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Grip of the Golan


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Posted on: 
29 May 2019
Grip of the Golan

Israelis were thrilled when US President Donald Trump recently recognised the Golan Heights as part of Israel. Some called it a surprise “gift” for Purim. But it would be amiss to claim Trump just “gave” the Golan to Israel, since God already did that long ago. Besides, Israel has been in possession of the Golan fair-and-square for decades and will never surrender its grip on the them.

Now most world powers insist Israel has illegally “occupied” the Golan since capturing the area from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. This makes it sound like it was always Syrian territory.

In fact, the Golan is part of the land God promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21 and elsewhere in Scripture. Also known by its biblical name “Bashan”, it was conquered by the Israelites under Moses and Joshua some 3500 years ago and allotted to the tribe of Manasseh. There is ample evidence of a continuing Jewish presence there over the ensuing centuries.

In modern times, Britain and France wrestled over the Golan when dividing the vacated Ottoman territories after World War I. An elevated plateau, it was valued more at that time for its water resources, and eventually got included in France’s mandate for Syria. This despite the fact that Jewish benefactors – mainly through the Jewish National Fund – had already purchased large tracts on the Golan to settle Jews there, since they considered it part of biblical Israel.

But Syria wound up with the Golan and turned it into one massive military base, brimming with bunkers, trenches and artillery positions all facing down on northern Israel. From these fortified positions, Syrian gunners routinely made target practice of Jewish farms and villages below. Tensions escalated further in 1964 when the Syrians dug channels in the Golan to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River, a move which some historians say helped spark the 1967 conflict.

In the Six-Day War, Israel indeed captured the Golan from Syria. But only after Egypt and Syria unified forces, blockaded the Straits of Tiran, kicked UN observers out of Sinai, amassed troops along their borders with Israel, and threatened a war of extermination. Israeli leader Levi Eshkol spent several tense weeks exhausting all avenues of diplomacy to avert war, before ordering a pre-emptive strike. Thus, Israel has every right and reason to contend they took the Golan in a legitimate act of self-defence.

After gallantly holding onto the Golan in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, Israel has transformed it into a peaceful, prosperous agricultural region and popular tourist destination. Israelis – left and right – are proud of what they have made of the Golan, with its vineyards, wineries, fruit orchards, dairy farms, horse ranches and wind turbines. Israelis flock to its log cabins and the Hermon ski resort. They repel and hang glide off its cliffs, hike its scenic trails, and relax in its warm springs.

Most Israelis also know the Golan has immense strategic value due to its commanding terrain, and this advantage should never be surrendered voluntarily. What if Syria were still ensconced on the Golan over the past eight years of the Syrian civil war? No doubt Assad’s troops, rebel forces, ISIS jihadists and Hezbollah units would all have relished the chance to fire away at Israel from its lofty heights. It also would have seriously compromised the IDF’s ability to strike Iranian positions inside Syria.

Israelis also know that, unlike the West Bank, there are no masses of Arab refugees clamouring to return to their homes in the Golan, because the Assad regime never allowed them to live there in the first place.

So whether one approves of Trump’s decision or not, Israelis agree that the Golan always has and always will belong to them.


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