Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld


Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Golan Crisis That Never Was

Hillel Halkin's new opinion piece in this week's Forward explores a counterfactual scenario that was sure to be contemplated eventually, given the ongoing civil war in Syria.



He writes:

Here’s the beginning of one newspaper article about Syria that you didn’t read this week: “Israel Weighs Golan Invasion.” “U.S. Warns It Not To Act.”

Israeli troops exchanged fire with Syrian rebels on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Syrian army artillery fire killed two vacationing Israelis on a nearby beach, Israel’s Cabinet met in a lengthy session. Now that jihadist forces linked to Al Qaeda are in control of the hills running down to Israel’s largest lake and main water source, Israel is considering retaking the heights returned to Syria as part of the 1995 Israeli-Syrian peace treaty. Iran’s warnings that it will not stand by if Israel acts have alarmed officials in Washington.”

Halkin's point, of course, is that if Israel had returned the Golan Heights to Syria in the mid-1990s, when PM Yitzhak Rabin and many other Israelis were urging him to do so, Israel would now, in the midst of the Syrian Civil War, be in a more precarious security position.   

On the face of it, he seems to be correct.  

Possessing the high ground overlooking one's enemies is certainly preferable to being beneath it.  

Moreover, Israel's decision to hold on to the Golan since the mid-1990s did not turn out to be a liability for Israeli-Syrian relations, which remained calm.  

It's doubtful, finally, that returning the Golan would have averted any of the current Syrian crisis.  It would not have stabilized the Assad regime (beyond a fleeting propaganda victory) or prevented it from falling victim to the Arab Spring, which would have happened anyway, in all likelihood.

That said, Halkin's corollary, that withdrawing from the West Bank may be equally misguided (since any peace partner may one day be overthrown) is less convincing.  The vast difference in population between the Golan and the West Bank weakens any comparisons between them and casts doubt on the wisdom of inaction on the Palestinian question.

Still, Halkin's scenario nicely illustrates how counterfactual nightmares about the past reflect satisfaction with the present.

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