Will Syria Give up the Golan as it Gave up Alexandretta?

In the comment section, one reader asked:

“Would it be conceivable that Syria comes to terms with the Israeli occupation of the Golan as it has come to terms with Turkey’s occupation of Hatay?”

Israel plan does seem to be to wear Syria down on the Golan issue. It may also be America’s default plan, as well. President Bush pursued this policy fairly openly.  Although it was not Bush’s stated goal, his attempt to force Syria to give up support for Hizbullah and Hamas without linking such concessions to the Golan issue was tantamount to asking Syria to accept Israel’s ownership of the Golan. The Obama says he wants to stop Israel’s settlement to pursue internation law, but has been unable or unwilling to articulate the goal, not to mention act on it with conviction.

Daniel Kurtzer, twice ambassador to Israel and close Obama adviser, just visited the University of Oklahoma and gave a series of fine talks. He argued that the two state solution is the only solution for Israel. “There is no plan B,” he said. I asked him whether the status quo was the likely solution on the Golan. Kurtzer did not answer directly – but raised his eyebrows and smiled. This was after he suggested that Israel could wait 4 or 5 years before opening negotiations with Syria in order to take advantage of what he argued was a deteriorating economic and environmental situation in Syria that would weaken its position further. Declining oil and water reserves were drivers of this weakness. His argument was that Syria would be more inclined in several years to climb down from its demand for all the Golan.

The problem with this argument is that as Syria becomes weaker, Israel is also likely to shift its demands and become less willing to make concessions. Israel is not interested in negotiations with Syria today because Syria is too weak. Israel has no compelling incentive to make difficult political concessions on the Golan. In short, I think it is safe to say that the current Western position – perhaps not openly articulated – is to wait Syria out.

Syria has no immediate answer to this Israeli-American strategy. Syria’s attempts to change the military balance of power in its favor have not been successful. Israel and the US have thwarted them, i.e. Israel’s bombing of Syria’s “nuclear” facility, Western pressure on Russia, Iran, and N. Korea not to supplied advanced weapons to Syria while tricking out Israel with its most advanced weapons. One can also point to the West’s policy of maintaining Israel’s crushing military advantage over its Arab adversaries as proof that Western governments favor Israel’s permanent acquisition of occupied lands. Some of these politics are: protection of Israel’s nuclear advantage, proscription of anti-Israeli resistance as terror, support for Israel’s bombing of Lebanon and Gaza as an appropriate response to resistance from Arabs, Israel’s success in getting Egypt and Saudi to turn against Arab resistance, and pressure on Iran to abandon its anti-Israel stand.

The terrible drought now devastating swaths of Syria’s Eastern provinces only underscores Syria’s weakness.

Can president Assad reverse this equation so that Syria will get stronger in comparison to Israel? I will not pretend to know the answer to this question. Syrians are now rejoicing in Turkey’s pro-Arab stand, which they see as an important shift in the regional balance of power in their favor. They also hope that Syria’s  economic liberalization will liberate the capitalistic talents of their people, which have long been bottled up by socialism and bad management. They look to Saudi Arabia’s recent step toward Syria as a sign that Arabians will not completely abandon the notion of pressuring Israel and helping Syria in its struggle with Israel. Syria hopes that as Iraq sorts itself out from the body blows it has suffered it will take a concerted “Arab” stand. The recent contretemps with Iraq over Sunni militants is not auspicious, however. The old competition between Iraq and Syria is not likely to abate simply because the regime has been changed.

I cannot say that I am optimistic about the immediate prospects of the Arabs sorting out their difficulties in time to retrieve the Golan. All the same, the objective of getting back the Golan is much more deeply embedded in Syria’s nationalist psyche than was Alexandretta. Syrians will not easily give it up.  Much can go wrong for Israel in the coming 30 years to reverse the balance of power.

It took Syria 70 years to overcome the loss of the Alexandretta, which was a separate administrative unit under the French Mandate. The Golan has been occupied for only four decades and was an integral part of independent Syria. There are risks to Israel’s strategy of gambling on a future of Syrian weakness. Many things could change the balance of power in the region. Arabs could find unity. The position of the US may decline. China and India may eventually take an interest in mediating Middle East conflict as their dependency on oil and trade with the region grows and as the US monopoly over Middle East security fades. They are both likely to take a less pro-Israel view than the US. As Turkey becomes more democratic it is likely to become more hostile to Israel in response to public antipathy for Israel’s displacement of its Muslim subjects. Europe could take a more pro-Arab view both for economic reasons and if it”s roughly 5% Muslim citizenry were to organize and responded to an organized Arab position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. None of these possibilities seems particularly immanent today, but 30 years is a long time.

