- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 12, 2000

The horror of seeing their bloodied soldiers on the battlefields of southern Lebanon was hard enough for Israelis to swallow this week as the conflict between the Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerillas and Israeli soldiers intensified. But this weeks' Arab-Israeli warfare, which occurred in the wake of the Hezbollah killing of six Israeli soldiers, is no less horrific than what could happen should Syrian President Hafez Assad get his way with a "peace" settlement. If Mr. Assad is using the renewed conflict to get an agreement on his terms and it works, the Israelis will have to give up the Golan Heights, and with it a key base for their defense and intelligence operations.

Far from creating a permanent peace, if a peace treaty between Israel and Syria were signed, the United States could be called upon to drastically step up its role as defender of Israel. This could place the United States in an even more precarious position with Syria and the other Arab nations, both diplomatically and militarily. The Clinton administration must think of the consequences if it continues to encourage the Syrians and Israelis to sign a peace treaty that includes an Israel without the Golan Heights.

Even this week, the State Department has doubled the amount requested for the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force which is the peacekeeping force that will serve as a buffer between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights. Though no U.S. troops have been committed, the amount of taxpayer money being requested for the fiscal year 2001 is almost $18 million twice the allocation for the force this year. That's in addition to the $37 million for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, which has been attempting in vain since 1978 to restore international peace, security and Lebanese sovereignty in southern Lebanon.

The State Department says there's no specific proposal on the table to provide for a changing role as it deals with Syria and Lebanon. But it admitted that if there were a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, it could mean adjustments to the mandate to support the possibility of new roles for the U.N. force. So the money is there "just in case."

Even if the Israelis emerge from this week's warfare with a determination to pull out of Lebanon before July (the date Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak originally set as a deadline), Mr. Barak still has Mr. Assad to deal with. And at this point he's not about to sign any peace settlement without reclaiming all of the Golan. The United States must assist Israel's long-term interests by ensuring that "peace" does not endanger Israel's national security. More Israeli soldiers will pay the price if it doesn't.

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