The Golan Heights are strategically valuable to Israel

With the Golan Heights under its control, Syria will be able to resume shelling northern Israel and Israel will lose the ability to monitor and detect potentially hostile Syrian army troop movements.

Giving up the Golan Heights is risky. Israel can not afford to take that risk.

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Syrian counter-arguments to above objection


“Do you believe that it will be possible to achieve peace with Syria without full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights?”


That simple “no” was Rabin’s answer to President Clinton in March of 1993 when the two leaders were discussing peace in the Middle East.


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Under a genuine peace treaty between Israel and Syria – a true peace that is guaranteed by the United States - the military high grounds under the control of either party become less important than is the case between warring nations. Maintaining peaceful relationships would be more strategically important that any high grounds.

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In the age of early warning systems that include round-the-clock super-resolution satellite observations and space-based or very high-altitude electronic surveillance, the strategic importance of highland territories is diminished to only the traditional battlefield tactical advantage.

This may be true for countries that enjoy a strategic depth which can serve as a buffer against ground troops. However, for Israel this is a mixed case. The basic Israeli argument goes that the strategic significance of the Golan height is twofold: first as an observation post, and second as a rough terrain buffer that can is 15-20 miles wide in certain locations, which can delay the progress of Syrian ground troops by at least one to two days, therefore giving Israel a chance to counteract any rapid mobilization of Syrian troops.

Some high-ranking Israeli officers have even argued that if the Golan is to return to Syria, the demilitarized zone must extend to the entire southern part of Syria in order to give Israel ample time to mobilize in case of a surprise Syrian attack. These fears reflect not a realistic assessment of Israel’s vulnerability, but one of the key elements of Israel’s military doctrine, which is based on taking the battle into the “enemy’s” territories. The major flaw in this argument is the assumption that the next war will be similar to the previous one. Recent events, such as in the 2006 war in Lebanon have demonstrated that taking the battle to the enemy’s territory is not necessarily a winning formula and it guarantees no success.

It is viewed that the Israeli calculation of the strategic value of the Golan is based less on its value as a defensive line and more on the price in blood that Israel may have to pay if it wanted to take it back in case of hostility in order to take the battle back into Syrian territory. Logically, this is also flawed as it puts the strategic value of peace as less than the perceived value of the Golan as a means of ensuring an eternal mirage of full and absolute protection in the face of any possible hostilities whether they are real or imagined.

Insisting on an offensive advantage is no way to reach a peace agreement. Furthermore, Syria is unlikely to rely on tank warfare in the heights, or mainly on regular army ground forces if hostilities are to break out. As noted by Levy Morav (1995), the Syrian’s intent on not making each war a repetition of the previous war was evident in the Syrian’s response to Ariel Sharon’s attempts to engage Syrian ground forces during the Lebanon invasion in 1982 as they opted to use air force despite heavy losses.

While Syria will never relinquish sovereignty over the Golan, she is well aware that peace agreements worldwide are characterized by the establishment of de-militarized zones on both sides of the border. And Syria has accommodated since 1973 a demilitarized zone. So far, in all of its cease fire agreements, the demilitarized zones around Israel were established on its neighbours’ lands, and the Syrians will be within their rights to refuse extending the demilitarized zone to the extent described by some iron-clad-security theorists in Israel. In a Golan peace deal, one would expect it to guarantee the security of both sides with international monitoring that does not infringe on either sides’ rights or abilities to defend itself against an attack within reasonable recognition of each side’s sovereignty over its UN recognized land.

Finally, while in cease fire agreements, military considerations are of utmost importance due to the temporary nature of such agreements. Peace is a political decision with intent of permanency and normalcy, and as such it is not to be decided based on military advantage alone.

The argument that Israel should retain the Golan Heights because of their strategic value assumes perpetual war conditions, and resigns the region to a state of temporary cease fires with continued hostility. Insisting on retaining the Golan Heights for their strategic value to Israel is tantamount to insisting that the house hands you a rigged dice before you hit the crap table. This is no way to play if the goal is a durable peace.

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2 Responses to “The Golan Heights are strategically valuable to Israel”

  1. 9
    Murhaf Jouejati, Professor, George Washington University wrote:

    The argument that the Golan Heights are strategically valuable to Israel may have been true in the 1950s and 1960s. Syria then dominated the Heights and was, with its short range artillery, in a position to threaten Israeli targets below.

    With the advance of technology, however, that argument is no longer plausible: Syria has long range surface-to-surface missiles that, if launched from anywhere in Syria, can hit targets anywhere in Israel — with or without the Golan.

  2. 1
    Sami, None, None wrote:

    Satellites! … why would Israel need the Golan?

    Israel has a higher mountain than the Golan Heights and can see all of Syria. Therefore, the above argument should not be on the table at all … just like Syria should not be asking Israel not to use its satellites’ advantage over Syria.

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