If ever justification was needed for a continued Israeli military presence and occupation in Judea & Samaria as a condition of the peace process in the Arab-Israeli conflict, you only need to cast your eyes over two territories Israel used to and still does control.
The contrasts between the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights are stark. Both were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, but the different paths taken by the Egyptian territory and former Syrian territory respectively have laid down the foundation for their current fortunes and misfortunes.
The occupied Golan Heights has become an area of utmost strategic importance to Israel. The presence of Israeli soldiers behind the UN’s demilitarised ‘Purple Line’ is an important buffer for Israel against ground invasion from a Syrian nation they are technically still at war with.
More pressing for controlling the Golan Heights though is that it prevents or at worst reduces the threat of rocket fire into Northern Israel. Whilst Israel could resist a ground force from its North Eastern border, without the Golan Heights Israel would leave itself at the mercy of rocket fire into the North of the nation. The current occupied Golan Heights is an area from which rocket fire could reach the whole of Northern Israel; coupled with rocket fire raining down on Southern and even parts of Central Israel from Gaza, as well as riots in East Jerusalem, the security situation for Israel would be untenable.
Nevertheless, much of this strategic rationale was relatively theoretical over the last thirty years since the ceasefire between Israel and Syria came into effect. In fairness to the Assad family, they had observed this fragile peace quite meticulously but over the last couple of years and more acutely in the last few months the reason for keeping an advanced military presence in Golan Heights has become transparent. Israel can feel slightly smug that its territory is now being seen as a safe haven for the same UN that so vocally slammed it; as UN peacekeeping troops retreat from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into the Israeli’s. But at the same time there will be concern that Syrian rebels, many with links to Al-Qaeda, are knocking at the door of the demilitarised zone.
But it would be sad to think of the Golan Heights as a rump of land used and exploited by Israel for its own selfish military and defence reasons. Whilst there is no denying the benefits the area brings to the Israeli nation’s security, with the occupation comes something quite special. The end of the Israeli military administration and de facto annexation of the area via the Golan Heights Law in 1981 puts the territory in a fortunate position and offers the nomadic tribes who live there the opportunity to be part of the democratic and capitalist anomaly of the Middle East that is Israel.
The omnipresence of the military ensuring the security of the region has allowed the Israeli economic miracle in the Golan Heights to continue unabridged. The Golan wineries are an example of a roaring industry set amongst the backdrop of stunning rolling hills and plains, all the more safe thanks to this occupation. In fact, despite many locals still feeling nationally Syrian, the deconstructing of their country compared to the Israeli Golan Height, has led to locals en masse applying for Israeli citizenship; over 10% of the Syrian Golan Druze have now accepted Israeli citizenship, a figure only likely to rise as this ethnic group is suppressed in Syria. Challenge anyone to rationally preach that returning the Golan Heights in its entirety to Syria would have been a success.
Ultimately, anti-Israeli campaigners across the world will ignore the reality of Israeli occupational success in the Golan Heights and push to ‘Free Palestine’ from ‘aggression’ whatever the cost to Palestinians may be. The much maligned and continuously violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign throughout the Western World has brazenly ignored the damage it is doing to ordinary Palestinians who are benefitting from Israeli involvement in Judea and Samaria. Soda stream has become the most famous example of the damage BDS has done, with the company closing operations in the West Bank costing 900 Palestinians their job and shifting production to undisputed Israeli territory.
There will, nonetheless, be no end to this irrational campaign to push out Israeli presence without understanding the consequences. One can draw on the problems that unilateral withdrawal has caused from two examples. Most notably and documented of course is Gaza but almost as catastrophic has been the Sinai Peninsula, which although now classified as Egyptian land, has become a political cesspit of lawlessness, terrorism and acute poverty. This has completely come about through the Camp David Accords paving the way for the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The agreements led to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel but simply Sinai became a buffer between the two as a demilitarised zone.
With no Israeli occupational forces the area has descended into chaos and anarchy. The South has had the investment necessary, becoming a tourist oasis into the barren desert of the region. The riches this has brought to the South of the peninsula has only alienated the native Bedouin who are for the most situated in the North. Their isolation, poverty and lack of security have made it a hot bed for terrorism. Terrorist cars, vandalised gas lines and weapon smuggling from Africa to various groups in the Middle East whose sole aim is to destroy Israel has become rife.
But this was not the case when Israel had a military presence in the region. The growing settlements brought jobs and wealth to the region with shipping lanes opened along the Suez Canal, integrating the peninsula with the Israeli economy. The Sinai Peninsula, on top of Gaza, has shown that Israeli withdrawal can be a social, political and economical disaster. In the Israeli side of the Golan Heights the success of Israeli involvement is clear and to withdraw now would be a disaster for everyone. Until Israel’s security is guaranteed in the West Bank, which is still far away given recent riots, then the better course for Israel to take is maintaining a military occupation in the area.