[end of Landis analysis]

Realistic Engagement
by Theodore H. Kattouf, former U.S. ambassador to Syria and the United Arab Emirates; president and CEO, AMIDEAST. Interview with Middle East Bulletin.

Syria has shown that it can play an unhelpful role if it wishes, but a more constructive role if it wants. … Both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have had to recognize that it’s better to deal with Syria than not, if they want to make at least some progress toward their aims. But the fact remains that everyone needs to be realistic, because the regime still insists on recovering every last inch of Syrian-held territory occupied in the Six-Day War, and it wants a new relationship with the United States whereby it would be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list, and similar such sanctions’ legislation. …

To my mind, the key to a better U.S.-Syrian relationship, is a successful U.S.-brokered Israeli-Syrian negotiation. An Israeli-Syrian peace treaty would by definition require Syria to quit supplying military materiel to Hezbollah and to stop offering succor to Palestinian rejectionist groups. Moreover, a Syria at full peace with Israel would have no rational reason to do so. Then, and only then, could the U.S. remove all sanctions against Syria and encourage others to help develop its economy. …

I suspect that the Syrian-Saudi talks may have encompassed the formation of a new broad-based government in Lebanon. If that comes to pass, the U.S. could endorse what has been done and let it be known that it appreciates the efforts of the Syrians and the Saudis to help the Lebanese move this along.

The words I would advise the administration keep in mind when dealing with Syria are mutual respect, patience and sequencing. The two previous administrations at times erred in giving the Syrian regime too much attention or largely shunning it. I think this administration get’s it and is looking for a middle way. The Syrians don’t give something for nothing. We have to be willing to think a bit outside the box and outside the sanctions regime about how we can reciprocate Syrian gestures in ways that do not violate strictures that Congress has laid down in law. I think there are some things that either will not cost us much or may even be to our benefit. Syria wants to make application to the World Trade Organization, why should we block that? It will take years for Syria to satisfy the organization’s requirements. The administration has allowed Syria access to some spare parts for the Boeing aircraft. Good, who would want to see a civilian aircraft go down and innocent life lost because the United States was not allowing the needed spare parts into the country? The EU has an economic association agreement with Syria. Leaving aside whether or not Syria wants to sign it, at one point the U.S. urged friends within the EU not to go ahead with this agreement. We could now say that we’re fine with it. Syria has taken in well over a million Iraqi refugees. It needs more resources to support them, and we have a moral obligation to help.

There are many intermediate steps that both countries could take toward one another short of us requiring the Syrians to end all relations with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Syrians expecting the United States to take it off the terrorist list when it has not ended its support for the groups that we consider terrorist.

Ultimately, the United States cannot get what it wants from Syria without persuading the Netanyahu-led government in Israel to engage seriously with Syria in peace negotiations. That doesn’t have to come immediately but if engagement is going to be successful, eventually it has to come.

Solving the Syrian Puzzle
Mohamad Bazzi,, CFR.org:

Syria this year has been in diplomatic high gear, holding more than six high-level meetings with the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and working to mend regional relations as well. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah paid a visit to …

Bashar al-Assad actually has the strength to deliver a peace deal whereas [Palestinian Authority leader] Mahmoud Abbas really can’t deliver a peace deal”…

Assistant Secretary Details Banking Industry’s Key Role in Foreign Policy

by Jason Ditz
October 12, 2009

When covering America’s interventionist foreign policy, certain departments and agencies come up a lot. The Defense Department, certainly. The CIA, usually. The State Department, the NSA, the list goes on. Rarely does the Treasury Department come up, but maybe it should.

Speaking at a conference for the American Bankers Association, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury David S. Cohen went into excruciating detail about his department’s role in ensuring that the American banking industry is on the front lines of fights the world over.

And it really is the world over. From propping up Mexico’s government in what he called “a courageous fight against the drug cartels” to preventing Iran from “developing nuclear weapons,” there appears to be no overseas endeavor in which Secretary Cohen doesn’t envision a massive role for the Treasury Department, and for the ostensibly private organizations that make up the banking industry…..

Opposition Leader Livni calls for renewed efforts for two-state solution

Fatah signs reconciliation plan, placing onus on Hamas October 14, 2009

Ramallah – Ma’an – Fatah signed an Egyptian-backed deal for reconciliation with its archrival, the Hamas movement, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday, senior officials said. Jamal Muheisin, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, told Ma’an that they signed the deal because of the movement’s “positive” outlook on the plan. He also said Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad will hand over the signed document Wednesday or Thursday.

a poll found that March 8 politicians are more popular than March 14 members.

