A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

 

17 Tevet 5760
December 24, 1999
Issue number 251

News...

GOLAN: SUPPORT UP, BUILDING DOWN

Golan Regional Council chairman Yehuda Volman noted Wednesday that during the late Prime Minister Rabin's negotiations with Syria, construction in the Golan continued unabated, but that Barak seems intent on a policy of "drying out" Golan settlements. On Dec. 12, Arutz-7 reported that Yossi Kucik, head of the Prime Minister's Office had ordered a halt in the development of a new 52-unit neighborhood in the southern Golan town of Bnei Yehuda. A meeting between Golan residents with Kucik and the Director-General of the Israel Lands Authority, Avi Drexler, succeeded only

in extracting a commitment by the two to "re-examine the issue." This week, Nissim Mishal's popular television interview show presented survey results showing that fully 50% of Israelis are against a total withdrawal from the Golan, while 36% support such a move. Another survey, this one conducted by the Hanoch Smith Institute, has found that 58% of Israelis oppose, and 40% support, a Golan withdrawal. Some 28% of Barak voters oppose a withdrawal, confirming observations that not all Barak-supporters identify with his diplomatic approach. Ma'ariv noted Wednesday that polls show that most Israelis "are doubtful and worried regarding an agreement with Syria.

Commentators have remarked of late that the Golan issue transcends traditional political lines. This theory seems to have gained support this week with the revelation of a personal letter dispatched by noted left-wing Israeli journalist Amos Keinan to former Third Way MK and Golan activist Yehuda Harel. "I know that we must make peace with Syria," Keinan writes. "I also know that there will be no peace with Syria unless we give back the Golan Heights. However, I am not willing to vote in a referendum in favor of such a proposal. My hands, heart, and mind are not willing to give the beautiful, thriving, and prosperous Golan Heights to a wretched tyrant of a wretched and backward country that apart from an army has nothing." Deflecting recent comments by Ehud Barak on the chance of war if a Golan withdrawal is not approved by Israelis, Keinan adds: "I am not afraid of the Syrian army, just as I am not afraid of an unconditional withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The Hizbullah wants us out of southern Lebanon. I do not believe that the Hizbullah will pursue us within Israeli borders, for should they do so, it is in our power to paralyze Lebanon." (arutzsheva.org Dec 21,22)

Arab Terrorists And Israeli MIA's

The Barak government will deliberate Sunday on the release of Arab terrorists from eastern Jerusalem as a good-faith gesture on the occasion of the Moslem festive month of Ramadan. Likud MK Danny Naveh responded to the announcement by saying that such a move is tantamount to recognition of Palestinian Authority sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Parents of two of the Israeli MIA's from the 1982 Sultan Yaqub Battle say that they have received information that their sons are still alive. Penina Feldman, mother of Tzvi, and Yonah Baumel, father of Zechariah, held a press conference Tuesday. Furthermore, Syrian President Assad admitted, in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, that he has information on the whereabouts of the missing soldiers from the Sultan Yaaqub battle. Yonah Baumel received an announcement to this effect from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. Assad said that he refuses to submit the information because "the time is not yet ripe." On Arutz-7's "In Focus" newsmagazine this week, Yonah Baumel said that U.S. sources recently informed him that his son and Tzvi Feldman are being held by a "moderate" faction in Lebanon, but that Syria's Assad continues to block their release. Families of the missing soldiers say that Ehud Barak is not taking full responsibility for their sons. Barak, who commanded the battle in question, hinted in a television interview that he had not raised the MIA issue "because every Israeli negotiating demand would be met with counter-demands by the Syrians." Yonah Baumel said Sunday that a Prime Minister who sits down to make peace must first of all take a good look at who his partners are: "If the Syrians are not willing to make humanitarian gestures as a first step, then what type of partners are we making peace with?" (arutzsheva.org Dec 19,21)

 

Police Trying to Hush Threat?

