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The Golan Heights - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Since the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon began, the issue of the occupied Golan Heights in Syria has been raised twice. Firstly, this issue has been raised as a response to Hezbollah’s supporters to remind them that Syria, which supports Hezbollah’s war, has not fired a single bullet regarding the liberation of the Golan Heights that cover an area of 1300 square kilometers whilst over four million Syrians carry out their military service. The Golan Heights was mentioned once again when Syrian officials stated that they were willing to negotiate with Americans to resolve outstanding issues, concerning not only the Shebaa farms or the armament of Hezbollah but also that of the Golan Heights.

This was an was excellent proposal even if it does complicate the Lebanese crisis that is still in its initial stages, the priority of which is to accomplish a ceasefire to end the destruction that Lebanon is enduring with every passing hour. Besides, we are now facing a new reality that has been created by the risky adventures of Hezbollah since Israel decided to occupy north of the Litani River to use as additional protection of its borders.

The plan is excellent especially as the region could be embroiled in another one hundred years of more battles, as the case is today following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the exchange of three Lebanese prisoners.

The matter of the Golan Heights demonstrates the complexities of the Syrian stance. The late Syrian president, Hafez al Assad had agreed to negotiate with the then American president, Bill Clinton, and flew to Geneva. Subsequently, he agreed to the proposal of the withdrawal of Israeli forces to end the war. Theoretically, Assad’s basic demands were met, the most important of which was to regain all occupied territories. The Israelis did not obtain the surveillance locations on the ground that they had imposed as a condition; however, they were granted the use of satellites to observe the situation in Syria.

The issue concerning Lake Tiberius was solved when a Canadian company offered to coordinate between the investment needs of both countries. There would have been a real breakthrough had Israel not deliberately slowed down the implementation of the agreement, as at the time, due to the Syrian president’s deteriorating health conditions, it was in doubt that the Syrian regime would have survived the death of Hafez al Assad. Therefore, Israel decided to postpone the project. Unfortunately, President Bashar al Assad who succeeded his late father Hafez in 2000 did not take up the project, perhaps because the initial stages of his rule could not carry such a large initiative. The issue of south Lebanon became more complex, the 9/11 attacks took place completely changing history and the priorities of the U.S, the American invasion of Iraq spread fear in Syria that considered itself the next target on the American agenda and furthermore, Palestinian-Israeli relations were complicated by suicide operations and Arab political maneuvers.

As Damascus was involved in supporting Iraqi “resistance”, Washington decided to boycott Syria and this was announced by Colin Powell, the then American Secretary of State and after the shock of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the U.S emphasized its boycott that later became more complicated after Syria announced its alliance with Iran, ultimately causing Syria to become an official enemy of the United States. It is possible that if Syria directs it attention to solving the Golan Heights issue, it will end its obsession with the Lebanese, its hosting of Palestinian factions, its support of Iraqi groups and reduce its relations with Iran. Who knows, perhaps the current crisis would give hope to resolving basic issues. However, I cannot deny that I have my doubts….

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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