According to recent reports, Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressing Washington to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which were taken from Syria in the 1967 war. While in the 1990s, and as late as 2010, Jerusalem expressed willingness to negotiate a deal with Damascus that would involve returning all or part of the territory, the Syrian civil war has removed that option from the table. Steven A. Cook comments:
Whether Washington recognizes Israel’s annexation or not, the Israelis are never withdrawing from the Golan Heights—nor should they. . . . [The former] Israeli interest in trading away the Golan Heights was predicated on a belief—or wishful thinking—that a peace treaty [with Syria] would break the Syria-Iran-Hizballah axis. It makes sense on paper, but peeling the Syrians from Iran and Hizballah was never going to work. Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, was at best a grudging participant in the peace process of the 1990s. Syrian diplomats showed up for talks, but they never actually negotiated much. . . . The former Jordanian foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, recounts [that] the Syrians sought to obstruct regional peace rather than contribute to it. . . .
Quiet along the Israeli-Syrian front for the last 45 years is a function not just of the capabilities of the IDF but of the unparalleled advantage the Golan Heights gives Israel’s armed forces. The Golan multiplies Israel’s force in the event of a war, but, more important for Israeli security, the area is an unrivaled intelligence-gathering platform. From its posts atop the Golan Heights, the IDF can look and listen in on the valley below that leads to Damascus, only about 45 miles away. Nothing is foolproof, of course. The Israelis occupied the Golan Heights in 1973 and ran into a lot of trouble when the Syrians attacked on October 6 of that year, but all things being equal, there is no question that holding onto the plateau is superior to withdrawing and the uncertainty of an agreement with the Syrian regime. . . .
[W]hen the younger Assad proved himself to be a bloody blunderer who put the regime in jeopardy, it was the Iranians who came to the rescue. The Syrian leader now owes his and his regime’s survival in part to Iran, which has sought thus far unsuccessfully to establish a permanent presence on Israel’s border. Iran and its expeditionary force, Hizballah, are a threat to Israelis security. The Golan Heights is critical to keeping both from achieving their ends.