Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More sour grapes over the Golan


Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel 40 years ago, in the six-day war of 1967.

Four decades is not a particularly long time in the life of a nation, but in human terms, the war has impacted the lives of three generations already. Its disturbing images still linger in the memories of those who lived through it and witnessed its breathtakingly quick conclusion as either a “humiliating defeat” or a “stunning victory”.

Losing so many people and so much land and military hardware in just six days meant that those who led us into that disastrous war, including one Hafez Al Assad, either made fatal errors of judgement or were utterly incompetent. Either way, they were never held accountable for their mistakes and the nation never, therefore, learned any lessons from them. They went on to rule the country by stealth, under emergency powers, while demanding blind faith and loyalty from the defenceless population.

Worse still, they never taught us to understand, fight or engage intelligently with the enemy. We were allowed only to fear and despise it. Until two decades ago, no distinction had been made between Jews and political Zionists or among Israelis with different shades of political opinion, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and religious convictions. They were all enemies who should be obliterated from the face of the earth. The Israelis contributed to this by their abuse of the Palestinians and Golan residents while extreme elements within the Israeli political and religious establishment fed their land-grabbing agenda on our blind hatred and the insecurity of ordinary Israelis.

Then came the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, which resulted in the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. This opened up the possibility of a similar deal on the Golan and slowly changed perceptions about the nature and long-term intentions of the “evil Zionist enemy”. Secret dialogue through third parties and direct negotiations between Syria and Israel soon followed but yielded nothing. Why?

The reasons are water, mistrust and the weakness of the Syrian military machine.

Click on image to enlarge

The Golan probably supplies some 30% of Israel’s water requirements. The Israelis do not trust the Syrians to honour a long-term water supply agreement and not try (again) to divert tributaries flowing into northern Israel back into Syrian territory, or not to attack Israel from the Golan ridge. More importantly, they have no real incentive to return the Golan as long as they believe they can win a conventional war against Syria.

Their nuclear and biological weapons would certainly protect them against deep invasion or total annihilation. That much is clear, but only a serious and growing risk of losing a conventional war against Syria would bring them back to the negotiating table. Previous negotiations failed because they thought they could wring out big territorial and water concessions from the Syrians, from a position of strength, and at the same time isolate the Palestinians. Syrians would never allow their leaders to compromise on the sovereignty of the Golan or strike a peace deal at the expense of the Palestinians.

To be blunt, if Syrians want all of the Golan back tomorrow, they should stop whining about the illegal occupation and annexation of the Golan and all the useless UN resolutions, fight another war and win. Else they should build mutual trust and conventional military parity with Israel.

Building military parity (in the air, sea and on land) could have the opposite effect of fuelling fear and suspicion among Israeli hawks and provoke a pre-emptive strike. This is a risk worth taking, as a pre-emptive strike would have a limited impact on a nation of 20m with massive land depth. Every nation has the right to build military power to defend its borders and fight occupation. Inaction, stockpiling long-range missiles or driving thorns into Israel’s side from time to time using external militia groups build neither trust nor real military power. Mutual trust can be built alongside military capacity but only through deeds rather than words.

Israel has been exploiting her war victory and occupation of the Golan for 40 years. Economically, the Golan has yielded enormous benefits in agricultural produce, tourist receipts and clean water. A peace deal based on a gradual but complete return of the Golan to Syria over 20 years, without destruction of existing infrastructure or compensation on either side, is both possible and feasible. Both sides must see opportunity in promoting peaceful coexistence and regional economic cooperation, but also a serious and constant danger of armed conflict and possible defeat if they fail to make progress.

Personal contact and open dialogue between enemies over a 20-year time horizon can only yield positive results. Several generations of politicians, community leaders, businessmen and ordinary people on both sides need to interact without fear in order to alter perceptions and attitudes and allow mutual trust to take root over time.

Recent attempts by the Syrian regime to resume peace negotiations have been seen as empty gestures by astute Israeli politicians. They have been actively discouraged by blind Zionists, who took them more seriously, for fear of eventual land surrender. They have been welcomed by Israeli moderates who are hoping for, or expecting big concessions.

Syria, devoid of its middle class and rife with corruption, is currently too poor and underdeveloped economically to provide a lucrative market for Israeli business. The regime is too fragile politically to pose a serious military threat to Israel. The plain fact is we have a strong dictatorship that protects itself extremely well against the population, but a nation that has been severely weakened strategically and institutionally by decades of graft, under investment and injustice.