Delay in delivery of Herons behind drill crisis, not politics

Turkey agreed four years ago to buy 10 Heron UAVs for over $180 million from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems, Ltd. Turkey agreed four years ago to buy 10 Heron UAVs for over $180 million from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems, Ltd. What spurred the cancellation of this week’s NATO air force exercises in Turkey was yet another delay in the delivery of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to Turkey by Israel, and not Turkish opposition to the country due to its devastating offensive into the Gaza Strip, an air forces official told Today’s Zaman.

The official, who wanted to remain anonymous, stated that Israel has failed yet again to deliver the Israeli-made surveillance drones, known as Herons, to Turkey. “Turkey needs those vehicles in its fight against terror. What led to the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel was the delay in the delivery,” he noted.

Turkish, Syrian ministers establish new chapter of cooperation

Davutoğlu: Common destiny, history and future is slogan of Turkey and Syria

Daniel Levy in TPM

“… Shimon Peres had this to say on the linkage between reaching peace with the Palestinians and addressing the Iran issue:
In my opinion, if we move forwards with peace and make peace with the Palestinians, and if we start negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, we will remove the main pretext for the Iranian madness – against us and against the other residents of this region. (President Peres, October 12th in the Israeli Knesset ).
Now Mr. Peres is in reality not exactly the dove he is portrayed to be (he authorized many of the settlements , he supported Israel’s recent wars with Lebanon and Gaza, and he never really earned his own Nobel peace prize ), but this was nonetheless an interesting acknowledgement of the linkage from Israel’s head of state–and it seems to directly contradict the messaging coming from Israel’s ambassador to Washington D.C., Michael Oren.

Here’s Michael Oren in an interview on October 3rd for Newsweek :

Q: Do you believe that the Arab states would make their support of action against Iran contingent on progress in the peace process?

A: No, there is no linkage whatsoever. The Arab states understand that the peace process is going to take a while, and we don’t have a while with Iran. The peace clock and the Iranian nuclear clock are running at completely different speeds.

Oren was simply, and spiritedly, sticking to a lame PR line that has now been exposed as rubbish by none other than Israels’ own president. … Netanyahu tried a similar trick, arguing that Iran would have to be dealt with first and that the Palestinian issue could be placed on the backburner. But President Obama wasn’t buying any of that, insisting that both issues be addressed in parallel, and much to the chagrin of the Likud hawks, making Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority–something he repeated whenresponding to being awarded the Nobel peace prize last Friday .

The linkage, though aggressively denied by occupation apologists, is all too real (and credit to President Peres for acknowledging that). Here’s how it works.

Iran’s ability to spread influence and use leverage in the region is partly a product of the largesse it spreads around and of the allies it has through denominational allegiance or simple patronage. But crucially, it also depends on the narrative that Iran espouses–and the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to that….

Rather, the narrative which allows Iran to speak to the Muslim and notably Sunni street, above the heads of Arab leaders, can be paraphrased as follows:

Only we, Iran, are standing up to the Israelis and the Americans in defense of our downtrodden Palestinian brothers and sisters; you, the Arab leadership who are close to America, host American troops, visit Washington and do Washington’s bidding, and are even openly or sometimes secretly in contact with the Israelis–all these friendships have done nothing to help the Palestinians or address their grievance; our version of resistance is therefore honorable when compared to your shameful collusion.

… Ending the occupation and delivering peace would fundamentally undermine Iran’s narrative and its leverage. Realizing a comprehensive peace can be done as part of a process of U.S. dialogue with Iran in which these issues are also raised, or it can be done in parallel to an engagement with Iran (it should not be done as part of a blunt, unsophisticated frontal assault on Iran, as was tried at Annapolis during the Bush presidency).

However, it appears that the neoconservatives in this country and their Likud friends in Israel, who expend so much time and energy in refuting this linkage, just forgot to cc Israel’s president on the talking points memo.”

(Google translation from Tayyar.org.) Via FLC
Jamil Sayyed declared that French Judge Fabian Bos issued a summon calling for a judicial hearing to the judge Detlev Mehlis as a defendant in the matter of “false witnesses” in the case of the assassination of President Rafik Hariri…

Judge Fabian Bos, the investigating judge in the First Court of Instance in Paris,issued an international judicial summon to listen to Detlev Mehlis as a defendant in a case of using false witnesses, including Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq ,Hussam Hussam and others, to lead a libel campaign of fabrications and attacks through the media directed at General Al-Sayyed, even after he left the Chair of the International Commission of Inquiry….and despite his loss of international immunity …”


“Druze leader Walid Jumblat has reportedly said that not a single Lebanese party would be able to thwart the Saudi-Syrian understanding reached over Lebanon.

