Israel's Failed Munich Accord

In 1938, the leaders of Europe got together in Munich to, for all intents and purposes, give Czechoslovakia to Germany in exchange for peace in the region. Given the recent events in the Middle East, it quite appears that Israel – though well-intentioned – has performed the same act of appeasement with its enemies, and sadly with the same results.

Take for example the following revelation from an Associated Press article published on July 23:

Syria said it will press for a cease-fire to end the fighting but only in the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative that would include the return of the Golan Heights.

As the mountainous border between Israel and Syria, the Golan Heights represents a virtually indefensible launching pad for Syrian missiles. With today’s military technology, Israel would never be able to prevent an assault from those Heights that could completely wipe it off the face of the planet.

Yet, this piece of territory appears to have been put on the bargaining table by Syria, and it is easy to imagine the appeasers on the left and in the United Nations – as if there is much of a difference – jumping at such an option if it indeed produced a cease-fire.

As a result, a shocking possibility might be emerging from the events that began on July 12: returning the Golan Heights to Syria may have been the goal of this attack right from the start. Adding weight to such a conclusion is evidence reported in this same AP article suggesting that the events of the past three weeks were not mere happenstance:

Israeli troops returning from the front described Hezbollah guerrillas hiding among civilians and in underground bunkers two or three stories deep evidence, they say, that Hezbollah has been planning this battle for many years.

Unfortunately, the article didn’t elaborate on how many years. However, this quite suggests that as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was evacuating Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank to turn over land to the Palestinians in an effort to establish peace, Hezbollah and Syria had other plans.

In fact, a Yisrael Net News article published on July 8 cautioned about a coming Syrian offensive in the Golan Heights:

Days after Israeli aircraft carried out an aerial flight over the palace of President Bashar Assad, Syrian officials began hinting that the country may open a new front in the Golan Heights if it is attacked by Israel.

For those that are unfamiliar, the Golan Heights was first captured by the Israelis back in 1967 during the Six Day War. Syria tried unsuccessfully to get this territory back during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The international community including the U.N. still views this land as Syrian, but currently occupied by Israel.

To be sure, Israel’s interest in this territory is largely defensive in nature. As reported by Palestine Facts:

The strategic value of the Golan Heights to Israel cannot be overstated. As with the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), the visual and radar stations located there give advance warning of any approach from Syria. Any attacking ground force would be effectively blocked by having to cross the Golan Heights. Conversely, if held by an enemy as in the past, it puts northern Israel directly under their guns.

Yet, that is not the only importance of this territory:

Furthermore, about one third of Israel’s fresh water supply originates there, in the watershed of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and must be protected. In 1964, Syria, then occupying the Golan Heights, tried to divert these critical headwaters away from Israel in a blatant attempt to cripple Israel’s fresh-water supply. The IDF destroyed the Syrian damming project.

Regardless of its vital importance, in recent years as Israel has aggressively tried to broker a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian conflict, it has considered relinquishing some of the Golan Heights in exchange for an end to hostilities. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak apparently made such an offer to then Syrian President Hafez Assad in 2000 only to be rebuffed; Assad wanted all of the territory back, an eventuality that even the extremely dovish Barak recognized as being implausible.

Today, there are still dovish members of the Knesset that believe some transfer of Golan land back to Syria is essential to a lasting peace. However, given this recent flare up in violence, doesn’t that now seem absurd?

After all, this exercise by Israel of ceding land to its neighbors in return for peace was clearly never taken seriously or reciprocated by her enemies, and, as a result, is a complete failure. Yet, maybe more important, in the process, Israel has unquestionably made itself look weak, and it now appears that Syria is trying to capitalize on this perceived infirmity to get back its precious Golan Heights.

True students of history have to recognize the obvious and haunting similarities between Israel’s current situation and the Munich Accord of 1938. For those that have forgotten, the major powers of Europe, in an effort to prevent a second World War, agreed to give Germany the Sudetenland, and most of Czechoslovakia for that matter, in exchange for promises from Adolf Hitler that he wouldn’t invade any other countries.

As it turned out, land didn’t buy Europe peace in 1938. And, it now should be infinitely clear to Israel and the entire international community that handing over the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians has gained Israel just as little additional security as Europe attained 68 years ago.

With this in mind, current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must recognize the well-intentioned mistakes made by his predecessors, and come to the conclusion that Israel’s troubles were never about the need for a separate Palestinian state. If this were the case, the current residents of Gaza wouldn’t be lobbing rockets at their neighbors.

No, Israel’s enemies want her vanquished. Period.

As a result, a tremendously unpleasant outcome to Israel’s failed Munich Accord appears to be looming on the horizon. As hostilities between Israel, Hezbollah, and Hamas continue, the international community is going to grow more and more concerned about this region exploding into a much larger global conflagration involving other players such as Iran. As the tension increases, this community – likely lead by the U.N. – will welcome virtually any “peaceful” solution regardless of how it might negatively impact Israeli security in the future. In the wake of the deaths in Qana, the pressure is only increasing.

Potentially counting on this, current Syrian President Bashir Assad could easily offer “assurances” from Hezbollah and Hamas that all missiles will be turned over to a U.N. peacekeeping force, and hostilities will end immediately if Israel retreats and gives all of the Golan Heights back to Syria.

As the U.N. doesn’t recognize Israel’s claim to this territory, it will almost certainly be in favor of such a solution. Ditto likely every nation in the world except the United States, and, of course, Israel.

This would put President Bush in an extraordinarily tenuous position. This is especially true with the midterm elections approaching, as one could easily imagine Democrats using the Administration’s stance on this issue as a wedge with voters also interested in peace at any cost.

Without question, Israel would say no to such an offer leaving it and the U.S. diplomatically estranged from the entire world. However, much as Winston Churchill had to make amends for Neville Chamberlain’s poor judgment, Ehud Olmert now needs to recognize that Sharon’s historic and noble gamble didn’t pay off.

As such, Olmert must not only bring all forces to bear to rid southern Lebanon of Hezbollah and its missiles, but also move to take back Gaza and the ceded sections of the West Bank. After all, as the Palestinians haven’t lived up to their part of the bargain, allowing them to retain land they acquired under false pretenses would be an unforgivable folly on Israel’s part.

In the end, a hard lesson must be learned by Israel and the United States: regardless of its seeming logic and the usual international consensus to do so, land for peace doesn’t work.

Middle East Israel/Palestine Associated Press
Noel Sheppard's picture