Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not been in full control of his country since the Syrian uprising began in 2011. The dictator has been having trouble securing territory from the Islamic State and the witches brew of moderate and extremist rebels that have set up strongholds throughout the country.
Assad should be thankful for a seat at the bargaining table at this month’s international Syria peace talks; he should not be farcically demanding that talks must include an agreement in which the Golan Heights is considered occupied territory to be handed over to his unstable regime.
If the U.S., Russia, or any other country actually entertains Assad’s delusions on this issue and asks that Israel give up strategic, mountainous territory that looks down on Israeli population centers and was twice used by Syria to launch wars against it, such thinking would expose that country as openly hostile to the existence of the Jewish state.
Indeed, the Golan Heights, which contains historic Jewish landmarks, is a critical asset for the defense of Israel. And there are many misconceptions about the Golan’s alleged ties to Syria, so let me try to set some of those straight
The Heights was twice used by Syria – in 1967 and 1973 – to mount invasions of Israel. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syria temporarily overran the Golan Heights in a surprise attack before being repulsed by Israeli forces, with Israel capturing the territory. The Jewish state officially annexed the Golan Heights on December 14, 1981.
At a historic special cabinet session convened in the Golan Heights on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightfully announced that the territory will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. He used the occasion to say that he transmitted that same message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, hinting that the U.S. was considering Assad’s demands on the Golan.
Many people don’t realize that the Golan Heights has actually been under Israeli control longer than the 19 years it festered under Syrian rule. It is Israel’s quietest border. The Jewish state is a stabilizing factor in the Syria-Israel-Lebanon triangle. Israel is the only country in that axis that fully controls its own territory as opposed to sections of land being held by extremists in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Netanyahu stated as much on Sunday when he explained the differences in the way the Golan has been governed under Israeli control:
In the 19 years that the Golan Heights was under Syrian occupation, it was used for bunkers, barbed wire fences, and war. In the 49 years that the Golan has been under Israeli rule, it has been used for agriculture, tourism, economics, and peace. In the turbulent region that surrounds us, Israel is the stabilizing factor. It is the solution and not the problem. Many nations in the region recognize this.
Netanyahu also accurately highlighted the oft-ignored Jewish historic ties to the Golan: “The Golan was an integral part of the Land of Israel in ancient times. That is documented by dozens of ancient synagogues around us. And the Golan is an integral part of the State of Israel in the present time.”
I previously pointed to recent Jewish Golan history that seems to have been forgotten by the international community, including details that Syria stole land from Golan Jewish farmers:
Even when Syria shortly held the Golan, some of it was stolen from Jews. Tens of thousands of acres of farmland on the Golan were purchased by Jews as far back as the late 19th century. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire kicked out some Jews around the turn of the century.
But some of the Golan was still farmed by Jews until 1947, when Syria first became an independent state. Just before that, the territory was transferred back and forth between France, Britain, and even Turkey, before it became a part of the French Mandate of Syria.
When the French Mandate ended in 1944, the Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state of Syria, which quickly seized land that was being worked by the Palestine Colonization Association and the Jewish Colonization Association. A year later, in 1948, Syria, along with other Arab countries, used the Golan to attack Israel in a war to destroy the newly formed Jewish state.
The Golan, steeped in Jewish history, is connected to the Torah and to the periods of the First and Second Jewish Temples and beyond.
The Jewish Virtual Library documents:
In Biblical times, the Golan Heights was referred to as “Bashan”; the word “Golan” apparently derives from the biblical city of “Golan in Bashan,” (Deuteronomy 4:43, Joshua 21:27). The area was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 13:29-31).
In early First Temple times (953-586 BCE), the area was contested between the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom based on Damascus. King Ahab of Israel defeated Ben-Hadad I of Damascus near the site of Kibbutz Afik in the southern Golan (I Kings 20:26-30), and the prophet Elisha prophesied that King Jehoash of Israel (reigned c. 801-785 BCE) would defeat Ben-Hadad III of Damascus, also near Kibbutz Afik (11 Kings 13:17).
In the late 6th and 5th centuries BCE, the region was settled by returning Jewish exiles from Babylonia (modern Iraq). In the mid 2nd century BCE, Judah Maccabee and his brothers came to the aid of the local Jewish communities when the latter came under attack from their non-Jewish neighbors (I Maccabees 5). Judah Maccabee’s grandnephew, the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannai (reigned 103-76 BCE) later added the Heights to his kingdom.
The Library also reports that the Golan hosted some of the most important houses of Torah study in the years following the Second Temple’s destruction and subsequent Jewish exile; some of Judaism’s most revered ancient rabbis are buried in the territory. The remains of some 25 synagogues from the period between the Jewish revolt and the Islamic conquest in 636 have been excavated. The Golan is also dotted with ancient Jewish villages.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.