Israeli Police Chief Yehuda Wilk said Tuesday that security officials "do not have any concrete information on a group of people or individuals intending on carrying out a terror attack or provocations in Jerusalem on the eve of the millennium." Wilk did admit, however, that more than 12,000 officers and volunteers will be dispatched throughout the country on the morning of Friday, Dec. 31 "to maintain order on New Year's Eve." Wilk's words contradict this week's London Sunday Times - according to which, Israeli authorities are hunting two Islamic terrorists linked to exiled Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden, fearing that the two may be planning an attack on a high-profile Christian target in Jerusalem. According to the Times, Jordanian security officials arrested 13 members of the terror cell and "a further two men connected with the group were still at large and may have crossed into the West Bank on their way to Jerusalem. It is feared they could try to mount an attack within days." (arutzsheva.org Dec 21)

Weizman Urged to Stop Politicking

Representatives of the Golan Residents Committee and President Weizman convened for a "tense" one-and-half-hour meeting at the President's residence Tuesday. Golan representatives tried in vain to convince the President to stop his active personal campaign in favor of a "Golan giveaway." Prior to the talk, Golan spokesman Eli Malka said that he did not intend "to convince the President, at his advanced age, to support or not support the government's peace initiatives. The proper role of the President at this point, is to do everything in his power to ensure that the public debate on the issue be conducted in a democratic and legal fashion. He should run from city to city and from town to town to prevent ...a national rift. To my chagrin, he is currently doing the exact opposite," Malka observed. In response to the residents' demand that he begin acting as the "President of the entire nation," Weizman responded: "To be the President of the entire nation is almost impossible - to do so, you have to be deaf, dumb and blind." (arutzsheva.org Dec 21)

New Opposition Bill on Referendum

The Likud Knesset faction unveiled a rough copy of its Golan referendum bill Monday. According to the proposal, at least 50% of the country's eligible voters will be required to support the withdrawal in order for it to be approved. Likud MKs claim that at least 56 Knesset members support the bill. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Likud MK Silvan Shalom noted that support of the bill by many coalition MKs is an indicator that cracks are forming in the Barak coalition. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said that the law is racist in that it is aimed at neutralizing the Arab vote. The Likud bill also demands party funding for referendum-related advertising and a three-judge panel to formulate the referendum's question. (arutzsheva.org Dec 21)

Hydrologist: Water Storage Critical

Israel has, for all intents and purposes, no water reserves. So declared hydrologist Chaim Gvirtzman in a deliberation in the Knesset Audit Committee Tuesday. Gvirtzman said that the state must preserve water from rainy years for use in drought years. He also warned that a withdrawal from the Judea and Samaria mountain plateau would have disastrous consequences for Israel's water economy. Water Commissioner Meir Ben Meir was also invited to the meeting, as was former Finance Minister, Likud MK Meir Shetreet. Shetreet told the committee that the government's proposal to import water from Turkey is impractical, and that Israel must immediately begin to desalinate ocean water on a massive scale. (arutzsheva.org Dec 21)

Janes on Pull-Out Costs

According to a report in Wednesday's Jane's Defense Weekly, Israel has asked the U.S. for $10 billion of financial aid to purchase American arms in preparation for a withdrawal from the Golan. Janes notes that this is above and beyond the $10 billion earmarked to cover other military costs and another similar sum to compensate Golan residents affected by a deal between Israel and Syria. Israeli military sources admitted that they would face stiff opposition from Washington for the latest demands, but that the goal is "to ensure that [the Israeli] air force is good enough to stop a massive ground and missile offensive even if we are taken by surprise." (arutzsheva.org Dec 21)

"Hypocrisy in The Guise of Academia"

