is within striking distance of Damascus.
Nor is it likely that peace with Israel will make Syria "join the world." Totalitarian regimes know how to filter foreign influences.
Chances are the opposite will happen. Syria considers not only Lebanon, but Israel and Jordan as part of Greater Syria. It is a belief deeply rooted in its history and national mystique, and openly shared by Israeli Arab leaders. Syrian free access to these leaders is almost certain to create a wave of irredentism, which will transform today's demands for Arab autonomy in Galilee to agitation for secession.
Combined with Syrian presence near (if not on) the Kinneret, the prospect of such agitation makes Syria's reoccupation of the Golan a decisive step toward the realization of the plan of stages.
And, lest we forget, the last stage of this plan is war. (Jerusalem Post Dec 15)
When the Palestinian Army Invades the Heart of Israel By Yuval Steinitz
Whatever they may have accomplished or failed to accomplish politically, the Oslo accords of 1993 between Israel and Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization have transformed Israel's security situation in ways that have till not been squarely faced. Much of the territory in the West Bank and Gaza that Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day war is now governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). This embryonic state already possesses a large, militia-like police force comprising some 40,000 men; depending upon the outcome of present negotiations, it may come to acquire a combination of paramilitary and military forces as well. Although Israel will undoubtedly retain military superiority over its fledgling Arab neighbor, the threat it poses in combination with the rest of the Arab world is already significant, and is certain to grow with time.
Despite its obvious strategic strengths, Israel has chronically suffered from two Achilles' heels that make its defeat militarily thinkable. The first is demographic. Israel's minuscule population, combined with the sensitivity of Israeli society to the loss of life, casts a giant shadow of doubt over the country's ability to withstand an extended conventional war with the surrounding Arab world. If its enemies could force upon it a conflict lasting months or years, they would significantly improve their chances of prevailing. The Israeli response to this long-standing problem has been to accelerate the moment of cease-fire by rapidly transferring the battleground to enemy territory and/or attacking the enemy's infrastructure by means of air power.
Of much greater importance, however, is the second Achilles' heel, which is geographic. The tiny area of the Jewish State, together with its over-reliance on reserve forces (itself partly a product of the country's demographic weakness), casts a giant shadow of doubt of another kind altogether: namely, over its ability to withstand a lightning strike. An enemy's penetration into the heart of Israel could prevent the mobilization and equipment of its military reserves in addition to interrupting many other vital operations. To this second problem the traditional Israeli response has been a very fast system of mobilization-since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the entire procedure has been designed to take no more than 24 hours-plus the reliance on superior air power to abort an enemy's attack on the first day of battle.
This is where Oslo comes in: the influx of Palestinian forces into Israel's center has greatly exacerbated the problem presented by the country's second Achilles' heel, to the extent that a total collapse of the overall strategic balances now possible. How so? The approximately 40,000 policemen now at the disposal of Arafat are already organized into a semi-military structure. They are known to have some 30,000 automatic weapons in their arsenal, along with a significant number of machine guns, light antitank missiles, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades, land mines and explosives. They may also have, or be able surreptitiously to obtain from Arab countries, more advanced weapons, including handheld Strela and Stinger surface-to-air missiles. Obviously, these forces are not going to defeat the armed might of Israel in battle. But if; even as currently constituted, they were to be deployed in a coordinated fashion in the opening phases of a broader Arab assault, they could wreak havoc of a decisive kind. A good portion of the Palestinian police is installed in the towns of Qalkilya, Tulkarem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jenin on the West Bank-in other words, in areas adjacent to Israel's most vulnerable sectors, military and civilian alike. These nerve centers of Israel's life could be successfully infiltrated by a mere 10 percent of the Palestinian police force, thus transforming them into a crucial front in a comprehensive regional conflagration.
Crossing Israel's 1967 borders in small fighting units of ten to twenty men, these 4,000 men could make their way in civilian vehicles along a labyrinthine network of roads and paths with which they are intimately familiar. They would need no more than an hour to reach extremely sensitive points in the heart of Israel. Once there, they could wholly subvert the 24-hour mobilization strategy Israel relies on to fend off the far larger armies of its Arab adversaries.
