The Golem Heights Of Olmert's Presumption

by Hugh Fitzgerald (June 2008)


T
he Golem of Hebrew legend is a creature who is formed of inanimate clay, but is wonder-working and beneficent. However, in modern Hebrew slang the word “golem” is used, presumably because only the “made from inanimate clay” part is implicated, to refer to someone who is stupid, who is a fool.

It is hard to believe that at this moment Ehud Olmert, the current Prime Minister of Israel, whose popularity level is below 10%, who is widely seen has having been responsible for unnecessary Israeli casualties toward the end of the 2006 war against Hezbollah, who is now under investigation – as he has been so often in his life – for suspected corruption, and who is, therefore, pulling a Sharon, attempting to divert attention from his legal troubles, or at least win some temporary popularity for his putative peace-making, by agreeing to discuss the possibility of handing back the Golan Heights to Syria.

But the Golan Heights are not Olmert’s to hand back. Unlike the Jewish villages in Gaza, a place Israel never formally annexed, the Golan is different. It has been so annexed, and Olmert has no power --- or should have no power – to undo that formal annexing. The Golan Heights were annexed, that is became part of Israel, because they are critical to Israel’s survival. From those heights one looks down on the Sea of Galilee. When Syria possessed it, they could, and sometimes did, rain fire on the Israeli villages and kibbutzim below. It contains 15% of the water on which Israel depends. It is incredibly difficult to seize – Israel did it once, during the nearly-miraculous conditions of the Six-Day War, but those conditions will never occur again, and the notion that if the Syrians misbehave that the Golan Heights can be re-taken is both silly, and cruel to Israeli soldiers, who are not treated by their own foolish governments with the solicitousness they deserve. If Syria does not obtain the Golan Heights back by inveigling Israel to give it back, Syria will never be able to get it back any other way --- and should not.

Yet we now hear that this awful Israeli government, with so many confused and incapable people (save for the one good appointment Olmert did make, which was Daniel Friedmann as Minister of Justice, for Friedmann has decided to rein in the runaway Israeli Supreme Court, which Aharon Barak taught to go off on frolics and detours of its own, whenever it felt like it) has for months been having “indirect talks in Turkey” with Syria. On Al-Jazeera the Syrian Information Minister, Muhsin Bilal, claims:

"We received commitments and messages from the Israeli government and the Israeli prime minister that guarantee, via the Turks, that he knows what the Syrians want….He knows that the whole of the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria and that Israel will withdraw to the lines of 4 June 1967."

Syria is an enemy of Israel. It is a country with a Sunni Muslim population of 70%. Some of its Christians, furthermore, are what have been called “islamochristians,” that is people who, because they are Arabs (or consider themselves to be Arabs), are wedded to the idea of “Uruba’ or “Arabness” and this hyperconsciousness of being “Arabs” reinforces – despite their being Christians --  their support for Islam-based causes (such as the destruction of the Infidel state of Israel).

Imagine another war, for there will be another war of the Arabs against Israel. The only question is when, and with what countries involved, and with what kind of weaponry. Now imagine that you are an Israeli general. And you still possess the Golan Heights, and you look down on Damascus, about 40 miles away. Syria may be a threat, but it won’t be the kind of threat – ever – that it would be if the Golan Heights had been given away, in 2008, as a last fateful act of a regime, morally and geopolitically bankrupt and incapable of coming to grips with, or even beginning to fashion a policy towards, the Islam that, we now know, explains the Lesser – and Permanent – Jihad against Israel.

But imagine Israel stripped of the Golan, and with Syrian troops, and all kinds of weapons of war, on the Golan Heights, overlooking that Sea of Galilee.

Amazing, isn’t it, that at this very moment, when the Druse who live in and near the Golan, on both sides of the border, are because of the spectacle of Hezbollah’s repeated attacks on the Druse in Lebanon, attacks presumably supported by Hezbollah’s supporter Syria, are most likely to be receptive to the idea of permanently choosing Israel as the state they prefer to hold the Golan, that at this point Olmert and Livni choose to let out news of their “discussions” with Syria.