The Archaeological Council called upon the government this week not to allow the building of a Jewish community in Tel Romeida, Hevron. The Council claims that such construction could harm the impressive findings from Biblical and later periods found during recent excavations there. These were carried out when the Netanyahu government decided to build permanent Jewish homes at the site of the terrorist-murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan. The Yesha Council condemned the Archaeological Council's decision, calling it "political hypocrisy in the guise of academia." The Yesha statement says, "The findings in Hevron that the Archaeological Council is so concerned about were preserved only by virtue of the Jews who settled in Hevron, and they are the last ones who need be lectured about the importance of Jewish history." Rabbi Hillel Horowitz of Tel Romeida said that the call not to build in Tel Romeida is a cynical use of archaeology for political purposes. He told Arutz-7 that the construction in the neighborhood is planned to begin in a matter of days, as all the necessary papers and permits have been obtained. He added, though, that "we fear that [the army] will not allow us to begin unless Prime Minister Barak ratifies the previous government's decisions on this matter." Referring to the Archaeological Council's call, he said that it is "doubly infuriating in light of its weak call upon the government to ensure that the Waqf's illegal activities on the Temple Mount are coordinated with the Antiquities Authority - while in our case, they demand that we not build at all. No one would have ever excavated Tel Romeida if we hadn't asked to build there! And they know full well that they would easily agree to transfer this land in exchange for a peace treaty - after all, for "peace" everything is dispensable. We spent great amounts of money in order to excavate, and then additional sums in order to preserve what was found there, and then still more money in order to build on two levels in order to preserve the bottom level as an archaeological garden, etc. At present, we are living in caravans literally one on top of another, in order to facilitate the excavations. Instead of thanking us and appreciating our efforts, they turn around and say we shouldn't build at all - because the bottom line is that they simply don't want us building in Hevron." (arutzsheva.org Dec 20)

The Lebanese Connection

Soldiers of the Southern Lebanese Army have filed suit in the Supreme Court, requesting political asylum in Israel before the IDF withdraws from southern Lebanon. The number of SLA soldiers and their family members number some 17,000 people. They explain that a concrete danger to their lives is foreseen there as a result of an Israeli withdrawal. The Prime Minister of Lebanon said Sunday that his country, too, has territorial demands on Israel. (arutzsheva.org Dec 19)

Pope to Visit

An official announcement has been made in Jerusalem to the effect that Pope John Paul II will arrive in Israel on March 25, 2000, for a five-day visit. A senior Vatican official has already said that Israeli officials will not accompany the Pope in eastern Jerusalem. (arutzsheva.org Dec 19)

Barak Is Convinced

Prime Minister Ehud Barak returned to Israel last week saying that the ballistic capabilities of Middle Eastern states have made much of the Golan Heights' security value obsolete, according to Israel's former liaison to Congress, Yoram Ettinger. Citing a conversation he had with an Israeli delegation member, Ettinger writes that Barak told the group that "the Golan's water resources are not crucial to Israel, and shouldn't interfere with the progress of the talks with the Syrians, because in 4-5 years, Israel will have been able to desalinate enough water for its needs. Until then," Barak added, "Israel can import water from Turkey." Barak's attitude towards the Syrian track is quite worrisome for additional reasons, Ettinger told Arutz-7. According to Ettinger, a friend of his, a former high-level IDF officer who supported Barak in the last elections met privately with Barak two months ago, and concluded that "as far as the Golan is concerned, Barak is a lost cause." Ettinger said that his friend quoted Barak as saying that a total withdrawal from the Golan "would have a shock-wave effect on Assad, the Syrians, and the Arabs as a whole, transforming the Middle East from a conflict-ridden arena to an area of peace." (arutzsheva.org Dec 17)

More P.A. Beatings

LAW - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights - reports with "grave concern" that yet another Palestinian Legislative Council member was beaten this week by official PA security agents. The victim, Abdul Jawad Saleh, was brutally beaten by General Intelligence agents after he took part in a sit-in in Jericho protesting the detention of persons who had signed some colleagues who had signed a petition against PA civil rights abuses. Saleh was treated in a hospital as a result of the beating. LAW reports that in the summer of 1998, six Legislative Council members were similarly physically assaulted in two separate incidents by Palestinian security officers. The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group reported this week that a Palestinian prisoner had died in prison - the 22nd death in Palestinian custody since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Hasan al-Bajjali, 33, died in Ramallah prison on December 6, 1999, after having spent five years in prison without trial. The prisoner did not suffer from any illness, and his mother found him in good health only three weeks before his death. No medical or autopsy reports were given to his family. (arutzsheva.org Dec 17)

Refuting Syrian Claims

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shara, speaking on the White House lawn last week, blamed Israel for the Six-Day War: "The image formulated in the minds of Western people and which formulated in public opinion was that Syria was the aggressor and Syria was the one who shelled settlements from the Golan prior to the 1967 war. These claims carry no grain of truth in them. As Moshe Dayan has explained in his memoirs, that it was the other side who insisted on provoking the Syrians until they clashed together and then claimed that the Syrians are the aggressors."

