In the last issue of DEBKA-Net-Weekly (No. 449 of June 18), we reported exclusively that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing to present President Barak Obama with a new peace initiative for Syria when they meet at the White House, after his aides convinced him that this was the most pressing issue on the US president's mind.
Those talks have since been scheduled for July 6 and the initiative has been fleshed out as a proposal mapping out the sections of the disputed basalt plateau of Golan Israel is prepared to cede to Syria and under what conditions.
(The attached full-size map http://www.debka.com/static/images/Golan_Lines.swf sketches the situation today and the projected withdrawal lines)
According to the plan developed by Netanyahu, Israel and its army, the IDF will withdraw to the so-called Ridge Line (see attached map) – provided Syrian President Bashar Assad follows the example of the late Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt from1971-1981, who paid a state visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 and offered Israel full peace and his country's adherence to the Western bloc. Under the peace accord he signed with Israel in 1979, Egypt recovered the entire Sinai Peninsula from Israel and accepted its demilitarization.
To regain Golan, which Syria lost after attacking Israel in 1967, Assad would additionally be required to sever his political and military bonds with Iran and withdraw his political and military support from the terrorist organizations, Hizballah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the fringe groups based in Damascus.
Politically, partial Israeli withdrawal to the Ridge Line would restore to Syria the 1,200 square kilometers of Golan land held by Israel and dismantle nearly all of the Israeli communities established there in 43 years with their 20,000 Jewish dwellers. Tactically, it would leave the Israeli army well placed to swiftly recapture the Golan in any exigency.
The high rocky plateau is a major strategic asset
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's researchers and staff have prepared a wide-ranging analysis of the disproportionately large geopolitical importance of this small rocky plateau and the strategic options available to Israel and Syria – with accompanying maps as illustrations.
Since 1967, Israel has controlled 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan's 1,800 kilometers, with only a brief interruption. In 1974, an armistice agreement restored the Golan town of Quneitra to Syria and installed a UN Observer Force – UNDOF between the two armies.
The tiny enclave is enclosed by the Mount Hermon ridge in the north (part of which is in Israeli hands), the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee in the west and the Rakkad and Yarmouk Rivers to the south. Northeast of the Hermon is a chain of inactive volcanic cones whose past eruptions have endowed the territory with its fertile volcanic soil.
Shaped like an elongated egg, the Golan is 62 kilometers long from north to south. At its narrowest point in the north – between Majd al Shams and the Jordan River – it is just 12 kilometers across; its central bulge is 26 kilometers broad, narrowing again toward the south.
The Hermon peak, controlled by Syria, is roughly 2.800 meters high. The highest slope in Israel's hands, called the "Snow Observatory," rises to approximately 2,300 meters and houses an early warning station.
From there, the high tableland drops down to the southwest. The northern and central mountains, where most of Israel's defense lines and army positions are located, are roughly 1,000-1,200 meters high, forming a gradient that dips down and levels out 250 meters above sea level over the Sea of Galilee, dropping sharply from there down to the Jordan River in the West and the Yarmouk River in the south.
The Hill Line is a natural tank barrier
Part of this gradient is composed of the rocky cliffs of The Ridge Line, a formidable barrier to passage in and out of the Golan.
The eastern face of the Golan opposite Syria forms a watershed beginning in the Hermon and descending southward along a nearly continuous ridge-line up to Tel Fares in the central Golan. This second barrier is known to the military as The Hill Line, control of which offers tactical advantages.
From one side, it offers a clear vista of the forty kilometers up to the western outskirts of Damascus; from the other, it commands the soft center of Israeli-held Golan, where most of the Jewish communities are located outside Syria's line of vision and high trajectory fire.
This Hill Line is a natural barrier against tanks. Any Syrian armored forces trying to recapture the Golan would have to circle around on lower ground under the guns perched overhead.
Between 1948 and 1967, the Golan towered over the Huleh Valley and Sea of Galilee and was a source of Syrian military harassment. Its annexation on December 14, 1981 was seen as vital to securing northern Israel – although this act never won international recognition.
The Israeli prime minister is preparing now to move on and revise that assessment.