- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is once again raising the issue of Golan surrender. Oddly, Mr. Olmert ought to have already learned the perils of land for nothing from his prior fiasco in the wake of last year’s Lebanon war. He claimed success for getting the Lebanese army stationed in southern Lebanon: Yet the largely Shiite military force capitulated rapidly and predictably to Hezbollah.

Significantly, any Israeli retreat from the Golan - an area roughly the size of New York City’s borough of Queens - could produce very similar losses.

Syria had already taken steps to “go nuclear.” These steps, which involved North Korea, were reportedly ended by Israel on September 6, 2007. Yet now, - and even without any pressure from Washington - Mr. Olmert is willing to consider giving up the 452-square-mile Golan Heights to Damascus.

The prime minister seems propelled by two distinct motives. He seeks to strengthen his hand in domestic politics. Perhaps, he also wants to put pressure on the Palestinians and signal that the “peace train” could leave without them. But both of his calculations are bound to boomerang.

Syria, like Iran, makes no secret of its genocidal intentions toward Israel. Both actively support a number of major terrorist groups. Syria maintains especially important links to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the PFLP-GC and Hezbollah - which is an Iranian proxy.

Al Qaeda, which also has close ties to Iran, could exploit new opportunities on a surrendered Golan. On May 16, Osama bin Laden - in a statement intended to coincide with celebrations of Israel’s 60th-anniversary - announced that the Palestinian cause was now at the core of his jihad. Although the Golan has no clear connection to this particular cause - and although bin Laden’s third statement of 2008 is inconsistent with previously listed al Qaeda priorities - any Golan surrender to Syria could strengthen al Qaeda. It is also true that there is no single “Palestinian cause”: There is only a myriad of different and often conflicting objectives.

Syria cannot afford to detach itself from Iran because Tehran provides the minority Allawi regime with protection against the Sunni majority in Syria. Also, Syria’s dominant position in Lebanon is contingent on Hezbollah.

Any Israeli Golan withdrawal could leave the northern region of Israel open to wider Syrian or even Iranian invasion through the Jordan Valley. Over time, hundreds of assaults on the Land of Israel, west of the Jordan, have been launched from or through the Golan. A Golan withdrawal would also destroy at least 32 Jewish communities and threaten Israel’s water supply.

The Golan has long occupied a place of historic importance in the creation and re-creation of Jewish nationhood. But even from a narrow security standpoint, Mr. Olmert’s flawed reasoning lies in the gravely obvious limits of international law and diplomacy. Also problematic for Israel are ever-changing missile and satellite technologies - which could expose the Jewish state to unanticipated risks.

For security alone, the Israeli military must retain its positions on the Golan - especially on Mt. Hermon. After the June 1967 war, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a major report advising permanent Israeli retention of the Golan. Nothing has changed to alter the validity of this recommendation. Indeed, Golan surrender could also enlarge the prospect of war on the Lebanese front and the corollary influence of assorted terrorist factions.

Israel and the United States have coincident regional security interests. Both countries should now stand together against a determined Syrian enemy in the Middle East. It is not in Israel’s or America’s interest to encourage renewed Syrian aggression, or to enlarge opportunities for radical Islamist sanctuaries. Religion notwithstanding, operational collaboration between Shi’ite and Sunni terrorists would be likely on all fronts. Iranian intelligence first met with Osama bin Laden at the Khartoum jihadist conferences of 1992-1993.

Israel formally annexed the Golan in 1981 - after defeating Syrian aggression in June 1967, and after the Yom Kippur aggressions of October 1973. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled conclusively on Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan: “Wherever in the law it says Israel or the State of Israel,” said the Court, “Ramat HaGolan is included.”

Neither Israel nor the United States has anything to gain from Golan surrender. Syria might agree, on paper, to some form of “demilitarization.” But once the territory is actually back in Syrian hands, the area would be quickly re-militarized by Damascus. These crucial points should not be overlooked in Jerusalem or Washington.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of international law at Purdue University and an author. Former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval (1990-93 and 1998-2000) is president of the Israel America Chamber of Commerce.

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