April 30, 2016
The Unz Review
During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Syrian forces had surprised Israel and were fast approaching the edge of the steep Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the 1967 war. It seemed as if Syrian armor and infantry would retake Golan, then pour down into Israeli Galilee.
Soviet recon satellites observed Israel moving its nuclear-armed, 500km-range Jericho missiles out of protective caves and onto their launch pads. At the same time, Israel was seen loading nuclear bombs on their US-supplied F-4 fighter-bombers at Tel Nof airbase.
Believing Israel was about to use nuclear weapons against Syria and Egypt, Moscow put huge pressure on both to rein in their advancing forces. Damascus, already in range of Israeli artillery on Golan, ordered its armored forces on Golan to halt, allowing Israel to mount powerful counter-attacks and retake the strategic heights.
In 1981, Israel formally annexed the 580 sq. mile portion of Golan that it occupied. This illegal annexation was condemned by the United Nations, the United States and Europe’ powers. But Israel held on to Golan and implanted 50,000 there in some 41 subsidized settlements.
The world has pretty much forgotten how close it came to nuclear war in 1973 over Golan. The heights became a primary nuclear trigger point along with Kashmir, Germany’s Fulda Gap, and the DMZ, Korea’s inner border.
Golan recently resurfaced in the news when Israel’s rightwing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, that his nation would never return Golan to Syria. In a speech soon after, Netanyahu vowed Israel would hold on to Golan for “all eternity.” He also admitted for the first time that Israel had made “dozens” of cross-border attacks on Syria.
The long basalt plateau is indeed a valuable prize. It extends from snow-capped, 9,200 ft. (2,814 meter Mt. Hermon in the north to the Sea of Galilee and Yarmouk River in the south. Golan supplies 15% of Israel’s scarce water and may contain gas or petroleum deposits.
Israeli artillery on Golan can hit Syria’s capitol Damascus; Israeli electronic sensors blanket Damascus and cover all Syrian military movement below. Having walked much of the Golan on both Syrian and Israeli-held sides, I can attest to its remarkable military importance and thick defenses.