On Wednesday, January 8, gunmen opened fire at Israeli soldiers from the Syrian border on the Golan Heights. The troops returned fire and gave chase, killing one of the attackers and capturing another. During the exchange of gunfire, Syrian soldiers manning a watchtower also began shooting at the Israelis.
The attack from Syrian territory was the first event of its kind in over 15 years. But an IDF spokesperson called the shooting “a localized incident,” indicating that Israel will not treat it as an act of war initiated by the Syrian government.
The reason behind the IDF position on the shooting attack is that the Syrian border has been quieter than all those borders currently protected primarily by peace agreements. From Egypt, smugglers bring in weapons for PLO forces in Gaza, as Egyptian soldiers turn a blind eye. There have been several terrorist incidents along the Jordanian border, despite active cooperation between Jordanian and Israeli forces. Apparently, peace in the Middle East is best preserved when Israeli tanks sit on a ridge in sight of the enemy’s capitol city, as they do on the Golan Heights, not when the enemy believes that Israel is restrained by a fictional “peace process.”
On the other hand, the IDF-enforced peace along the Golan has forced Syria to act on its hostile intentions towards Israel through surrogates. For that purpose, it is widely recognized, Syria supports and shelters many Arab terrorist organizations. In fact, the U.S. Congress’s Gilmore Commission classified Syria as the largest sponsor of terrorism after Iran. Syria is also included in the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism, primarily for playing host to the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and for its backing of the Hezbollah. Without Syrian collusion, the Hezbollah would not be able to operate at all in Syrian-occupied Lebanon.
Ever since Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon, under former prime minister Ehud Barak, the Hezbollah has been testing and probing Israeli defenses and reactions. The organization has kidnapped and killed Israelis, fired rockets at Israeli targets, laid mines along the border, fired anti-aircraft missiles and provided assistance to the PLO in its terrorist war. Hezbollah is suspected of involvement in procurement of the weapons captured on the Palestinian Authority’s Karine A smuggling ship, in the bombing and missile attack on Israeli targets in Kenya, and in a March shooting attack in the western Galilee that took the lives of six people. In effect, Syria has been waging a low-intensity proxy war with Israel for years, and Israel, true to form, has been reacting with “restraint.”
On Monday, Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz addressed a forum of leaders from communities along the northern border. He reassured them that in the event of a major Hezbollah attack, even during an American offensive against Iraq, Israel would no longer be able to show restraint. The Hezbollah, he noted, has several hundred long-range missiles in place in southern Lebanon. With them, the organization could effectively cover northern Israel — from the Lebanese border to Haifa. “If we find ourselves in a situation where Hezbollah opens a second front and uses long-range missiles, Israel will have no choice but to fulfill its responsibility to defend its citizens,” Mofaz said. The subject was Hezbollah, but the intended audience was Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
However, despite clear evidence regarding Syrian involvement in anti-Israeli terrorism, Britain’s prime minister Tony Blair hosted Assad last month in England, and listened politely when the Syrian leader said that his country does not support terrorism. Damascus, Assad said, was only home to the public-relations offices of several Arab organizations from the Palestinian Authority. Unfortunately, it’s not just Britain — the United States is also adopting a conciliatory policy regarding Syria. On Tuesday, January 7, Syria and the U.S. held unofficial talks in Damascus, sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. The meetings, which included the participation of Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter, were meant to improve bilateral relations. That’s right — to “improve bilateral relations” with a state classified by a congressional study as the second-biggest sponsor of international terrorism in the world.
The West cannot win the war on terrorism while coddling a terrorist regime. Such an inconsistent policy encourages Assad, and through him, Hezbollah, in their attacks on Israel.
— Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor at www.IsraelNationalNews.com who frequently writes for NRO. His commentaries have been published internationally and translated into several languages. He lives in Israel and can be reached through his homepage.