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The Golan Heights and the Facts

Yoram Ettinger
Policy Paper No. 108, 2000


Wishful-thinking, oversimplification and ignorance of the Middle East arena its threats and resulting security requirements have colluded in the promotion of the Golan Heights Giveaway policy.

The following policy paper is based on a series of twenty full page advertisements, published by the Ariel Center For Policy Research (ACPR) in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. The aim of the policy paper is to educate the public, policymakers and public opinion molders, in Israel and the US, on the critical role played by the Golan Heights in the shaping of the history of the Jewish state and in the securing of its survival.

In fact, the key elements, which highlight the centrality of the Golan Heights in the national security policy of Israel, also apply to the mountain ridges of Judea & Samaria, which are located at a much more strategically sensitive location than are the Golan Heights.

The military importance of the Golan Heights has increased during recent years precisely because of the advent of ballistic technologies. The 1991 Gulf War, and the proliferation of US military bases and installations throughout the globe, attest to the critical role played by topographic edge, geographic depth and strategic location in the bolstering of one's national security.

While most advanced high-tech military and early-warning systems enhance the capabilities of one's military forces, they cannot replace the unique contribution of a vital territory. The high-tech of today is bound to become the low-tech of tomorrow, but the high ground of today remains the high ground of tomorrow! Israel's neighbors may be able to acquire superior technological systems, but they cannot produce a replica of the mountain ridges of the Golan Heights and Judea & Samaria. No sophisticated military system is immune to jamming, but no one can jam a topographical edge!

The importance of the Golan Heights to Israel's national security hinges on the eastern mountain ridge, stretching between Mount Hermon in the north and the steep canyon of the Rokad River in the south, which constitutes a most effective natural tank barrier. The control of this mountain ridge enabled 177 Israeli tanks to fend off the surprise offensive of 1,400 Syrian tanks during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A withdrawal from that natural tank barrier would deny Israel the key strategic benefit of the Golan Heights, exposing the Jewish state to lethal threats! A withdrawal from that mountain ridge, which is located 35 miles from Damascus, would deprive Israel of a most effective posture of deterrence, which would induce further hostilities in the region.

Some Israelis have been impressed by the promise of US security guarantees, or a defense pact, offered in exchange for the Golan Heights. However, an examination of the track record of security guarantees issued by the US, and by previous global powers, demonstrates that they do not possess automaticity or specificity as far as implementation. The vast majority of security guarantees have not been implemented! The US issued a presidential (Executive) guarantee in 1957 in order to coax Israel into a full withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.

However, American failure to implement the guarantees, when Egypt, Syria and Jordan declared a war on Israel in 1967, was a trigger for the Six Day War. Security guarantees have not constituted a credible insurance policy. Rather, they have produced a dangerous delusion, sacrificing long-term national security on the altar of a short-lived false sense of security.

The eastern mountain ridge of the Golan Heights constitutes the watershed of the Lake of Galilee, which provides Israel with 30% of its water. A Syrian control of the watershed would contaminate the lake, and could enable Damascus to divert the sources of the lake.

Syrian promises to supply Israel with adequate quantity and quality of water, and to refrain from any offensive initiatives, should be examined against the backdrop of Damascus' track record as a serial violator of commitments to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel. Syrian commitments are not carved in stone, they are carved in ice!

Moreover, the assessment that Syria has launched a strategy of peace should be assessed against the background of the absence of comprehensive peace between Syria and each of its Muslim neighbors.

Would it then be logical to assume that Syria would share with the Jewish state that which it has denied its Muslim neighbors?! Would it be logical to assume that Syria a leader of international narco-terrorism, a chief abuser of human rights, a brutal occupier of Lebanon, a proliferator of military systems of mass destruction, an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel inciter, a host of Nazi war criminals and a holocaust denier seeks peace with its Jewish neighbor?!

Why is the US cutting its nose to spite its face?! US interests have been best served by a more constrained Syria. However, a Golan Giveaway would transform Syria into a less-constrained country, dedicating more military resources toward its regional ambitions, which have historically upset regional stability, undermining the stability of pro-US regimes, such as Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States.

Finally, the Golan Heights has always been an integral part of the Jewish Commonwealth. For instance, Moses controlled the Golan Heights (biblical Bashan), assigning it to the tribe of Menashe. The Great Uprising against the Roman Empire featured the battle of Gamla on the Golan Heights, which was at least as heroic as the battle of Masada!

Jewish attempts to resettle the Golan Heights took place during the 19th century and have been accelerated since 1967.

No People should determine the future of the Golan Heights without the grasp of critical facts. Rather than wishful thinking, oversimplification and ignorance, this policy paper promotes realism and acquaintance with the facts, which are the prerequisites for a sound policy-making and for a thoughtful vote cast by the electorate.

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