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Israel-Syria: A Senseless Peace at an Unbearable Price

Aharon Levran
Policy Paper No. 105, 2000


Peace with Syria cannot be genuine and is certainly not worth the heavy price of losing the Golan Heights. Since real peace does not exist among the Arabs or between Egypt and Israel, what sort of peace is possible with the radical Syrian regime that has opposed it for so many years? But if it is any "consolation" that the Egyptian front is quiet, such quiet has reigned on the Golan for more than 26 years, without "peace". Let us not be blinded by the shallow "peace" mantra.

Not only can true peace not prevail with Syria, but examination of the Golan's strategic importance to Israel shows that "peace", whose price is the entire Golan, is neither needed nor worth it. Only the callous can envisage the uprooting of 17,000 people from 33 flourishing settlements an act of "Ethnic Cleansing" that no peace can warrant. Only a simpleton would give away a critical asset that deters war or the launching of missiles (against Israel) and that maintains the strategic equilibrium between the adversaries. Withdrawal to the 1923 international border is no less grave than withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. In both cases, the Syrians will be fishing in, pumping water from, and paddling on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

The "security arrangements" that were already agreed upon in 1995 are not worth the paper they are written on. Certainly, no US early-warning station on Mount Hermon (even with a doubtful "Israeli presence") could substitute for the worthy "arrangements" a drastic reduction of Syria's ORBAT (army), change in its structure, and redeployment north of Damascus. For the short distance from Damascus to the Golan, early warning is of little value, particularly in comparison to the true "security arrangements".

To involve Americans on the Golan would be folly since it would enhance Israel's dependence and harm its special relations with Washington. Also, a "peace" with Syria that results in its economic and military strengthening (as in the case of Egypt), and by the US, is sheer folly.

The "linkage" between Southern Lebanon (suddenly a "tragedy" in Barak's words) and the Golan is most unfortunate. Not only have we failed to subdue the Hizbullah, we have extended legitimacy to Syria's conquest of Lebanon, and are even ready to pay with the crucial asset of the Golan. Syria has critical economic interests in Lebanon, and if we were only to apply the proper pressure we could avoid the tragic abandonment of the Golan.

Israel's rights on the Golan are no less than Syria's, certainly in terms of its length of tenure there. Israel will gravely err if it does not make use of the commitments given by Presidents Ford, Bush, and Clinton that Israel must maintain a presence on the Golan even in peacetime.

A feasible solution for Israel on the Golan would not be territorial but functional, i.e., a division between sovereignty (to Syria) and presence and control (to Israel). We should bear in mind the precedent of Jordan's leasing (1999) of lands to Israel for decades.

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