Golan Heights

Capsule history:
Long before the mid-7th century CE Muslim/Arab Conquest of the eastern Mediterranean coast, known as the Levant, the Jews inhabited the area known today as the Golan Heights. Modern-day Ramat ha Golan (Golan Heights or the Golan) is the western section of the Biblical region of Bashan, dating to the time of Moses, who defeated the local ruler and allotted the land to the tribe of Manasseh. Many Jewish communities were established on the Golan plateau at that time. In the 9th Century BCE the combined forces of the Jewish tribes of Judah and Israel defeated the Aramean armies in the Golan.

Various wars ensued over the centuries and many countries conquered the area. Historically, the Golan was Jewish long before Arabs arrived there. In the 1st century BCE, the Hasmonean Jewish king, Alexander Yannai, regained control of the Golan from the Nabateans, securing it as part of his extensive kingdom. In the Talmudic period before the Muslim Conquest (633 CE) there were more than 100 Jewish sites and 25 synagogues in the Golan, according to modern archeological discoveries.

The Golan Heights is tiny, 690 sq miles, roughly the area of Ocean County, NJ. Its size belies its strategic value. 4,000 feet in elevation, the Golan towers over Israel’s Hula Valley. Today it is the center of international outrage by the United Nations and many other organizations and nations.

When Turkey was defeated in WWI, the Ottoman Empire’s 4-century hegemony over all the land in the Levant ended (1517-1917). Before the end of the war, Britain and France decided to divide the disintegrating Empire into defined areas for their own economic and strategic benefit via the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the San Remo Conference. This was part of the European colonization scheme which was in vogue at the time. “Countries” were created which eventually became the states of Lebanon, Syria including the Golan (French mandates), Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine (British mandates). The League of Nations awarded the mandates without regard for tribal and racial characteristics of the natives.

Syria became a state only in 1945 and French troops remained for another year. It attacked Israel in 1948, together with five other armies, but Israel wasn’t defeated. Syria continued shelling the fertile Hula Valley from the Golan’s strategic heights. In 1967, Syria again attacked Israel, in concert with Egypt and Jordan. Israel conquered the Golan in the ensuing defensive war, ending Syrian rule there after only 19 years. Israel has controlled the Golan since then for more than 70 years, virtually annexing it into Israel in 1981.

To summarize, Syria was invented by the French only in 1917 and was sovereign over the Golan Heights for only 22 years (1945-1967). It has been part of Israel for 51 years, since the Six Day War of 1967. So which country has a better claim to the Golan, Syria or Israel?

On March 25, 2019, President Trump signed a declaration – the first – recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. While I and many others have pressed for this for years and are very happy about the declaration, not everyone agrees. In a recent article in The Times of Israel, Joshua Davidovich brought up questions from various personages:

Why poke the hornet’s nest? This query begs the question, Why change anything? Israel has a right to the Golan historically by the presence of Jews there since antiquity. Syria, on the other hand, was created by the British in the 20th century for its own purposes. Perhaps most important, Israel won control in the Golan in a defensive war. In fact, boundaries resulting from warfare are perhaps the most common basis for borders between nations.

What was so bad with the status quo? Iran has been breathing down Israel’s neck from Lebanon via its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, for decades. From the part of the Golan inside Syria, Iran’s forces threaten Israel. With Israel’s legitimacy in the Golan recognized by the world’s greatest power, it can better defend itself against Iran.

Premature US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is a needlessly provocative move that violates international law and does not enhance Israeli security. What’s premature about it? It’s been more than 70 years since Israel won the Golan in a defensive war. Provocative? International law has been turned inside out to delegitimize and denigrate Israel. This recognition by the US is needed, overdue, and enhances Israeli security.

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Recognition will make things actively worse for the peace process. There is no viable peace process with the Palestinian Arabs in the near future, or even beyond that. The Palestinian Arabs want “all,” not “part” of the Land of Israel.

Recognition gives up one of the chips that everyone thought would be part of a Middle East peace agreement deal. “What everyone thought would be part of an agreement” is a fiction, made up by people who think the Arabs negotiate like Westerners. You won’t find any Palestinian Arab leader informing his people of this imaginary “chips.”

For the Palestinians, this is a dangerous precedent, because Washington is legitimizing a unilateral Israeli move. It’s the opposite, just like moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem was a realistic wakeup call. The Arabs need to face the fact that the US backs Israel’s moves because it’s good for the US.

This move “yanks the rug out from under US policy opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea.” No one can realistically oppose Russia’s annexation because Russia is the regional power there. Likewise, Israel is the regional power vis a vis the Golan.

The move will make Syria and Iran all the more likely to push harder for the Golan. Nonsense. Syrians will fight Israel as long and as hard as they can, regardless of Israel’s actions. It’s the Jews, baby.

Iran and Hezbollah would see annexation as additional justification for terror operations. It would do nothing whatsoever positive for Israel’s security. See previous answer. No additional justification is needed for Iran and Hezbollah to attack Israel. Nothing whatsoever positive for Israel’s security? Nonsense!

Recognition was timed to help Netanyahu at the polls. Nothing new. Bush (senior), Clinton, and Obama did the opposite and pushed to defeat Netanyahu in his election campaigns.

In conclusion, Israel has the best claim to the Golan Heights and is strengthened by US recognition of that fact. The US also benefits because it is standing up for its greatest ally in the region, an ally which is fighting every day against the Iranian regime, which also seeks to destroy the US.