Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
GOLAN HEIGHTS: A VITAL STRATEGIC ISRAELI ASSET
by Mordechai Ben-Menachem
forwarded with comments by Emanuel A. Winston,
Mid East Analyst & Commentator
Keep in mind - as you read this excellent analysis - is that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believes he has the right to negotiate the transfer of the Golan Heights, merely because he issues a "proclamation". Olmert plans to do this just as he plans to proclaim that East Jerusalem is to be transferred, just as the West Bank is to be transferred along with the Jordan Valley.
Gaza went this way when Olmert implemented his ethnic cleansing of 10,000 Jews from 25 Jewish communities in Gush Katif and Northern Samaria. Now Gaza is (as we and others forecast) a Global Terror Operational Base, turning into a powder keg of competing terror factions as Hamas and Fatah escalate toward a bloody Civil War.
Presently, areas of Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem are being sub-divided with an Israeli-built Fence/Wall (supposedly to protect Israeli Jews from Arab Muslim terrorists) but which is being arranged to benefit the Arab Muslims in what Olmert considers the whole State of Palestine.
In brief, it really doesn’t matter what the Knesset or the Israeli people might say, if they were consulted, or what the people of Israel would decide - if they were given the vote to decide their destiny.
The "Imperial" Prime Ministry (where the Prime Minister decides for the whole country) started with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, and has grown exponentially. Ehud Olmert has adopted a dictatorial attitude in the belief that he actually has the right as he so chooses - to abandon, barter, sell any part of the Land of Israel which G-d gave to the Jewish people.
THE GOLAN HEIGHTS: A VITAL STRATEGIC ISRAELI ASSET
by Mordechai Ben-Menachem
Ben-Gurion University Beer-Sheva, Israel
When Yitzhak Rabin ran for election as Israel’s Prime Minister in 1992, he publicly declared at a giant election rally just two weeks before the election, "Whosoever gives up the Golan Heights, abandons the security of the State of Israel." Ehud Barak, when he was Chief of Staff, strongly maintained the vital necessity of retaining the "Golan Heights west of Quneitra" for Israel’s strategic survival (i.e., everything Israel presently controls; Israel does not control Quneitra).
In fact (in May 1993), Barak quoted the 1967 Secret Memorandum of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff that Israel should keep the Golan Heights, the areas around Jerusalem, the hills of Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, Sharm el-Sheikh. (1)
Only days after the UN passed a resolution calling Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem illegal, former US secretary of state James Baker calls for Israel to leave the Golan Heights. It appears the Iraq Study Group has an idea to use the Golan Heights as inducement for Syrian cooperative behavior in Iraq. They never heard the old Cosa Nostra expression, "They can be bought but do they stay bought?" The Shia rulers of Sunni Syria are the direct cultural descendants of the Medieval Assassins; they never stay bought, as their only historical allegiance is to themselves and the Alawi tribe.
Predictably, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara expressed immediate willingness to enter into negotiations with Israel, stipulating that Damascus is only willing to discuss an agreement with Israel providing the Golan Heights are returned to Syria to the last centimeter, as the first part of such an agreement; what the other ‘parts’ are, were not yet mentioned. Of course, if that is the first part, then obviously additional parts are also expected. For Israel, such a move is tactical disaster and strategic suicide. This assessment deals with the Golan issue in light of the Baker-Hamilton ISG report.
GEO-STRATEGIC STATUS OF THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
The Golan Heights is officially designated by law as part of the State of Israel. This is not merely an issue of a few tens of thousands of Golan residents, even those living there now for three generations, but a question of national life and death. If politicians are prepared to sacrifice this land, this must be and is cause for serious concern; and not just for Israel. To better comprehend this issue of serious national anxiety, one must first understand what the Golan is, and what it means to Israel\'s survival.
Topographically, the Golan is a 60 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide mountainous plateau running from the upper Jordan Rift Valley and Lake Kinneret in the west, the Yarmuk Valley in the south, and Mount Hermon in the north. The total area is 1,158 square kilometers, with some 21% as a nature preserve (246 square kilometers). On Israel\'s side of the Golan, there is a steep incline from the Golan plateau down to the densely-populated Hula Valley and eastern shore of the Kinneret. The border with Syria in the Golan is eighty kilometers long.