In fact, however, former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan wrote the exact opposite. On page 307 of his autobiography "Story of My Life" (Sphere Books Ltd.), Dayan wrote: "The heightened tension that developed between Israel and Syria in the period preceding the Six Day War sprang from the extremist character of Syria's regime; a fanatical hatred of Israel; attempts to divert from Israel the water sources of the Jordan River; and the Syrian army's sponsorship of terrorist action. Syria followed a more hostile policy toward us than other Arab states... she also repeatedly shelled Israel border settlements... Israel suffered considerably from Syria's hostile actions but found it difficult to reply by comparable military means... The most serious incident occurred on April 7 [1967]. After the Syrians had shelled three kibbutzim at the foot of the Golan Heights, IAF planes were brought into action..." (arutzsheva.org Dec 16)

What’s Next - More Cell Phones than People?

The impression gained by some visitors to Israel - that every second Israeli citizen has a cellular phone - seems to be based in fact. Business correspondent Seth Vogelman reports that Communications Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer informed the Knesset Finance Committee that Israel now boasts more operating cellular phone lines - some 2.9 million - than the 2.8 million land-based Bezek phone lines. (arutzsheva.org Dec 22)

 

Quote for the Week...

"(Assad’s Syria is the) darkest of dictatorships. And we know a dictator when we see one." - Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky. (Reuters Dec 15)

 

Commentary...

It's the Height of Hubris By David Bar-Illan

It is hardly surprising that Israel supports the American-British insistence on linking the removal of sanctions against Iraq to the resumption of international inspection there. No one better understands the need to be tough, distrustful, and determined when dealing with murderous totalitarians.

But this insistence on inspection, aimed mainly at preventing Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, should also remind Israelis that world consensus does not always represent fairness and good judgment. No government, and hardly anyone in the media, supported Menachem Begin's action against the Osirak reactor.

Even the White House, then inhabited by a true friend of Israel, not an appeaser masquerading as one, was harshly censorious. Only Iraq's assault on Kuwait nine years later forced the world to recognize Israel's crucial contribution to international security and stability.

Nor should Israelis forget that some of the country's most esteemed politicians and military experts, including Shimon Peres and Ezer Weizman, vehemently opposed the action and tried to abort it.

The toughness on Saddam must also make Israelis wonder about the double standard that dominates Western attitudes to Syria's Hafez Assad. In the competition for the title of most ruthless tyrant of the post-War era, Saddam and Assad run neck and neck. Both have massacred tens of thousands of their own people, Saddam having a slight edge in that he used poison gas to kill 6,000 of them. Both have invaded a small neighboring state claiming that it is no more than a province of their own country. Both have supported anti-Israel and anti-Western terrorism (with Assad having a clear edge), and both have broken virtually every agreement they have ever made.

Yet Assad's invasion and annexation of Lebanon has been legitimized by the West's indifference. And unlike Saddam - a despised pariah subjected to sanctions and calumny - Assad is a sought after, extravagantly praised leader. There is no parallel in Israel's history to the phenomenon of an Israeli prime minister paying sycophantic homage to a dictator who shelters the worst Nazi war criminals and whose defense minister has written a book claiming that Jews use gentile children's blood for matza.

Even more disturbing are Barak's scare tactics. Reminding the cabinet of the havoc created by Iraq's "42 antiquated Scuds" in 1991, he warned against the terrible destruction Syria's arsenal of modern missiles could inflict if the talks fail.

To say that using the Syrian threat in the debate over the Golan means surrender to extortion is to understate the case. If Israel is so intimidated by Syria's missiles, there can be no limit to concessions.

One can only tremble at the prospect of Barak's reaction if Damascus threatens to use its missiles unless Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state and Galilee is annexed to Syria.