If Israel were still at the initial stages of an alert, the enormous numbers of its as-yet-unarmed reservists streaming to arms depots and mobilization points would form attractive prey. Gaining control of key intersections or other advantageous locations, the Palestinian guerrilla units would be in a position to create chaos on the roads that serve as the primary arteries of mobilization and, in all probability, to kill large numbers of would-be fighters. They could also attack some of the mobilization centers themselves, most of which are not only within easy striking distance of the West Bank but are also lightly guarded.
The damage that can be inflicted by small units operating against the vulnerabilities of a larger and more powerful adversary is not a matter of speculation. Among the wealth of cases that one could cite, some are from Israel's own military past.
During the 1982 war in Lebanon, for example, a few dozen young, untrained Palestinian fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades operating from hills and orchards proved far more effective in delaying Israeli traffic on a vital military highway than batteries of cannons and Katyusha rockets launched from a distance. If mini-units of this kind can succeed against heavily armored columns, how much more damage could they inflict on buses and cars filled with unarmed reservists making their way to equipment depots?
Nor do key thoroughfares, intersections, and mobilization centers exhaust the list of possible targets. In all its wars, Israel has depended heavily on the ability of its air force to gain mastery of the skies at the outset. But most Israeli air bases are quite exposed to guerrilla attack, being located within 20 to 40 kilometers of Palestinian territory. British commando operations in World War II are testimony to how easily an enemy can penetrate such installations. Leading small teams of men, Colonel David Starling of the Special Air Service successfully destroyed 250 German warplanes parked on the runways of military airfields located many kilometers behind Rommel's front lines on the North African front.
Palestinian soldiers need not actually penetrate air bases, as Starling did, to achieve their goal. Lying hidden in the foliage of orchards or farmlands outside an airfield's perimeter fence, they could employ light mortars or handheld anti-tank or surface-to-air missiles to strike Israeli planes. In previous conflicts, the Arabs have never been able to counter Israel's superiority in the air; a surprise ground attack on its planes would thus undoubtedly present an appealing option to Arab war planners.
Finally, targeting the military is not the only means by which a broad series of Palestinian commando attacks could contribute to an effective Arab assault. Terrorist raids on residential neighborhoods or the seizure of national television and radio stations might serve to promote widespread demoralization and civilian flight. Another set of potential objectives consists of technical installations: the electric power plant in Hadera, the oil refineries of Haifa, the chemical tanks of Gelilot, or the switchboards, transformers, and distribution boxes of the Bezek national telephone company. Power outages, huge blazes near Israel's large cities, and temporary interruptions of communication lines would all serve to paralyze if not cripple Israel in the early phases of a war.
Are there no effective counters to the peril posed by the armed Palestinian police? Of course there are, at least in theory. For example, Israel could fortify its border with the Palestinian Authority in particularly vulnerable sectors. It could also draw upon reserve soldiers on kibbutzim to establish lightly armed, mobile patrol teams designed for immediate intervention in any threatened locality. Alternatively, several thousand infantry soldiers could be transferred from fighting units and assigned to a light militia scattered at different points in the Israeli rear.
Whether such measures would work if put to the test is another question. But that aside, there is, in fact, little evidence that Israel's military or political planners are giving serious attention to this or any other aspect of the ongoing transformation of the county's security position.
A number of factors are at work here. For one thing, Israeli military officials, focussing on the extreme relative weakness of the Palestinian forces and the fact that an operation involving dozens of separate guerrilla units against Israel has never been attempted, simply discount the possibility of a synchronized assault. For another, they appear to believe that Israeli intelligence would definitely enjoy between 12 and 24 hours' warning in advance of any large-scale attack, an interval sufficient to seal the borders. And even if a limited incursion were to occur, they argue, attack helicopters could provide sufficient defense for border areas.
