No More Excuses
Gaffney, Frank, Jr., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres' announcement that he will accelerate the schedule for national elections from late fall 1996 to the end of May could prove to be a godsend: It might enable a potentially calamitous development in U.S.-Israeli relations to be avoided.
That development would be the deployment of U.S. forces on the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. As readers of this column know, such a deployment would have profound and adverse implications for Israeli security, for the strategic ties between the United States and its most important regional ally and for U.S. interests in the Middle East more generally.
Israeli security will be endangered by the surrender of the Golan Heights - a massif overlooking Northern Israel from which, when in hostile Syrian hands, the Jewish state has been attacked repeatedly. The loss of the strategic depth offered by the Golan will compel Israel once again to rely upon a policy of pre-emption for its security, hardly a formula for enhanced regional stability.
These concerns have led American and Israeli officials to conjure up the idea of stationing U.S. military personnel on the Heights. Such troops are likely to be portrayed very differently in Israel and the United States: The people of Israel will probably be encouraged to see the Americans as a substitute for the Israeli armored forces currently stationed there. As such, they would be a deterrent to renewed Syrian aggression that would, if necessary, help fight Syria if deterrence fails. To U.S. audiences, however, the Golan deployment would be described as merely a peacekeeping one between two parties committed to a durable end to hostilities. In America, it will be implied (if not stated) that -should there be renewed conflict -these troops will be withdrawn, rather than ordered to fight.
This disconnect invites disaster. Israel would be encouraged to abandon its traditional posture of military self-reliance in favor of a de facto dependence upon U.S. forces misconstrued to represent a form of security guarantee. The practical effect of their presence on the Golan will probably not be to inhibit a Syrian attack (if Damascus decides to go to war with Israel, it will have already discounted U.S. unhappiness) but to foreclose - or at least greatly complicate - Israeli options for nipping that attack in the bud. Even if Israel survived the assault, it is not clear that vital U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation would do so.
Then there is the issue of broader American regional interests. On the one hand, it is not self-evident that those interests will be served by directly implicating the United States in any future conflict between Syria and Israel. On the other, the United States has many reasons to hold Syria at arms-length - including Damascus' drug-trafficking, support for terrorism, wholesale counterfeiting of U.S. dollars, colonization of Lebanon, strategic cooperation with Iran and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. It would be foolhardy to ignore such problems simply because Israel has decided, for its own reasons, to try to make peace with Syria. …