by Pazit Rabina
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav
After all, when faced with the choice between Asad, ISIS or al-Qaeda, Israeli control of the Golan does not seem like the worst possibility.
Looking back, over the past five years there have been at least two instances when Netanyahu’s government encountered significant opportunities to gauge its positions on the Golan Heights. The first opportunity was in 2013 within the framework of the Kerry initiative, which included, among other things, a plan for gradual withdrawal from the Jordan Valley, leaving IDF forces in the Valley for ten years.
True, this plan never had a shadow of a chance. Not politically and not conceptually, from Israel’s point of view and certainly not from the Palestinians’ side. It was stillborn. The timing was terrible too. The plan, which was headed by General John Allen, arose while ISIS Toyotas had already begun racing across the Syrian desert. Had Israel withdrawn from the Jordan Valley, it would only have been a matter of time until the armed pick-up trucks stood at the baptismal sites on the Jordan River.
In short, the plan had no chance at all. But precisely because it had no chance, Israel had an opportunity to present a fresh idea to her friends, according to which the security interest on the eastern border would extend from Aqaba to the Golan Heights instead of ending at the Yarmouk River. And in contrast to the tendency that prevailed in the past, to separate the political initiative in the Palestinian front from the political initiative on the Syrian front, Israel had the opportunity to present another proposal, according to which, in the changing Middle East, it would be possible to consider an initiative on the Palestinian front in exchange for a transformation in the international stance regarding Israel’s remaining in the Golan. After all, when faced with the choice between Asad, ISIS or al-Qaeda, Israeli control of the Golan does not seem like the worst possibility. Moreover, between recognition of Israeli sovereignty and an unequivocal demand to leave the Golan, there is a wide range of intermediate possibilities. And this is even before speaking of the great void in international law regarding the question of to whom, exactly, the territories of a dismantled state belong.
By the way, if this is taken to its logical end, regarding the agreement in Syria, the question must be asked as to not only what the status of the Golan Heights is, from the point of view of international law, but also what the status of the Iskenderun Province in Turkey is, which, until the First World War was part of Syria. The Syrians have claimed this tract of land over the years, the area of which is 20 times the size of the Golan. But the Turks were aggressive in their position and knew how to conduct themselves against the Syrians in these strategic heights. The result: the Syrians have accepted Turkish control of the Iskenderun district. Anyone who had visited Antika, capital of the district, before the war, could have seen the train that departed from Aleppo arrive in Turkish Antika 45 minutes later.
The second opportunity that Israel apparently missed occurred just before the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement. Israel’s ability to influence the agreement was limited from the start, but it also created an effective opportunity regarding what Hauser and others have called “room for a discussion on compensation”.
“It would be a historic failure if Israel focuses once again only on the tactical needs of advanced weaponry. The balancing formula in light of the Iranian achievement (and Assad’s murderous behavior) must include a maximum reduction in the danger of Iranian nuclearization, along with containment of Iran’s potential for conventional aggression. This can be done by creating an international agreement to finally shelve the Shi’ite-Alawite aspiration to regain control of the Israeli Golan, which constitutes less than 1 percent of the area of what used to be Syria.
The requisite strategic collateral is an “American pledge,” including with regard to the Golan, with a presidential guarantee and Congressional legislation to ensure Israeli rule there. In 1975, U.S. President Gerald Ford made a presidential promise in writing to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which included American recognition of Israel’s need to remain on the Golan Heights, even in peacetime.
Forty years on, in light of Syria’s collapse, the Islamic State’s takeover of huge areas in the Middle East and the “rotten compromise” expected with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the achievement that Israel needs and can attain is to update the international stance, and ratify and upgrade the U.S. stance on the Golan”.
If such a possibility had existed, relations between the Obama administration and the Israeli government during the period of the signing of the nuclear agreement would have allowed Israel to bring the Golan Heights into the future equation that would restrict Iran and improve Israel’s position. From various reports it has become known that Netanyahu indeed did hope to present the matter of the Golan as compensation for the nuclear agreement with Iran, but he did this some months after the agreement had been passed by Congress. At that point Obama had no need to act on the matter with Netanyahu, and he simply did not respond. Apparently, this is also what transpired in the recent meeting with Putin.
Despite Netanyahu’s declarations for the media, in the discussion with Putin the matter did not come up at all. When Netanyahu was asked about this in a media debriefing, he responded: “Putin did not express any position on the subject. The Russian Foreign Affairs Department has an official position but in practice, our words were heard and, I believe, also understood”.
The bottom line: despite the cold shoulder that Putin and Obama gave to Israel on the matter of the Golan Heights, Netanyahu’s conduct hints that the recent steps taken in the Geneva talks force Netanyahu to continue with delicate tactical understanding regarding Israel’s conduct in Syria, while in Geneva, matters directly related to Israel are increasingly being decided – in her absence.
Source: Makor Rishon, Yoman Section, issue 977. Pg. 12-13.
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