Having given its consent to the separation-of-forces agreement with Syria, the Government of Israel placed the proposed agreement before the Knesset. In her statement, the Prime Minister explained the reasons for this agreement, its advantages and the expectations of Israel from it. Following the Premier's address and a debate, the Knesset approved the agreement by 76 votes in favour and 36 against.
On May 29, the Government of Israel decided to sign the separation-of-forces agreement with Syria, attained through the good offices of Dr. Kissinger, the U.S. Secretary of State. On behalf of the Government, I wish to express our appreciation to the President of the United States, the Secretary of State and their aides for their untiring efforts to attain the agreement. The signing will take place tomorrow in Geneva. The text is in front of you and there is no need to read it to you, and I ask that it be appended to the Knesset Record. Further documents and clarifications have been and are still to be - submitted to the Knesset Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee. I request the House to approve the Government's decision to sign the separation agreement with Syria.
As will be recalled, on 18 January last the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces; Lt.-Gen. David Elazar, signed an agreement with Egypt on the separation of forces. The Government of Israel was prepared to sign an agreement for a separation of forces on the Syrian front as well, but we encountered many difficulities from the Syrian side, on which I shall not elaborate today. Over seven months have elapsed since the Security Council resolved on a cease-fire. But the Syrian front has not been pacified. Despite the advantages assured the Syrians as a result of a separation of forces, they persisted throughout with offensive action in the area of the enclave and on the Golan Heights. Hardly a day has gone by without dead and wounded at the hands of the Syrians. Heavy battles were waged for the Hermon posts.
Since the end of October 1973, 54 soldiers and six civilians have been killed on the Syrian front. One hundred and seventy-six soldiers and three civilians have been wounded.
To this number must be added three soldiers missing from one of our tank crews. As you will recall, the Syrians announced that they were holding two of them prisoner, but nothing is known as yet about the third.
Our forces on the Golan Heights, in the enclave and in the Hermon positions have bravely defended themselves and the settlements. They have repelled Syrian attempts to capture positions and strongpoints, and have maintained full control in the enclave region and in all the positions captured in the October war. Occasionally it has been necessary to call the Air Force into action. We do not have exact information about the Syrian losses. Their numbers are greater than ours, but this does not console us.
All this time the Syrians have adopted a stubborn and provocative political position. They have persisted in their refusal to release our prisoners. They refused to participate in the Geneva Conference. In March this year there were frequent reports of Syrian preparations to launch an offensive, and we made our preparations accordingly.
Since the cease-fire resolution, the United States Secretary of State has continued his contacts with the Syrian rulers to bring about a change in the dangerous developments caused by their policy.
In my statement in the Knesset on 22 January, 1974, I expressed regret that there had been no progress in the contacts with the Syrian Government about the prisoners of war and the disengagement of forces. I spoke of the Syrian Government's refusal to release the prisoners, or even to give us a list of our prisoners and enable the Red Cross to visit them. On behalf of the Government I announced that we would not discuss the disengagement of forces with Syria or sit with her at the Geneva Conference so long as we did not receive the list of our dear ones who had been taken prisoner by Syria. Dr. Kissinger devoted much effort to end the impasse. On 28 February, we received the lists of the prisoners from him, and on 1 March, the prisoners were paid their first visit by the Red Cross. The Red Cross is continuing to visit the prisoners regularly.
The receipt of the names of the Israeli prisoners in Syria made it possible for us to undertake the formulation of our ideas on a disengagement agreement. At the end of March, Defence Minister Moshe Dayan went to Washington and presented our general ideas to the Secretary of State.
In the second week of April the military representative of Syria, General Shihabi, the Director of Intelligence, went to Washington and submitted the Syrian ideas on disengagement to Secretary of State Kissinger. But the detailed and practical negotiations began only on 2 May, when the Secretary of State came to Israel and, on the following day, went to Damascus. Dr. Kissinger's stay in our region lasted about one month.
The following are the contents of the agreement:
- A mutual commitment to scrupulously observe the cease-fire on land, at sea and in the air, and to refrain from all military actions.
- Separation of the forces by an area of separation, within which no military forces will be stationed. U.N. units will be stationed in this zone.
- The principal military forces will be separated from each other on both sides of the buffer zone.
- An area shall be determined on each side within which a thinning-out of forces and arms will be mandatory. Long-range artillery and missiles will be stationed at an additional distance away.
- The U.N. will supervise the agreement in the areas of separation and limitation of forces. The U.N. force will be recruited from States which are not permanent members of the Security Council.
