April 30, 2016

During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Syrian forces had surprised Israel and were fast approaching the edge of the steep Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the 1967 war. It seemed as if Syrian armor and infantry would retake Golan, then pour down into Israeli Galilee.

Soviet recon satellites observed Israel moving its nuclear-armed, 500km-range Jericho missiles out of protective caves and onto their launch pads. At the same time, Israel was seen loading nuclear bombs on their US-supplied F-4 fighter-bombers at Tel Nof airbase.

Believing Israel was about to use nuclear weapons against Syria and Egypt, Moscow put huge pressure on both to rein in their advancing forces. Damascus, already in range of Israeli artillery on Golan, ordered its armored forces on Golan to halt, allowing Israel to mount powerful counter-attacks and retake the strategic heights.

In 1981, Israel formally annexed the 580 sq. mile portion of Golan that it occupied. This illegal annexation was condemned by the United Nations, the United States and Europe’ powers. But Israel held on to Golan and implanted 50,000 there in some 41 subsidized settlements.

The world has pretty much forgotten how close it came to nuclear war in 1973 over Golan. The heights became a primary nuclear trigger point along with Kashmir, Germany’s Fulda Gap, and the DMZ, Korea’s inner border.

Golan recently resurfaced in the news when Israel’s rightwing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, that his nation would never return Golan to Syria. In a speech soon after, Netanyahu vowed Israel would hold on to Golan for “all eternity.” He also admitted for the first time that Israel had made “dozens” of cross-border attacks on Syria.

The long basalt plateau is indeed a valuable prize. It extends from snow-capped, 9,200 ft. (2,814 meter
Mt. Hermon in the north to the Sea of Galilee and Yarmouk River in the south. Golan supplies 15% of Israel’s scarce water and may contain gas or petroleum deposits.

Israeli artillery on Golan can hit Syria’s capitol Damascus; Israeli electronic sensors blanket Damascus and cover all Syrian military movement below. Having walked much of the Golan on both Syrian and Israeli-held sides, I can attest to its remarkable military importance and thick defenses.

After the 1967 war, Israel ethnically cleansed Golan, leveling the capital, Kuneitra, with bulldozers and expelled almost all Golan’s 130,000 Druze and Arab inhabitants. Jewish settlers were brought in to replace them. The US shielded Israel from UN action and world-wide protests.

Before 2011, Israel hinted that it would return Golan to Syria as part of a comprehensive peace agreement – provided Damascus ceased supporting Palestinian claims to their lost lands. But once the Syrian civil war conveniently began, there was no more talk of Golan.

In fact, it’s pretty much clear that Israel has been quietly fueling the Syrian conflict by discreet arms and logistics support to so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels and lobbying for the war in Washington and with the US media. Netanyahu has even said – with a straight face – that Israel cannot return Golan, or even negotiate, until calm returns to Syria and Iraq.

Netanyahu is clearly following the grand strategy of the founder of his rightwing Likud Party, Zeev Jabotinsky, a militant Russian Zionist. Jabotinsky asserted that the Arab states were an artificial, fragile mosaic of inimical Arab tribes.

Hit them hard enough, claimed Jabotinsky, and they will shatter into small pieces, leaving Israel master of the Levant (central Arab world). The destruction of Iraq and Syria have confirmed Jabotinsky’s theory.

Accordingly, Israel is delighted to see Syria, a primary foe, lying in ruins as a result of a US, British, French, Turkish and Saudi-instigated civil war. Damascus is in no shape to demand the return of Golan, and the rest of the world does not care.

The destruction of Syria as a unitary state offers the expansionist Likud government many opportunities to extend influence into Syria – as was the case in Lebanon during its bloody 1975-1990 civil war. Or even carve off more Syrian territory “to protect Israel’s security.”

The words of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, still resonate: the state of Israel is a work in progress and its borders should not be fixed or even defined. Notably the borders with Syria and Jordan.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria


  1. rock9995 says:

    Although this is a short comment, I hope it nevertheless conveys my gratitude and relief at being able to get a sense of what is actually happening in that part of the world. So much of what I see and read is such abject, obvious propaganda that it’s hardly worth the time to bother to read it at all. In this case however, your lucid observations serve to reveal some truth about Golan Heights/Syria today. It does not inspire much hope but it’s better to know “something” even if the news is not good rather than believe just another fabricated scenario for mass-consumption.

    Thank you Mr. Margolis for all that you do.

  2. On the subject of the Golan, Eric, what do you think of the hornet’s nest Israeli Maj. Gen. Yair Golan disturbed, for publicly saying he sees signs of 1930s Fascism taking root in Israel?

    As a military analyst, do you think he knew he would be putting his Military career in jeopardy by saying what he did on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel? Was it deliberate, or just a Freudian slip?

  3. Thank you, Eric, for telling it like it is. In my view, you are one of the last Independent Journalists not beholden to Corporate interests.

  4. valdemir.fernandes says:

    Good article, Eric. Your writings are always excellent. People forgot the Golan Heights and you are welcome to remind us of.
    I remember that my first contact with the war in Mideast was a Time Magazine in 1973. Marylin Monroe was the cover. You could write many other stories into a book about the past or even contemporaries events, that people has forgotten, such as the civil war in Lebanon, the struggle for independence of India, the WW2, for example.

    Greetings from Sao Paulo, Brazil
    Valdemir Fernandes

  5. Steve_M. says:

    Thank you, Eric, for another informative article. Most of the world did not know, even in 1973, how close Israel came to deploying its nuclear weapons. And, as you point out, that incident is almost completely forgotten in most quarters.

    The extent of Israel’s influence over the very pliable American politicians (something that won’t change, no matter who wins in November) pretty much assures that country it will never be compelled to return the Golan Heights to Syria or to deal fairly with the Palestinian people otherwise. It’s almost as though the western world is spell-bound by the Israeli government, but the truth is that Israel and its Zionist supporters in the west have seduced enough politicians throughout the western world and even in the Middle East that it really has almost nothing to fear – at least for now.

    As for the Syrian civil war and ISIS, I have little doubt that ISIS is in part an Israeli creation (Israel likely helped to arm it) and is being indirectly used by it to keep Syria and Iraq pinned down, thereby vastly weakening any threat to Israel. Otherwise, you can be sure that Israel would be pushing its western friends very hard to get ISIS obliterated and could even do so by itself, if necessary. For now and the near future, ISIS is and will be their useful tool – until maybe it becomes a direct threat to Israel.

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