Walling in Israeli Occupation

Israel keeps turning to “fences” to protect its territory even if these walls cut through lands conquered by force and are not internationally recognized as belonging to Israel, as is the case with new plans for the occupied Golan Heights, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

If it is possible to invest in companies that supply fencing material to the Israel government, they should be rated a “buy.” Likewise with any companies that make the components of the barriers that Israel sometimes calls fences but are actually more like walls.

We’re familiar with the fence/wall that Israel has constructed in the Palestinian-inhabited West Bank and that the Israelis have periodically extended and enhanced. Recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspected a new fence his government has constructed along the border with Egypt. Now he has announced his intention to construct an enhanced barrier in the Syrian Golan Heights.

The Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The more recent construction is understandable in terms of security incidents that have originated in Egypt or Syria during the past couple of years and have touched Israel. A nation has to protect its borders. And the line between Israel and the Egyptian Sinai actually is an international border.

But the fenced line in Syria is not. It is only a cease-fire line left over from previous Israeli-Syrian warfare. Notwithstanding any immediate, tactical security needs that Israel speaks about, the barrier there threatens to become, like the barrier in the West Bank, a steel and concrete monument to indefinite occupation of territory conquered by force of arms.

In 2000, well after the cease-fire line was established, Israel and Syria came tantalizingly close to a peace agreement that would have included return of the Golan Heights to Syria. The negotiations came down to the disposition of a few meters of dirt going back from the water’s edge along the northeastern shore of Lake Tiberias.

But then Ehud Barak added back a few hundred meters worth of demands that would have negated the principle of respecting the lines that existed before the 1967 war, and the talks collapsed. After that, Israelis settled back into the comfort of the status quo, while the Assads kept the cease-fire line remarkably quiet and the growing dominance of the Right in Israeli politics reduced official Israeli thinking about any return of territory.

Reportedly there was another tentative stab at negotiations a couple of years ago before the Arab Spring got under way, but it is questionable whether Netanyahu was ever seriously thinking about returning the Golan.

The Arab Spring has reduced the Israeli comfort level. The turmoil in Syria has been the most intense and bloody manifestation of the region-wide political fervor and change that have given the Israelis several reasons to worry.

Whatever new regime emerges from the current civil war will be less predictable than the devils-we-know that the Assads have been, and the new Syrian political order almost certainly will be, like new political orders in other Arab countries, less restrained than the old orders in voicing and acting upon the grievances that all Arabs have with Israel.

Then there is the specifically Syrian grievance, which is the continued occupation of the Golan Heights. No Syrian regime can ignore it, and no new Syrian regime is likely to fall into the Assad regime’s groove of what amounted to de facto acceptance of the status quo.

So the walking back from those last few meters along the lake, along with later unwillingness to part with the Golan, appears to preclude Israel being able to achieve peace with the last of its immediate neighbors. (There are peace treaties already, of course, with Egypt and Jordan, and relations with Lebanon are likely to follow the lead of relations with Syria.) Fences may be able to keep out infiltrators, but they do not bring peace.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

4 comments for “Walling in Israeli Occupation

  1. Dan Robbins
    January 12, 2013 at 07:45

    Israel won the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria and the Sinai in a war against enemies. Every country in history who has fought a war and won has taken territory and kept it. Yes, over time, much won territory is given back to either the losing country or to create a new country. But, in the past, this was only done when the losing country foreswore belligerence. The countries surrounding Israel that have signed peace treaties with Israel are…Egypt, and Israel has returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. Interesting sidenote: the Gaza Strip was once Egypt, but Egypt didn’t want Gaza back–go figure.
    So, until Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinians sign peace treaties with Israel, expect Israel to “occupy” those won territories.
    As long as those countries refuse to sit down and negotiate and sign, Israel–THE WINNING COUNTRY IN A WAR–can pretty much do what it wants and believes needs to do. A wall separating Syria from the Golan? Go to Golan, look at the topography, then tell me it’s a fool’s errand.
    And, if you haven’t been to Golan to observe exactly how the land lays, those opinionators are fools, imbeciles, idiots and morons.