Of the remainder, about eighty square kilometers is agricultural land worked by Jews and twenty square kilometers worked by Druze, with an additional 500 km. as pasture land. There also exists significant industrial activity.
Above the Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) rises an escarpment, ranging in height from 100 to 800 meters altitude, known as the Golan Heights, towering over the Rift Valley to its west; created by volcanic activity, pouring out from craters, covering the high plateau with layers of basalt, making cross-country movement difficult. The highest point is Mount Hermon (Biblical Sion) a multi-peaked mountain rising to 2,224 meters at its peak, dominating observation over the entire region up to the Damascus Basin to the east – some sixty kilometers distant. The so-called "Purple Line" established after the cease-fire of 10 June 1967, provided an excellent line of defense for Israel. The area was almost completely uninhabited before 1967, now contains a vibrant population with tens of villages and settlements, including (mostly) Jews and Druze.
The border is located mostly along the watershed and enables long range observation posts from a line of volcanic hills, containing strategic electronic surveillance stations. From a purely strategic view, the Heights contribute nothing to the defense of Syria\'s capital Damascus. A glimpse at the map shows clearly that due to topographical features to its west, Damascus can best be defended along the Awaj River near Sasa and the two stony deserts to the south, both practically impassable to military traffic. Any defense further west, including the Golan Heights can be easily outflanked, as the IDF did during the latter stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In other words, movement westward is made very difficult, while eastward is actually unhindered.
From a strategic point of view, the Golan would be critical to Israel even if Syria did not have a history of using it for constant shelling and harassment when they had it; even though they never made any other use of it. Legally, this use of the area made their capture in the Six-Day War not only strategically incumbent upon Israel, but also a legal right by international law. Additionally, the Golan was part of the League of Nations Mandate and was subtracted from Israel illegally.
THE GOLAN HEIGHTS: ISRAEL’S STRATEGIC BULWARK
Israeli control extends just over the crest-line, giving the IDF direct eye and radar contact with the sixty kilometer plain from the Golan to Damascus. Just 20-30 kilometers from Israel\'s forward positions are the deployment areas of Syria\'s missile and armored divisions – a mere two-hour tank ride to Israel. The Golan Heights acts as a defensive wall protecting Israel\'s north. It should be emphasized that all of Northern Israel is with direct artillery strike of the Golan, and Syria has a history of using this ability constantly until 1967 – including several major incursions under artillery cover with the objective of occupying territory. When international ‘negotiators’ discuss the 4 June 1967 armistice lines, they refer to lines including territory illegally conquered and occupied by Syria in these cross-border attacks.
Today, a Syrian attack is topographically channeled via only two passes in which armored vehicles can cross. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, some 150 Israeli tanks stopped invading Syrian columns, with more than 1,400 tanks, in the "bottleneck" Valley of Tears pass in the north and the pass through the volcanic hills in the southern heights. Despite the surprise attack on Israel’s most Holy Day, and despite being vastly outnumbered, Israeli troops held off the invaders for the 48 hours that were required to mobilize and deploy the necessary reserve forces that ultimately beat back and defeated the Syrian aggressors.
Israel\'s northern border has another serious topological and geographic anomaly. What is known as the "Galilee Panhandle" pokes strangely from the Hula valley northward up to the Lebanese border; a mere 5000 to 7000 meters wide along its northern part. It is a curious geographical phenomenon, created as result of hasty, shortsighted and un-mandated decisions made by the French and British Foreign Offices. On the west, the Panhandle leans on a mountain range, partially under Israeli and partially under Lebanese sovereignty and on its east by the Golan Heights, from which Israeli villages were constantly bombarded by Syrian artillery located on the overlooking slopes, prior to 1967.
Imagine a Syrian repeat performance of the 1973 surprise attack, this time with 4,000 tanks, 700 Scud ballistic missiles (some with chemical warheads), and tens of thousands Katyusha rockets fired upon Haifa and Tel Aviv within a 2-hour span, sowing widespread civilian panic and seriously disrupting Israel\'s emergency reserve mobilization. Remember the several billion dollars of damage done by Hezb’Allah’s 4000 rockets in the summer? That fight was as nothing compared to Syrian Scuds, plus thousands of Katyusha’s from there and additional several thousand from Lebanon, in a coordinated attack.
