By Vic Rosenthal
A Syrian representative at the Mideast peace conference that kicked off in Madrid on Thursday afternoon said that his country’s calls to renew negotiations with Israel expressed the needs and will of the entire region.
Doctor Ya’ad Daoudi said that the return of the Golan Heights was a vital step in establishing regional peace and that Israel must return to the 1967 borders…
Osama el-Baza, the political advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said that Israel needed to be pressured into renewing talks with Syria because Damascus “holds the key to the region.” – Jerusalem Post
We are beginning to see some of the Lebanese-war chickens coming to roost.
Syria understands that Israel is much weaker than previously thought, and that Israel’s freedom of action in the north is limited by Hezbollah’s rockets and European ‘peacekeepers’.
At the same time, the predicament of the US in Iraq has created a desire here to make a deal with Syria. The US seems to see the major threat in Iraq as the Sunni insurgents and Al-Quaeda, who are being supplied via the Syrian border, and the thought is that Syria might be persuaded to close the border in return for the Golan. The Iraq study group in fact explicitly calls for the return of the Golan (my analysis of the ISG report is here).
From a strategic standpoint, the transfer of the Golan to Syria would weaken Israel considerably. On the Israeli side, there is a steep dropoff to the Jordan River and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). On the Syrian side, it’s only a short tank ride to Damascus.
Prior to 1967, the Syrians often shot down at nearby Israeli kibbutzim. I once visited a friend at Kibbutz Tel Katzir. The heights loomed above us, and we saw a tall, pockmarked concrete wall that the kibbutzniks had built to protect their children’s house from Syrian snipers. During this period Fatah terrorists often infiltrated into Israel from the Syrian side to raid Israeli villages.
When the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973, only possession of the Golan Heights saved an unprepared Israel from suffering massive civilian casualties in Syria’s surprise attack. Today, with Israel under Hezbollah’s guns (well, rockets) from Lebanon, it’s even more important.
It’s to be expected that the demand for Israel to give up the Golan will be softened with plans for demilitarization, early-warning facilities, perhaps UN peacekeepers, etc. And some kind of peace agreement or normalization with Syria will be held out as well. But it’s important to understand that such measures can be ephemeral or not helpful (witness the withdrawal of peacekeepers from the Sinai in 1967, the recent remilitarization of the Sinai, the blind eye cast on Hezbollah activities by UN troops in Lebanon, etc.). Given the historical record of Syria’s behavior, it would be foolish for Israel to agree to give up the Golan without reasonable guarantees, which are practically impossible.
As I’ve written before, Israel seems to have accepted the Arab ‘narrative’ of the situation, which is that Israel is responsible for the conflict and therefore must atone by making concrete and dangerous concessions before there can be peace and normalization.
I would prefer to look at it differently and say that Arab rejectionism is the root of the conflict, and that it’s not unjust or unreasonable to expect that the Arab nations demonstrate that they are willing to live at peace before Israel imperils her security.
This is particularly important when one considers the strategic importance of the Golan and Syria’s historical record.