Border relations – summer 1949–summer 1967: the mountain which became a monster Establishing facts: from discussion to battle – summer 1949–
The armistice agreement ended the war, but marked the beginning of a period of tension and border skirmishes which continued for 18 years. These were primarily years of conflict between the two states over control of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and of the water sources in the region. The conflicts were marked by Israeli military superiority which was clear to both sides as well as to international political organizations, and which cast its reflection over the political and military events throughout the entire period. During these years, mutual suspicions between the sides gradually intensified, ultimately leading each country to demonize its rival. This was the inevitable result of a view of events by both parties which was both narrow and subjective, of an inability to correctly analyze the motivations of the other side’s actions, and of unwillingness to even make the attempt. The events of the period indicate that when decision-makers of the two sides made the effort to correctly comprehend the considerations of the other side and to act to avoid escalation, they were successful. The first part of the period, during which Israel created facts on the ground and asserted its control over most of the DMZ, passed relatively quietly, while later, the conflict over the margins of the demilitarized areas led to continuous military clashes. Even the war of October 1956, during which Israel invaded Egyptian territory and conquered the Sinai peninsula, met with no military reaction from Syria. However, it would appear that this war led Syrian leaders to understand that Israeli operations could deviate from the realm of armistice agreement interpretations, and when the time was right, Israel could initiate total war. Their fear and suspicion of Israel intensified and they accelerated their acquisition of advanced weaponry from the Soviet Union. The unification of Egypt and Syria in 1958 provided the final incentive to radicalize their mode of
reaction. As time passed, residues of hatred and lack of trust accumulated. Syria’s suspicions and its fear of aggression from Israel reached their peak toward the summer of 1967, and this fear ultimately led to the Six Day War. Outbreaks of conflict and their intensity were not uniform throughout the period, which can be divided into four sub-periods with three unusual events as turning points:
• First period – from summer 1949 to April 1951: creating initial facts on the ground and the ensuing discussion in the Armistice Commission. First turning point – the “El Hama turning point”: the El Hama incident (4 April 1951) to the end of the battle at Tel Motilla (6 May 1951).