Israel's Generals are Asking: Is Syria Planning to Start a War?
by Shira Sorko-Ram
Living in Israel may be stressful, but living in Sderot, Israel, is really indescribable. Thousands of Kassam rockets stuffed with shrapnel have rained down on this unfortunate town of 23,000 citizens, mostly Jewish immigrants.
Although the town has been under fire for seven long years, lately the attacks have increased to such an extent that 10,000 of its residents have fled to friends and relatives in other parts of Israel. Many others would leave permanently but they know no one will buy their homes.
Sderot is just over a mile away from the Gaza strip and evidence of Hamas' and other Jihadists' Kassams is everywhere, on every street, in every neighborhood.
Anywhere from ten to thirty Kassams rockets fall every day. Lately schools are closed; few cars and no pedestrians can be seen. Children sleep in stifling, windowless bomb shelters, packed in like sardines.
Before the advent of Kassams, Sderot was a quiet little community, home to several factories, hi-tech businesses, yeshivot (Orthodox Talmudic) schools, parks and a thriving business district. Today, 75% of small businesses are permanently or temporarily closed. Out of absolute need, adults rush out to buy groceries and rush home again. Not many have been killed, but the real toll is the permanent damage which can result from the mental and emotional deterioration of Sderot's citizens. (Metro, 1Jun07)
A repeating scenario goes like this: A few days ago a 10-year-old girl, Mayan, was sent across the street to bring a lonely neighbor over for the blessing which welcomes the onset of the Sabbath. Then the "red alert" sounded over the citywide public address system - the recorded voice of a woman calmly but urgently repeating "Color Red, Color Red," the code for an incoming rocket which is inevitably followed by a whistle and a terrifying boom.
Mayan sat on the grass screaming and could not move until an ambulance crew arrived and calmed her down. Yet, officially, "there were no injuries." The fact is that ambulance crews pick up numbers of adults and children who, when caught outside during an attack, simply freeze and fall to the ground wailing.
"Psychologists and mental health workers here describe a population that has become paralyzed by the terror of the last red alert and the dread of the next one...
"People are shaking, they can't move, they are crying, sweating, and in a state of shock...it affects everybody - young, old, men, women, children," say psychologists and counselors. (International Herald Tribune, 1Jun07)
Taking a shower is particularly stressful - as the running water may keep a resident from hearing the alert. (We remember when Iraqi rockets fell on Tel Aviv in 1991, taking a shower was very traumatic - especially for our children - as we only had seconds to wrap a towel around us and rush to our sealed rooms.)
The aim of mental health workers in Sderot is to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder from setting in, a potentially chronic condition that can cripple lives. However, at the moment there is no "post" because there is no end in sight of Kassams randomly crashing down on Sderot any time of the day or night. (Ibid.)
The Mayor of Sderot stoically reflects, "I suffer here so that the Tel Avivians can sit at cafes in peace and quiet. This is the People of Israel. This is our part in history." (Jerusalem Post, 31May07)
Some $50 million is being spent on reinforcing schools in and around Sderot. For cashstrapped Israel the price is high, but there is no other choice if children in war are going to be able to continue school.
Far right politican, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, also suggests a strong response. He says Israel should bomb Gaza after every Kassam rocket strike. In his blog he writes, "Even after Israel pulled out of the very last inch of Gaza they [the Palestinians] chose to use it as a launching ground for attacks against Israeli towns and civilians."
He advocates shutting off the water and power in areas in Gaza where Palestinians fabricate their rockets and weapons. And he suggests bombing Gaza's extremely affluent neighborhood, Rimal. He urges that "the decision makers will pay the price for attacking Israel, not the innocent [Palestinian] masses." (Ibid.1Jun07)
REASONS FOR ISRAEL'S RESTRAINT
This argument, according to the respected Haaretz newspaper, is rarely mentioned officially because Israeli intelligence analysts are still uncertain as to whether Syrian President Bashar Assad really intends to start a war or is merely trying to pressure Israel to resume peace talks.
One thing is clear to Israel's military: Syria is preparing herself for war through extensive troop training and military arms purchases. As a result the IDF believes it must be ready for this possibility and if Israel were to become entangled in a military offensive on the southern front, it would impair its ability to defend itself against Syria. (Haaretz 1Jun07)
AN ALTERNATIVE: PEACE TALKS?
The key question is, "Why is Syria hinting that she wants to hold peace talks with Israel?" The apparent answer is that Assad is desperate to deflect attention from the massive condemnation leveled at Syria by the world community because of Syria's evident participation in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harari - a popular politician who was determined to get Syria out of Lebanon.
The United Nations has voted to establish a tribunal to find and prosecute Harari's killers. Syria and her allies fought hard against the UN decision although Assad denies any involvement in the killing. In short, all signs point straight to Dictator Assad. The charge by the world body is serious enough that Bashar urgently needs to find a distraction that would bring him in out of the cold. Is this the reason Assad wants "talks with Israel?"
SHOULD ISRAEL CALL SYRIA'S BLUFF?
Or would it? When such negotiations are begun, many Israeli politicians are afraid that world pressure might bare down on Israel to force her to give away the Golan Heights simply in exchange for a piece of paper signed by Dictator Bashar Assad.
"There are lots of serious questions about Bashar, his regime, his intentions and his capabilities," says Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, "and to walk unprepared into a negotiation with an Arab leader can have disastrous results, as we saw at the second Camp David [when Clinton tried to negotiate a peace agreement between Arafat and Barak]."
CIVILIANS PREPARING FOR WAR
"Our job is to prepare for an all-out war," said Col. Hilik Sofer, head of the Home Front Command Population Division. "We prepare for a wide range of possibilities since it doesn't make a difference where the threat comes from." (Jerusalem Post 31May07)
Hamas has Kassams that could reach as far as Ashkelon. Hizbullah's rockets can reach to Hadera south of Haifa. Syria's missiles can reach anywhere in Israel. And Iran will soon have nuclear weapons that could cause a major city to disappear in a minute.
The University of Tel Aviv holds regular seminars in crowded auditoriums with experts lecturing on the different aspects of security. Recently the subject undertaken was: "What will Tel Aviv do if and when the bomb drops?" Arguments among audience members broke out during the lectures, punctuated with bursts of nervous laughter.
Israel is coming to grips with the awareness that the entire country must prepare for a missile attack. Once again, in the long history of the Jewish nation, holocaust sits on the horizon.
IF IT WERE NOT FOR THE LORD...
But what will have to happen in the interim to cause Israel to turn to their King?