Cannot Rely On Others
With General Meir Dagan
By Shai Gefen
one who is strongly opposed to withdrawing from the Golan, you are
probably very satisfied by the results of the meeting in Geneva
between President Clinton and Syrian President Assad.
don’t know whether I am satisfied with what happened in Geneva;
I am satisfied by the fact that the Golan Heights will not be
returned to the Syrians at this point.
is your analysis of the meeting in Geneva?
think we are witnessing Syrian obstinacy in standing by their
decision of wanting a full withdrawal up to the June 4 lines. This
is also influencing the Palestinian issue.
until this point, the stubbornness paid off for Assad. On every
point where he patiently persisted, he got what he wanted. He
thinks that with a little more pressure he will be able to get
more from us. What is the June 4th line we are talking about? The
Syrians captured El Chama in ‘54, and what does Assad say now?
Wherever a Syrian soldier walked is “holy ground.” What should
we say? Where Israeli soldiers walked is not holy ground?
have to know how to deal with Syrian obduracy and their attempts
to push for every last millimeter. The Syrians are famous for
their stubbornness, and these were the real results of the
do you think about the fact that the Israeli government submitted
to nearly all the Syrian demands?
really don’t know what the Israeli government did or did not
agree to. Our information comes mainly from the media. I am not
really a part of the negotiations, so I must say I do not know. I
can only tell you that there was a news item speaking about the
Israelis’ willingness to concede the Golan Heights, and about
the Israelis’ willingness to do business in exchange for El
Chama and for the entire Kineret. Since I don’t understand this
at all, it’s hard for me to know what really went on. From what
various ministers have said, and from the fact that Prime Minister
Barak said we have to make tough concessions in the Golan, I
assume that in principle he agreed to concede the Golan.
a general in the Reserves, how do you see giving up the Golan
Heights from a security standpoint?
see this as a blow to the very security of the existence of the
State of Israel, so I see every concession on the security lines
in the Golan Heights as taking unnecessary chances. We lost six
million Jews in the Holocaust. Surely we must know that regarding
certain matters we simply cannot take chances. These matters have
to do with our security, and with questions regarding our very
existence. In matters such as these, we can’t afford to gamble.
Therefore, I strictly oppose conceding the Golan Heights, which I
consider essential to the security of the State of Israel.
are the benefits in having the Golan Heights from a security
Golan Heights has a number of advantages. I will not list them all
now. I will just speak in general terms. First of all, the Heights
have a topographical advantage, making them relatively easy to
defend with far fewer forces, at least based on current military
strengths. Second, sovereignty over the Golan gives you
outstanding advantages, so for the Syrians that means the ability
to threaten the entire northern Israel. Conversely, if we own it,
the Heights enables us to threaten all of Damascus. This is
our politicians tell us that as soon as we return the Golan
Heights, our problems with Syria will be solved and we will have
think if we look at the type of talks that took place in
Shepherdstown between Israel and Syria, we will know just what
sort of “peace” this will be like.
it be worse than “peace” with Egypt?
I do not agree to the terms of our “peace” with Egypt, at
least we have a ceasefire with them for the meantime. But
there’s a big difference between the two places. With Egypt we
have still retained some — though not enough — strategic
depth, giving us enough time to mobilize our reserves the moment
Egypt makes a move towards us. With the Golan Heights, however,
it’s completely different. People don’t realize that the
residents of the Golan Heights are closer to Damascus than they
are to Tel Aviv. Egypt is 250 kilometers away from us, and Syria
is 65 kilometers away. There’s just no comparison between the
two. This minute distance would not give us enough time to
mobilize our forces in the event of war.
in talks with the Syrians they speak about foreign forces that
will separate them from us. Does this not satisfy you as a
answer to your question, I always cite two examples. One is that
even in ‘67, before the Six-Day War, there were U.N. forces
between ourselves and our enemies, and we saw just how much that
was worth. Second, people don’t remember that to this very day
there are U.N. forces in Lebanon whose job it is to serve as a
buffer, and the fact is that they do not prevent even one attack.
actually happens is that this force ends up being purely cosmetic,
preventing us from responding, and enabling terrorists to act.
Experience has shown that relying on foreign forces in issues
concerning the existence of the State of Israel is problematic
right from the start. In addition to Hashem, we Jews can only rely
on ourselves. There are no others. We were never saved by others,
and we are not likely to be helped by others in the future.
