Involving US troops in an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement is not just a suggestion floating somewhere between Jerusalem and Washington.
Congressman Lee Hamilton, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, recently indicated that a US survey is already underway to determine the specific locations of a US peacekeeping force on the Golan. The survey’s underlying assumption is that Israel will evacuate the whole Golan.
Assad’s military potential and his record of brutality and unpredictability, the brief life-span of hundreds of Mideast agreements and the violently abrupt nature of their abrogation make Israel’s risks in evacuating the Golan substantial.
An American force would supposedly constitute an essential reassuring component.
But to bolster a potentially vulnerable accord, a US presence on the Golan must be durable, and politically/militarily sustainable. Moreover, it must be compatible with US interests, lest it be summarily withdrawn.
Is the deployment of US peacekeepers (monitoring or combat, unilateral or multinational) consistent with such requirements?
Unlike US observers in Sinai (22,000 square miles of empty desert) US personnel on the Golan (450 sqm) would be situated about 25 miles from two of the most notorious training/operational centers of international terrorism and narco-terrorism: Damascus and the Syrian-controlled Beka’a Valley (“Medellin East.”).
They would be stationed in a neighborhood the size of a small US congressional district, populated by well-armed Afghan, Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Abu Nidal, Jibril, Habash, Hawatmeh, PLO, PKK, Japanese Red Army, Latin American, West European and Southeast Asian terrorists.
Moreover, these terrorists are proxies of hostile radical regimes (Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, etc.). They would enable their patron regimes to intimidate Washington, constrain its ability to respond to provocations elsewhere (e.g. the Gulf area), and extort political concessions by targeting US servicemen. The states sponsoring the terrorists would, meanwhile, preserve the element of deniability.
A truly effective US combat force is precluded – even theoretically – by the diminished overall size of the US military. One may predict, then, a possible withdrawal of the peacekeepers in face of hostage-taking and casualties.
Such a withdrawal would be perceived as another retreat (following Beirut, Somalia and Haiti), further eroding the US posture of deterrence and shrinking public support for essential overseas military involvement.
WHILE ON the Golan, the US presence would constrain Israel by forcing it to coordinate preemptive and reactive operations with the US, inadvertently shielding terrorists. It would also deny the US the benefits from Israel’s “unauthorized actions” (e.g. the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor).
Requiring Israel to seek prior approval in countering belligerence would strain US relations with Israel. At the same time, appearing to have enabled Israel to act freely, would damage US- Arab ties.
However, as demonstrated by the precedent of the 1982/83 US episode in Lebanon, and evidenced by Mideast complexities, one can expect the relationship between the US and both sides, essential to the achievement of a genuine peace, to be undermined.
In addition, a US presence at a stormy junction bordering Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and numerous terrorist groups, could draw the US unwillingly into inter-Arab and Arab-Israel disputes. It would certainly deepen the involvement of Russia (which has resumed strategic cooperation with Syria), France (which still views Lebanon as a French auxiliary), and other powers, further exacerbating global and regional tensions.
A Washington power broker recently agreed that the question of a complete withdrawal from the Golan should be decided by Israeli voters. But the fate of US peacekeepers and their implications for US national security should be debated by the American public and the appropriate congressional committees, independent of Israel’s stance on the Golan.
Keeping in mind the American public reaction to the US military involvement in Lebanon and Somalia and recognizing the likely pitfalls of a US force on the Golan, such an undertaking would probably not be politically/militarily sustainable.
A political arrangement predicated upon such a tenuous component would ultimately imperil regional stability, threaten US interests and jeopardize the quest for long-term peace in the Middle East.
Memo: American troops on the Golan? That’s a decision for US public opinion, not Israel.