The Golan Heights
President Biden’s new secretary of State Anthony Blinken was recently asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if the Biden administration would honor President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In response, Blinken questioned the legality of that sovereignty and indicated that revoking U.S. recognition was “over time, if the situation were to change in Syria…something we’d look at.”
Blinken’s hutzpah, in assuming that the Golan is his to give or take, is reminiscent of John Kerry’s, who as President Obama’s secretary of state took it upon himself to negotiate over the Golan Heights with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Then as now, Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately put an end to this hubris, affirming that “the Golan Heights will remain forever a part of the State of Israel.”
The Golan does not belong to Anthony Blinken or the Biden Administration; it is not theirs to give away in diplomatic games. The Golan does not belong to Iran or its Hezbollah proxy either, who are now trying to establish themselves there and launch new wars of annihilation against Israel. Nor does the Golan belong to Syria anymore. A country that uses territory to launch wars of genocide against its neighbor has lost its rights to that territory. The Golan belongs to the Israeli people, who require it for their survival and have paid for it with their blood.
For decades, the Syrians used the Golan to shell and terrorize Israeli citizens in the valleys below. They dug canals atop the Golan in a failed attempt to cut off Israel’s water supply. In 1948 and again in 1967, Syrian and Iraqi forces launched a total war on Israel from the Golan with the stated goal of wiping her off the map.
In response to the 1967 attack, Israeli soldiers fought their way up the steep, heavily fortified wall of the heights. After brutal fighting, against great odds, and with heavy losses, they won the strategic plateau for Israel. The people of the Galilee slept safely in their beds for the first time in decades.
In 1973, on the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Syrians launched another war, beginning with a surprise attack coordinated with an Egyptian attack in the south. They overran Israel’s small standing army on the Golan and took most of the plateau. The population of Galilee now lay open to their depredations. Over the past decade, the Syrian regime has brutally slaughtered 500,000 of its own citizens by gassing them; dropping barrel bombs on their homes, schools and hospitals; and other atrocities. There was no doubt in the minds of Israel’s soldiers and civilians what fate awaited them were the Syrians to breakthrough.
Knowing that the lives of 3 million of their fellow Israelis, including their own families, hung in the balance, small surviving units of Israeli soldiers held onto the edge of the Golan plateau. With incredible heroism, hundreds sacrificed their lives, buying time until the reserves could be called up and finally push the enemy back.
In 1981 Israel annexed the Golan. With the IDF atop the Golan Heights, Syria has been deterred from launching a single major attack and the border has been largely peaceful ever since. There is virtually nobody in Israel who advocates giving the Golan away.
Blinken’s statement, along with the appointment of former Obama administration officials hostile to Israel like Maher Bitar is a worrying sign of what Israel can expect from the Biden Administration. The new administration appears wedded to a pre-Trump Middle East policy that views appeasement of the Palestinians as the only route to peace but fails to hold them to previous agreements. Biden also hopes to return to the Obama Administration’s policy of appeasing Iran. He seeks to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement, which Israel views as an existential threat. Only Iranian intransigence and hostility are preventing the renewal of the JCPOA.
Fifty years of such wrongheaded policies failed to bring peace to the Middle East or increase American influence in the region. These policies brought no benefit to the American people; cost trillions of their dollars in aid to unreliable, ungrateful regimes; and resulted in endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By abandoning long-held state department dogmas and rethinking U.S. Middle East policy, President Trump met with great and rapid success. In short order, he destroyed the ISIS caliphate using proxies, withdrew from the JCPOA, and brought about real peace between Israel and four Arab countries through the Abraham Accords, all with virtually no loss of American life or treasure. Recognizing Israel as our one stable and reliably ally in the region Trump put her back at the center of U.S. Mid-East policy where she belongs. He rewarded Israel’s loyalty by, at long last, recognizing her sovereignty over the Golan and the right of Jews to live anywhere in their ancient homeland, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol and moved the U.S. embassy there. Despite dire warnings from the State Department and media establishment, the sky did not fall.
That the Biden Administration seems intent on abandoning this successful Middle East Policy and returning to the failed policies of the previous 50 years reflects both an inability to learn from the past and a complete misunderstanding of the current situation in the Middle East. As on other issues, the Biden Administration seems more interested in following an ideology than in actual results.
As the Prime Minister’s statement makes clear, the Biden Administration will not succeed in turning back the clock. Israel and the Middle East, in general, have moved on as the Abraham accords have brought about a sea change in Arab attitudes towards Israel. The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have now signed agreements normalizing relations with Israel. Other Arab countries want to join the Abraham Accords despite Biden’s lack of interest. This is not the fake “land for peace” of the Oslo accords, but real peace, gladly embraced by both peoples. Tens of thousands of Israelis have already visited the UAE and been warmly welcomed. Israel, the UAE, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus are working together, both on oil pipelines in the Mediterranean and against Turkish aggression. Turkey itself now seeks to restore good relations with Israel after years of hostility. Israeli Arab political parties too now understand that Israel is here to stay; some may join the next government coalition.
Repeating failed U.S. Middle East policies of the past is not a winning strategy and will only serve to undermine U.S., not Israeli, credibility and standing in the area. We can only hope the Biden Administration’s foreign policy team can recognize the new reality and adapt. Their failure to learn anything from the previous fifty years of failed U.S. Middle East policy, prior to Trump, gives us little reason to believe they will.