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Peace with Syria: No Margin for Error

Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto
Policy Paper No. 99, in the book
Peace with Syria: No Margin for Error, 2000


Immanuel Kant wrote his Perpetual Peace in 1797, claiming that a democracy is less prone to go to war since its voters are the ones to bear the brunt of the fighting and the costs of damages.

Kant claims that, for dictators, going to war is a relatively simple decision. He has been proven right over the last 200 years. Democratic Israel versus Arab tyrannies is a major Middle East asymmetry; as are the resulting aims, secure growth for one, Israel's demise for the other.

Other asymmetries include the ratios of 500:1 geographical area, 80:1 population, 22:1 UN votes, 60% of world oil production (by volume) to none, 4.19:1 tanks, 6.45:1 combat aircraft. All these favor the Arab dictatorships.

Weapons technology has undergone nothing short of a revolution since 1967 and the lessons of war have taught that Israeli deterrence has not always been adequate. The Iraqi "trickling" of ballistic missiles on Israel (39 missiles in 14 days) during the Gulf War has taught a major lesson: missile attacks on urban areas, even with conventional warheads, can disrupt and badly delay Israeli mobilization of its reserves and its main forces, creating a situation on the front line akin to that of the Yom Kippur of 1973.

In spite of the demise of the Soviet Union and the peace agreements signed with Egypt and Jordan, the geopolitical situation has not changed realistically for the better since 1967.

Considering all these said changes, Israel, if attacked, is not capable of defending itself any more within its 1967 borders. The protection of the high ground, all of it situated beyond the "green line" (pre-1967 demarcation), becomes a vital condition for Israel's survival, the Golan Heights being more important than all other high ground.

The advocates of "instant peace", prodded with a heavy hand by the US administration, claim that Israel may withdraw from the Golan -- this, against all its own advice, that of the Pentagon, Russian, and others' military "if peace is agreed upon", provided the Golan and parts of Syria will be demilitarized under UN/US "observers" and with US guarantees and the Israeli defense bolstered to the tune of some US $20 billion.

The requirement to "have a strong force to protect the peace" as the US and Israeli governments demand, is proof that the peace anticipated will be a "peace of no war", or a cold war, US-USSR or Israel-Egypt style, meaning that the lowering of Israel's level of deterrence increases the probability of war.

Handing the Golan to Syria is equivalent to a catastrophic lowering of Israeli deterrence, broadly characterized by loss of control of 35% of Israel's water, an unbearable defense burden that will reflect on Israel's economy and worse, the cracking of the claims of Zionist legitimacy and weakening of Israel's national and moral fiber. The "window of opportunity", on which President Clinton insists, is "unique" (for the last ten years) and has no glass pane anyway -- it is a virtual window.

There are simply not enough safety margins in an Israeli-Syrian "peace" agreement because demilitarization, third party guarantees, and the rest, have always proven to be valid only when both parties desire them to be so, (for example US guarantees and UN troops in Sinai, 1967).

Signing a peace treaty is no guarantee of peace, as, for instance, shown by the case of the Iraqi-Iranian War that erupted in 1980 after a five year negotiated peace was signed in 1978 (among a number of such examples).

Technology is not a substitute for the Golan, as declared by General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak on December 10, 1995, an opinion shared by this writer, who has been involved most of his life in weaponry.

"We are strong enough to afford withdrawal," claim some. But we are not strong if we lose the high ground of the Golan, which represents the "terrain" asset of the "firepower", "mobility" and "terrain" triad of which military strength is composed. Finally, there are the advocates of nuclear deterrence, assuming Israel has this "in the closet".

Israel may be destroyed completely by 2-4 nuclear charges due to its minute size. For the same reason, given present satellite surveillance, it cannot house a secure second strike capability which has to have a ratio of about 50:1 in Israel's favor.

Deploying nuclear deterrence means the legitimization of the Middle East going nuclear, a sphere in which Israel is at its weakest. Nuclear deterrence may also be weakened by international pressures.

The conclusion is that Israel cannot succumb to the "instant peace syndrome" even if a friendly US president insists upon it. This is especially the case when Assad may not be in power for long.

As Motta Gur, former Chief of the General Staff and Labor Party Minister, said in his book Chief of General Staff, Ministry of Defense Publishers, 1998): "Israel cannot defend its Eastern flank without the Golan Heights and it cannot defend the Golan Heights without the line of ridges it presently holds."

As Joseph Sisco said at the time: "The (large) areas Israel vacated in 1974 are withdrawal according to 242 and the line retained represents 'secure borders' according to the same 242 (UN resolution)." The writer witnessed the delivery of this statement.

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