If anything, the Scud example should have led to the opposite conclusion. Between Israel and Iraq there is no conflict over "occupied territories" or UN resolutions. Yet when Saddam believed he could gain points with the Arab regimes by bombing Israel, he did so. His actions should have also demonstrated the value of treaties in the Middle East.

Saddam signed a nonaggression pact with Iran before invading it, and turned on Kuwait, his ally and bank-roller in that war, as soon as he thought he could do so with impunity.

To suppose that Assad will destroy Syria's missile arsenal after signing an agreement with Israel, or that he will abandon his designs on "Southern Syria," namely Israel and Jordan, is to ignore his own record of agreement violations and to underestimate his commitment to Syria's "historic destiny."

Not long ago Barak seemed to understand the difference between agreements with dictatorships and peace among democracies. When the late Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with the Syrians, Barak insisted that Israel must remain on the Golan even in time of peace. The reason was as compelling then as it is now. As long as the danger of Syrian attack is present - and Barak's emphasis on security arrangements makes clear that it is - relinquishing a strategic asset like the Golan is reckless and irresponsible. To boast that Israel can do without this natural barrier to invasion is to display the same hubris Rabin exhibited when he asserted in the spring of 1973 that Israel was so strong that no Arab regime would dare attack it.

The only way aggression by dictatorial regimes can be prevented is through credible deterrence. Any significant diminishment of such deterrence is an invitation to war. (Jerusalem Post Dec 22)

 

 

Cape and Sword By Mark Helprin.

Neville Chamberlain's disastrous appeasement of Germany was due neither to cowardice nor lack of fiber, for Chamberlain was a man of extraordinary courage and resolution. He failed not in character but in choosing the wrong framework of appraisal. He and millions of others believed that if German grievances could be addressed, the momentum for war would subside. Germany did have grievances that were real and of great moment, but they were as nothing compared with its ambitions, to which they were merely the preliminary. Thus, as in the case of the bull that sees the cape but not the sword, Chamberlain's conception of events, not his essential qualities, proved his undoing.

The whole world took comfort from the common wisdom that his efforts, nobly pursued, would bring peace. On his return from Munich he stood in triumph with the king on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, and people dropped to their knees in prayers of gratitude. The whole world now is comforted by what appears to be emerging concord in the Middle East, but now, as then, misconception rules. Now, as then, there is a cape, and there is a sword.

Is it not unnatural and disturbing for one of the parties in a peace negotiation to be urged from every quarter to "take a risk for peace"? What is the peculiar nature of this peace that it is seen even by its proponents as a risk? Peace should be, to the contrary, a condition not of risk but of surety and amelioration. This peace comes with more than a hint of annihilation because even those who are in the midst of constructing it realize that it is fraudulent. It is built upon the imagined, unjustifiable and untrue assumption that Israel's opponents have grievances but not ambitions, and that in any case the grievances are somehow confined to the Golan and the West Bank.

This when Arab possession of these territories did not prevent the occurrence of three of the four major Arab-Israeli wars, when Yasser Arafat routinely states that his object is to recover Palestine in its entirety, when deep-set opinion throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds has never wavered from this object and does not now, and when the most striking Palestinian demand in the current negotiations is for the unrestricted return of Palestinians to all of Palestine.

More to the point, the question of Palestine is merely an anteroom in the great palace of Arab aspirations regarding Israel. As the Palestinians themselves continually state, the Arab world does not really care about them. What it does care about is reasserting itself in relation to the West, making pure the Muslim domain, rolling back what it considers the vestiges of colonialism, defeating modernism in its every guise, and removing from the choke point where Africa and Asia are joined the singular and impassable blockage of the Jewish state that literally divides the two great regions of the world of Islam.

There is a word in Arabic, taqiyah, that Madeleine Albright might well look up. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, a source with no known links to Ariel Sharon, describes it as "the practice of concealing one's belief," in which "the Qur'an allows Muslims to profess friendship with the unbelievers . . . on the condition that their hearts contradict their tongues." This is not merely a religious dispensation but a cultural pattern that debases the value of assurances and treaties.

