The situation in Syria continues to change rapidly as Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime seize increasing control of the country. The time is ripe for Israel to pursue a policy that is not just limited to the military world; namely the settling of the Golan Heights.
This would result in economic and housing gains, and would complement Israel’s military policies towards the dramatic developments in the northern arena.
Unlike in Judea and Samaria, where an estimated 2.5 million Palestinians reside, and which is the subject of a deep debate in Israeli society, the Golan Heights is almost completely unpopulated.
To the north of the Golan, Iran is consolidating its presence in Syria, creating a series of provocations against Israel, gradually creating a new reality. This is part of an overall Iranian regional project of building a conglomerate of areas under its control, and Syria is a major aspect of this dangerous plan. Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, is deployed across Syria as part of this maneuver.
The debate over whether to negotiate a peace deal with the Assad regime in exchange for the return of the Golan Heights was legitimate and proper for its time, prior to the 2011 Syrian civil war. Today, however, in light of the changes in Syria, this debate has become irrelevant.
Syria is expected to suffer many more years of instability, and Israel’s most powerful enemies – Iran and Hezbollah – will continue to set up shop there, seeking to approach the border with Israel. Russia’s involvement in Syria has made these developments yet more complex. The idea of ceding the Golan is detached from this reality.
On the military front, the Israel Defense Forces is preparing contingencies to deal with the new Syrian reality, but an Israeli civilian-economic policy is now called for as well.
Israel conquered the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War, and since then, the territory has been the most devoid of human settlement in the whole of the country. A small Druze population is concentrated in four villages in the north of the Golan, and this community is well integrated economically into the State of Israel.
A small Israeli Jewish population resides there too, making its living from agriculture and tourism. Now is the time to focus national attention on the objective of settling the Golan.
This should be done not as a bargaining chip, but for the purpose of long-term settlement. The goal would be to create a population that could make a living from sectors beyond agriculture and tourism. For this purpose, the government should set up hi-tech hubs and other advanced industries in the Golan, enabling the new population to have high quality jobs nearby.
Most importantly, new residents should have access to cheap housing solutions for young couples and new families, thereby counteracting one of the biggest economic problems that Israel is currently facing.
In addition, the government should link up the Golan Heights to the coastal plain, where the majority of the Israeli population resides, and where the country’s economic center of gravity is located. This can be done through the construction of a network of roads and hi-speed rail links.
This strategy would go far beyond military counter steps to the new developments in Syria, and enable Israel to realize important national objectives, creating a winning combination for the country.
As Israel marks its 70th year of independence, taking on the national mission of settling the Golan would be an endeavor that would enjoy a broad consensus in Israeli society, and the support of both Right and Left. It would achieve added security, improve the economy, and offer a solution to the problem of affordable housing.
Edited by: Yaakov Lappin
Co-edited by: Benjamin Anthony
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.