As Safir daily on Tuesday quoted Jumblat’s visitors as saying that the MP fears the U.S. would sabotage the results of the summit between Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

However, Jumblat, according to his visitors, has said not a single internal Lebanese party could thwart the understanding reached between the two regional powerhouses while at the same time no Lebanese side would be able to reject the summit’s results.

Meanwhile, Damascus visitors quoted a top Syrian official as saying Syria’s doors are open to Jumblat and any Lebanese official who believes in the historic ties between the two countries, Arabism and the choice of resistance…”

Comments (54)

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51. Shai said:


I thought it was a rhetorical question. Of course I know less than the average Israeli about Syria… 🙂

(P.S. Are you really expecting the Palestinians to apologize for their continued war against Israel? I know it’s past 1 am here in Israel, but you are kidding right?)

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October 17th, 2009, 7:15 pm


52. norman said:

Netanyahu: Turkey can’t be an honest broker
Sun, 18 Oct 2009 08:35:20 GMT
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Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared that he does not want Turkey to act as a mediator in future talks with Syria.

Ties between Israel and Turkey began to sour in January when Ankara strongly condemned Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip which killed at least 1400 people mostly woman and children.

Relations took another sharp downturn last week when Turkey excluded Israel from a joint air force drill over Gaza incidents.

A UN inquiry, led by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone, detailed what investigators called Israeli actions “amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity,” during Israel’s winter offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The tensions became a major issue during a meeting between Netanyahu and his visiting Spanish counterpart, Jose Luis Zapatero, on Saturday.

Netanyahu said he objects to Turkey resuming its role as mediator since it cannot be an “honest broker” between Israel and Syria, Haaretz reported on Sunday.

This is while the hawkish government of Netanyahu has not held any indirect talks with Syria. During former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert’s tenure, Turkey mediated five rounds of talks between Israeli and Syrian officials.

If Ankara stops its role as a mediator between Israel and the Arabs, Israel will lose a Muslim mediator with friendly ties to key Muslim players.

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October 18th, 2009, 10:48 am


53. Akbar Palace said:

Shai’s Valuable Insight of “Most Israelis”

P.S. Are you really expecting the Palestinians to apologize for their continued war against Israel?


No, nor do I expect the Israelis to apologize for defending themselves against enemies who not only swear to destroy her, but who have terrorized Israel, including killing hundreds of Israelis since the Rabin handshake.

Once again, Shai speaks for all Israelis (a welcomed service to the Syria Comment website):

Most Israelis still think we’re up there because otherwise Syrian tanks will roll down the hills, on their way to Haifa and Tel-Aviv, or Syrian artillery will shell the settlements below, and Israel will remain helpless.

I agree. Unlike you Shai, I think “most Israelis” have first-hand experience to believe just what you described.

Defeat seemed to be imminent for the state of Israel. The Syrians’ Soviet-style massive frontal assault was too much to bear, and the Israeli front lines had already collapsed.


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October 18th, 2009, 11:06 am


54. norman said:

Syria’s Golan Heights: Can International law forestall a Golanian intifada?
Pressure increasing on Syria’s government to retake the Heights by force
Franklin Lamb

October 20, 2009

Qunaitra, Liberated Capital of the Syrian Golan Heights

Nationals from nearly one-third of the 192 member states of the United Nations met in Damascus last week to discuss the Return/Liberation of the Golan Heights. An estimated 5000 researchers, Lawyers, politicians, activists, victims of Israel’s 42 years of occupation, students and members of the public, attended the opening event in Qunaitra, the Golan capital city, which in a frenzy of frustration at being forced to return the city it had occupied since 1967 (Comment: think Gaza 2005), the Israeli ordered bulldozed, shelled, and booby trapped by its retreating forces as Qunaitra was surrendered to Syria.
The Conference heard the likes of former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark argue that the International community and rules of International law could not be clearer in requiring the full return of the 1,860 sq. meters of the Syrian territory, despite Israeli claims over the years of ‘border irregularities’.
As the International Court of Justice declared in the Burkin Faso and Malie cases, two former French colonies, the frontier existing at the moment of independence, which Syria achieved in April 1946, is frozen like a snapshot taken at the exact moment of Independence.

