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THE ISRAEL REPORT

January/February 2000
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Ze'ev Schiff: The IDF's border on the Golan Heights

Ha'aretz 14.1.2000

Excerpts:


* chief of staff Ehud Barak traced in 1994 a line which would enable the IDF to hold on to the cliff on the Golan that overlooks the Hulah Valley...chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak presented this very same line when he met with Shihabi for Rabin.

* In the summer of 1993, Barak asked Major-General Ilan Biran to prepare a paper on the border that the IDF should recommend... Barak at the time adopted a position that was more aggressive than that taken by Biran... The members of the cabinet should demand that Prime Minister Barak provide them with the details of that document, just as the public is entitled to know the nature of the military map accompanying the document, especially now that a number of the negotiators have been authorized to publicize compromise positions.

* senior commanders in the IDF are claiming that there is no real alternative to a ground station.

* quite a number of top brass who feel that Israel's acceptance of reciprocity in security arrangments is mistaken. They are saying that the arrangements should be assymetrical and should favor Israel, which will be losing strategic depth when it pulls out of the Golan Heights.

* we must not lose sight of the importance of coordination with Washington so as to ensure that, within only a few short years, the Syrian army does not turn into an advanced western-style military force.
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Full text

The IDF's border on the Golan Heights

Ha'aretz 14.1.2000

By Ze'ev Schiff

What is the border that the Israel Defense Force wants to see on the Golan Heights in the context of a peace treaty with Syria? The answer to this question can be found in the line that chief of staff Ehud Barak - who is today both prime minister and defense minister - traced in 1994. This line, which would enable the IDF to hold on to the cliff on the Golan that overlooks the Hulah Valley, was what Barak presented to his Syrian counterpart, Hikmat Shihabi.Barak's successor as chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who is currently taking part in the negotiations with the Syrians, presented this very same line, with the approval of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, when Shahak met with Shihabi, although Rabin had already handed over to the Americans the so-called "deposit" - a willingness to pull back to the June 4, 1967 lines if Syria complies with all of Israel's other demands.

The IDF line was actually formulated a little earlier. In the summer of 1993, Barak asked Major-General Ilan Biran to prepare a paper on the border that the IDF should recommend. In compiling this document, Biran received the assistance of the IDF's planning and intelligence services. The person who helped him on air force matters was Dan Halutz, who will be the Israel Air Force's next commander. In the spring of 1994, on the eve of his appointment as head of the IDF's Central Command, Biran submitted his paper to the chief of staff. Those who were closely familiar with this document observed that Barak at the time adopted a position that was more aggressive than that taken by Biran. The recommendations of the Biran report were never publicized. The members of the cabinet should demand that Prime Minister Barak provide them with the details of that document, just as the public is entitled to know the nature of the military map accompanying the document, especially now that a number of the negotiators have been authorized to publicize compromise positions.

On October 7, 1994, after speaking with chief of staff Barak, Ha'aretz publicized the IDF's recommendation, including a map, and stated the following: "The IDF recommends that the northern part of the line lie along one of the branches of the Hermon and that the southern part lie along the crossroads at Afek in the southern Golan Heights. Between these two points, the line should be drawn as a sort of belly in a westerly direction toward the Jordan River. However, the entire line should be beyond the cliff overlooking the Hulah Valley." It should be pointed out that, in accordance with this line, most of the settlements on the Golan Heights would be excluded from the territory that would remain in Israeli hands.

The senior commanders of the IDF understand today that it will be impossible to obtain an agreement in which the new border with Syria will lie along the cliffs of the Golan Heights. Therefore, the members of the IDF's general staff are now saying that, from the military standpoint, there is only one question that must be asked: Will the IDF remain on the cliff overlooking the Hulah Valley or will it have to descend into that valley? If the IDF is forced to go down into the Hulah Valley, there is no difference, militarily speaking, between the June 4, 1967 lines and the international boundary drawn in 1923. In other words, whether or not we control the El-Hama enclave has no military importance whatsover. Thus, the planning division of the general staff does not regard the water resources problem as a military question.

However, this position is an evasion of the real issue. Water - especially that of Israel's main (and only) reservoir, the Sea of Galilee - is not some irrelevant military question, but is, in fact, a central strategic problem of national proportions. And it should therefore be a major item on the IDF's agenda. The general staff's attempts to evade this issue is a classic example of "thinking small."

As an "antidote" to a boundary-line in the Hulah Valley, the IDF is demanding effective security arrangements, which are far more important than symbols of normalization between Syria and Israel. Since we can forget about remaining on the cliff, we must see to it that the security arrangements are stringent. The Israeli negotiating team has begun to believe that an alternative can be found to an early-warning station on Mount Hermon. In contrast with this attitude, senior commanders in the IDF are taking a tougher line and are claiming that there is no real alternative to a ground station. As the Stauber document once demonstrated, there are still quite a number of top brass who feel that Israel's acceptance of reciprocity in security arrangments is mistaken. They are saying that the arrangements should be assymetrical and should favor Israel, which will be losing strategic depth when it pulls out of the Golan Heights.

In light of the above, it is vital to take into consideration not only the issue of territory but also the deployment and structure of each army. The security arrangements will have to be deeper and the increased depth will have to be felt on the Syrian side. Furthermore, we must not lose sight of the importance of coordination with Washington so as to ensure that, within only a few short years, the Syrian army does not turn into an advanced western-style military force.


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