- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

THE GOLAN. In the popular imagination, the Golan Heights is a strategic asset vital to Israel's security, coveted by Syria and nothing else.
There's more to the story. In its beautiful, mountainous terrain, Jewish cowboys herd cattle. In a region where water is fast becoming as precious as oil, the Golan accounts for 30 percent of Israel's supply.
From its rich, volcanic soil comes 21 percent of the nation's corn and 30 percent of its apples. Ranchers raise 30 percent of its beef cattle there.
Its climate and soil are ideal for vineyards. The Golan Heights Winery uses state-of-the-art equipment to produce wines that have won gold medals at international competitions in London and Bordeaux.
If the winery is unexpected, Marla Van Meter is another surprise. Not the stereotypical settler, the spokesman for the Golan residents committee is pleasant, precise and dresses like an American businesswoman.
Miss Van Meter met President George W. Bush when he toured the area in 1999. "After a briefing from the Israeli Defense Forces, he turned to me," Miss Van Meter relates. "He said: 'OK. I've heard from the military. Now, I want the human dimension.' "
That includes 18,000 Israelis in 33 communities. The population has grown 22 percent in the past eight years. The Golan's other inhabitants are Druze, who are friendly to Israel.
The Golan's attractions include affordable housing, jobs (besides agriculture and tourism, there are two industrial parks), clean air, majestic scenery and in a badly overpopulated country breathing room.
But, ultimately, unavoidably, the Golan is about strategic depth, natural boundaries, advance warning and high ground that must be held. Before he became prime minister and was mesmerized by the illusion of peace, the late Yitzhak Rabin observed, "Anyone who would consider leaving the Golan would abandon Israel's security."
The skyscrapers of Tel Aviv can be glimpsed from Mount Hermon. Damascus is 60 kilometers away. Syria used the Golan as an invasion route in three of its wars with Israel.
The southern Golan's rivers form a natural barrier, impassable for armored vehicles, difficult for infantry to cross. In the north and east, hills and mountains form a defensive line. The few points of passage can be defended by a small number of troops. Outposts can spot a Syrian buildup.
A 1988 statement by more than 100 retired U.S. admirals and generals, who studied the situation on the ground, concluded: "Defensible borders are not borders which cannot be breached, but borders which provide early warning and some measure of strategic depth.
"Missiles, artillery and planes can do much damage, but they cannot maintain control of territory. Only infantry and armored corps can invade, and forces of this kind are vulnerable to natural boundaries."
So, naturally, in March of last year, when Bill Clinton met with the late Hafez Assad in Geneva, in the name of Ehud Barak's government he offered to return all of the Golan to Syria, with certain conditions. Israel was saved by Syrian intransigence.
Syria's family-owned regime (Baby Doc Assad succeeded daddy despot) is lethally vicious and increasingly aligned with Saddam Hussein. Imagine Iraqi troops on the Golan.
From antiquity, the Golan has been integral to the defense of the land of Israel.
The ancient city of Gamla no longer exists. Located on an outcrop of rock on a steep slope, Gamla was the capital of the Golan, as well as a thriving commercial and religious center. In A.D. 66, it joined the Jewish revolt against Rome. Following a month-long siege by the legions, and after two attacks, its walls were breached. In the desperate fighting that followed, 4,000 died. Another 5,000 leapt to their deaths from cliffs behind the city.
Why this fierce struggle destined to end in defeat, when so many others bowed to the invaders? In the ruins of Gamla, archeologists found locally minted coins bearing the inscription, "For the redemption of Jerusalem the holy."
Jerusalem will be redeemed by the settlements of Judea and Samaria, in Hebron, in the Jordan Valley and on the heights of the Golan. Jewish Jerusalem should toast "l'chaim" with the product of the Golan Heights winery.

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