There are, as there always are, clearer heads. In Israel, many of these clearer heads belong to no-nonsense military men. They know, as Olmert apparently does not, the value of possessing the Golan Heights: “many strategists and generals have said that giving up the strategic advantage of the Heights in exchange for promises or even written treaties [!] makes no sense.”

And two-thirds of the Israeli public opposes the surrender of what is now part of Israel.

But there are those who, despite all the evidence of all the negotiations, and all the peace-processsing, and all the treaties, that Israel has ever been party to, that somehow this negotiation, and this peace-processing, and this obvious “truce” treaty (even if it is wrongly identified as a “peace treaty”), will lead to a different result than what the long catalogue of Israeli folly in such matters suggests will be the inevitable result.

What would Israel get for giving up the Golan Heights, a tangible and, many generals think, an indispensable asset?

Oh, it would get a promise, by the trustworthy Syrian government, to end its support of Hezbollah. But how likely is it that that promise would be kept? Doesn’t the Syrian elite depend for its wellbeing on what it can milk from cash-cow Lebanon? And isn’t Hezbollah the best, or by now the only way, that Syria can continue to hold onto its role, and that moo-cow milking, in Lebanon? Besides, given how Hezbollah has managed to arm and re-arm again and again, given that Hamas itself, without any Syria to trans-ship Iranian arms, is threat enough, why would one give up such a tangible asset for the sake of a promise when, if the Syrian Alawites are to stay in power, they must always try to placate the real Muslims by being plus royalists que le roi, and the currency of that is always, for Muslim Arabs, how fervent one is in anti-Israeli activities.

To suggest that the Alawites, who make up 12% of the population, and who have been collaborating so closely with Iran in supporting Hezbollah partly because they feel they need the legitimacy, as Muslims, that Iranian approval – and an Iranian cleric’s fatwa – help to supply – why would they endanger this, by leaving the camp of anti-Israel stalwarts?

It makes no sense. It would open the Alawites up to new charges. Now, they would not merely be seen as pseudo-Muslims, with their syncretistic cult of Mary. Now they would be seen, if they ceased to be part of the anti-Israel camp – and obviously that is what Olmert and Livni think they can achieve by handing over the Golan – as not merely quasi-Muslims, but clearly as enemies, and the fact that on Christmas and Good Friday government offices close in Syria would suggest that those Alawites are crypto-Christians, and the Ikhwan, supported by Saudi-financed television channels, could make life impossible for Syria.

And there is one more terrible thing. Israel did not, as it had every right to do under the laws of war, keep the Sinai, but gave to Saint Sadat territory that he, and much of the world, treated as “sacred Egyptian territory” even though most of it did not become part of Egypt until the 1920s (see, on this, the discussion in the Diary of Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, and his map of the Sinai). Israel still acts as if it does not have a perfect right, under the Palestine Mandate and under Resolution 242, to hold onto all of the “West Bank” and, if it so wishes – but obviously it does not wish – Gaza. But about two places – the Golan Heights, and the Old City of Jerusalem – the Israeli government, and people, of Israel, clearly decided when they decided to annex, and never to give up, both the Old City, and the Golan Heights.

In the death throes of his terrible tenure, in his awful administration, if Ehud Olmert were – in defiance of the overwhelming will of the people and of common sense – to suggest an Israeli willingness to give up what all former Israeli governments, once the annexation of the Golan nad taken place, maintained would never be given up, was no longer subject to negotiation, then what would happen with the Old City of Jerusalem? The Arabs are quick to focus on precedents. They took the surrender to Saint Sadat of the entire Sinai as a precedent, and in their view a conclusive one, for the future surrender of other territories won in the Six-Day War, a war of self-defense. And they will not drop it.

There may be, there sometimes is, an argument for assisted suicide. But that happens in the case of individuals, in physical torment. Israel is a state. It can survive, if it takes the long view, the very long view, and does not allow the most disreputable and shallow members of its political class to throw their own country to the wolves, to save themselves, if they can, or possibly just to save them from the pain of having to see things clearly, and steadily, and whole – for that would be, for these people, too taxing, and too painful.

In the NYTimes (May 22), Ethan Bonner notes that most Israeli "strategists and generals" have "said that giving up the strategic advantage of the Heights in exchange for promises or even written treaties makes no sense."