These are all questionable assumptions. History seldom serves as a certain guide to future behavior, and to rely inflexibly on precedents is to set oneself up for a shock. It is especially foolish to depend on fixed notions of warning time: Israel's worst military fiasco occurred when it was caught unprepared by the Egyptian attack in October 1973. Besides, it is not inconceivable that a future Palestinian government, in coordination with the major Arab states, would opt to invade with almost no advance field preparations, in a kind of "get-in, go-shoot" operation wherein commando teams would be dispatched into battle with only an hour or two of notice. This would not only achieve the element of surprise but likely increase the number of Palestinian saboteurs who could be infiltrated.
Finally, since these infiltrators would need to traverse but a very short distance before being in a position to wreak major harm, and since any battles that ensued would be taking place in heavily populated areas, attack helicopters would be next to useless, if not calamitous, as a means of response.
Perhaps the most dubious supposition of all, however, is one now being bruited about in Israeli political circles. This is that the Palestinian leadership would itself be reluctant to see a decisive Arab victory over Israel, out of fear that the new Palestinian political entity would then inevitably slip under the control of either Egypt or Syria, two military giants with claims on Palestinian/Israeli territory. Since, in other words, the Palestinians have a vested interest in Israel's survival, they would not participate in any such operation. But this line of thinking is speculative in the extreme, and the very fact that it is seriously on offer suggests how eager many Israelis have become to avoid facing the still very menacing realities of the Middle East.
One does not have to go far back into the past for an example of a much greater degree of realism. Here are the words of Shimon Peers in 1978:
The influx of a Palestinian fighting force (more than 25,000 armed fighters) into Judea and Samaria [would signify] . . . an excellent starting point for mobile forces to advance immediately toward the infrastructure vital to Israel's existence.
Even after he negotiated the Oslo accords, Peres did not alter his gloomy estimation. As he argued in The New Middle East (1993), the situation created by an armed Palestinian State would be strategically fraught with catastrophe: the [country's] narrow "waist" will be susceptible to collapse by a well-organized surprise attack. .
Even if the Palestinians agree to demobilize their state from both army and weapons, who can guarantee Israel that after a certain amount of time an army will not be formed, despite the agreement, which will camp at the gates of Jerusalem and the approaches of the coastal plain, and pose a substantive threat to Israel's security? This, indeed, was the ground of Peres's opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet what was self-evident a mere six years ago to Israel's most determined advocate of negotiations with the Palestinians is now being dismissed in the rush to conclude the "peace process."
Almost 2,500 years ago, according to Thucydides, the Greek statesman Themistocles succeeded in persuading his fellow Athenians to transform their city-state into a naval power. Yet despite the vast strategic superiority it thus acquired, Athens still remained vulnerable to a simple, surprise ground attack from Sparta. In order to protect and ensure access to its new strategic assets-that is, its advanced navy and port facilities-Themistocles advocated linking the city of Athens to its port at Piraeus by means of two parallel walls.
Like ancient Athens, Israel enjoys strategic superiority over its neighbors, primarily in the realm of aeronautics and technology. Over the decades, whenever armed hostilities have broken out, this advantage has permitted Israel to strike at its enemies' rear in a manner that has eventually led to victory at the front. After 1967, Israel also enjoyed its own "walls of Themistocles," in the form of the geographic expanses of Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. These double walls are what enabled Israel to survive the successful surprise Egyptian-Syrian attack that opened the 1973 Yom Kippur war but that was neither penetrating enough nor quick enough to take control of Israel's "Piraeus"- its airports, its reserve bases, and the like.
The deployment of light Palestinian forces throughout the West Bank has already collapsed Israel's eastern "wall" of mountains and the Jordan River, neutralizing their vital function of protecting against a sudden lightning strike aimed at the country's soft eastern flank. Indeed, if we were to consult Themistocles, he would assuredly advise us that the current Israeli defense posture is absurd. On the one hand, the state invests billions of dollars in building a modem army; purchasing state-of-the-art warplanes and constructing modern airfields; equipping and training reserve battalions; and deploying Arrow missiles. All this is right and proper and necessary. But on the other hand, it has permitted a situation to develop in which these selfsame modern, expensive systems are liable to be rendered irrelevant. On the basis of such wishful thinking, battles, and wars, are lost.