- Israel will evacuate the area of the enclave which was captured in the Yom Kippur War.
- There will be Syrian civilian administration in the area of separation.
- Prisoners of war will be exchanged after signature, and prior to the stages of implementation.
- Bodies of the dead will be returned.
- Residents who left their villages in the enclave and in the area of' separation will be permitted to return.
In the territory held by Israel, the separation line for most of its length will coincide with the Purple Line, except for the town of Kuneitra and the Rafid Junction. The town will be located inside the U.N. area of separation, and inhabitants and civilian Syrian administration will be permitted to return.
The Hermon positions captured in October 1973 which are located within the area of separation will come under the control of U.N. units. The Hermon positions held by us since 1967 remain in our hands.
The military line which for the most part is identical with the line which preceded the Yom Kippur War remains valid. This line ensures the defence of the Golan Heights.
It is our belief that both sides share a common interest in achieving a separation-of-forces agreement, and we hope that there will be a lessening of tension on the northern front which will even make it possible to reduce I.D.F. forces in that area.
In accordance with the agreement, within 24 hours of the signature at Geneva all the wounded prisoners of war held by both sides will be repatriated. And on the morrow of the day when the military working group concludes its assignment - that is to say in a week's time - the remaining prisoners of war will be returned.
Now the longed-for day is near when the suffering and isolation of our prisoners will come to an end and they will return to their families who await them and to the nation which has been anxious for their safety.
In the first paragraph of the agreement, Syria and Israel explicitly undertake to scrupulously observe the cease-fire on land, at sea and in the air and to refrain from all military actions against each other - from the time of the signing of the agreement.
The Israel Government attaches supreme importance not only to the prevention of offensive military actions but also to the absolute cessation of raids and penetrations from Syrian territory for the purpose of sabotage and assault. It should be noted that terrorist activity not only causes killing and bloodshed but may also lead to developments which do not remain within the bounds of attacks and reprisals alone. Terrorist activity may bring about a dangerous escalation.
The aims of terrorist activity are not only to cause bloodshed. They also have a purpose which is principally political: to delay any positive development in Arab-Israel relations, to interfere with any discussions or agreement I have already said in the Knesset that the atrocities in Kiryat Shmona and Ma'alot were also intended to sabotage the disengagement agreement with Syria before it was achieved.
As for the prevention of terrorist activities, the United States has informed us of its position on the first paragraph of the agreement, and this is: "raids by armed groups or individuals across the demarcation line are contrary to the cease-fire. Israel, in the exercise of its right of self-defence, may act to prevent such actions by all available means. The United States will not consider such actions by Israel as violations of the cease-fire, and will support them politically."
I assume that the United States would not have made such a declaration to us had it not had a solid foundation for doing so, and I make this statement public with the knowledge of the United States.
The Government will give the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee additional information on the prevention of terrorist activities, as on other subjects.
In the document which we are going to sign it is stated that "this agreement is not a peace agreement. It constitutes a step towards a just and lasting peace."
The agreement is an open document which is being published for public knowledge. We have not undertaken any secret obligations on territorial or on any other subjects.
On everything concerned with fixing the agreed separation line we have acted on the constant advice of the Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Mordechai Gur. We have taken care to safeguard the military line as well as the security of all our settlements on the Golan Heights and their continued strengthening, consolidation, and development.
The Syrian assault in October 1973 forced us to fight back, to advance into the interior of Syria and to reach the vicinity of Damascus. Israel has no interest in permanently occupying her military positions in the enclave. More than once we have made it clear that our presence there is only temporary. In accordance with the agreement we will evacuate -the enclave. In this the Syrians are making a great gain, thanks to our desire for peace and the continuation of our efforts to lay a foundation for the way to peace.
The agreement constitutes a great opportunity. The signature and scrupulous observance of the agreement create a mutual possibility for bringing about a positive change of great value in relations between Israel and Syria.
As is known, the Israel-Syria disengagement agreement resembles the Israel-Egypt disengagement agreement. But there is also a difference. In Sinai there is a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF); while on the Golan Heights a special force has been created which will be called the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Although the subject has not yet been discussed in the Security Council, it is clear from the agreement between us and Syria that the U.N. units posted on the Golan Heights will have substantial authority. They have been charged with effective duties for maintaining the cease-fire and supervising the limitations and the area of disengagement. The force will be mobile and will number 1,250 men armed for self-defence. The U.N. units will carry out inspections and report their findings to the parties. The force will mark on the ground the boundaries agreed upon. The number of its men will remain stable.
