Israel Cannot Leave Golan

Syria still conditions indirect talks with Netanyahu on Israeli consent to quit the entire Golan. Report shows that Israel cannot afford to do so.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 1:18 PM

IDF soldiers pan Israel from the Golan
IDF soldiers pan Israel from the Golan
photo: file

While Syria continues to condition indirect talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government on Israel’s consent to quit the entire Golan Heights, a new report by a respected IDF general shows that Israel cannot afford to do so.

The 30-page report was written by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Eiland chaired Israel’s National Security Council from 2004 to 2006, and served as head of the IDF’s Operations Branch and its Planning Directorate, where he was responsible for designing and implementing the IDF’s operational and strategic policies.

Eiland explains that ever since 1967 - when Israel captured the Golan after years of Syrian attacks from the Golan plateau upon Israeli towns below - it has been a matter of consensus that the Golan provides strategic depth and other advantages that would effectively forestall a Syrian attack on Israel.

Solution in 2000 is Even More Dangerous Now
In the year 2000, however, Israeli and Syrian negotiators reached a near-total agreement for a total Israeli withdrawal, based on the assumption of a military solution that would compensate Israel for the loss of the Golan. Eiland writes that such a solution was not only “implausible at the time, but changing circumstances, both strategic and operative, have rendered Israel’s forfeiture of the Golan today an even more reckless act.”

The Proposal: Demilitarization and Early-Warning
Eiland explains that in order to defend itself from a sudden Syrian attack, Israel knows it cannot begin from the Hula Valley, below the Golan, but rather at the line where it is presently stationed – in the Golan Heights. However, a proposal was detailed for an Israeli withdrawal that would include “creating a situation that would guarantee that in case of war, IDF forces could return to the place where they are currently stationed.” The proposal stipulated a totally demilitarized Golan, with Syrian divisions moved back into Syria, and Israel’s retention of an early warning intelligence base on Mt. Hermon, which towers over the entire region.

“On the basis of this security concept,” Eiland writes, “as soon as the IDF would comprehend that Syria intended to go to war, or the moment that the movement of Syrian forces westward was identified, IDF forces could move rapidly eastward onto the demilitarized Golan Heights. Since IDF forces would be stationed in the Hula Valley (and south of the Sea of Galilee), about 20 km. from the current border, whereas the Syrian forces would be at a distance of 60-80 km. from that line, the IDF was expected to reach its optimal defensive line before the Syrians arrived. In such a manner, the encounter between IDF forces and Syrian forces would take place in the region of the present border.”

Five Dangerous Assumptions
Gen. Eiland outlines five dangerous assumptions on which the solution is based, in addition to three additional problems for which this security arrangements solution provides no answers.

The five problematic assumptions can be summed up as follows:

1. “When the war erupts, it will begin with a situation in which both sides are located where they are obligated to be.” In fact, it is almost impossible to verify the location of anti-tank missiles, certain types of anti-aircraft missiles, and small rockets.

2. “The warning will be issued in real time.” The plan gives Israel only one warning station on Mt. Hermon, which will certainly be restricted in various ways – as opposed to its current two large stations on Mt. Hermon and an additional three stations along the entire length of the Golan Heights.

3. “A correct interpretation will be made with regard to any Syrian violation.” Prior to the Yom Kippur War, for instance, Israeli intelligence correctly identified the Egyptian military concentration in the Suez Canal, but it was thought to be only a military exercise. The Syrians have many options for subterfuge, for example, dispatching the army under the pretext of responding to civilian riots.

4. “The Israeli government will react speedily and vigorously to any serious violation.” Even if a warning is correctly provided and interpreted, the Israeli government will still have to decide, in a matter of hours, whether to dispatch forces into the Golan – which will be within sovereign Syrian territory, thus effectively declaring war.

5. “The IDF will fulfill its plan by outracing the Syrian force” – even though the Golan will likely be filled with new Syrian cities and towns around the principal transportation arteries, and possibly with anti-tank obstacles and the like.

Three additional problems, Eiland states, are these:

1. The increased effectiveness of advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

2. The expected urbanization of the Golan Heights, including many “policemen” who can be expected, together with many other “civilians,” to operate thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles that will be stored in those cities, thus impeding the advancement of Israeli forces.

3. The Syrian strategic threat. More than Syrian ground forces, the major Syrian threat involves ground-to-ground missiles and large quantities of chemical weapons. In the discussions that took place in 1999-2000, no attempt was made to reduce the presence of these two capabilities

Seven False Beliefs
Finally, Eiland argues, “a dangerous tendency has been created in recent years by fostering the belief that a peace agreement with Syria would have positive repercussions in seven additional areas” – but these are either far from guaranteed or not very important, or both. The seven beliefs are:

1. “An Israeli-Syrian peace agreement will drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.”
2. “A peace agreement between Syria and Israel will weaken Hizbullah.”
3. “An Israeli-Syrian peace agreement will prevent Hizbullah from arming.”
4. “A peace agreement with Syria will assist the Israeli-Palestinian track.”
5. “A peace agreement between Syria and Israel will compel Syria to banish Hamas headquarters from Damascus.”
6. “The agreement will improve Israel’s relations with the Arab world.”
7. “The peace agreement with Syria would enhance international support for Israel.”

After explaining why these are wrong or of negligible importance, Eiland concludes: “The present border line is the only one affording plausible defense for the State of Israel. It creates strategic depth, albeit minimal, and, in addition, this line exerts eastward control deep into Syrian territory.”

Manage, Don't Solve
Gen. Eiland sums up as follows: “The Israeli-Syrian conflict… resembles scores of conflicts throughout the world, some of them solvable and some of them not. The conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is an example of the insoluble category. In this situation it is preferable to continue managing the conflict rather than trying to solve it at an exorbitant price and risk. Should it ever be possible to reach another solution, then this can be re-examined.”