Sadly for us, the sons and daughters of the 1967 war generation, we are never likely to spend our summers at the slopes of Mount Hermon or on the shores of Lake Tiberius. Israeli settlers in the Golan will continue to drink our wine, our rulers who sent our fathers to their death in 1967 will continue to swim in our Champagne but for us and our children, it looks like sour grapes for many more years to come.

19 comments:

Fares said...

Philip, excellent post, I agree with everything and you said it very clearly and with punch lines.

This post needs to be published, no one has ever written it in the same way.

عشتار said...

Thanks for this great post Philip!
While reading it just like Fares , I felt that it has to be published somewhere
We dont read much about the Golan in the media , and i could never understand how this fertile land with its magnificent landscapes and peaceful people was almost forgotten ,i always missed the passion in this cause
Seems that both sides , the Syrian regime and the Israely government are escaping the confrontation politically or military wise , they keep "drugging" the people with their "secret talks" stories
I read an article about a poll that was conducted among the young generation in the Golan about the issue of affiliation and belonging and many of them feel just pure "Golany" , they were left all alone , suffocated in an isolated Island , not belonging to anybody ,and its so sad and so frustrating...

Wassim said...

Excellent point and I share your sentiments regarding strategy. I think more must be done to make the Golan heights rise into our consciousness..We must not forget it and we must make it a rallying call for all.

saint said...

Thanks for this post and for the recording of historical facts. Wikipedia site is good source of information for the Golan Heights, Geology, topography, history and value. In their section covering Hafez Assad, they over looked his connection to the 6 days war and his historical accountability. Having a defeated leader to govern a country for 30 years after his defeat, and claiming his victory in the second defeat of 1973 is a tragedy still not finished yet. The results are a whole country defeated in its performance and its spirit.

Fares said...

Wassim, I wish instead of focusing your energy on the Golan, why not get our prisoners out of Syrians jail??? you are in London so you can blog about the prisoners freely unless you are proud to be a human rights abuser.

Fares said...

About Wassim "Syrian Arab (emphasis on Arab) studying International Relations; opposes all Western political and military intervention in the Middle East. "

Wassim how about local and national dictatoships and abuse??? or Syrian interferance in Lebanon and Iraq? willa farfour zanbo maghfour???

Nobody said...

Personal contact and open dialogue between enemies over a 20-year time horizon can only yield positive results. Several generations of politicians, community leaders, businessmen and ordinary people on both sides need to interact without fear in order to alter perceptions and attitudes and allow mutual trust to take root over time.

you d better first to learn to interact without fear with your own regime ... we are free people in our country ... you seems to be the nation of slaves ... until this changes interpersonal communication is useless .. we d better talk to your dictators ... they are ones who decide, not you ..

Nobody said...

Until two decades ago, no distinction had been made between Jews and political Zionists or among Israelis with different shades of political opinion, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and religious convictions.

you are astonishingly clueless about israel .. dont know what books you read, but they are all crap

Philip I said...

nobody

"you d better first to learn to interact without fear with your own regime ... we are free people in our country ... you seems to be the nation of slaves ... until this changes interpersonal communication is useless .. we d better talk to your dictators ... they are ones who decide, not you .."

This sums it up nicely for me. And you are right about our situation except on one little point: talking to our dictators will not get you or us anywhere either.

They know they would be toppled if they tried to give away chuncks of land and water rights (currently the only tangible reasons for your government to come to the negotiating table). What would our dictators be doing that for? In return for what? Peace? We already have peace but without the friendly relations or economic benefits of regional cooperation. When was it the last time we had a real battle? The impasse since 1973 is good for the State of Israel (aka Israeli military establishment + influential US Jews) and the illegal government of Syria. It is bad for the Israeli and Syrian peoples, not to mention the Palestinians and the whole region...work this one out! Hint: water shortages and population growth.

On your second point, I'm not exactly sure what you are implying. Eretz Israel may be deeply ingrained in Jewish conscience but not all Israelis and Jews are aggressive and uncompromising political Zionists. Culturally, and ethnically, how well do Polish or Ukranian Jews get on with those from Ethiopia, Yemen and Algeria? Religion has always been used by states and empires as a political tool to unite people. It does not work as well in modern times. So I cannot see how Israel can project itself as a strongly united nation against its neighbours in matters of peace, rather than war.

Anonymous said...

I wished Mr. nobody being someone and clear for me those things. If Sadat talked to Israel and Egypt singed a peace treaty, if king Husain and Jordon have peace treaty, if President Assad shake hands with the Israeli president in Rome and sent an envoy to Israel and if Sharah sat with the Zoinist for negociation, all those people are traitors or what. Didn’t they find in the end that they have to talk, to negotiate or what?. A lot of Gulf Arab States have relation with Israelis and think this relation serves the cause of the Palestinians better than those big mouth nationalist who could do nothing since 1948, but you think different. Do not force your opinion on others and let everyone do it its way and let’s see who will do better in the end. My neighbor is a Jew and he is a very nice fellow, are you suggesting to stop talking to him? Please advice.