Barak’s problem is that he promised to withdraw from Lebanon and
linked that with the withdrawal from the Golan Heights?
don’t get the connection. If there was one thing the State of
Israel had to beware of doing, it was making a connection between
these two things. It was the Syrians who linked the two together
and we played along.
was a tactical consideration, not based on military strategy. What
Barak is doing is providing himself with a good way of selling the
whole story to the Israeli public. See, we returned the Golan
Heights and thus it’s quiet in Lebanon. I am sure that the only
purpose in this is to be better able to sell the idea of
withdrawing from the Golan.
your opinion, is it possible to unilaterally withdraw from
gradually is preferable to any other scenario. People are acting
like ostriches. They are sure that if we leave Lebanon, all our
problems will be solved. To the best of my knowledge, I think that
the Hizballa won’t stop its activities, but will continue to
chase after us. Then, instead of the conflict with Hizballa being
in Lebanon, far from where Jews live, if we withdraw, we will be
bringing the conflict into our own country.
far as those who claim that withdrawing from Lebanon will mean
that our soldiers will no longer be killed there, all I can say is
that in addition to the soldiers who will continue to be killed, r’l
– because the Hizballa will not cease its activities –
citizens will be killed, too. Our leaving Lebanon will not solve
my opinion, there are three elements that must be addressed in any
long-term solution: First, there must be a change in how we
respond militarily in Lebanon. In other words, we must hit the
Hizballa in every way that can really hurt them. (I’d rather not
be specific in an interview.) Second, we must respond with much
more aggressive retaliation to attacks on us. The third thing is
to put on pressure, through the U.N. and the U.S., to reach a
structured accord with Lebanon in taking out our forces.
the same time, you must remember that by leaving Lebanon, we have
a great moral dilemma. In southern Lebanon there are many people
who collaborated with us, as distinct from the rest of Lebanon. We
were assisted in the south by Christians, Druzim, and Shiim. We
had an understanding with them that derived from common interests,
resulting from their knowledge that if they live near the State of
Israel and also want secure lives, they must ensure that we too
have quiet and peaceful lives. Based on this common interest, and
due to the civil war in Lebanon in ‘76, we forged a most unique
collaboration. This has lasted over 25 years. Some people in
Lebanon have been born into this reality, and now they and their
children and parents find themselves and their fates intertwined
with that of Israel’s.
we abandon them now?
certainly hope not. I have only one solution to offer, and that is
to call upon our moral responsibility to these people. We can’t
just stand aside when tomorrow they will begin mass slaughtering
there. We wouldn’t be able to forgive ourselves. As Jews we
always questioned, justifiably so, how the world could have stood
by silently while Jews were being murdered. So here, when we know
from the very start what will happen, won’t we do all we can to
prevent this from happening?
addition to everything else, they say that Assad has a great need
to remain in Lebanon for economic reasons. Is that true?
indeed. I think one reason for Assad’s stubbornness in coming to
an agreement with Israel is connected with Lebanon. Assad was
ready to accept the Golan Heights in exchange for nothing, but
when he weighs his two concerns, his interest in Lebanon as
opposed to his desire to get the Golan Heights, he prefers
Lebanon. As far as he is concerned, that takes precedence.
interests are you talking about?
the economic considerations you mentioned, you have to consider
ideology. Syria sees Lebanon as an inseparable part of Syria. In
addition, there’s an economic factor in how Syria is squeezing
Lebanon. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of Syrians who
work in Lebanon, who certainly contribute a significant portion of
Syria’s’ foreign currency, which, economically speaking,
isn’t in the best of shape.
there’s the geographical angle. Damascus’ only approach to the
sea is in Beirut. Lebanon is very important to the Syrians. When
they began talking about the Israelis leaving Lebanon, and
Syria’s leaving too, Syria was not at all happy about that.
about Assad’s illness. Is that significant?
Though I am not talking about how his illness affects his day to
day work, but how it will reduce his life expectancy. The real
problem is that we are in a situation in which the minority Elawi
rule Syria as a minority, its strength deriving primarily from
Assad. Since Assad is 70 years old and isn’t well, I don’t
think he’ll make it to 120... he’ll die long before that, but
15 years in the life of a country is very brief. The signature of
a president, when we don’t know if his government will stand
strong after this leader goes down in history, is very
problematic. Everybody knows about the hatred in Syria between the
Sunis and the Elawi – and who knows what will happen?
the failure of the talks in Geneva, as the headlines put it, put
an end to our fears about continued talk about withdrawals?
have no doubt that when they all return home, they will continue
to assess the situation. From my experience I can tell you that
the final word has not yet been said. I think they will try to
find a compromise. Talk about the closing of the window of
opportunity is not serious. They will find a way to get back to
the bargaining table.
Barak, as well as Assad, who sees the polls taken in Israel,
understands that right now it is very hard to pass a resolution
regarding a withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
am not a fan of Barak, and I cannot tell you what he is thinking.