Some attendees at the large Damascus conclave, often huddling on the sidelines, discussed, analyzed and even advocated a Golan Intifada. They argued that the whole international community, except Israel, and the full corpus of international law, supported the immediate and complete return of the Syrian Golan Height’s to the nearly 350,000 displaced Golan inhabitants, being those who make up 90% of the Golan’s pre-1967 population from the 130 villages and 112 agricultural areas Israel destroyed as it occupied the Golan. These delegates explained to observers that Resistance in all its forms may be the most realistic path for the return of the Golan. They point to the success of the Hezbollah led National Lebanese Resistance in regaining most of Lebanon’s Zionist occupied territory.

One Golani who studies in Damascus told this observer, “We don’t expect help from Hezbollah. They have made clear to us they do not “do branches” in other countries despite requests for help around the region, but we have learned much from their experience and we will apply their logic and tactics.”
“Syria is rising” another joined in, “we are strong psychologically, militarily and as a result of more democracy the past several years our people are united and we are motivated to seek the immediate return of our land, whatever it takes.”

They argued that what Hezbollah did in Lebanon, and what Hamas is doing in Gaza, Syrian patriots can do in the Golan. They believe they would be joined by thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese that might well lead to an unprecedented violent eruption of the Middle East.

One Conference student volunteer interpreter from Damascus University wearing a Hijab, quoted Lebanon’s Senior Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who heads social services agencies here in Syria and he does in Lebanon. Ayatollah Fadlallah frequently argues from the grand Mosque in Dahiyeh that all Arab Muslim and non-Muslims must join to fight against Israel, “because when the enemy launched a war against Palestine and the Arab world, including the Golan Heights, it was legal and obligatory to declare war in response to regain stolen land.”

There appears to be building pressure on the Bashar Assad government to act or allow a popular Intifada, despite analysts here arguing that it is unlikely that his government would agree near term. Many here are encouraged by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s fact finding report of September 2008 to the Human Rights Council on the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip in 2006, which led to the death of nineteen civilians as well as the growing international reaction to last month’s Goldstone Report on Gaza

International law and the Golan Heights

The law on the subject and the demolition of Israel’s arguments for retaining the Golan could barely be more complete. In addition to many UN resolutions condemning Israel’s Golan takeover as violations of customary international law and Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter which outlaws the acquisition of territory by force and requiring the immediate withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the Golan Heights virtually all legal analysts agree on the imperative of full return.
One of the Israel lobby’s iconic and repeatedly amplified myths has been that Syria indiscriminate rained artillery shells on peaceful Jewish settlements on the plain of Galilee without provocation thus allowing Israeli to invade as part of its right of self-defense.

Among the scores who have exposed this canard are Israeli authors such as Professor Avi Shlaim, in his volume “The Myth of the Golan Heights” in which he writes: “They (the Israelis) began by staking an illegal claim to the sovereignty over the (demilitarized) zone and then proceeded, as opportunity offered, to encroach on all the specific provisions against introducing armed forces and fortification. They repeatedly obstructed the operations of the UN observers (comment: think Lebanon) , on one occasion even threatening to kill them…They expelled, or otherwise forced out, Arab inhabitants and razed their villages to the ground.”

Moreover, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Minister of Defense at the time, explained to an Israeli journalist in 1976:

“I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there (on the Golan front) started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: we would send a tractor to plough someplace where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was…” (The Golan: Ending Occupation, Establishing Peace, London, 2007).

Dayan later added, “There was really no pressing reason to go to war with Syria…..the kibbutz residents who pressed the government to take the Golan Heights did it less for security than for the farmland.”
Syrians cite the human rights situation in the Golan as no longer tolerable, as noted in various UN reports as “persistent” and “significant deterioration”. A 2002 UN Special Committee report described the repression of the Syrian inhabitants under Israel occupation as “extensive, affecting, all aspect of life and families, villages and communities”, adding that “there are also widespread economic consequences of the occupation.”

All Syrians interviewed during and following the October 11-12th Conference appear bitter over the separation of families who live on either side of the valley constituting the demarcation line. Syrian students return to their families in the occupied Golan face, several hours of questioning and even the presents they bring are confiscated. Others are held in arbitrary detention for many days, facing torture and humiliation.

A 1998 Human Rights Watch report of the Golan Heights concludes that “Israel seriously misrepresents the degree of its fulfillment of its treaty obligations” under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights it signed in January 1992.

For the international community, including the United Nations and American and European policy makers the coming choice appears to be implement International law or witness another explosion in this volatile region.

Franklin Lamb is Director of the Washington-DC, Beirut Lebanon Sabra-Shatila Foundation and can be reached at fplamb@sabrashatila.org. He wrote this Report for the Daily Star’s Law page.

:: Article nr. 59155 sent on 20-oct-2009 21:17 ECT


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October 20th, 2009, 8:15 pm


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