Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio -- August 2, 1999 / Av 21, 5759


By Yedidya Atlas


When Yitzhak Rabin ran for election 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." It is now a matter of record that the late Prime Minister misled the public on this key issue. Ehud Barak has been more honest with his voters in this regard. But he has yet to explain how he came to perform his turnabout: When he was Chief of Staff, he strongly maintained the vital necessity of retaining the "Golan Heights west of Quneitra" (i.e., everything Israel presently controls) for Israel's strategic survival. Yet today, just a few years later, on a political whim, he suddenly feels that the Golan is negotiable.

The fate of the Golan Heights, officially designated by law as part of the State of Israel, is not merely an issue of 17,000 Golan residents/settlers, but a question of national life and death. The fact that weak-willed politicians are prepared to sacrifice the very land under our feet, is cause for serious concern. 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-km. long by 20-km. 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. 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 Golan is one of three sources that supplies Israel's fresh-water needs. It comprises the headwaters of the Jordan River (60%), and the mountain streams (40%) that flow down into the Kinneret. However, with the widespread contamination of the coastal plain's aquifers, and the Oslo Accords giving over control of the aquifers and rainflow runoff from the hills of Judea and Samaria over to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, the Kinneret becomes Israel's main, even sole, fresh-water source. Today, 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. Ironically, the IDF operation that destroyed the Syrian damming project was carried out under then-Israeli Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yitzchak Rabin - the same Rabin, who, as Prime Minister, we now know, was prepared to return control of Israel's fragile water lifeline to the Syrians, trusting them not to repeat past sins.


Militarily, Israeli control extends just over the crestline, giving the IDF direct eye and radar contact with the 65 km. plain that runs from the Golan to Damascus. Just 20-30 km. from Israel's forward positions, are the deployment areas of Syria's armored divisions - a mere two-hour tank ride to Israeli territory. The Golan Heights acts as a defensive wall protecting Israel's north. 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 south. The surprised and vastly outnumbered Israeli troops held off the invaders for the 48 hours that were required to mobilize and deploy the necessary forces that ultimately beat back and defeated the Syrian aggressors.

Having these critical passes in Israeli hands is no less important now, with Syria's enormous buildup of highly advanced weaponry, than it was in 1973. Since 1982, the Syrian army has doubled in size, whereas according to foreign sources, Israel's army has only increased by 15-20%. On paper at least, it should be understood that Syria has already achieved military parity with Israel. Hence, one needn't be a military genius to realize that it's better to concentrate a small standing force on the high ground, defending the 10 km. area of the passes, than the same force having to defend a 60-kilometer line.

Any proposed pullback of Israeli forces from these passes returns Israel to the vulnerability she suffered prior to the 1967 Six Day War, and more so. It is only the vast size of Israeli artillery and tank forces in the Golan Heights targeting the Syrian army's deployment area beyond, as well as the capability to shell and bomb the outskirts of Damascus at a given moment, that is keeping Hafez al-Assad from implementing his "Greater Syria" strategy where Israel is concerned.


Imagine a Syrian repeat performance of the 1973 surprise attack, this time with 4,000 tanks, and 80-100 Scud-C missiles 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 Syrian Scuds are twice as powerful as the Iraqi Scuds that hit Israel during the Gulf War, and the Scud-C is four times as accurate.

Can we really afford to even partially pullback our forward positions from the Golan crestline and give control of the key passes to Syria in exchange for Syria's signature on a piece of paper? Prime Minister Barak, in his zeal to make a deal on the Syrian track, tells us that he is prepared to withdraw from most or all of the Golan Heights.

Instead of this defeatist policy, let Prime Minister Barak hold the Syrian regime directly responsible for Hizballah actions in Lebanon. The terrorists there are Syrian-supplied and operate with active Syrian cooperation in attacking Israel's north. The Sagger over-the-shoulder missiles and Katyusha rockets fired by Hizballah at Israeli troops and northern civilian population centers, for example, are supplied by the Syrian army.


Mr. Barak, of all people, should realize that Israel doesn't have to prove its peaceful intentions by suicidal unilateral concessions. No matter how convivial Barak's Washington visit with US President Bill Clinton (alias the Washington Toy Master) was, it did not lower the Golan Heights, nor did it cause the Syrians to dismantle even one Scud-C missile launcher or reduce the number of tanks in any of the Syrian deployment areas. The Golan Heights is no less vital to Israel's future security as it was until now.

Let Prime Minister Barak suggest that Syria, the beaten aggressor, offer gestures of its peaceful intentions, if indeed Damascus wants peace, and not just an improved position from which to launch its next attack on the Jewish State.


Yedidya Atlas is a senior correspondent and commentator for Arutz-7 Israel National Radio and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.

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