Yasser Arafat and other Arab leaders have long understood that Western elites are so wanting to believe any kind of assurance that one actually need not hide one's plans as long as even the flimsiest statement in contradiction of them exists for interested politicians and diplomats to grasp. Though these politicians and diplomats may understand the danger in all this, as it is not a danger to them, they unreservedly recommend a "process" in which, they hope, formal acts and declarations will change the fundamental nature of the participants. About risk, trust, and belief in the power of process it is certain that, from his celestial perch, Neville Chamberlain could tell them a thing or two--even the Israeli prime minister, who does undertake the risk, as did his British counterpart nearly seven decades ago.

Which is not to say that the Palestinians should not have a state. Their immutable desire to destroy Israel should disqualify them not from having a state but, rather, from having the kind of state that could advance their immutable desire to destroy Israel. That is, they should have a totally demilitarized, Vatican-style enclave in the West Bank, back from the higher ground in the west, along the lines of the Allon Plan. Such a thing would have fallen far short of Palestinian expectations, as will any interim state that arises, but had Israel advanced it unilaterally the Palestinians would not now have--before the infancy of their state, in contravention of the Oslo agreements, and well in excess of the needs of dictatorial government--an army of 40,000 men.

This is the proud nucleus of a force three or four times its size that, equipped, clandestinely or not, with infantry-carried or truck-mounted antiarmor and antiaircraft missiles, could function within Israeli territory much like the Russian Spetsnaz. Attacks upon communications, parked or rolling aircraft, mobilization centers, supply depots, and the civilian population could greatly disrupt and demoralize Israeli forces preparing to take to the field or already fighting. As an adjunct to a full-scale offensive, Palestinian formations would have two additional tasks.

The first would be to cripple, destroy, or contain Israel's nuclear missiles, which if dispersed on the roads would be vulnerable to irregulars, and if kept concentrated for fear of irregulars would be vulnerable to conventional air assault or a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Destruction of its missiles would not deprive Israel entirely of the nuclear option, if only because of the easier and wider dispersal of gravity bombs to nuclear-capable squadrons that have a talent for getting even to remote targets, but it could disrupt future Arab-Israeli nuclear parity and have therefore a decisive effect on the outcome of battle.

The second would be to keep Palestinian territory secure for the reception of conventional formations, whether Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, or even a combined Gulf States expeditionary force. Even with possession of the Sinai, the Golan, and the West Bank, Israel's strategic situation in a full-scale war was a nightmare of too many fronts, too narrow a heartland and insufficient strategic depth. The pre-1967 outlines that appear about to emerge once again are for every Arab general an invitation to ponder the feasibility of rapid conquest. Looking at the map shows that Israel was born half conquered to begin with, and that the painful contortions of such borders would be a mortal threat to any nation.

In light of this, the small army of a Palestinian state might have a disproportionate effect, but the sword rests in other hands. Though given the conduct of the peace negotiators you would not think so, Israel's fate depends not upon the mollification of Syria and the Palestinians but, rather, upon the direction of Egypt and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Were Egypt to succumb to the immense economic and demographic pressures that threaten to recapitulate its approximately half-century cycles of radicalization, what is called the "peace of the brave" might be remembered as the peace of the expedient, the temporary, the careless, and the opportune. With ready-made constant support in Iraq, Iran, Libya and other even remoter belligerents, Egypt could easily swing Syria once again into co-confrontation.

In 1973 the Egyptians surprised Israelis who were less overconfident than they are today, crossed the canal, and established a bridgehead in the Sinai after overcoming Israel's first waves of opposition. The way was open for a catastrophic Egyptian thrust beyond the passes and toward an Israel that was not yet mobilized. Rather than taking full advantage, the Egyptians stopped for fear of outrunning their lines of supply and being drawn into a trap. At the highest levels they may also have considered Israel's newly developed nuclear capability. Today Israel has hundreds of warheads and bombs deliverable with great precision by aircraft or intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Because it will be a long time before the Islamic states can field enhanced radiation weapons or count on exceedingly precise guidance, even should they develop credible nuclear forces Israel's deterrent will be protected from a first strike by the Palestinian presence nearby and the direction of the prevailing winds. The issue, however, is not the destruction of these weapons but their neutralization.

