Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Did Hafez Assad help Israel conquer the Golan Heights and win the 1967 war?

 Many of Bashar Assad’s followers want to see him and his clique as a great anti-imperialist. That’s why they shut their eyes before the cruel crimes of this regime. The dubious role of his father in the June war of 1967 (also known as the “Six Day War”) shows how ridiculous this belief is.
Sometimes, even simple soldiers can see things which the experts cannot. I was an Israeli soldier on the front at the beginning of the war and stationed in a wood on a hill not far from the Golan Heights.
 With the exception of a low flying Syrian fighter plane, which had another much more important mission, there were no military actions that day. Towards the evening, our division was sent in the direction of the West Bank. This big movement of troops is well known and also documented, but there is no explanation about how it came about that the Israeli High Command had the clairvoyant ability to know that the Syrian army was not going to really play any part in the events.
 The Syrian front was exposed, practically without any defense worthy of mention, except for a minimal number of Israeli troops. If the Syrian army had attacked, the Israeli situation would have become extremely precarious. Could it be that the Israeli leadership was willing to take such a big risk?
 One cannot forget that the crisis which led to the war came about because of tensions between Israel and Syria. The Soviet secret service received false information that the Israeli army was apparently concentrating troops on the Syrian border and was planning an attack. To meet this alleged threat and to reduce the pressure on Syria, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to help and thus removed the UN troops from the Sinai Peninsula and stationed his own troops there.
This clear contravention against the treaty of 1957 was used by the Israeli military leadership as an excuse for a war, even though they knew how hopeless the situation of the Egyptian army was and that it could not endanger Israel.
 Nasser’s loud verbal threats had no support and diplomatic endeavours to defuse the crisis had a very good chance of success.
The following questions can be asked:

  • Why did only Jordan come to help and why did Syria of all places, stay neutral when Egypt got into a dangerous situation because of the Israeli attack?
  • How did the Israeli High Command get to know that the Syrian army would not go on the offensive and attack the exposed north of Israel?

Neither the military intelligence service commanding officer, General Shlomo Gazit, nor the commander of "my" division at that time, General Elad Peled knew the answers to my questions.
 General Peled told me (and he said the same in a broadcast on Israeli State Radio) that former Defence Minister Moshe Dayan at first did not want to conquer the Golan Heights, because he thought that there would be too much resistance. On the 8th of June towards midnight, after the West Bank and the Sinai were totally occupied, Peled got a call from the High Command. He was told that everything was quiet and that he could go to bed. Towards five o’clock, Peled said, he was told to move the Division to the Syrian border, since there was an attack all the same.
 On this Peled commented: Dayan heard of a Syrian command to withdraw all their troops from the border and that’s why he decided on his own initiative to attack the Golan Heights.
 As a matter of fact, we did not observe any enemy soldiers when we were on the Golan Heights and when we walked near the Kibbutz Gonen on a goat trail to the Golan Heights. Had only one Syrian thrown stones at us, we would not have gone to the top.  It is evident that, although our unit could be seen from far away, no shot was fired in our direction: and when we took the Syrian position without any fight, there were no corpses to be found.
 General Peled confirmed my personal memories and also what I had read in the related accounts and documents, that with the exception of a few places on the Golan Heights, there was no Syrian defence. Whenever Syria resisted, our troops were confronted with great difficulties! 
 This raises questions similar to those above:

  • Why did the Syrian army retreat so early without any fighting? 
  • How could Dayan know this?

The two well-informed Israeli Generals did not want to or could not answer those two questions. In Syrian circles though, there have long been rumors about an order to retreat. But that order was given only on the 10th of June, when we were already on the Golan Heights.
 One can practically exclude the possibility that Dayan heard about the Syrian plan by tapping their communication system, because there is no written evidence about such an operation by an intelligence service at that time. (It is known that an earlier attempt by the Israelis to do this failed). Also the then head of the research department of the military intelligence service, Shlomo Gazit, denies that any such attempt was made.
In any case there are still open questions as to how it happened that the Syrian army did not help Egypt or indeed Jordan, and why it retreated early almost without any resistance and rather chaotically.
 Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, was “only” the Minister of Defence at that time, but he pulled the strings and was considered to be the real ruler of Syria. It is unlikely that this important decision was taken or authorized by anyone other than him. And one cannot exclude the possibility that he had a direct link to Dayan and thus decided to do everything to save his army, since already on the first day of war the Syrian air force - his personal pride - was destroyed by the Israelis.
Therefore it is highly plausible that Assad was ready to sacrifice the Golan Heights to save his position of power, which was based on a army fully up to strength, and that therefore he could have informed Dayan twice and could have made a deal, which would have made possible the conquest of the Sinai and the West Bank.
Israeli historical research so far has not discussed these unavoidable and demanding questions and circumstances. The reason is obviously because there is a danger that the performance of its own army could be demythologized and diminished (rightly so!) and that the special relationships with Assad could be revealed.
 The well-founded theory and the questions it raises also challenge the present Assad regime, making it more difficult to find its great anti-imperialistic tradition.

German version: Half Hafez Assad Israel, die Golanhöhen zu erobern und den Junikrieg zu gewinnen?

1 comment:

  1. I am not entirely surprised by this because I remember hearing during the 1982 Lebanon war of contacts between Sharon and the Assads,at least Rifaat and possibly Hafeztoo.
    But the suggestion that the Syrian army did not fight in 1967 seems at odds with the letter I read from an old youth movement comrade of mine who served in the IDF, and said "the Syrians fought like lions". Mind you he was talking about one particular engagement, I think it was around some caves, and may have involved one particular Syrian unit rather than overall dispositon. It is even possible the unit was one of Palestinian volunteers rather than regular forces.
    Something I also remember was the Syrian role in the siege of Tel al Zaatar in supporting the Phalangists. This seems to have conveniently erased from some memories. But I was told that Abu Jihad contacted the Saudis, who were giving the Syrian regime financial support at the time, and said something like "Look, we were driven out of Palestine. We were driven from Jordan after Black September. If we are driven from Lebanon there will only one place for us to go, the Gulf." "What do you want?" said the alarmed Saudi. "Call off the Syrians", replied Abu Jihad. And sure enough, next morning the Syrian tanks had gone from around Tel al Zataar.