Despite renewed tensions between Syria and Israel over the placement of Syrian missiles in Lebanon, a visit to this lonely U.N. outpost uncovered no evidence of heavy military buildup either on the Plains of Damascus to the east or on the Golan Heights themselves.
U.N. observers stationed here say, however, that both Israel and Syria have called for a higher than usual number of checks for possible violations of the agreement specifying the number of troops and amount of equipment each country is permitted to have on these strategic heights.
The observers said today they found no violations of the 1974 disengagement agreement, but added theat the "highly unusual" number of inspection requests shows the increased tension in the area since the present crisis erupted almost a month ago over Syria's stationing of antiaircraft missiles in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
"They each suspect the other of doing something," said one U.N. observer, adding that the four "snap inspections" over the last two weeks equals the number usually called for in a year. These surprise inspections are in addition to regular checks by the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force scheduled under the agreement every two weeks.
A drive to this U.N. outpost, a lonely compound identified only as Position 20, showed no heavy military buildup. If anything, there appeared to be fewer dug-in Syrian tanks and gun positions along the way than the last time I was here, four years ago when there was no crisis.
Despite the fact that this windswept outpost -- one of 27 maintained on the Syrian side by Austrian troops -- is just a 40-minute drive from the capital city of Damascus, Israeli artillery could be heard clearly in the distance firing what the U.N. observers said were practice rounds.
Just three miles down the road, at Kuneitra, Syrian and Israeli police snarl at each other across a narrow U.N. buffer zone like opposing linemen at a professional football game. Syrians complained today that the Israelis yell insults at them and shine searchlights during the night into their sleeping quarters.
The tensions are running so high now, in fact, that the U.N. observers routinely notify the Israelis when they are escorting a television crew to one of the ourposts in Syria to avoid a possible incident. Finish U.N. forces on the Israeli side do the same when they bring a television crew to an outpost on their area.
The Israelis easily monitor what goes on here from three listening posts bristling with antennas easily seen from here.
The Syrians restrict the movement of foreign reporters in their part of the disengagement zone even though U.N. observers who go everywhere said they have nothing to hide. A Syrian security official accompanied today's tour.
Under the 1974 agreement, there is a 47-mile-long "area of separation" stretching along the Golan Heights from Jordan on the south to Lebanon on the north in which no Syrian troops -- just civilian police -- are allowed. This swath varies from about 300 yards to 8.5 miles wide.
Back from that buffer zone are areas in which there are agreed limits on the number of troops and types of equipment. No missiles, for instance, are allowed within 14 miles on either the Syrian or Israeli side of the buffer zone.
U.N. observers said all four recent surprise inspections showed both Syria and Israel were far below the allowed force limits.
Military analysts in Damascus noted there is no need for Syria to bring any forces closer to the Golan Heights since it has three big armored unit bases within a short drive over good roads from here.
There was little Syrian troup movement on the road today and all of its military forces appeared to be in defensive positions. There were a series of earth embankments behind ditches that were designed as antitank defenses, with concrete tank traps ready to be pulled across the two-lane road. Earth-covered concrete bunkers were scattered in farmers' fields, but they looked empty.
No illegal overflight by either side was seen today, although the U.N. observers said Syrian and Israeli jets flying just on their side of the boarder occasionally stray across.
One of the major jobs on the U.N. observers is to watch for airspace violations by either Syria or Israel.
Austrians man the posts on the Syrian side of the line, Finns the Israeli side. Canadian and Polish units support them, and there are 17 other nations connected with the U.N. force's headquarters in Damascus, including Soviets and Americans.