Thanks to M.J. Rosenberg for offering translations of Maariv stories about Israel’s Syrian attack. I offer these stories without endorsement of any particular views expressed since Maariv is Israel’s farthest right daily. My heart does go out to the Israeli journalists prevented from doing their jobs in a supposed democracy by draconian military censorship. You can read their frustration (though blaming Robert Gates for it seems misplaced) in one of the stories below:
THE IDF WANTS NEGOTIATIONS WITH SYRIA TO BEGIN IMMEDIATELY
Ma’ariv (p. 5) by Amir Rappaport —
1. The Surprise
The question of holding talks with Syria has been a contentious issue among senior security establishment officials for years already. Four prime ministers have already tried and failed, and then suddenly, with this in the backdrop, a surprise crops up: even when tensions between Israel and Syria are perceived to be at their highest given the attack on Syrian soil that was ascribed to the IDF, there are some security officials who clearly call for a resumption of the political talks between the two countries. Security officials who responded to questions on the matter before Rosh Hashanah said that Israel had a clear interest in engaging in peace negotiations with Syria, even if they do not produce results.
The position maintained by the IDF Intelligence Branch still supports negotiations with the Syrians, despite the most recent developments. There are two leading positions held by IDF Intelligence Branch officials. The first, which is put forward by IDF Intelligence Research Department Director Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, is based on the working assumption that the Syrians, their accelerated pace of armament notwithstanding, are truly interested in signing a peace treaty with Israel.
Alternatively, Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin subscribes to an opposing point of view and believes that it is most likely that the Syrians are not interested in making peace. Yadlin adduces the fact that the Syrians have insisted that the talks be held solely with American mediation rather than directly, and continue incessantly to permit terrorist organizations to operate on their soil. With that having been said, Yadlin believes that negotiations with Syria are a goal towards which Israel should aspire since the gains of negotiations outweigh the damage caused by them and they could serve as a means of defusing the tensions between Israel and Syria.
This belief is maintained outside the IDF Intelligence Branch as well. There have been a number of security officials who said recently that “now of all times it is especially important to engage in negotiations, which will reduce greatly the danger of deterioration into war.”
Wouldn’t you think that they’d have thought of this BEFORE violating Syrian sovereignty and blowing one of their military installations to kingdom come? Seems mighty foolish for the Israeli spooks to go to Assad and say: “Umm, Mr. President, let’s just forget about what happened last week and start over–shall we?”
2. The Picture Becomes Clearer
Despite the voices calling for negotiations with Syria, it is clear to all the security officials that there is no practical possibility of such negotiations being held with Syria in the near future. On the contrary. Israel has been on a heightened state of alert ever since the Syrian statement about the Israeli operation in Syrian territory. This heightened state of alert remained in place throughout the Rosh Hashanah holiday and there are no signs that it is going to change any time soon.
Meanwhile, official Israel has continued to maintain a strict silence and not to say a word in response to the allegations about an operation. The world media, alternatively, hasn’t stopped discussing the issue, and the numerous details that were published by the foreign media over the holiday appear to provide a rather clear picture of what happened. If the reports are correct, one can easily say that the operation that was carried out was one of the most dangerous and most brilliant in the annals of IDF history. Every operation 300 kilometers away from Israeli soil is very dangerous, all the more so when ground troops were also involved in the operation in addition to the Air Force, as some of the foreign media reported.
In reading this one should keep in mind that the source is Maariv, Israel’s most right-wing daily (though not as right-wing as the Washington Times or New York Post). I doubt it was the most dangerous nor the most brilliant, but depending on what they really hit it might’ve also been the most incendiary; something akin to the Tonkin Gulf incident.
3. The Nuclear Plant
At the center of the wave of recent reports is the issue of the Syrian nuclear program. Acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy and negotiations, Andrew Semmel, said in this context on Friday that Syria had formed covert ties with suppliers in order to obtain nuclear equipment. This was the first time in which a Western official formally ascribed “nuclear” ambitions to Syria, after years in which Western espionage agents believed that President Assad ascribed to achieve strategic parity with Israel by means of nuclear weapons. This policy of Bashar Assad is in stark opposition to the one pursued by his father, Hafez Assad, who equipped Syria with a tremendous store of chemical weapons but devoted no effort or time to acquiring nuclear weapons.
Israel and the United States are afraid that components that are liable to be used in the production of nuclear weapons and knowledgeable experts from North Korea and Pakistan are working in a number of countries with the goal of marketing their skills and know-how. The assessment is that Iran, whose nuclear program has been a focal point of attention for a number of years, is not the only country.