The writer is a senior lecturer at Haifa University and the author of four books in the fields of philosophy and the philosophy of science, as well as numerous articles in Hebrew-language publications on military strategic issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Formerly an activist in the Peace Now movement, Mr. Steznitz now serves as a member of Knesset for the Likud party. (Commentary Dec/99)
An Iceberg Called Peace By Yosef Goell
The US is a major arena in which the threat to the Golan and to Israel must be fought.
There's only one good thing about Hafez Assad's agreeing to reopen negotiations: The threat of a competing negotiating track might just induce the Palestinians to speed up their own talks over the division of the West Bank.
Everything else is bad. Assad may have been the one to have blinked first, tactically (though we don't know what US President Clinton may have promised him to get him to resume talks with Israel on his terms). But so far, all of Israel's leaders, from Rabin through Peres, Netanyahu, and now Barak, have been the ones to blink first: They acquiesced to Assad's condition that talks be based only on Israel's withdrawal from all of the Golan.
It's not that the Golan is sacrosanct as a reasonable, though wrenchingly painful, trade-off for full peace with Syria and the entire Arab world. For that matter, ceding the Palestinian-populated part of Jerusalem, or part of Tel Aviv, all of Bnei Brak, or Barak's hometown of Kochav Yair, would not be too much to surrender either, in exchange for such peace.
All these places have much less security significance than the Golan. But then, who needs "security" if one is talking about a "real peace"?
That's just the point. In the case of Syria we're not talking of real peace. At best, it's very much less, and much more dangerous, than the chilly nonbelligerency treaty we've had with Egypt for the past 20 years. That agreement is a significant improvement on the 30 years of intermittent and ever-escalating wars, but it is very far from peace.
Yet our leaders continue to extol that "peace," even though they have given in to Egypt's determined opposition to honoring the agreed-upon normalization clauses. Those clauses were the basis for gradually turning long-time enemies into peaceful neighbors.
In the case of Assad, we're not even making a pretense of talking about real peace. Quibbling about who will man an early-warning station on Mount Hermon and the extent of mutual demilitarization is meaningful only on the assumption that Syria's hostility will continue unabated.
If we were talking about meaningful peace we would be demanding that Syria scrap its poison-gas-bearing ground-to-ground missile force, which threatens all of Israel, in exchange for partially giving up a crucial strategic asset like the Golan.
OUR leaders have blinked first by acquiescing to the contention that Assad's demand for all the Golan is eminently "reasonable," while our equally painful demands on Assad are "unrealistic and unthinkable."
Have all our recent leaders - including those of the Labor Party, which spent a generation assuring the country that giving up the Golan would be suicidal - gone mad? No. They are "merely" giving in to American pressure and to American blandishments of multibillion dollar substitutes for the strategic advantages of the Golan, which are to be sacrificed even in the context of continued Syrian hostility.
The US is thus one of the major arenas in which the threat to the Golan and to Israel must be fought. There is no better time to pick such a fight with the misguided leaders of our most steadfast supporter than in the midst of an American election year. Such a fight must center around the fatuousness and danger of negotiating with an Assad who is not only a Saddam Hussein-type tyrant, but also one of the world's leading abettors of the drug trade and of anti-Israel and anti-American terrorism.
At home, too, there is a very good chance of defeating the defeatism of our leaders. Monthly public opinion polls since the Oslo Agreement of September 1993 have shown that while a significant majority of the Israeli public supports a territorial compromise with the Palestinians, a similar majority has consistently opposed giving up any part of the Golan in exchange for a spurious "peace" with Syria. So, in the referendum to which Barak is committed, there is more than an even chance of defeating any agreement with Syria for giving up all (or even a large part of) the Golan. And if public opinion polls indicate there is a good chance of Barak's losing the referendum, it will stiffen his resolve not to give in to Assad's demands. But the opposition to giving up the Golan must be country-wide. And the opponents must be careful not to alienate others by resorting to the boomerang of violent demonstrations. (Jerusalem Post Dec 13)