Monday, August 06, 2007

At Least 3 Reasons to Keep the Golan Heights

I just came back from 3 wonderful days of vacation in the Golan Heights.

We enjoyed the wide open spaces, the stunning nature trails, the flowing water in the streams and waterfalls...

Who could ever dream of giving this away to Syria?

But apart from the stunning natural landscapes, there are at least three very good reasons why Ehud Olmert would be wise not to negotiate at all on the fate of this land.

1. Emotional. There is a national consensus about it. As Nadav Shragai wrote in a Haaretz article a couple of weeks ago: “The Golan is a lot more "Israeli" than "Syrian." It has been Israeli for 40 years, double the time it was in Syria's hands. It has been under Israeli sovereignty for 26 years... The Golan has become a part of Israeli life. It is the most frequently visited part of the country, dotted with dozens of Jewish communities, agricultural fields, industrial areas and tourist resorts, nature reserves and wild landscape.

... For the past two generations at least, the Golan became ingrained in our consciousness as an inseparable part of the state... It doesn't take a poll to know that the Israeli public is tied to the Golan, loves it and senses through healthy intuition that it is part of it.”

2. Historical. I’m not sure why we talk about ‘returning’ the Golan to Syria. In the brief period Syria held the Golan, they turned it into a launching pad, all too similar to Hezbollah’s behavior last summer and the Kassam attacks on the South today. The Syrian army shelled the border communities, tried to tamper with Israel’s water system and turned life in the North into a Sderot-style hell. The Golan was conquered in a justified defensive war. We paid for it with blood. The Syrians lost it fair and square.

In Biblical times too, the Golan was always part of
Israel. Archeologists repeatedly find evidence of Jewish sovereignty, from the reign of Solomon, through the Second Temple period, the heroic battle of the city of Gamla and the Talmudic period. It was certainly no foreign land.

3. Security. In 1992, before the elections, the late Yitzhak Rabin declared, “As for the future, it is inconceivable that even in peacetime we should go down from the Golan. Whoever even thinks of leaving the Golan wantonly abandons the security of Israel.”

He acted a little differently after his election but the facts remain:

1. The 400 square mile area is of supreme strategic importance.

2. Its high ground provides early-warning capability. Without it, Israel would be exposed to surprise Syrian attacks, just like in 1948, ’67 and ’73.

3. The Golan dominates the Jordan Valley.

4. There are only two natural terrain bottlenecks through which tanks can advance. These ‘choke points’ are defensible and indeed Israel used them to repel 1,400 Syrian tanks in 1973.

5. If the Golan were in Syrian hands, they could overrun Israel in a matter of hours.

6. Over one third of Israel’s fresh water comes from the Golan. In 1964, when they possessed the area, Syria attempted to cripple Israel’s water supply. What would stop them trying again?

In short, whatever way you look at it, Ehud Olmert should make it clear that any peace negotiations should be conditional on one thing: The Golan Heights are not for sale.

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