OTHER STRATEGIC ISSUES & CONSIDERATIONS
Population: During the time when the Golan was occupied by the Syrians, no effort was made to populate the region or to use it for anything other then a military staging area for attacking Israel. This area was also used by the Nazis harbored by Syria after WW II to view Israel, who entertained dreams of ‘completing’ their European ‘accomplishments’ from the Golan. They very nearly succeeded.
Today, the Golan is populated by a rich ethnic mixture consisting mostly, but not exclusively of Jews and Druze. The Druze have brethren in both Israel, primarily in the Carmel Mountain areas, and in Lebanon, with also a small number remaining alive under the Syrian regime. For instance, the Druze population of Israel is approximately 115,000 with almost 17,000 of them living in the Golan.
There are a total of thirty-three Jewish settlements; ten kibbutzim, nineteen moshavim, one moshava, two community villages and Qatzrin, the main city (the population of Qatzrin is about 7,000). The Jewish population is about eighteen thousand (18,000). Jewish and Druze populations are about equal (the Druze live in four villages).
The Golan is one of three sources of Israel\'s fresh-water needs. It is the largest and most plentiful of the three, thus it is the source for the majority of Israel’s water. It comprises the headwaters of the Jordan River and the mountain streams that flow into the Kinneret; more than one third of all of Israel’s water. With widespread contamination of the coastal plain\'s aquifers, resulting from the Oslo Accords giving over control of the aquifers and rain-flow runoff from Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority, the Kinneret becomes Israel\'s main, almost sole, natural, fresh-water source. This water flows freely into the Kinneret and then, via massive pumps using 5% of Israel\'s electric power, the National Water Carrier supplies this water to the rest of Israel.
It was not always so. In 1964, Syria, then occupying the Golan Heights, tried to divert these critical headwaters away from Israel in a blatant attempt to cripple Israel\'s fresh-water supply.
Any damage or interruption to this water supply would strategically cripple Israeli industry and render agriculture over the entire North of the country untenable.
THE BAKER "OPTION"
The idea of Israel depriving herelf of its most important strategic hard-asset, for a mere piece of paper, signed by a single leader, would be a catastrophic mistake. This entails serious consequences, in both the short-term and long-term. In reality, Syria\'s national interests are not focused only on the Golan Heights, which represent only an insignificant part of its entire territory. Syria\'s long-term strategic aims are to exert its hegemony over the entire Lebanon, Israel\'s northern territory and most of Jordan, which it considers part of their strategic aspirations for a "Greater Syria".
One of the options being proposed by the Baker-Hamilton ISG-report is placing US forces to monitor a Syrian-Israeli peace deal over the Golan Heights, following Israel\'s withdrawal. Part of this would be US experts taking charge of the IDF monitoring stations on Mount Hermon and the overlooking border hills. Real-time intelligence is imperative for early warning in modern warfare. In relinquishing these highly strategic assets, even were they to remain under a friendly monitored replacement, could become a crucial matter of national survival.
For example, US intelligence on Iraqi Scud launch zones in western Iraq during Operation Desert Storm was denied Israel; despite her being under constant attack – even while Saddam\'s missiles impacted on Tel Aviv.
But there exists an additional, stronger reason, for Israel\'s reluctance to place US forces on the Golan. Placing US forces in harm’s way to guard Israel against hostile infiltrations and subsequent counter-guerrilla preventive (or punitive) operations by the IDF would inevitably lead to unnecessary tension between the two allied nations.
The Golan Heights represents a vital strategic asset for Israel\'s security, safety and even survival. This is true and demonstrates the existential threat to Israel’s sovereignty which surrendering the Golan Heights would substantiate, particularly in lieu of current political configurations in the specific region and in the Middle East, as a whole.
The danger of the so-called Shiite Crescent engulfing Israel from its north and north-eastern border, with a Hezb’Allah-dominated and Iranian-backed Lebanese Government, places before Israel a major strategic disaster - should she cede the Golan Heights to Syria, this danger is multiplied many-fold. The Golan Heights not only safeguards Israel\'s north, but deters, by the IDF long range reach into the Damascus basin, from any offensive options, which Bashar Assad may consider to under an Iranian umbrella.
1. "Barak Quotes Secret U.S. Joint Chiefs Memorandum of 1967" by Gail Winston May 1993 Jewish Press (reprinted 1996 & 1999)