Reprinted from the Associated Press of June 24, 1997
JERUSALEM (AP) - Syria has used the long deadlock in peace talks with Israel to accelerate its surface-to-surface missile program and build new launching pads, a daily reported Sunday. The Yediot Ahronot said the missiles and launchers would give Syria the ability to stage a limited attack against Israel and force the Jewish state back to the negotiating table.
Peace talks with Syria broke down early last year over the fate of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed. Syria seeks the return of the strategic plateau in return for peace. Israel has said that it is only willing to consider some pullback on the Golan.
Quoting unnamed Western intelligence sources, Yediot said Syria has focused its military budget on the missile program in the belief that Israel lacks appropriate defenses against missile attacks.The joint Israel-U.S. Arrow 2 anti-missile defense now under development is expected to be operational by 1998. The Arrow 2 program was launched after the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq missiles hit Israeli cities. The U.S.-built Patriot missile used then was widely criticized as ineffective.
In the absence of negotiations, Syria has been building protected launching pads for long-range Scud missiles capable of reaching Israeli cities and has accelerated a chemical weapon program, Yediot said.The Defense Ministry said it had no comment on the Yediot report.
Earlier this year, Israeli media reported that Syria was manufacturing nerve gas with the help of a Russian expert and loading the deadly chemicals on surface-to-surface missiles. David Ivri, aide to Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, was quoted by Yediot as saying that a missile attack was the greatest danger Israel now faces.
"As a result of the loss of our deterrent power in this area, surface-to-surface missiles have become the top strategic threat to Israel,'' Ivri told Yediot. "Not only Syria but also by Iran, Egypt and Iraq are either developing or retaining their abilities.''