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Wednesday, 5 January, 2000, 14:19 GMT
The Golan: Territory and security
Israeli forces
The Golan Heights: strategically important for Israel
By BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Territory and security are the two elements of the peace equation between Syria and Israel.

The Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, is among the most strategically important real-estate in the world.

This rocky escarpment overlooking Israel-proper extends north-east towards the Syrian capital Damascus.

There are those who have argued that in this age of long-range missiles such territory has a lesser strategic value. But the Golan has provided Israel with a vital breathing space.

Its high points give Israel a remarkable vantage point to monitor Syrian movements. And the rocky plateau itself has provided a dramatic cockpit in which Israel can absorb any Syrian armoured thrust; a theory put to the test in the 1973 war.
Barak, Clinton and Farouq al-Sharaa
The deal could tie Israel and Syria to a Pax Americana

But whatever its strategic importance, holding on to the Golan is not an option for Israel unless any hope of peace is to be removed.

Indeed, all the available evidence suggests that not only this Israeli Government, but also its conservative predecessor, accepted that the Golan as a whole must be returned to Syria.

There may be detailed debates as to exactly where the international boundary should run; but the principle of giving up territory for peace is well established.

Arms for peace

The real issue is the nature of the security arrangements that Israel can obtain in return for the loss of the Golan. And here both Syria and the United States have a role to play.

The Syrian standing army is much larger than Israel's and it can maintain a significant armoured and mechanised force at a high state of readiness.
Apache attack helicopters
Israel wants US Apache attack helicopters

Thus Israeli strategists have always argued that any security arrangements must be asymmetric; in other words any demilitarised zones or areas of limited troop deployments must extend further into Syria than they do into Israel.

Also the Israelis want to maintain a vantage point to monitor Syrian deployments. And the Israelis want to have the sorts of long-range weapons in their arsenal that could strike at any Syrian force that was massing to attack them.

This is where the Americans come in. Israel has submitted a long shopping list of equipment including additional Apache attack helicopters; radar-equipped command and control aircraft; and according to some reports even long-range cruise missiles.

If true, this would reflect Israel's continuing strategic concerns about perceived threats beyond its own borders, potentially from Iraq or Iran.

But Israel also wants real-time access to US satellite intelligence information to compensate for the loss of its Golan vantage point.

Syria of course is going to be uneasy about accepting unbalanced security arrangements. It may however realise that the maintenance of Israel's qualitative military edge by the Americans is the price that it must pay for peace.

Indeed Syria too stands to gain military aid from the US as part of any peace package.

This might open up the Syrian military in an unprecedented way to Western influences and perhaps thwart a major Syrian modernisation effort to acquire advanced Russian weapons systems.

It would tie Israel and Syria into a Pax Americana very much in the way that Egypt and Israel's peace deal has been under-written by Washington.

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See also:

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