Israel to Give Up Golan For “Peace” With Syria?
Following the enactment of the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah in August, Syrian President Bashar Assad declared, “[T]he resistance [Hezbollah] has won the war, and now we must win the diplomatic battle as well.”
What precisely was the Syrian president referring to? “[T]he Golan Heights will be liberated by Syria,” he proclaimed (ynetnews .com, August 15).
That declaration is what makes Israel’s comments just days later all the more shocking. On August 21, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter stated: “In exchange for peace with Syria, Israel can leave the Golan Heights” (ibid., August 21).
Interesting timing, considering Israel had just been fighting a terrorist organization funded in part by Syria.
In an 1999 interview with the Trumpet, Yohanan Ramati, director of the Jerusalem Institute for Western Defense, elaborated on the strategic importance of the Golan Heights for Israel: “The Syrians are afraid to attack us because we are sitting there, and we are 40 miles from Damascus, holding the high ground and holding the watershed. We know what is happening over there; they do not know what is happening in Israel. The moment they get even half of the Golan, including Mt. Hermon and all those mountains, the situation will be reversed.”
So, the Golan Heights—territory in northern Israel secured in the 1967 war—in addition to containing over a third of Israel’s vital water resources, is essential for Israel’s security. (Prior to 1967, Syria used the Golan as a base for sniper attacks and to shell Israeli towns; it also disrupted Israel’s water supply.)
Syria, however, has consistently demanded Israel’s withdrawal. “The issue of retaking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights … has remained almost an obsession for Assad” (Stratfor, August 16).
Not surprisingly, Syria has used the conflict in Lebanon to bring the Golan issue back to the negotiating table (where it has been, off and on, since the 1990s).
The August 26 Boston Globe reported: “Syria could help Hezbollah rearm and rebuild, continuing to supply it with weapons, and allow Iranian arms to flow through its borders to the militia. Or it could ease off its support for Hezbollah, something it’s not likely to do unless, perhaps, Israel and the United States offer new hope of getting back the Golan.”
In other words, Syria is in a position to blackmail Israel. Will Israel concede more land for an offer of peace? If it were up to its internal security minister, the answer would likely be yes. Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, seems to be of the same opinion: “Every war creates an opportunity for a new political process … we must hold a dialogue with Lebanon, and we should create the conditions for dialogue also with Syria,” he said August 15 (Stratfor, op. cit.).
Syria could hardly be in a more enviable situation—and it knows it. On August 15, Assad announced, “We tell them [Israelis] that after tasting humiliation in the latest battles, your weapons are not going to protect you—not your planes, or missiles or even your nuclear bombs …. They [Israel] should know that they are before a historic crossroads. Either they move toward peace and the return of [Arab] rights or they move in the direction of continued instability …” (ibid.). An ultimatum if ever there was one.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not support Dichter’s position, so where Dichter’s rhetoric will go is another matter. But that Israel’s internal security minister should be pushing such policies at a time when Israel’s enemies are on the offensive is astonishing. It demonstrates the defeatist stance that Israel’s leadership has become comfortable with. As Freund said, what Israel’s politicians who signal a readiness to retreat have yet to learn is that “in the Middle East, raising the flag of surrender only invites further aggression and bloodshed.”