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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 12:41 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 12:41 | SYDNEY

What price the Golan?

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1 May 2008 14:19

Reports have been surfacing in the press about Turkish-mediated contacts between Israel and Syria over a peace deal between the two countries that would involve the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. The barriers to success though, are many. Israel would require a strong, US-backed security guarantee to ensure that the strategic high ground would not be used by parties to attack northern Israel, a concern already publicly raised by Israel’s deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz. Then there is the question of the 18,000 Israelis who have settled in the area. And finally, perhaps the most vexed question of all: access to the freshwater Sea of Galilee. The talks in 2000 faltered on this issue, with Syria adamant that any Israeli withdrawal must be to the 1967 line, giving Syria direct access to the northeast shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.

While the price is high, the potential benefits are also significant. Signing a peace deal with Syria has the potential to strategically dislocate Iran by distancing it from its closest Arab ally. A Syrian-Israeli rapprochement would also make life difficult for Hizbullah. Without the Sheba’ Farms as an excuse to maintain its armed opposition to Israel, there would be greater pressure on the organization to disarm. This pressure would be increased with the realization that its Syrian supply lines would not be able to operate as before, although it is unlikely they would ever be entirely cut. Khalid Meshal would also likely need to find a new home, making him more vulnerable and his ability to direct Hamas more constrained. With such high stakes at play, it is unlikely that anything is likely to happen quickly, but the possibilities are once again tantalizing.

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