Here is an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes report on the state of war-readiness of a key Arab nation.
Damascus, Syria SYRIA is a pivotal country in the Arab world. And Damascus is its heart. Israeli forces are only 30 miles away from where I am writing. It is time our readers understood why Syria has become the Arab power that cannot be ignored. Throughout 1983, events In neighboring Lebanon focused attention of the world on Syria and its President, HafezaI-Assad, one of the Mideast's most formidable leaders. The attention centered on Syria's adamant opposition to the U.S. mediated Israeli-Lebanese agreement for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon. Why has Syria objected to this controversial pact?
No newsman can intelligently evaluate the situation in the Middle East without an understanding of the motivations underlying the actions of each nation in this critical region. Regardless of whether these attitudes are based in fact, attitudes motivate a nation's policies. One may agree or disagree with them. 'But to be unaware of them is to ignore a major factor in the complex Mideast equation. That is why The Plain Truth is bringing you this firsthand report as the year 1984 springs upon us. "You in the West have not heard our side of the story," a student of literature commented to me at the university here in Syria's capital. "You call us hostile, intransigent and unreasonable," he continued. "And that is because your news media have failed to report the reasons behind our so-called 'hard-line' position. And we do have good reasons!" The student spoke to me with conviction and emotion. Emotions often run high here in the volatile Middle East. Like the vast majority of Syrians, this student knew precisely where he stood on the Arab-Israeli question, and why. Yet how many in the media-saturated West know why he and his fellow countrymen believe and act as they do? To be informed, we need to understand why Syria rejects the Israeli-Lebanese agreement, and how Syrians view the Mideast situation at this moment.
By the terms of the Israeli-Lebanese accord, Israel has agreed to withdraw its troops from battle-scarred Lebanon only when Syria does likewise. Syrians, however, see no link between their own presence in Lebanon and an Israeli withdrawal. From Syria's point of view, its troops are in Lebanon on an entirely different basis than are Israeli soldiers. The Syrians insist their presence in Lebanon was legitimized by a Lebanese invitation to intervene during Lebanon's 1975-76 civil war and later formalized as an Arab peacekeeping force by the Arab League. In contrast, Syrians contend Israeli troops are in Lebanon as the result of an invasion in the summer of 1982, an invasion Syrians regard as an act in violation of international law. Syrians are convinced that Israel wants to impose its hegemony over Lebanon. They cite Israel's demands for a continuing military presence in south Lebanon as proof of the intentions of the Jewish state. Both Israel and Syria advance conflicting charges of expansionist intentions. Israel accuses Syria of attempting to incorporate areas of Lebanon into an envisioned "Greater Syria." Syrians, on the other hand, claim that Israel's actions in Lebanon are just another chapter in the Zionist state's expansionist "grand design." Most Syrians are convinced that Israel has definite expansionist aims in neighboring Arab countries. The words plots, conspiracies and intrigues are regularly used in the Syrian press to describe Israeli intentions in the region. Syrians feel threatened by Israel, and most anticipate an eventual Israeli attack on their country. "It is Israel that is hostile, not Syria," asserted a student at the University of Damascus. "Our policies are defensive. We must protect our security." "Look at the record," another student declared. "The Israelis have annexed our Golan Heights. They continue to build settlements on the occupied West Bank — and will probably annex it. They oppose the formation of a Palestinian state. Now they want to annex south Lebanon. They are expansionists. What other conclusions can we draw?"
Big War "Inevitable"?
Syria's determination to "stand firm" against Israel hinges on the country's military preparedness. Despite its military setbacks in the 1982 Lebanon war, Syria remains Israel's most formidable neighbor. The Soviet Union-Syria's major weapons supplier and political backer — has replaced all of Syria's combat losses with even more powerful arms (see box). In a short time, Syria's revamped military has become a major fighting force. Israel's edge is slowly being eroded as Soviet deliveries continue to flood into Syria's arsenal What is the possibility of these weapons actually being used, of Syria and Israel being drawn into direct conflict — a fifth Middle East war? "If Arab territories occupied in 1967 are returned and the rights of Palestinians are respected, we will seek peace with Israel," said a Syrian army officer. "But as long as the Palestinians continue to be denied their right to self-determination, there can be no peace!" In the opinion of most Syrians, Israel's "intransigence" prevents a fair and peaceful resolution of the Middle East problem. Thus war, they believe, is the only answer. "War is coming. There is no doubt. And we are ready!" asserted one army reservist. I n the minds of the vast majority of Syrians, it is no longer a question of If war comes. It is only a question of when. A big war, they believe, is inevitable. Most Syrians are confident of their ability to score a victory in the next round of fighting with Israel. Popular feeling is overwhelmingly enthusiastic at the prospect of finally settling past scores with the Zionist entity, as Israel is often referred to. "We will fight Israel 100 times. We will fight for a year, two or three," declared Syria's defense minister Mustapha Tlass last July. "This generation will take up arms against Israel 'and the next one too until the Arab Nation emerges victorious."