Note how a claimed nuclear program which no credible source has proven or documented in any authoritative way has become an incontrovertible fact.
4. A Question of Timing
According to the numerous foreign reports, one can ask whether the timing of the Israeli attack on a Syrian installation that was alleged to have been “nuclear” was indeed ideal. Was the attack (if it was carried out) carried out prematurely? Can Israel afford to attack again in the event that the Syrians should rebuild the installation, which foreign reports say was damaged, and equip themselves anew with suspicious substances?
5. The Syrian Response
With all that having been said, before an answer is given to all of the above questions, the most important and troubling question is what the Syrians’ reaction is going to be. Every public statement by senior officials in Damascus that Syria will respond obliges the Syrian leadership more and more and is liable to prompt Bashar Assad to order the execution of a revenge operation as a way of preserving his country’s honor.
With that being the case, in order to keep the blow to Syria’s honor as small as possible, the continued Israeli reticence, at least formally, is welcome.
For any Israeli to assume that there will not be a dear and savage price to pay for this action would be the height of foolishness.
ISRAEL UPGRADES ARROW MISSILE TO MEET NUCLEAR THREAT
Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 4) by Aryeh Egozi — Israel is currently completing the plans for the newest anti-ballistic missile, the Arrow 3, which will provide defense against the Iranian and Syrian chemical warheads and their future nuclear warheads.
The Syrians have improved the precision of the Scud B and D missiles that they bought from North Korea and the warheads that can be filled with chemical weapons. The warhead in question is a canister that is installed on the nose of the missile, which is then equipped with a mechanism that results in its explosion just a few kilometers above the ground. The explosion of its canister at this altitude is supposed to result in having the chemical contents of the warhead spread on as large an area as possible.
All of the weapons systems for defense against ballistic missiles-first and foremost the Arrow missile system-are designed to destroy the enemy warhead at as high an altitude as possible. As part of the testing, some of the dummy missiles that were used in Arrow missile experiments were fitted with warheads that simulated chemical warheads.
USA, CALL THEM OFF
Ma’ariv (p. 5) by Jacky Hugi (news analysis) — Greetings, Mr. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
You would not want to be an Israeli journalist these days. You do not know what is happening here. The prime minister, the ministers, high-ranking officers-everyone has come back from a silent retreat. Nobody is throwing us the faintest hint about what happened in Syria that night. What hint? We cannot even get a bone here.
And now, right after we resigned ourselves to the fact that we will not be making a living from this story and the highest levels in Israel have proved to us that at a rare moment it, too, is capable of being silent, along come your people and, in a series of leaks from Washington, give the whole world their assessment of what happened on the night of September 6. Over the past few days, several anonymous officials under your command were the sole and abundant source of information for the world media about this incident. Every one of them provided details, each more fascinating than the last, about what supposedly happened there.
I understand, Mr. Gates, that you are dealing with Bashar Assad. After all, we also have a few generals and politicians who would like to see him fall. If we were in your place, we would also go crazy over a regime that stubbornly refuses to seal its borders, allowing armed men to infiltrate into Iraq and hit your troops. You are surely very frustrated to read the information that streams to you about the assistance that the Syrians are providing the factions in Iraq, which are massacring the best of your children. We see you inviting the whole world to the peace summit in November and enjoying squeezing vain entreaties for an invitation from the Syrians.
But, Mr. Secretary, you must understand what a delay mechanism we are sitting on here in the Middle East. The situation is too volatile to be made into a cushion for experiments on human beings. The level of trust between Israel and Syria is just about level with the ground. Each country suspects that the other is plotting war against it.
But despite everything, Bashar is still on Olmert’s side. He is also interested in turning down the flame, calming the region and getting back to business as usual. But your people are not letting him. They are eager to embarrass him in front of the whole world. And over here, we are afraid that if Assad is embarrassed too much, he will be forced to respond. That is our problem, Mr. Gates.
Not that we have lost our curiosity. On the contrary. We thirst for information about this incident. But here and in Syria there are millions of families whose children’s lives are more precious to them and who would not like to see rockets flying over their heads again. Mr. Secretary, do us a favor-call them off.
The last passage of course is lamest of all and typical of certain Israeli journalists who seem to be utterly tone deaf when it comes to understanding what is really happening in their country and the outside world. To believe that having U.S. government sources talking about Israel’s attack on Syria is the sole irritant that could lead to a new Israel-Syria war is beyond ridiculous. Does this journalist think the Syrians would be content were it not for the U.S. Defense Department talking about the attack? But in all honesty, we have our own journalists here in the U.S. who don’t do much better.