Sunday, June 10, 2007

In the interests of us all…

The Six Day War caused shock waves throughout the world, the effects of which can still be measured today, forty years later. But while the Sinai campaign captured the headlines – and the largest area of territory – no greater feat of arms was there than the capture of the Golan Heights, which concluded on this day, those forty years ago.

Three years later, in 1970, I stood on the heights, looking downwards into Israel proper, after having climbed up from the base, viewing the wrecked and abandoned Syrian armoured vehicles which were still there, exactly where they had been left (pictured - a T-34/85 and Russian-built BTR-152 APC).

Then looking east towards the Golan Plain, along the road to Damascas, where the minefield warning signs were still present, one did not need to be an expert military strategist to appreciate the nature of the IDF's feat.

Moreover, such is the terrain that no one could ever guarantee that such a feat could be repeated, and it was thus no surprise at all to hear, almost unanimously from the Israelis with whom I spoke, that this stretch of land would never be relinquished. From the heights, anyone could dominate the whole of northern Israel, and the risk of allowing an enemy that advantage was simply too great.

It was with something of a sense of shock, but more with profound disbelief, therefore, that I saw reports in the media, that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had made secret approaches to Syria to sound out the possibility of returning Golan in exchange for comprehensive peace, with Syria severing of all ties to Iran and regional terror groups.

No independent confirmation of that move has since been forthcoming, but the latest report suggests that Syrian president Bashar Assad has not responded. This may mean that the message claimed to have been sent was not actually delivered, but it may be that Assad simply is not interested in a peace deal.

One would like to think, though, that Assad - like anyone who has stood at the top of Golan and looked down towards Israel - is fully conscious that, whatever a prime minister struggling for his own political survival might offer, this is one deal the Israeli people would never accept. In short, Assad may have had the greatest difficulty in believing that the offer – if it was made - was genuine.

For all of us, it is perhaps best that it is not. Only the wildest of optimists could rest with the view that, should the Heights be returned to Syria, the crazies would avoid the temptation of exploiting their commanding position, and lobbing more than a few Katyushas and other missiles in the general direction of Israeli habitations.

Such a deal, therefore, could be nothing but a precursor to another Middle East war and one which Israel would have to fight to win, rejecting any idea of a cease-fire until the deed was done. That bloody prospect is something no one but the crazies would want to contemplate. In the interests of us all, therefore, we must hope that the Golan Heights remain in Israeli hands.

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