The disengagement agreement on the Egyptian front prevented the resumption of a war which we did not want, despite our military advantage. I am pleased to note that the disengagement agreement with Egypt is being properly observed. Recently, since the agreement, we have heard the rulers of Egypt say that they are interested in development and rehabilitation, especially in the region of the Suez Canal. And just as we must take care not to place credence in illusory statements which have no basis in fact, so, too, must we pay attention to genuine encouraging signs. In any case, we would like the same process to develop on the northern border as well. Furthermore, the disengagement-of-forces agreement between ourselves and Syria is likely to strengthen the agreement with Egypt, for if the situation on the northern border had deteriorated, this could have adversely affected the southern border as well. Stablization of the cease-fire on the Syrian border, and the positive developments that may follow, improve the prospects of a general relaxation of tension in our region. And if this hope proves not to be illusory, the prospects of a dialogue towards the attainment of peace will also be improved.
When I made a statement to the Knesset on the separation of forces with Egypt I said, amongst other things, that "the alternative to this agreement is nothing but the renewal of war."
I went on the say that "I have no doubts as to the strength of the I.D.F. Had warfare been resumed, the I.D.F. would have overcome the aggressor. But responsible and sober judgment requires us to prefer a different line of development."
These words, which were correct when applied to the Egyptian sector, are all the more applicable where the Syrian sector is concerned. I have no doubt as to the strength of the I.D.F. and their ability to defeat the Syrian army in war. We aspire to avert a war even though we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that any war forced upon us will end in our victory. What our two countries need is to embark upon the road of peace, and it is this recognition which has guided us in the negotiations. The agreement is the fruit of our confidence in the strength of the I.D.F. and the desire to guide developments in the right direction, as far as this is possible.
In our decision in favour of a separation-of-forces agreement with Syria, there is also a response to the aims and needs of nations friendly to Israel and which are particularly interested in stability and pacification in our region. We are alert to every manifestation of the will to reinforce peace in our region and we are especially sensitive against any tendency evinced by any country whatsoever to achieve stability at the price of sacrificing vital Israeli interests - as has already been the case, to our regret, in the past. We do not accept a "justice" which means the denial of Israel's rights and needs. We do not have to acquiesce in the ignoring of our rights and the appeasement of our enemies for selfish reasons. On the other hand, we welcome every meeting and community of interests between ourselves and other peoples and countries, as has been shown in regard to the separation of forces and stabilization of the cease-fire. And we deeply appreciate the achievement of cessation of fighting and the beginning of progress towards peace, and for the sake of this goal we preferred to agree to give up the military advantages of our hold in the Syrian enclave. Our hold on the Golan Heights remains firm. Our consent does not deprive us of the basic conditions for self-defence and for defeating the aggressors should they violate their obligation and renew the war against us.
Israel's stability and permanence depends first and foremost on her own strength and unity, her creative spirit and her covenant with diaspora Jewry. Israel's capacity to endure trials, stresses and wars depends primarily on her inner strength, on the readiness of all Israeli citizens, especially the younger generation, to shoulder the burden and face danger in defence of the country. Israel, however, needs and deserves assistance. We have been in a state of siege for 26 years and we have to make every effort to win understanding and obtain the generous assistance of allies. This vital interest of Israel's must necessarily influence our considerations and our actions. I will not deny that in our decisions on the question of the disengagement of forces we also took account of the advice and the policy of the United States, which has shown a fruitful political activity in the direction of achieving tranquillity and peace in our region. This policy of the United States goes hand in hand with the needs of the peoples in the region. The deterrent power of the United States made itself felt during the Yom Kippur War, and its services contributed greatly to the achievement of the cease-fire and the disengagement of forces on the Egyptian front and, now, on the Syrian front. The phenomenal effort of the Secretary of State, who did not spare himself and spent days and nights working for the relaxation of tensions and the disengagement of forces, merits great praise.
When I spoke in the Knesset on 22 January, I said: "The growth of Israel's strength has been greatly assisted by this policy, and I have every reason to believe that the United States will continue to be alert to Israel's security requirements, maintaining a continuously positive approach." Now, during the period that Dr. Kissinger has spent in our region, we have held discussions with him on various matters vital to our two countries, and I can say with more assurance that not only have my words in January not been disproved, but the consistent aid of the United States to Israel has been assured for the future by the President of the United States.