I hope that the Israeli public is opposed to withdrawing from the
Golan, and that the information about this is correct. You must
understand that the differences between the international border
to the June 4th lines are, under the best of circumstances, a
couple of hundred meters. If the Syrians insist on those hundreds
of meters, there’s clearly nothing to talk about, and there is
nobody with whom to make peace. If this is the topic of
discussion, we know who the other side is.
I am talking here from the Syrian’s perspective, too. But from
Israel’s perspective, we absolutely cannot give up the Golan. As
I said earlier, since I don’t see the failure in Geneva as the
end of the story, my friends and I do not expect to sit on the
fence and do nothing. This is a fight for the hearts and minds of
the public in the state of Israel, and our obligation at every
moment is to try to bolster all the reasons for which we must hold
on to the Golan.
recent weeks, anti-Semitism in Syria was mentioned in the papers.
Do you regard this as classic anti-Semitism or simply hatred for
term anti-Semitism is right on the mark, for they hate Israel and
the Jews. It’s not anti-Semitism in the pure sense of the term,
for Arabs are also Semites, but there is definitely a strong
hatred for Jews. Syria is not a democratic country. Every
newspaper article and every caricature is approved by Syrian
security forces. I think that they plagiarize some of the material
from Der Sturmer, or at least the caricatures.
have seen such material?
so often. When I want to remember why I am opposed to withdrawing
from the Golan Heights, I glance at this poisonous material.
Again, this is not some Bedouin group who writes these articles.
This is official Syrian policy. This approach reflects not what
the journalist wishes to convey, but what the government wants.
Here in Israel, you can have an extreme left-wing newspaper, an
extreme right-wing paper; one in favor of treaties with the Arabs
and the other opposed. People assume that the same thing goes on
in Syria, but they are wrong. In Syria you would not have an
article of any length on foreign or internal matters without it
having passed by the Syrian censors.
sense that we don’t understand the situation. Many people are
ignorant about the Syrian government’s true character. We have
not internalized these phenomena sufficiently. This is why I can
read in our papers that they “didn’t mean it,” and that
it’s the personal opinion of some Syrian journalist or another.
from this, we should know that a great majority of Syria’s
leadership is associated with a depraved group involved in drugs
and blackmail. I think they too are more interested in Lebanon
than in the Golan Heights.
from the Golan, Yerushalayim has also been a topic lately. What do
you have to say about this?
I saw a survey on television, according to which people are
inclined to compromise about Yerushalayim. I am one of those who
refuses to compromise, not only on a millimeter but even on a
tenth of a millimeter. To me, nothing should be done that
endangers the existence of this city and the fact that it is one
united city. We must not allow the Palestinians to have Abu Dis or
anything surrounding Yerushalayim.
is a serious concern that the Palestinians will continue in their
underground work and will continuously try to establish their
independent sovereignty. You must understand that we are creating
this problem for ourselves. We must have concrete actions to
strengthen our authority over Yerushalayim.
following question is directed to you, Meir Dagan, as a senior
member of the I.D.F. in the ‘50’s, and as a general until the
mid-’70’s. There is the feeling that the courage we once had
is no more. In your opinion, are people tired?
never had a situation in which the entire Jewish nation fought a
war. The wars were fought by a certain percentage of people who
displayed great courage. When you examine the era of retaliatory
attacks, was the entire Israeli army involved? Definitely not. I
don’t think there is tiredness. I think that there is a great
deal of discussion about many questions we once had clear answers
to, but today we are unsure of.
discussion can be seen as weakness, but to me it is not weakness.
I know that some Israelis view it as such, but I am not sure that
this is correct. I can only look around me and see that in Rosh
Pina, where I live, none of my friends have changed their minds
about the land and the state, as well as many other issues.
do see many changes from views held in earlier years, but I
consider that legitimate. There is always a generation gap, but
when we are tested, I would like to believe that the Jewish people
will prove themselves.
don’t think people used to be more motivated?
are a journalist. I suggest you look at the newspapers from right
before the Six-Day War. The situation was no better, and the
feelings were a lot more despondent. I think that we Jews tend to
extremes and look at things pessimistically. Things are not really
worse, and the Jewish people are still strong.
can easily prove this. Take those who live in the
“territories.” Today, over 150,000 Jews live there, some of
whom were ready to abandon homes and businesses in order to enlist
in a Nationalist cause. That in itself is encouraging.
at the other side, at Meretz for example, there are young people
who are prepared to fight for what they believe in. I consider
these as signs of preparedness for battle for what they believe
in. There were always those who ran to America during a war.
It’s just that they used to speak less about them, and now it
has been emphasized more. There is a debate going on regarding
questions about the existence of the Jewish people, but
nevertheless, I am sure we will overcome. I am an optimistic Jew
and I believe things will work out well in the end.