Recent testimony by Central Intelligence Agency officials to Congress made the case that Syria, with apparent help from North Korea, had been preparing to join the nuclear club. On Sept. 6, 2007, Israel's correct grasp of anticipatory self-defense put an end to these activities.
If official "peace" talks were reopened, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be risking nothing. But Israel's risks would be substantial. Israeli control of the Golan Heights is still needed for deterrence against a coordinated attack. Continued control is also critical to secure Israel's supply of drinking water.
Prime Minister Olmert is confident that giving up the Golan could be the best way to induce Syria to make peace with Israel. This means that he must also believe that Syria, as a diplomatic quid pro quo, would be willing to relinquish its ties to Iran and assorted Islamist terror groups. But these beliefs would be based upon a naive legalism. More plausibly, perhaps, Olmert's position is based on certain domestic political motives.
Olmert's incorrect reasoning lies ultimately in the critical limits of guarantees in our anarchic world. International law is not a suicide pact. Still lacking a central authority with real power to keep recalcitrant states in line, our world legal order permits each country an inherent right of self-defense.
The Israeli Defense Forces must maintain its surveillance on the Golan. Pre-1967 warning stations do not have a clear line of sight into Syrian territory. Israel cannot depend upon third parties for intelligence. Even plans for a demilitarized Golan would be inadequate, in part because the Syrians would never comply with any demilitarization agreement.
Syria has missiles that could place all of Israel within easy range of WMD warheads. Any Israeli abandonment of the Golan would enhance this enemy capability. Golan surrender would also enlarge the prospect of war on the Lebanese front, and the influence of terrorist factions still based in Damascus.