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by Dr. Steve Carol


The Golan Heights is a semi-mountainous escarpment of some 451 square miles, ranging in height from 400 to 3,000 feet. It rises steeply from the eastern and northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, runs the length of the Huleh Valley, and overlooks the coastal plains of the Galilee and northern Israel. There is a Jewish connection to the Golan as it is dotted with ancient Jewish villages and synagogues.

In 1948, Syria joined with other Arab states in an aggressive attack against the newly re-established State of Israel. Syria was defeated by Israeli forces and an armistice line was drawn between the two nations in 1949. From 1949 to 1967,

Syria used its position on the Heights to shell Israeli farms and settlements in the Galilee below and to attack Israeli water projects in the Huleh Valley. In 1964, Syrians on the Golan attempted to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River, which would have severely curtailed Israel's water supply. Israel used military force to oppose the diversion.

In June 1967 at the start of the Six Day War, Syria again joined Egypt and Jordan in an aggressive attack against Israel designed to obliterate the Jewish State. Artillery fire from the Heights rained down on the Israelis below. The Syrian positions, built with Soviet assistance and guidance, were deemed impregnable with layers of fortifications and overlapping fields of fire. I recall personally visiting Tel Azzyazziat and viewing through a machine gun position at the Israeli fields and fish ponds below. At great cost, the IDF stormed the Heights and captured them from Syria.

Six years later, at the outbreak of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syria mounted a massive surprise armored attack into the territory. In a costly stand, the IDF stopped the Syrian thrust across the Golan and then counterattacked, driving a fifteen-mile bulge into Syria. Israel later withdrew from this bulge in 1974, but stayed on the Heights.

It is important to recall that there is some legal question as to the status of the Golan Heights belonging to Syria in the first place. On June 30, 1939 France detached the Sanjak of Alexandretta from Syria and ceded it to Turkey. To date Syria has never recognized this transfer of territory terming it illegal. Similarly in 1923, Great Britain transferred the Golan Heights from Mandatory Palestine to the French Mandate of Syria under a Franco-British agreement delineating the boundary between the two mandates. Israel is the legal successor state to Mandatory Palestine. Thus the Golan Heights is an area in dispute. The Syrians can't have it both ways. If they insist on return of Alexandretta then Israel has the right and can insist on return of the Golan Heights.

Under international law, the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur ("Right cannot originate from wrong") calls for the punishment of an aggressor state. Syria launched aggressive war against Israel directly three times, in 1948, 1967 and 1973. It committed acts of war from 1949-1967. By those acts it has forfeited any claim to the Golan Heights as surely as Germany lost territory to both Poland and Russia (then the Soviet Union) after its aggression in World War II. Similarly Japan lost territory to China, Korea, and Russia after that same conflict.

Now, unable to regain the Golan Heights by force, having tried direct attack in October 1973, Syria and Hezbollah manufactured the bogus issue of the Shebaa Farms. The Shebaa Farms is part of Mt. Dov and the Golan Heights. Hezbollah claims it is part of Lebanon, in order to give Hezbollah an excuse to keep fighting against Israel. The weak, still Syrian-influenced Lebanese government, agreed. They all demand that Israel return the area, a 200 square kilometer piece of territory as basically a reward for Hezbollah's aggression. The United Nations, after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, certified that Israel had indeed withdrawn from all of Lebanon and the Shebaa Farms was part of the territorial dispute between Israel and Syria.

Syria still seeks to use force to regain the Golan. In July 2006, even before the rockets stopped flying from Lebanon into Israel, Bashir Assad, the president of Syria, announced the formation of a new terrorist group "The Front for the Liberation of the Golan Heights." Hezbollah had shown the way, stated Assad. Terrorism and rocket fire, he claimed, had defeated Israel, indeed terrorism alone had forced the unilateral withdrawals by Israel from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005. Now Assad plans to use these tactics and weapons to open a fourth front (escalating terrorist attacks from Judea-Samaria being the third) in the ongoing 135 year Arab-Muslim war against the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Hezbollah has already volunteered to train the Syrians. No doubt the Iranians will be there as well, as they were in Lebanon.

Incredibly as the most recent round of fighting ended, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni began speaking of negotiating with the Assad regime. That regime had just threatened Israel and vowed to attack the Jewish state again. Appeasement proved to be a failure in 1938, it has been proven a failure in the 13 years of the so-called (misnamed) Oslo "peace process." Retreat has only encouraged terrorism and war. It has emboldened the patron states of Syria and Iran and their terrorist minions, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and others (new groups are formed on a regular basis).

For Israel to retreat from, let alone return the Golan Heights to Syrian control would be the height of geopolitical folly. Given the range of today's missiles virtually more than one-half of all of Israel would literally be under the gun from even the shorter ranged missiles. The Golan was under British control for three years, under Syrian control for 44 years and under Israeli control for 39 years. Under Syrian control it was used only as a launching pad for attacks on Israel. Under Israeli control it has become a peaceful and productive region, threatening no nation. Given the historic record the Golan Heights is essential to Israel's security. It should remain in Israel's hands.

Dr. Steve Carol is Prof. of History (retired) and Senior Fellow Center for Advanced Middle East Studies ( He is Official Historian of "Middle East Radio Forum" ( He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This essay was submitted Sept. 3, 2006.


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