One object of the Arab nuclear programs is to offset Israel's capacity to the point where Israel would resort to it only at the very end. So shielded, Arab conventional forces could carefully strike limited targets, in stages, whittling away at Israel until it were reduced to the kind of enclave the Palestinians now only half-pretend to want as an end to their diplomacy. The Sinai has been retrieved, and the West Bank and the Golan seem to be on the way, with hardly a shot. How much preparation, risk, and maneuver, then, would it take to win the Negev? Would Israel make use of atomic weapons, knowing that it would suffer retaliation in kind, to reverse a lost conventional battle for its largely unpopulated desert? What about sections of the largely Arab Galilee, or the forested and remote border with Lebanon?

That it might not triumph in every such battle is certainly something Israel must consider. A comparison of its conventional forces to those of the hypothetical coalition of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (leaving out Iran, Iraq, Libya, etc.) favors Israel despite an Arab advantage in critical weapons of 2.4 to 1. Israel's interior lines; far better command, control, communications, and intelligence; highly effective integration of its combat arms; flexible and imaginative doctrine; and superior training and technology make disparities in materiel less important.

But this was true as well in 1973, when the Egyptians very dangerously displayed talents and discipline they were not supposed to possess. The hypothetical coalition's 1,700 combat aircraft, as opposed to Israel's 700, include 390 first-line aircraft (F-16 or equivalent) to Israel's 335. It would not be impossible to design a strategy of surge and attrition to offset the superiority of the Israeli Air Force, with antiaircraft missiles and guns in support, as in 1973, combined with surface-to-surface missile and unconventional attacks on air force bases and battle management.

Without going into further detail, similar openings exist in regard to armor, etc. Israel has no monopoly on unexpected victory and, to invert Moshe Dayan's famous pronouncement, the road from Tel Aviv to Damascus also leads from Damascus to Tel Aviv. The orders of battle are here not so far apart that, to survive, Israel need not marshal every military advantage to protect against uncertainties and what it cannot foresee. In war, geography is everything, and by relinquishing its more defensible profile, Israel assumes much of its former vulnerability.

In its missionary zeal to teach the world how to behave properly and decently, the Clinton Administration has used the power and influence of the United States not merely to maneuver Israel into a position of its liking but for unprecedented interference in Israeli electoral politics. The president and Mrs. Albright are in this instance replicating their one and only method of operation in international relations: Give away the store. But by superimposing this pattern on Israel they bear a special responsibility, in that Israel has none of the margins of error or the great reserves of power that allow the U.S. to be periodically weepy and generous in foreign affairs without prejudicing its survival. As with most of Mr. Clinton's policies, this one is designed for the moment when its superficial sparkle will illuminate him to best advantage, but after the flash he will move off to another contrived bright spot, and everyone else will be left in the dark.

Despite the automatic repetition, by journalists and diplomats who have no sense whatsoever of the strategic dimension, that superior power insulates it with near-perfection from the consequences of misappraisal and misjudgment, Israel's military reality and long-term prospects are less certain.

Partly as a result of American pressure, Israel has not been able to ensure that the rising Palestinian state will actually be demilitarized. Apparently it will not even seek a territorial compromise vis-à-vis the high ground on the Golan, or benefit by some measure of Syrian disarmament. It operates apart from all consideration of the activities and attitudes of powerful and implacable states such as Iraq and Iran. It will be surrendering its last portions of strategic depth. It appears to be accepting a major shift in the correlation of forces, with no provision for contingencies such as the radicalization of Egypt; the unexpected transfer to its antagonists of nuclear weapons from Russia, China, North Korea, or Pakistan; or the sudden rise of a unified Arab coalition following a single galvanizing event, as in 1967 and 1973.

Chamberlain's tragic fault lay not in the fact that he made peace but in the kind of peace that he made. Just as Britain did, Israel is giving away too much, too quickly, with too little caution, too little thought, and too much fervor. After a century of Holocaust and war, it seems finally to be exhausted. Mesmerized by the beguiling undulations of the cape, which moves with softness, comfort, and color, it does not see the sword, which waits with motionless discipline for the cape to fall.

