Israel Offers Golan to Syria
Israel’s prime minister has offered to withdraw all troops and cede sovereignty of the Golan Heights to Syria, according to Hebrew newspaper Yediot Ahranot. In return, he has asked Syria to cut all ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian organizations.
“I know that a peace agreement with Syria requires me to return the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. “I am willing to fulfill my part in this deal” (Telegraph, June 9).
Olmert’s discussion with Syria, said to have begun in May through Turkish and German mediators, was meant to ease growing tension between the two nations. The reality, however, is that both nations continue to prepare for war. debkafile reported that Iran had given Russia $327 million “to pay for assorted missiles consigned to Damascus,” and pledged $438 million more for a future shipment (June 9). In addition, Syria has removed the military checkpoints on its side of the Golan Heights, which have been present since the Six Day War in 1967. If Syria is serious about peaceful negotiations, why is it making such preparations?
Meanwhile, the Israeli military conducted a large-scale exercise in June at Shizafon Base in the south of Israel simulating “an invasion of Syria within the context of a war, involving infantry units, tank divisions and the Air Force,” according to Arutz Sheva (June 8).
Prime Minister Olmert’s land-for-peace proposal outraged fellow politicians and the public alike. Knesset members from both the Likud and National Union/National Religious Party responded by calling on two other coalition parties to cease their partnership with the Olmert government.
“It would be better to replace Olmert than to give up the Golan Heights,” said Likud M.K. Yisrael Katz (ibid.). A poll conducted by Teleseker revealed that 84 percent of Israelis opposed a complete withdrawal from the Golan, with 44 percent unwilling to accept any pullback at all. And for good reason.
The Golan Heights provides a massive catchment area from which water flows into the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s largest source of drinking water. The region is also home to many tourist attractions such as orchards and wineries. Most importantly, the mountainous Golan region is a strategic buffer between Syria and Israel’s large population centers along the western shore of Galilee. Giving it up would put Israel at a tremendous strategic disadvantage.
Placing the Golan on the negotiation table after 40 years in Israeli hands reveals the desperation of the Olmert government to salvage some kind of success following the 2006 Lebanon war. But as history has shown, a policy of land for peace only results in increased aggression.