Joint Arab Force
Will Syria take on Israel single-handedly? "Yes, if necessary," Syrians answer. Most Syrians, however, expect Syria's close allies to become directly involved should another major Mideast war erupt. Libya's strongman, Muammar Kadafi, has personally visited Damascus to discuss military cooperation between his country and Syria in the face of the "Israeli threat." This writer was informed that a sizable contingent of Libyan troops has been in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley alongside Syrians since the summer of 1982. A lesser number of Iranians — 400 or so-are also reportedly in the Bekaa. Algeria and South Yemen are also frequently mentioned as allies on whom Damascus can count in the event of full-scale Mid-east war. "Only through a joint Arab military force can Israel's backbone be broken and its arrogance smashed," declared one Syrian newspaper editorial Syrians are confident that a united Arab strike would be devastating to Israel Alone or with allies, Syria could undeniably inflict casualties in numbers greater than ever before. Few military experts doubt that Syria could strike a damaging blow with the advanced hardware now being supplied by the Soviet Union. But many analysts also believe Israel would still win, despite any heavy damage inflicted by the Syrians. But the cost of victory could be intolerably high for either party. When do Syrians think this "inevitable" war will come? "We do not want a premature war," said one university student. "But Israel's military provocations may leave us no choice. We will fight when we must. I believe it will be soon." "1984 will be the year," predicted another student. "I have contacts who know. The Israelis are going to bleed." The potential for war is indeed here. Tensions could build, then erupt into carnage, plunging the region into tragedy and bringing the risk of superpower confrontation! Bible prophecies do predict a growing crisis, exploding into a major international conflict. But they do not reveal a specific year.
Why Increasing Instability?
From the standpoint of the present time and the present world, the tangled Arab-Israeli situation is increasingly an unsolvable problem. The gulf between the two sides on basic issues remains wide and deep. No significant compromises are in sight. As often explained in the pages of The Plain Truth, Bible prophecy foretells continuing instability and upheaval throughout the region — ultimately culminating in a great global crisis centering on Jerusalem. For an overview of the events that lie just ahead for the Middle East, read our free copy of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last. Also, request World Peace — How It Will Come for a look at how the seemingly unsolvable Mideast problem will ultimately be solved. Coming articles in The Plain Truth will also alert you to important trends and developments in the ongoing Arab-Israeli dispute. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on Syria. The prophecies of the Bible are moving toward fulfillment in this generation. Soon-coming events will stun an unsuspecting world!
Syria's Formidable Military
Syria is Moscow's chief ally in the Middle East. More than 5,000 Russian military advisers and civilian technicians are stationed in Syria. Russian military equipment is pouring into the country at an unprecedented rate. The Syrian army is considerably stronger now than it was just a year ago. Experts believe it is at twice its strength compared to what it was at the outbreak of the 1973 October War. Syria is reportedly spending more than half its national budget on defense. Under the 1983-84 Syrian budget, defense spending will total US$2.6 billion (54 percent of the budget). Despite the negative effect of this ambitious military-spending program on the nation's economy, most Syrians aren't complaining. These weapons, they warn, are essential to answer "Israeli aggression." " There are Israeli forces within 30 miles of Damascus," they remind journalists. Syria has more than 3,600 Soviet — made tanks in its arsenal, including the T-72, the .Kremlin's most advanced tank. Syria's air force boasts more than 600 Mig fighters. Even more significantly, the Soviet Union has provided Syria with long-range SAM-5 antiaircraft missiles. SAM-5 missiles have not before been deployed outside the Warsaw Pact nations. SAM-5 radar allows Syria to detect Israeli aircraft at longer ranges than ever before. The missiles themselves have a range of more than 150 miles, The SAM sites thus give Syria the potential of spotting and attacking Israeli aircraft as they take off from airfields deep within Israel. The SAM sites in Syria are manned by Soviet crewmen, and are well protected by batteries of other surface-to-air missiles. That the sites are manned by Russians adds an additional unsettling factor to the Mideast picture: an Israeli attack could kill Soviet personnel. On the ground, Syria has some 230,000 men under arms, and can call up another 100,000 reserves on short notice. Syrian ground forces performed with skill in Lebanon in 1982, as even the Israelis admit. "We put up a good fight; we held the line," says one Syrian soldier. Since then, the Syrian army has been further expanded and modernized.