Golan Heights: Where Are the Red Lines?

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at their meeting on July 16 in Helsinki raised the issue of the Golan Heights, a disputed territory on the border between Syria and Israel. They talked about the observance of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement of Israeli and Syrian troops, which would restore calm to the Golan. However, according to Dmitry Maryasis, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Israel, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, this issue can be discussed only in the context of the future settlement in Syria. While there is no united Syria, controlled by the legitimate authority, Israel simply has no one to talk with.

The Golan Heights represent an equal problem for Syria and Israel. During the reign of both Hafez and Bashar Asad, this border was quite quiet (approximately from 1973-1974 till 2015). Although the peace treaty between Syria and Israel was not achieved despite the various attempts and mediation of different persons and states, there were no military actions and real threats from the Syrian side. This situation suited Israel, but not Syria, since most of the Golan Heights are controlled by Israel: they were annexed and recognized as part of the Israeli territory, although no one else recognizes this.

The moment, when the civil war broke out in Syria with all sorts of Islamist groups, became a cause for concern for Israel.

First, Iran is actively operating today in Syria, either directly or through intermediaries (through the Lebanese Hezbollah Shiite organization, which fights on the side of Assad). For Israel, the presence of Iran near the borders is unacceptable. Today Iran is the only state (not a political organization, but the state), which officially calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. Therefore, for Israel Iran is the enemy number one. If the Iranian armed forces or the allied groups are directly on the border with Israel, this is a red line.

The problem is that with modern means of warheads delivery, from the Golan Heights it is possible to cover the entire territory of Israel, because this is the highest point.

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu often told President Putin and President Trump, that ideally after the end of the civil war in Syria the Iranian armed forces must leave its territory. It is worth noting, that Russia officially declared that no foreign state should keep its military and political presence there. Therefore, in this case the positions of Israel and Russia are similar.

Second, Israel is worried about the future of Syria, whether it remains united. If so, who will be the leader of the country, what will happen to Islamist groups that are also quite negative about Israel. However, the situation so far is unclear. There are certain desires and aspirations, but Russia, which is actively engaged in the process, the US, Turkey and Iran, have their own interests here, and even the Syrians themselves cannot come to some kind of an adequate agreement that would suit everyone.

Therefore, if there is a Syrian state controlled by legitimate authority, Israel will support the 1974 agreement, but, of course, without presence of Iran. Otherwise, it cannot be suitable for Israel, because it does not guarantee its security.

From my point of view, the issue of the Golan Heights can only be discussed in the context of future settlement in Syria. Because Israel is a stable state, with which, despite all disagreements, one can conduct a dialogue. They have a concrete address for negotiations. When such a partner appears on the opposite side, Israel will feel calm and will support any agreement. Therefore, in the conflict over the Golan Heights, there is a lack of a second party - namely, Syria. It is unavailable now.

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