Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Golan Heights: The Problem Reemerges

It is my opinion that the Golan Heights situation, coupled with the Russian and Iranian bases now in Syria (to the "north of Israel") is one of the most significant developments, so we'll be following any story from this region very closely:

The Golan Heights. The Problem Reemerges

In all of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent discussions with American leaders – particularly with Secretary of State Kerry – as well as during his visit to Moscow, the new/old topic of the Golan Heights has topped the agenda.
Tel Aviv has discovered that the first section of the unfolding US- and Russian-sponsored Syrian peace plan includes a provision to restore Syria’s sovereignty throughout all its territory, including in the Golan Heights that was annexed by Israel.
Israel is not surprised by Russia’s position, since that has remained unchanged for many years, but Tel Aviv almost feels betrayed that the White House has adopted such stance. 

Israeli experts complain that for a while it seemed that in the final months of his administration Obama might back down from his efforts to force Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), but it turned out that he was only waiting to land a blow on another front – the Golan Heights. 

Given that the Syria plan stands a good chance of being approved by a special UN Security Council vote, all previous Security Council resolutions concerning the fate of this part of Syria’s territory will take on new relevance. In that event, Tel Aviv will inevitably be hit with powerful new international pressure on this issue that, despite all its efforts, Israel has been unable to sweep under the rug. And this is the result of Israel’s leaders own miscalculations.

Although quite sparsely populated, the Golan plateau measures 1,150 sq. kilometers, produces over one-third of all the freshwater in Israel and grows up to half of many types of the country’s fresh produce. Only 20,000 Jewish settlers live here, even though, according to some estimates, the land could easily accommodate up to half a million people. This region was declared to be an integral part of Israel back in 1981 – an act that was at the time condemned by UN Security Council Resolution 497.

The autochthonous inhabitants are considered to be the legitimate bearers of statehood in the Golan. They consist of approximately 20,000 Syrian Druze who have refused the offer of Israeli citizenship and retain their Syrian passports. 

However, by the time the Russian Aerospace Forces launched their operation in Syria, Israel’s leaders realized that they had obviously underestimated the threat posed by IS. That organization has proved to be terrifyingly effective in creating a military force that utilizes not only suicide bombers, but also the latest technology. The dawning of this realization – although belated and incomplete – has created a rather favorable backdrop for the Russian operation on Israel’s flank.

The paradox is that from the perspective of Israel’s interests, there is only one scenario that more or less guarantees to preserve at least the current status of the Golan Heights, and that is if Bashar al-Assad keeps a firm grip on power in Syria. Of course, Assad will never abandon his demands for the return of the Golan, but given how the West feels about him, he certainly wouldn’t find any support there.

But now, with an eye toward creating a coalition government in Damascus, that kind of support is exactly what the US is promising them if the parties reconcile. Voices in Israel have already been heard claiming that the Americans want success in Syria «at Israel’s expense». It turns out that in the attempt to improve their position in regard to this issue, the leaders of Israel are faced with a worse situation than they otherwise might have.

Realizing this, Netanyahu can be seen actively maneuvering diplomatically, doing his best to salvage the situation. He has categorically stated that he is not planning to make any concessions in regard to the Golan Heights, and he even scheduled a government meeting on location there, promising to allocate funds to develop Druze villages. This only resulted in protests in many European countries, as well as prompting a special meeting of the Arab League, which asked the UN Security Council to censure Israel. Israel’s hard-won special relationship with Egypt and Saudi Arabia is now threatened.
Israeli security experts Giora Eiland and Amos Yadlin have called Netanyahu’s actions regarding the status of the Golan a «dangerous game». Yadlin claims that for a long time no one raised the issue of the status of the Golan Heights, but that now everything has turned against the Israelis.

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