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Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights benefits the US

An Israeli retreat from the strategic Golan Heights would erode its posture of deterrence, turning Israel from a U.S. national security asset to a national security liability.

View of the snow-covered Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights in northern Israel on Jan. 18, 2019. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
View of the snow-covered Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights in northern Israel on Jan. 18, 2019. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

Between 1993 and 2005, Israel retreated from 40 percent of the Judea and Samaria mountain ridges (West Bank) and the entire Gaza Strip. Its retreat transformed these regions into platforms for unprecedented Palestinian terrorism and missile launches, supported by Iran, Turkey and North Korea.

It has also intensified lethal threats to all pro-U.S. Arab regimes, bolstering their security ties with Israel, which they perceived to be the most credible “life insurance agent” in the region.

As expected, gestures to rogue regimes and terrorists fuel further violence.

Since 1967, Israel’s control of the strategic Golan Heights—which overlook northern Israel—has constrained the Russian, Iranian, North Korean, Islamic State and Turkish strategic profile in Syria. Furthermore, the Israeli posture of deterrence has bolstered the national security of Jordan’s Hashemite regime and all other pro-U.S. Arab regimes (hence the unprecedented cooperation between Israel and these regimes).

For instance, the Sept. 1970 pro-Soviet Syrian invasion of Jordan was rolled back primarily due to Israel’s deployment of troops to the Golan Heights, 37 miles from Damascus. The Syrian invasion aimed at toppling the Hashemite regime and producing a pro-Soviet domino scenario into the Arabian Peninsula, at a time when the United States was heavily dependent upon Persian Gulf oil.

Thus, Israel’s control of the Golan Heights spared the United States the need to deploy its own troops to save its Jordanian ally, while preventing a potential superpower confrontation and denying the USSR a geostrategic bonanza.

The significance of Israel’s control of the Golan Heights for the national security of the United States has increased over the years, due to the following phenomena:

• The raging civil war in Syria which erupted in 2011.

• The escalation of Iran’s involvement in Syria and Lebanon, with Tehran aspiring to extend its dominance to the Mediterranean and Europe.

• The entrenchment of ISIS cells in Syria, irrespective of their recent setbacks.

• The growing involvement in Syria by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who aims to resurrect the Ottoman Empire.

• The Russia-Syria alliance and the expanding Russian presence in the Mediterranean and throughout the Middle East.

• Since the 1960s, North Korea has been a leading ally of Syria, engaged in illicit military and technology cooperation, including ballistic missiles and chemical warfare. Pyongyang facilitated the construction of the Syrian nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

In November 2019, the explosive potential of Syria transcends the boundaries of the Middle East. The pro-Russia, pro-Iran, pro-North Korea and anti-U.S. Syrian regime—which provided safe haven to Nazi war criminals—has become a global epicenter for global terrorism and drug trafficking.

The endemically turbulent reality of Syria in particular and the Middle East in general highlights the self-destructive nature for the United States and pro-U.S. Arab regimes of attempts to get Israel off the Golan Heights.

Agreements concluded with Damascus are tenuous (would you buy a used car from Assad?). For example, since 1953, Syria has violated all its water supply agreements with Jordan.  Notwithstanding the official state of peace between it and Jordan, Syria invaded the Hashemite kingdom in 1970, threatened to invade again in 1980 and 1989, and periodically supports anti-Hashemite subversion and terrorism.

For 30 years (1976-2006), Syria has violated a series of international and intra-Arab commitments to evacuate Lebanon, until it was forced to withdraw by domestic and international factors.

In 1973, Syria violated the 1967 armistice agreement with Israel, as well as the 1974 Disengagement Agreement with Israel, terrorizing Israel through Palestinian and Shi’ite terrorist groups in Jordan and Lebanon.

Israel’s control of the Golan Heights, just like its control of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, has bolstered Israel’s posture of deterrence and extended the strategic reach of the United States. Israel’s retreat from the Golan Heights would erode its posture of deterrence, turning the Jewish state from a national security producer/asset to a national security consumer/liability, to the detriment of the United States.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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