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.