What If Israel Had Given Up the Golan Heights? A Lesson for Syria's Crisis

(Wall Street Journal) Aaron David Miller - As Syria continues to be ravaged, I wonder what would have happened had U.S. efforts succeeded in negotiating an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement in the 1990s. I was part of a U.S. negotiating team that tried to reach such a deal. But had we succeeded, the results might have been catastrophic for Israel and for the U.S. Rarely did we focus on the prospect that an Israeli-Syrian accord might be at risk if instability in Syria led to a change in regime. With Hafez Assad there was an assumption that his brutality in suppressing dissent would guarantee stability. Rarely has a political judgment been more wrongheaded. What we failed to realize was that any deal to return the Golan Heights occupied by the Israelis in 1967 was likely to be the most fraught precisely because Assad was so cruel in his policies and that his regime consisted of an Alawite minority governing a Sunni majority. It was only a matter of time before Syria experienced real instability. Had Israel given up the Golan, today it would face a hot front confronting Hizbullah, Iran, and a range of Islamist jihadis. Given the Golan's strategic importance, Israel would have had to reoccupy it and would have found itself in the middle of Syria's civil war. It's a cautionary tale for well-intentioned U.S. and Israeli peacemakers alike. The writer is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.

2015-10-07 00:00:00

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