The writer is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and senior fellow of the Claremont Institute (The Wall Street Journal: Dec 17)

 

 

No Time to Cajole By Daniel Pipes

Those in the know seem to think that this round of Syrian-Israeli negotiations will lead to the big breakthrough. Prime Minister Ehud Barak predicts an agreement within "a matter of months" and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara speaks of a possible deal within "a few months."

Well, maybe. This sort of exuberance has been around since the start of Syrian-Israeli negotiations in 1991. In August 1994, for example, Israeli officials indicated that the essentials of an accord had been reached and that they expected it to be signed in well under a year. In December 1995, prime minister Shimon Peres predicted an agreement with Syria, adding, "I have no doubt except over the timetable." In December 1996, Binyamin Netanyahu asserted, "I have no doubt that we will succeed in reaching a peace accord with Syria during our present term in office." This long record of mistaken expectations should give pause. Further, the frosty demeanor and tough words of Syria's foreign minister at the White House last week again point to his regime's extreme reluctance to deal with Israelis, much less to reach an agreement with them. His boss, Hafez Assad, agreed to these talks because he is courting Western public opinion, not to reach closure with Israel.

Time and again, he has manufactured a pretext to stay away from the table or stall the negotiations. I think he fears an agreement with Israel would signal to the Syrian population an opening to the West and an end to totalitarian rule. Whatever his reason, the recurrent pattern of avoiding progress leads me to predict that Damascus will again concoct a reason to abort this round of negotiations.

Should that happen, Israelis need not despair. In fact, they may be better off for it. Syria's economy has fallen apart in ways that echo what's been taking place in Iraq. In both countries, a totalitarian ruler sacrifices the welfare of his people to ensure that he stays in power.

As Steven Plaut recently showed in the Middle East Quarterly, the proportion of Syrian babies born in a health facility is only 37 percent, one of the lowest rates in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa. Syria has fewer tractors per capita than Cuba. At last count, there were 5,000 fax machines in the whole country. The college library system of Syria contains as many volumes as a good-sized bookstore in the West. Because this economic collapse translates into military weakness, one has to wonder why Israel is so keen on a deal with a regime whose base has eroded so significantly. As Plaut suggests, "a rush by Israel to reach agreement with [Assad] makes about as much sense as the United States rushing in 1989 to reach agreements the Soviet Union." Why not sit back and wait for an even more weakened Syria? Maybe even a post-Assad regime?

There's another parallel with Iraq: Like Saddam Hussein, Assad has a long history of signing international agreements when these are useful to him, then ignoring them when they no longer serve his purposes. Three times he promised to remove his troops from Lebanon, in 1976, 1982, and 1989; but 35,000 of them remain. Eighteen times he promised to end the terrorism by the Kurdish group PKK against Turkey, but each time broke his word. So, too, with Israel, most notably concerning the 1974 Separation of Forces agreement. Assad promised Jerusalem that "Syrian civilians will return" to territory evacuated by Israeli forces, but they never did; only soldiers are there. He allowed terrorist operations in the early years of the agreement. In 1992, he moved commandos and heavy artillery into the demilitarized zone.

Why should anyone believe that Assad, any more than Saddam, will keep his word? A piece of paper from Assad is worth little - and it's especially inopportune at this time of economic decline, his ill-health, and the succession struggle now under way in Syria.

What's Israel's alternative to a piece of paper? Emulating Turkey. Just over a year ago, the Turkish government and people, in an act of solidarity, demanded that Assad expel PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan from his territory. Turkish politicians lobbed thinly veiled warnings to Damascus and the media bristled with talk of military action.

And Assad capitulated. This episode suggests that if Israel also wants to get its way (say, an end to Hizbullah attacks from Lebanon), it should threaten rather than cajole. Like bullies everywhere, Assad understands one language only - that of force.

The writer is director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and author of three books on Syria. (Jerusalem Post Dec 21)


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