And he quotes Dore Gold:  "In a world in which Iran is on the march and extending its influence from Lebanon to Iraq, for Israel to consider giving up the Golan barrier would be a strategic error of the highest order."

But, having given that side its due, in true Times fashion, he gives more weight to those who think what Olmert is doing is just the ticket:

"On the other hand, many other [how many other?] Israeli officials and analysts see great benefits for Israel. Syria is a prime sponsor of Hezbollah and provides it with rockets and arms, many from Iran. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have headquarters in Damascus, and Israel will seek, in these negotiations, to have them closed.

And he ends with this, that is not attributed to the beliefs of "many others" but stated, as if it were a fact of which we have all taken judicial notice:

"To pull Syria out of the orbit of Iran and return it to the more pro-Western world of Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia would be a major victory for Israel.

A real peace treaty with Syria would bring Israel significant advantages in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories."

Let's see if we agree with Ethan Bonner that pulling Syria "out of the orbit of Iran" and returning it "to the more pro-Western world of Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia" would constitute a "major victory for Israel."

It would be a "major victory for Israel" If Syria's bad relations with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia were bad for Israel, and if Syria's possible good relations with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia would be good for Israel. But why would that be?

Are Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in any sense "pro-Western"? True, Egypt and Jordan both accept, and wish to continue grandly to accept -- and will be furious if there is any interruption in their ability to accept -- billions (in the case of Jordan), and tens of billions (in the case of Egypt) in aid, which they regard as their due, their Jizyah (and so, increasingly, do the donor Western nations). But why, in what way, can they be called "pro-Western"? Do they collaborate with the West? Do they do the West's bidding in any way, a way that does not already conform to their interests? When have Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia ever done anything to placate or please the West that they would not, out of their own calculated self-interest, have done? Was Saudi Arabia being "pro-Western" or "anti-Infidel" when it paid for arms for the muhajideen in Afghanistan? Is Egypt, when it pretends to urge the Sudan to rein in the Janjaweed, being "pro-Western" or is it, in fact, giving a nudge-nudge wink-wink to a fellow member of the Arab League, perfectly entitled, in the view of Egypt's Arabs, to do what it wants with the black Africans, Muslim and non-Muslim, under its control?

Is Egypt, is Jordan, is Saudi Arabia, more willing to contemplate the long-term existence of the Infidel nation-state of Israel, or did the first two sign "peace treaties" in the same spirit as Muhammad signed his agreement with the Meccans at Hudaibiyya in 628 A.D.? Do you think that Saudi Arabia is more willing to accept the notion of Israel than is Iran, or do you think there is no important difference in their deep and implacable hostility to a Jewish state on territory once possessed by Muslims, and what's more, a state in the middle of Dar al-Islam?

When Syria went to war in 1973, and before that, in 1967, it was "in the orbit of Egypt." Would not Syria be more likely to collaborate in the future, with Egypt, and with Jordan, if it were pulled back into that "orbit of Egypt" rather than allied with Shi'a Iran? And isn't Syria, allied as it is with Shi'a Iran, more likely to cause problems for the Sunni Arabs in Lebanon, and hence with Sunni Arabs elsewhere, and hence contribute to a Sunni-Shi'a divide within the world of Arab Islam, and isn't that a good thing for Infidels, including the Infidels of Israel?

It is not obvious at all that Israel would be better off with Syria "in the orbit of Egypt" and its fellow Sunni Muslim states once again.

But this is stated, as accepted truth, in the course of what is, after all, supposed to be a report, by a reporter, whose job is one of telling the readers about this Israel-Syria negotiation is taking place, and what may be its subject, and the varying opinions of Israelis on the notion of giving back the Golan. His job is not to tell readers of the Times that if the negotations are successful, and Israel gives up the Golan Heights this will, of course, "pull Syria out of the orbit of Iran and return it to the more pro-Western world of Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia" and  "would be a major victory for Israel. "

This is not gospel truth. This is a guess, and not an educated one either, from a reporter who, like so many reporters for the Times, does not know the meaning of the phrase ultra vires.

He could look it up.

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