Last updated on: 5/20/2008 4:11:00 PM PST

What Is the Dispute Over the Golan Heights?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Mitchell G. Bard, PhD, Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), in an article titled "The Golan Heights" published on The Jewish Virtual Library's website (accessed June 7, 2007), offered the following:

"Since 1974, Syria has adhered to the cease-fire on the Golan, largely because of the presence of Israeli troops within artillery range of Damascus. But during this time, Syria has provided a haven and supported numerous terrorist groups that attack Israel from Lebanon and other countries... In addition, Syria still deploys hundreds of thousands of troops-as much as 75 percent of its army-on the Israeli front near the Heights.

As the peace process faltered in 1996-97, Syria began to renew threats of war with Israel and to make threatening troop movements. Some Israeli analysts have warned of the possibility of a lightning strike by Syrian forces aimed at retaking the Golan. The Israeli Defense Forces have countered the Syrian moves; however, and -- to this point -- preserved the peace. For Israel, relinquishing the Golan to a hostile Syria could jeopardize its early-warning system against surprise attack. Israel has built radars on Mt. Hermon, the highest point in the region. If Israel withdrew from the Golan and had to relocate these facilities to the lowlands of the Galilee, they would lose much of their strategic effectiveness.

One possible compromise might be a partial Israeli withdrawal, along the lines of its 1974 disengagement agreement with Syria. Another would be a complete withdrawal, with the Golan becoming a demilitarized zone... Substantial opposition exists within Israel to withdrawing from the Golan Heights. The expectation of many is that public opinion will shift if and when the Syrians sign an agreement and take measures, such as reigning in Hezbollah attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon, that demonstrate a genuine interest in peace. And public opinion will determine whether a treaty is concluded because Barak has said any agreement must be approved in a national referendum (a law to this effect was passed under Netanyahu). Absent dramatic changes in Syria's government and its attitude toward Israel; however, the Jewish State's security will depend on its retention of military control over the Golan Heights."

June 7, 2007 - Mitchell G. Bard, PhD 

Dilip Hiro, MA, author and journalist, in his 2003 book The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide, described the dispute over the Golan Heights as follows:

"After defeating Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel attacked the Golan Heights on 9 June and captured its capital, Qunaitra, the next day. A cease-fire went into effect later that day.

In the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Syrian offensive, launched on 6 October, limited itself to recovering the Golan Heights. However, Syria was unable to build on its initial success and failed to alter the status quo. After it had signed the Syrian-Soviet Friendship Treaty in October 1980, its spokesman said that any attempt by Israel to annex the occupied Golan Heights would lead Syria to take 'any step or measure to secure our rights.' But when on 14 December 1981 the Israeli government extended its laws to the Golan Heights and received parliamentary backing in the form of the Golan Annexation Law, Syria did nothing more than denounce the Israeli action and put its case before the U.N. Security Council, which declared the law 'null and void.'

Israel continued its policy of establishing Jewish settlements, which numbered twenty-five in 1992. As for Syria, before joining the Middle East peace process, initiated by the United States after the Second Gulf War (1991), it ensured that Israeli evacuation of the Golan Heights would be the principal subject of discussion in the subsequent bilateral talks. In mid-1994 the two sides entered into substantive negotiations linking Israel's evacuation of the Golan Heights with normalization of relations between them. Israel unilaterally broke off these talks in the spring of 1996. They resumed in 1999 after the election of Ehud Barak as Israel's prime minister. But they failed in March 2000 when Barak insisted on keeping a strip of the Golan along Lake Tiberias, which Syrian President Hafiz Assad refused."

2003 - Dilip Hiro, MA 

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in an article titled "Regions and Territories: The Golan Heights" posted on its website Apr. 26, 2007, wrote:

"Syria wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. In late 2003, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was ready to revive peace talks with Israel. In Israel, the principle of returning the territory in return for peace is already established. During US-brokered peace talks in 1999-2000 former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak had offered to return most of the Golan to Syria.

But the main sticking point during the 1999 talks is also likely to bedevil any future discussions. Syria wants a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border. This would give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee - Israel's main source of fresh water. Israel wishes to retain control of Galilee and says the border is located a few hundred metres to the east of the shore.

A deal with Syria would also involve the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the territory. An Israeli newspaper estimated in 1999 that compensation for the settlers would run to $10 billion. Public opinion in Israel appears not to favour withdrawal. Opponents say the heights are too strategically important to be returned. An opinion poll in January 2004 suggested that a majority of Israelis opposed plans to hand back the Golan to Syria."

Apr. 26, 2007 - British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)