Nobody said...

On your second point, I'm not exactly sure what you are implying. Eretz Israel may be deeply ingrained in Jewish conscience but not all Israelis and Jews are aggressive and uncompromising political Zionists. Culturally, and ethnically, how well do Polish or Ukranian Jews get on with those from Ethiopia, Yemen and Algeria? Religion has always been used by states and empires as a political tool to unite people. It does not work as well in modern times. So I cannot see how Israel can project itself as a strongly united nation against its neighbours in matters of peace, rather than war.

philip .. 60 fucking years passed since the establishment of israel !!! when you, arabs, got your heads out of the past and start thinking in the present ?? !!

most people in israel are either second generation or came here very young .. they speak hebrew as their mother tongue ... you really think we walk around conversing in polish or arabic ??? !!!

Nobody said...

Do not force your opinion on others and let everyone do it its way and let’s see who will do better in the end. My neighbor is a Jew and he is a very nice fellow, are you suggesting to stop talking to him? Please advice.

anon ... i did not tell you what to do ... i said only that inter-personal communication is a waste of time as a means to promote peace or whatever ... first of all because it's not people who decide in your country ...

also as one with a big experience in online communication with arabs i dare to say that even in the arab blogsphere in english israelis are not welcomed at all ... except for an exchange of niceties void of essence like we are all just simple human beings, almost any attempt to discuss something meaningful immediately degenerates into online wars ...

what's going in the arab blogpshere in arabic i don't know but i suppose it's ways worse ..

so you talk to your jewish neighbor or you don't, i have no advises for you .. sort this issue out by yourself ...

Nobody said...

but regarding your general ideas about the israeli identity, israelis have identity of their own into which all immigrants integrate ... israel has its own culture based around hebrew and certain lifestyles ... also there should be at least quarter of a million people, who would define themselves as israelis, but who are not jewish according to the jewish religion ... it's enough that you are born here and adopt hebrew as your primary language ... you become israeli ...

you can think about israelis as a nation in its own right, or as a very peculiar case of a jewish community with a very strong identity of its own, the secular part of which accepts what you may call conversion through cultural assimilation ...

Anonymous said...

philip,
what happened to newer post, it vanished?

Philip I said...

nobody

"you can think about israelis as a nation in its own right, or as a very peculiar case of a jewish community with a very strong identity of its own, the secular part of which accepts what you may call conversion through cultural assimilation ...

Thanks for that. OK, Israeli society is not so divided along ethnic or cultural lines and Israel is a melting pot.

When that pot is stirred, not by war, but by peace overtures, what seems to rise to the surface is a great deal of tension and downright hostility among various groups that make up Israeli society. In general, first or even second generation settlers seem totally opposed to any peace deal that involves giving up land. Whereas older generations, while conscious of the risks, also see long term benefits in a comprehensive land-for-peace deal with the Arabs. They are now in the minority.

Israelis who still think that it is possible to strike a separate deal with the Assads over the Golan are in my view misguided, as I explained in the post.

Nobody said...

i dont know whom you call settlers .. if you mean settlers of the west bank there are 300,000 of them and all of them, first or second generation, are opposed to giving up land ... if settlers means israelis then i dont know about generations but most israelis voted for kadima and avoda which both advocated leaving the west bank ... as to gaza it was evacuated by likud itself ... and even among those who oppose territorial concessions many dont have problems with giving up land, but they dont believe that arabs can deliver peace .. you think that given the pacifistic attitudes prevalent in the arab world and the general absence of violence on the other side of our border, their skepticism is ill based ??

saint said...

Today, on the BBC, Moammer Kadafi, the other moron dictator spoke his mind about the world politics. One the interesting thing he said was about Israeli-Palestinians problem. He suggested that he can solve this problem; he proposed to have one state with a free election and let the representatives of all communities elect their representative in a one country and reminded both parties to the conflict that they are cousins after all.
To the first time, it seems that Arab dictators are starts to depart from this problem because they have used it to the last drop and they can not fool their people with outside problem any more.

Fares said...

Philip, I need your wise opinion on this
http://freesyria.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/bashar-is-playing-with-fire-once-again/

Lirun said...

philip - i think the interpersonal communication is hugely beneficial.. and i agree with you wholeheartedly that to aspire to a treaty that requires aid for lifesupport is only marginally better than life is today without it and not really meaningful..