Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Baker Report: Tough Pill To Swallow

As I continue to read the report, I am continually struck by its freshness and frankness. However, on occasion I cross a section that gives pause and makes me wonder if this is possible.

Much will be made of the reports recommendation to engage Iran and Syria. So far the focus has been on Iran and eventually the pundits will pounce on the recommendation for the U.N. to continue as the point in negotiations regarding Iran's Nuclear program. Lost in the chatter may be the report's recommendation regarding the Golan Heights.

Recommendation 15 lists concessions required by Syria.
  • Adherence to U.N. resolutions regarding territory sovereign to Lebanon
  • Cooperate with investigations into political assassinations in the region
  • Cessation of aid to Hezbollah
  • Influence Hezbollah and Hamas to return Israeli prisoners
  • Cessation of undermining the elected goverment of Lebanon
  • Cessation of arms shipments through Syria to Hamas
  • Assist in influencing Hamas to recognize Israel
A difficult hill to climb, but with real diplomacy between Washington and Damascus, not impossible.

As I read Syria's required concessions, I wondered what Israel would be required to concede.

Recommendation 16:
  • In exchange for these actions and in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israeli's should return the Golan Heights, with U.S. security guarantee for Israel that could include an international force on the border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties.
Uh oh. Here lies the item that may vex the whole deal.

In the current geo-political world, the West Bank and Gaza dominate Israeli security issues. In a traditional military sense, the Golan Heights are more important.

The Heights dominate the Galilee region of the Jordan Valley. Prior to the 1967 war, Syria used the geographical advantage to lob artillery and rockets into Israeli positions. An army that controls the Heights controls the region.

The Golan is a maze of ridges and boulder strewn hills. It provides a natural fortress for any occupying force. In the 67 war, a significant portion of the Israeli casualties occured in the bloody battles of the Golan.

It is worthy to note that in the following 40 years while the other territories acquired by Israel in the Six Day War, the Sinai, the West Bank and Gaza, were all reoccupied by Arab nations, the Golan Heights have never been seriously discussed.

For the Israeli military and body politic to give up such a vital region to such a bitter enemy may be the toughest pill to swallow.

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