Strategic Importance of the Golan Heights
December 08, 2006
The Golan Heights are located in the north east corner of the state of Israel bordering Lebanon to the north and Syria to the East. The Golan Heights are a mountain range and plateau overlooking the Sea of Galilee. At 3,000 feet above sea level it possesses a panoramic view of the northern half of Israel.
Israel took possession of the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War. In a heroic offensive against a superior entrenched Syrian army, Israel wrested the high ground and routed the Syrian troops. Six years later during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 Syria once again overran the Golan Heights but Israel once again pushed Syria from the mountain range and has retained a military presence there until today.
Prior to 1967 Syria repeatedly used the Golan Heights as a platform for artillery barrages against the fledgling young Israeli nation. Syrian snipers would fire at farmers while they were plowing their fields or Syrian tanks would shell the valleys below at the sight of any Israeli movement within range. Pre-1967 Golan was very similar to modern day Gaza, except the Syrian's were armed with much more sophisticated weapons and were 3,000 feet above their targets granting them a huge tactical advantage.
The Golan Heights are also the only fresh water source for the nation of Israel. The Sea of Galilee is fed by fresh water springs located on the Golan Heights and from annual snow runoff from Mt. Hermon, the tallest mountain peak located on the northern end of the Golan. Prior to 1967 fresh water was a major concern for the nation of Israel and the Syrian government did everything in its power to cut off the flow of fresh water to Israel. Before 1967, Syria not only controlled the high ground of the Golan Heights but a majority of the land surrounding the Sea of Galilee.
Today the Golan Heights are populated by 33 Israeli settlements and several Arab cities. Many of the inhabitants still retain Syrian citizenship and live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. Israel has repeatedly offered Israeli citizenship to the Arab inhabitants, but many are fearful of accepting such an offer. They fear Syria will once again take the Golan Heights and then slaughter anyone who negotiated with the Israeli government.
Israel is currently using the Golan Heights as an early warning radar base. From Mt. Hermon's lofty vantage point Israel can monitor her two most hostile neighbors, Lebanon and Syria. Israel also uses the Golan Heights as a buffer zone between Syria and northern Israel's population centers of Haifa and Tiberius.
The late Yitzhak Rabin said about the Golan Heights, "Withdrawal from the Golan is unthinkable, even in times of peace. Anyone considering withdrawal from the Golan Heights would be abandoning Israel's security."
Israel's Prime Minister Olmert said in response to Baker's Iraqi report, "on the matter of Syria there is no possibility of negotiations". Israel is not planning on handing the Golan Heights back over to Syria after taking it twice by force. To do so would greatly jeopardize Israel's national security.