May 28, 2008

The Golan Heights and the Syrian-Israeli Negotiations

By Dore Gold

1) Israeli negotiators will quickly discover three core areas in their discussions with the Syrians that they will not resolve easily: delineation of an agreed boundary, security arrangements, and the Syrian-Iranian alliance.
2) Just prior to the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syria deployed 1,400 tanks along the border against a total Israeli force of 177 tanks (a force ratio of 8 to 1 in favor of Syria). Should Syria's considerable missile forces be used to delay Israel's reserve mobilization, then the importance of the Golan terrain will increase as Israel's small standing army will have to fight for longer without reserve reinforcement.

3) When Israel reached its Treaty of Peace with Egypt in 1979, it agreed to fully withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula to the international border. Syria illegally occupied Israeli territories during the 1950s that were within Israel's international borders: the southern demilitarized zone at al-Hamma, the Banias area, and the strip of coastal territory along the northeast shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.

4) If Israel were to agree to the June 4, 1967, line, as Syria demands, it would be rewarding Syrian aggression. Moreover, it could compromise Israel's control of its largest fresh water reservoir. Israel should not have to be arguing with the Syrians over the question of whether a future Israeli-Syrian boundary should correspond to the June 4, 1967, line or to the older international border, for neither of these lines is defensible.

5) The U.S. has given Israel repeated diplomatic assurances in the past that Israel will not have to come down from the Golan Heights, beginning with a September 1, 1975, letter from President Gerald Ford to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was renewed prior to the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference by Secretary of State James Baker. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Warren Christopher renewed the Ford commitment in a letter dated September 19, 1996.

6) Even if, by prior agreement with Tehran, the Syrians took steps that appeared to be downgrading relations, Israel's concession of the Golan Heights would be irreversible, while the political orientation of states in the Middle East is notoriously changeable. It would be a cardinal error for Israel to put into jeopardy its own security by agreeing to come down from the Golan Heights.

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