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The Golan Heights Is a Guarantee for the Syrian Regime
A view of the Golan Heights, Sept. 2, 2008. (Chadica/Creative Commons)

The Golan Heights Is a Guarantee for the Syrian Regime

Al-Rai, Kuwait, December 30

What Israel is doing in the Syrian Golan Heights is part of a normal policy followed since 1967, when the Heights were occupied. The occupation took place in circumstances that are still ambiguous, at a time when Hafez Assad was minister of defense. Today, two years after the Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan (a recognition that the current administration has not retracted), the Israeli government started implementing a new plan aimed at increasing the number of settlers in the region. When one evaluates Syria’s historical stance on the Golan Heights, it becomes clear that the Syrian regime never really cared about reclaiming the land occupied by Israel; it simply cared about using it as a bargaining chip for its own survival. So long as the Syrian regime could speak bombastically about the Palestinian cause and the occupied Golan Heights, attention was diverted away from its own mishaps. In fact, this confirms the tacit Israeli support for the Assad regime since 2011, when the revolution broke out in Syria. Israel refrained from taking any steps that would threaten the Assad regime. On the contrary, it played a role in supporting Assad and overlooked the Iranian, and then Russian, intervention to save him. All that Israel did was target Iranian assets and weapons shipments at certain locations to warn that there are borders that no one is allowed to cross. Did the Syrian regime ever try to regain the Golan, or was the Golan always a guarantee of its survival? What did the Syrian regime do for more than half a century when Israel occupied the Golan? The Golan Heights remained a guarantee for the regime. Three years after Israel occupied the Golan, Hafez Assad took the reins over Syria as president. Assad the Elder didn’t meet any resistance in the coup he carried out against his opponents. On the contrary, there was even international support for his new regime. Since Hafez Assad became the absolute ruler of Syria, especially after he became the first Alawite president of the Republic in February 1971, the regime has always bet on the state of “no war and no peace,” symbolized by the situation on the Golan. The Syrian regime found the disengagement agreement with Israel at the beginning of 1974 an alternative to any actual effort to seriously discuss any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. Indeed, Hafez Assad never wanted to reclaim the Golan but was rather concerned with using it as a bargaining chip for a permanent cease-fire with Israel. What Israel is currently doing is paying the price for keeping Bashar Assad in Damascus, which is a stone’s throw away from the Golan. Nothing has changed in the relationship between the Syrian regime and Israel, which still see eye to eye on the issue of the Golan. But the question that will arise sooner or later is: Will Israel’s assurance to Assad suffice in protecting and securing his regime for the rest of his life? – Kheir Allah Kheir Allah (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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