Golan Heights Dispute – Everything you need to know

The US government under President Donald Trump had made an unprecedented move by recognizing Golan Heights as a part of Israel. This move was condemned by many countries as well as the international community. This is because the Golan Heights was captured by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967. The Golan Heights is highly vital for Syria and Israel, both economically and strategically.


What is Golan Heights?

  • Golan Heights is a rocky plateau located in south-western Syria.
  • It is bounded by the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee in the west, Wadi Al-Ruqqad, the north-south branch of the Yarmuk River on the east, Yarmuk River and Mountain Hermon on the south.

Why is it disputed?

  • Golan Heights previously belonged to Syria.
  • However, Israel has seized it from Syria during the final stages of the 1967 Six-Day War.
  • A ceasefire line was established at the end of the war and the region came under the control of Israel’s military.
  • Immediately after the end of the war, Israeli citizens began settling in this region.
  • Syria tried to recapture this region during the Yom Kippur War of 1974.
  • However, it failed in its objective. Both the countries signed an armistice in 1974 and the UN Peacekeeping Force was stationed in the armistice line since then.
  • In 1981, Israel had unilaterally seized the Golan Heights.
  • This move was not recognized until the US government under President Donald Trump had unilaterally recognized Golan Heights as Israel’s territory.

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What is the strategic significance of Golan Heights?

  • Golan Heights is strategically important for both Syria and Israel.
  • Military Significance:
  1. For Israel, it is an excellent vantage point to monitor the Syrian Troops’ movements.
  2. From Golan Heights, Israel will be able to observe the whole of Southern Syria and its capital Damascus.
  3. Syria made use of Golan Heights to shell northern Israel from 1948 to 1967.
  • Economic Significance:
  1. Golan Heights is the key source of water in this region. Golan’s catchment feeds rainwater into the Jordan River.
  2. A third of Israel’s water source is from the Golan Heights, as it has Jordan’s drainage basin, Lake Tiberias, underground aquifers and the Yarmuk River.
  3. This is significant because the Middle East is an arid region with scarce water resource.
  4. The Golan Heights has a fertile land that is favourable for the cultivation of vineyards and orchards and rearing of cattle.
  5. It also is the home for Israel’s only ski resort.

What happened during the 1967 Arab Israeli war?

  • The 1967 Arab Israeli War or the Six-Day War or the June War or the Third Arab Israeli War was fought between Israel and its neighbouring states of Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.
  • This war lasted only six days from 5th to 10th June of 1967.
  • The relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbours have always remained tensed ever since Israel became a sovereign nation in 1948.
  • There were a series of border disputes between Israel and its neighbours.
  • In April 1967, the tensions heightened when Israel and Syria were involved in Air and Artillery engagement which resulted in the destruction of six Syrian Fighter Jets.
  • USSR had shared false intelligence to the Egyptian President Nasser that the Israeli troops were moving towards the northern Israeli-Syrian border for a full-scale invasion.
  • President Nasser, in response to the intelligence from the Soviet Union, had ordered the Egyptian Forces to advance into the Sinai Peninsula.
  • The tensions were further escalated when he banned Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran. This is a passage that connects the Gulf of Aqaba with the Red Sea.
  • Furthermore, he had signed a defence pact with Jordan.
  • With the increasing Arab military build-up, Israel chose to undertake a pre-emptive strike to ensure the safety of Israel’s national interest.
  • Israel emerged victorious in this war despite the massive Arab forces.
  • Within a week, it was able to capture the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and the East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
  • This war is a geopolitical victory for Israel as it was able to triple its geographical area and capture many strategically important points for itself.
  • This victory had led to the fourth major Arab Israeli war – the Yom Kippur War.
  • Israel had returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 and Withdrew from Gaza strip in 2005.
  • However, Israel still retains most of the areas captured during the war. This includes the Golan Heights and the West Bank.

Who lives in the Golan Heights now?

  • Currently, it is estimated that approximately 50,000 people are living in this region with Israelis making up nearly half of it.
  • The settlers in this region also consist of the Druze, an Arabic-speaking minority community.
  • This community has resisted from obtaining Israeli citizenship because of their attachment to Syria.
  • However, it is a community of mixed religion and culture that coexist peacefully in this region.

What is the world’s view on Israel’s unilateral seizure of the Golan Heights?

  • Despite US’ official recognition of the Golan Heights as the part of Israel, the majority of the world considers Israel’s move as unilateral and illegal.
  • It is against UN Security Council Resolution 242 and 497 as both stated that it is against international law. These resolutions were passed under the support of the US.
  • The European Union, the close ally of the US, does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
  • Arab League considers the move to be against international law.
  • Syria, considers it to be an “indivisible” part of Syria.
  • Russia, Iran, and Turkey have also condemned the US’ official recognition of Golan Heights as a part of Israel’s territory.
  • India remains neutral and maintains its position of not recognizing Golan Heights as a part of Israel.
  • On June 16, 2019, the Israeli administration has praised the Trump Administration’s move to recognize Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights and have announced the establishment of Trump Heights, a planned settlement in the Golan Heights.

What does the recent US policy shift mean to the existing dispute between Israel and the Arab countries?

  • Israel already has a significant military presence in this region
  • The official recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights does not change anything on the ground.
  • Currently, Syria is facing a civil war. This has weakened Syria’s administration and military drastically.
  • Israel is making use of this opportunity to further its claims over the land.
  • The US has also recognized Jerusalem as a part of Israel’s sovereignty on December 6, 2017. This is a significant move as it means the official establishment of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
  • This move too was condemned by the majority of the international community.
  • These unconventional moves may pose as a liability to the US’ position in international politics as many countries including US’ close allies are against it.

Way Forward

  • The United States’ pro-Israel stance does little to help ease the existing tensions between Israel and the Arab states in the Middle East.
  • India advocates for the Two-State solution to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • This seems a distant dream considering the tougher stance taken by Israel against Syria and other Arab countries.
  • It is essential for the Indian government needs to maintain a neutral stance to ensure a flexible relationship with the Middle East countries.

Article by: K.G.Karishma

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