  2. incontinent reader
    January 9, 2013 at 12:44


    The problem is that those wars waged by Israel were preemptive wars on Israel’s part, where Israel knew the other side was not intending to invade and would not in any case have been able to build up its forces sufficient to sustain an invasion of Israel for a year or more. This was true of the 1954 and 1967 wars, and Israeli historians say as much. (See, for example, “Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s National Security and Foreign Policy”. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (2006); and “The General’s Son” by MIko Peled, whose father Gen. Mattiyahu Peled in 1967 recommended that Israel launch a preemptive attack, precisely because the Arab nations were NOT prepared, and were not intending to attack Israel then. Instead, it was to seize the land, and in General Peled’s thinking to have a bargaining chip with the Palestinians. In fact, shortly after Israel’s victory, Gen. Peled proposed returning the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians for a Palestinian state, in exchange for a long term peace agreement, but his proposal was ignored by his colleagues. He subsequently became an important Israeli advocate for peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians. Incidentally, Bibi went to school with Miko Peled’s sister (Matti Peled’s daughter). )

    As for Syria’s “civil war”, it was planned, funded, armed, supplied and coordinated by the U.S. and NATO, to balkanize Syria, weaken Iran and Hezbollah, and control Syria’s energy resources (e.g. offshore natural gas reserves), existing pipelines, and planned major pipeline to Tartus on the Mediterranean, bypassing Turkey. Like the war in Yugoslavia, it was accompanied by a parallel propaganda war by the MSM, so that, for example, reports by BBC trained Al Jazeera journalists of fighters and weapons infiltrating into Syria were suppressed by Al Jazeera’s Qatari owners. leading to internal dissent and the resignation some journalists. Moreover, the number of indigenous Syrian rebels have always been known to be limited- most of the fighters are foreign- and the Syrian government has been able to hold firm because it is not merely a sectarian war between Sunni and Alawites, with Christians caught in the middle. Instead, the great majority of the Christians and a large number of the Sunni population still support the regime, otherwise it would have fallen a long time ago with the beating it has taken. As for the massacres in Homs, Hama and Houlas, look to the special ops teams coordinated by the US (e.g. Ambassador Robert Ford who was John Negroponte’s assistant in Iraq when our COIN group did the same to create terror with the Iraqi population).

    The goal should be a peace deal which respects the security and sovereignty of every one of these nations and a fair and lasting peace for the Israelis and Palestinians, so that they can all go on their business of doing business, rebuilding their countries, sharing their cultures….and making love not war. It’s not a naive goal, its the right goal.
    Then, you and Hillary can become best friends as you go on insulting each other, i.e. this time with the insults flying at the speed of a Rickles or Dangerfield.

  3. Hillary
    January 8, 2013 at 23:00

    In a cable sent to President Johnson on May 30 , Israel’s PM Eshkol had promised not to attack Egypt until June 11 in order to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.
    However, Israel heard on June 4th about the scheduled June 7th meeting between Egypt’s VP and the Johnson administration in Washington to defuse the crisis between Egypt and Israel based on an agreement worked out in Cairo between Nasser and Johnson’s envoy, Robert Anderson.
    With the distinct possibility that this meeting would rule out war Israel attacked Egypt
    A report from an NSA army base in Turkey monitoring Egyptian, Israeli and Jordanian communications (both civilian and military) disclosed that Israel was gearing up for a “surprise attack” on Egypt even before the June 7th meeting was planned.
    It has been suggested that at the time that Johnson’s national security team – his closest aides in the White – were also well aware of the impending attack and Mr.Robert Anderson’s diplomatic initiative was largely a ploy to give the administration a level of “plausible deniability.”
    In short, the war was another massive land grab by Israel.

    Quote — Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Minister without portfolio in Eshkol’s cabinet, while addressing Israel’s National Defence College on 8 August 1982: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” (New York Times, 21 August 1982)
    Aftter the 1967 war . . . under UN resolution 242 israel was told to go back to its pre-war 1967 boundaries.
    Few people know that Israel is the only state to be given a conditional admission. Under General Assembly Resolution 273, Israel was admitted on the condition that it grant all Palestinians the right to return to their homes and receive compensation for lost or damaged property, according to General Assembly Resolution 194 paragraph 11.
    Israel has never lived up to these terms, and obviously never intended to.

  4. John
    January 8, 2013 at 19:12

    I feel very confident that Sharon wanted to keep Lebanese territory south of the Litani River after his early ’80s invasion. The Zionists had pressured Britain to include that region in the partition plan. They didn’t.
    As Ben-Gurion said to his fellow Zionists at the time of partition, Don’t be greedy now (ie lose what they have been offered), we can get the rest later.
    How true those words have been.

Comments are closed.