Designing borders in accordance with current but changing military
technology and transient political circumstances is strategically foolish.
Israeli Control of the Golan Heights: High Strategic and Moral Ground for
by Prof. Efraim Inbar
BESA Center monograph
Expectations of the international community for peace between Israel and its
Arab neighbors are almost universally based on the “Land for Peace” formula,
which, in the case of a possible Israeli-Syrian deal, links withdrawal from
the strategic Golan Heights with a peace agreement. Such a formula, however,
does not serve Israel’s interests. Giving up the Golan plateau deprives
Israel of its best defense against potential Syrian aggression. It also
signals Israeli weakness and undermines Israel's deterrence. Designing
borders in accordance with current but changing military technology and
transient political circumstances is strategically foolish.
Moreover, the expected political returns for Israel from a peace treaty with
Syria are meager. Syria is unlikely to align itself with pro- Western Arab
states and abandon its regional alliance with Iran in return for Israeli
territorial concessions on the Golan Heights. Damascus has made abundantly
clear that such realignment is not on the table. Its ability to “deliver”
Hizballah in Lebanon is also questionable. Moreover, a peace treaty with
Syria is not going to affect the diplomatic fortunes of Israel in the region
or in the world. And, Syria, as well as the rest of the Arab world, has
little to offer to Israel in economic or cultural terms. Israel hardly
desires to integrate into a despotic, corrupt and poor region. This calculus
is not affected by the prospects of a change in Syria's leadership.
Another compelling reason for not accepting the “Peace for Land” formula is
that the status quo serves Israel’s best interest and preserving it requires
Israel to maintain its military superiority. Thus, while the possibility of
disrupting the status quo by force exists, a Syrian challenge would be
difficult diplomatically and militarily. As long as Syria fears escalation
and Israel's power, Israel has the upper hand. Israeli policies toward Syria
should be guided by such power politics, just as most territorial disputes
are conducted, and Syria must at some point swallow its pride.
Since retaining the Golan is more important for Israel than reaching a peace
treaty with Syria in the foreseeable future, Israel should insist on a new
paradigm, “Peace for Peace,” based on the principle of defensible borders.
The demand for secure borders seems reasonable and is rooted in
international resolutions such as UNSC Resolution 242. The political unrest
and volatility in the region, including questions about the foreign policies
of Israel’s neighbors, similarly prescribe against taking any significant
security risks by ceding the Golan to Syria.
Israel should augment its claims for defensible borders on the Golan Heights
with normative, legal and historic arguments. A return to the 1967 border is
morally repugnant because it implies that the aggressor of 1967, Syria,
should not pay any price for its flagrant violation of international norms.
Israel should also emphasize its historic rights to this piece of territory
and point out that these claims were accepted in the 20th century in
internationally recognized documents. It should use these historical and
legal arguments to bolster its claim of sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Israel must regain the moral high ground in order to show that it is
demanding land that is part of its historic patrimony – not land that was
conquered by force. A discourse rooted in normative, historic and legal
considerations is important in this quest. Such a discourse will buttress
realpolitik imperatives that dictate Israeli control of the Golan Heights.