Recent testimony before Congress revealed − incontestably − Syria’s secret preparations for membership in the Nuclear Club. Fortunately, on September 6, 2007, Israel’s jurisprudential and operational grasp of anticipatory self-defense had put a prompt (and generally unexpected) end to these illegal Syrian preparations. Unfortunately, however, and also very oddly, Prime Minister Olmert now contemplates a surrender of the 452 square mile Golan Heights to Syria.
Israel annexed the Golan (1981) only after defeating Syrian aggression in June 1967 − and after learning a bitter lesson from the October 1973 Yom Kippur surprise attacks. This annexation – in the fashion of Knesset extension of Israeli authority over Jerusalem − bestowed full protection of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Significantly, according to Israel’s own criminal law (97:C): “Whoever plots to hand over a sovereign land of Israel to an enemy or otherwise, to a foreign country, commits treason.” So why, exactly, does the prime minister now tilt toward a Golan “de-annexation?”
Damascus shares with Iran and the entire Arab-Islamist world, a determined commitment to destroy Israel, either in collaborative surprise attacks or, per earlier codifications, “in phases.” All of these adversaries have documented intentions toward Israel that meet the strict legal tests for the crime of genocide. All of them, also actively support assorted terrorist groups that hold this very same goal. Syria, in particular, maintains very close ties to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and PFLP – GC.
In the final analysis, Mr. Olmert’s surrender position is premised on an expected quid pro quo. In exchange for the Golan, he expects a codified peace with Syria. Yet, this expectation is unsupportable, on its face. Further, it fails entirely to acknowledge the historic and religious importance of Ramat HaGolan in Jewish nationhood.
If Syrian President Bashar Assad were at all serious about peace, he would agree, inter alia, to crack down on Lebanon’s Hizbullah. He would also close down offices of the manyterrorist organizations that still thrive in his country. Yet, if official “peace” talks were reopened, Syria would be risking nothing. Israel’s risks, on the other hand, could be substantial. In essence, continued Israeli control of the Golan Heights represents a sine qua non of successful deterrence against a coordinated Arab attack on Israel.
Before 1967, Syria routinely attacked Israeli kibbutzim east along the northern part of the Jordan River and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Today, an Israeli Golan withdrawal, from an area less than 1 percent (0.6%) of Syria’s total size, could leave the northern region of Israel open to wider Syrian or even Iranian invasion through the Jordan Valley. History records that hundreds of assaults on the Land of Israel west of the Jordan have been launched from or through the Golan. Such a withdrawal would uproot 32 Golan Jewish communities and threaten a third of Israel’s water supply. As Syria is a riparian state, any Golan transfer would also damage Israel’s tourism and fishing industries.
Any proposed Olmert argument must be based upon a strikingly naïve legalism. An Israel-Syria agreement would certainly require a demilitarized Golan Heights. But a true Syrian demilitarization of the Golan, which is roughly the size of New York City’s borough of Queens, could never happen. Ultimately, the prime minister’s manifestly incorrect reasoning lies in the critical limits of legal guarantees in our still anarchic world. A related problem concerns ever-changing missile and satellite technologies − transformations that could put Israel at great and presently unforeseen risks.
For real security, the IDF must retain its surveillance positions on the Golan, especially on Mt. Hermon. Pre-1967 warning stations do not have a clear line of sight deep into Syrian territory. Israel should never become dependent upon third parties for vital intelligence. Even a demilitarized Golan with advance early warning systems involving the United States would be inadequate. This was already fully understood immediately after the June 1967 war. Then, the U.S. Joint Chiefs (JCS) issued a major report advising permanent Israeli retention of the Golan. To be sure, nothing has changed in the ensuing 41 years to make this authoritative recommendation any less urgent.
Ironically, Israel’s border with Syria has been quieter than its borders with Egypt and Jordan − states with which Israel is formally “at peace.” Damascus still demands that Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 line − not to the international border, but all the way to the Sea of Galilee. Before 1948, the lake was entirely within Mandatory Palestine.
Syria has missiles that could place all of Israel within easy range of WMD warheads. Any Israeli abandonment of the Golan would only enhance this Syrian capability. Naturally, any Golan surrender would enlarge the prospect of war on the Lebanese front, and also the influence of terrorist factions that are still based securely in Damascus.
The Golan, which ranges up to a height of 7,300 feet, dominates the Jordan Valley as well as the Bashan Plateau. Here there are only two natural terrain bottlenecks. These choke points are presently defensible. With this plateau in Syrian hands, however, enemy tanks backed up by missiles and aircraft could potentially penetrate other parts of Israel. This penetration-capability would remain ominous even if the area were “demilitarized.”
Israel and the United States have substantially coincident regional security interests. Both countries should now stand together against a determined Syrian enemy of peace and democracy in the Middle East. Surely it is not in Israel or America’s interest to encourage renewed Syrian aggressions, or to expressly enlarge geo-strategic opportunities for radical Islamist sanctuaries.
Damascus has no real agenda for peace. Left to its own aggressive intentions, this country could already have posed an authentically existential danger to Israel, as well as a very serious security threat to the United States via its assortment of terrorist surrogates.
Back in September, Israel was wise enough to act upon the compelling imperatives of anticipatory self-defense to prevent a nuclear Syria. It should not now undo this wisdom by surrendering even an inch of the Golan. As should now be apparent from many wasted years of a “peace process,” Israel still has nothing to gain from a declared policy of Land For Nothing.
Copyright ©, The Jewish Press, July 4, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.