Don't give up the Golan Heights
Surrendering it to Syria could imperil Israel and the US.
West Lafayette, Ind.; and Tel Aviv
President Bush still seeks a comprehensive peace for the Middle East. That could require resolution of the Golan Heights, the disputed territory northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Israel controls it; Syria wants it.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Mr. Bush has not pressured Israel to give up the Golan Heights, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is leaning toward this concession on his own. It's a presumed variation of the "land for peace" formula. And it would be a monumental mistake. Any such retreat from the strategically vital Golan could imperil Israel and the United States.
Let's be clear about Syria's intentions. Syria shares with Iran a design to destroy Israel. Both countries have documented intentions toward Israel that meet all legal tests for genocide.
Both also support assorted terrorist groups, which hold that same goal. Syria maintains close ties to Hamas and to Hezbollah, which is an Iranian proxy. Further, Al Qaeda, which has close ties to Iran, could discover opportunity on the Golan if Israel abandons it.
Recent testimony by Central Intelligence Agency officials to Congress made the case that Syria, with apparent help from North Korea, had been preparing to join the nuclear club. On Sept. 6, 2007, Israel's correct grasp of anticipatory self-defense put an end to these activities.
If official "peace" talks were reopened, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be risking nothing. But Israel's risks would be substantial. Israeli control of the Golan Heights is still needed for deterrence against a coordinated attack. Continued control is also critical to secure Israel's supply of drinking water.
Prime Minister Olmert is confident that giving up the Golan could be the best way to induce Syria to make peace with Israel. This means that he must also believe that Syria, as a diplomatic quid pro quo, would be willing to relinquish its ties to Iran and assorted Islamist terror groups. But these beliefs would be based upon a naive legalism. More plausibly, perhaps, Olmert's position is based on certain domestic political motives.
Olmert's incorrect reasoning lies ultimately in the critical limits of guarantees in our anarchic world. International law is not a suicide pact. Still lacking a central authority with real power to keep recalcitrant states in line, our world legal order permits each country an inherent right of self-defense.