One might be inclined to brush off the recent verbal exchanges between Ehud Barak, Walid Moallem and Avigdor Lieberman as no more than Hamlet's "words, words, words" that have little meaningful content. Nevertheless, they are an indication of the thoughts running through the minds of Israel's defense and foreign minister and Syria's foreign minister. So just what are these thoughts?
Let's start with our defense minister. Barak is saying that if Israel does not negotiate a peace agreement with Syria - one that would lead to the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian control - Israel is risking a war with Syria; that after such a war, we would simply return to the present situation and the need to negotiate a peace agreement with Syria and give up the Golan.
Really? Does that mean that in his opinion Israel's deterrent capability against Syria that has existed since the Yom Kippur War and was reinforced during the first Lebanon war has worn thin over the years and, in effect, no longer exists? Does that mean that after a war initiated by Syria, Syria's situation would essentially be no different than before it attacked Israel, that it would continue to remain a threat so that Israel would be forced to concede the Golan Heights? Well, that would be good news for Syrian President Bashar Assad, and if taken seriously by him might even put adventurous thoughts in his mind.
Except that Assad knows better than that. He knows that a war with Israel would probably damage Syria severely and leave him with little chance to continue to make demands on Israel; that is, unless he places great reliance on the thousands of ballistic missiles he has accumulated over the years. Moallem hinted at their use. "Israel should know that a war will move to Israel's cities," he said. So maybe in fear of the destruction of its cities by Syrian missiles, Israel would prefer to concede the Golan Heights to Syria to prevent such a war. Is that really the balance of terror that now exists between Israel and Syria?
Israel did not need Moallem's warning to be aware of the thousands of missiles in Syria's inventory accumulated in recent years. One can only hope that the preparations by the Home Front Command - distributing gas masks and readying shelters for the civilian population - are not the only or even the main answer that Israel has prepared against this threat. Israel has certainly had enough time to develop the weapons systems and an appropriate strategy that would remove from Syrian minds the thought of using these missiles against Israel's cities. Do they really need the statement by Lieberman that the current Syrian regime would not survive a war with Israel to put some sober thoughts into their heads?
One can only conclude that the avalanche of words by the leaders of Israel and Syria this past week was really intended for the Israeli public. The defense minister is using scare tactics to urge Israelis to prepare to abandon the Golan Heights. Rather than risking an inevitable war that will result in no more than a stalemate, Israel should now give up the Golan Heights, he tells us. Moallem echoes Barak's words by threatening the destruction of Israel's cities if a war were to occur. And Lieberman is saying - and it's most probably true - that if Syria were to go to war against Israel, under the impact of Israeli blows, Assad's Alawite ruling regime would probably not survive such a war. That is what deterrence is all about, so Israelis need not worry, Lieberman tells us, despite the defense minister's pronouncements.
As for a sober assessment of the Israeli-Syrian situation, by all indications the Syrians continue to be deterred from attacking Israel by their appreciation of Israel's military capability and the response they can expect to aggression on their part. Over the years they have amassed a large arsenal of ballistic missiles hoping to deter Israel from taking military action against Syria. This Syrian deterrent has been effective enough to keep Israel from calling Syria to account for its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. So far.
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