In the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran, President Barack Obama can help secure Israel’s borders by recognizing its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and Knesset member Michael Oren wrote in an op-ed published at CNN on Sunday.
Oren argued that this recognition, which could be extended while Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, would be a way for the United States to boost Israel’s security beyond the more conventional upgrades in military hardware, such as advanced aircraft.
Oren explained that the Golan had given Syria a military advantage over Israel until it was captured in 1967. Although Israel extended its law to the territory in 1981, it never sought to formally annex it. Oren observed that while successive Israeli prime ministers seeking to make peace with Syria were prepared to relinquish the Golan in exchange for an end to hostilities, the refusal of either Hafez al-Assad or his son, Bashar, to agree to a peace treaty turned out to be a positive development for Israel. Had Israel sacrificed the Golan for peace with Syria, “a withdrawal would today have placed Hezbollah directly above Israeli cities and villages in Northern Galilee. ISIS terrorists, now deployed far away from the southern Golan, would be dug in on the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore.”
However, even with Israel in possession of the Golan, threats to its borders remain.
Senior Iranian commanders, collaborating with Hezbollah, have already tried to launch terrorist attacks against Israeli targets on the Golan. Israeli intelligence expects the number of Iranian troops in Syria to expand dramatically over the coming months, just as Hezbollah — currently armed with 150,000 rockets — receives many millions of dollars in sanctions relief from its sponsors in Tehran. Intimidated and outgunned, United Nations observers in the area have essentially disintegrated. For the first time in more than 40 years, the Golan could again become a catalyst for war.
Oren argued that Obama can acknowledge that Israel’s possession of the Golan has contributed to regional stability, which would give Israel a stronger hand to deter the threats it faces from its northwestern border.
Controlling the Golan more than twice as long as Syria did, Israel has transformed this once-barren war zone into a hub of high-tech agriculture, world-class wineries and pristine nature reserves. In contrast to the West Bank with its large and often hostile Palestinian population, the Golan is home to a small number of Druze who are closely tied to their proudly Israeli kinsmen. Israel should continue to settle the Golan with those committed to its defense and development. And the United States has every interest in encouraging those efforts.
While hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama could acknowledge the fact that the Golan can no longer be exchanged for peace with Syria because Syria no longer exists. He could recognize Israel’s immense contributions to the region’s security and the dangers that increasingly jeopardize it. By backing Israel’s historic claims, the United States could send a potent message to the entire Middle East — that the Golan Heights will never again be a battlefield.
Late last year, Ha’aretz military analyst Amos Harel observed that Hezbollah was building up a significant terror infrastructure on the Syrian side of the Golan. A month later, an airstrike attributed to Israel hit a convoy in the Golan, killing senior Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah commanders. Hezbollah retaliated ten days later, firing a missile into Israel and killing two soldiers.
In April, an Iranian analyst with close ties to the regime said that the Islamic Republic would open a front against Israel in the Golan.
In August, Israel retaliated against four rockets that struck the northern Galilee and Golan by hitting targets inside Syria.
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