The basis of this threat from Syria is their wish to have the Golan Heights returned to them.
During the Six Day War, back in 1967, Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1981, Israeli government passed a law officially making it a part of Israel.
Now before you start calling “foul” on Israel, it’s important to understand what was happening in the Golan Heights before the war in 1967.
Strategically, the Golan Heights are approximately 3,000 feet (1,000 m) above neighboring Israel. This area was used often to shell Israeli civilian farming communities. Forgive this “tongue and cheek” comment, but it could almost be described like this:
“Hey Mohamed, we have some extra 105mm artillery shells this week. Let’s drive up to the Heights and shoot them at those pesky civilian Jewish farmers in the valley.”
During the Six Day War, the shelling increased significantly.
Israel took the Heights in order to stop the indiscriminate shelling of their civilians.
With the sophistication of today’s modern weaponry, Israel cannot afford to allow Syria to have the Golan Heights back. There is no reason to believe that Syria would not immediately resume firing on civilian targets within hours of receiving the Heights.
Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal threatened on Monday evening to return the Golan Heights to Syrian hands “by way of resistance if Israel [rejects] the Arab peace initiative.”
Bilal did not elaborate, but some analysts raised the possibility of either a full scale conventional war or a terror campaign in the Golan as one of the means to undertake a mukawama (“resistance” in Arabic).
After saying that “Syria wishes to revive the peace process with Israel with the help of US and Russian mediators,” Bilal immediately added a threat, saying that “if Israel [rejects] the Arab peace initiative, the only way to get the Golan Heights back would be the way of resistance.”
Bilal’s belligerent remarks followed on the heels of a visit by Syrian-born American businessman Abe Suleiman to Jerusalem last week.
Suleiman promised the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that “peace with Syria could be achieved within six months.”
George Jabour, a Syrian member of parliament, said Suleiman was speaking on his own behalf and was in no way affiliated with the Syrian leadership. “Suleiman has zero credibility in the eyes of Syrians,” Jabour said.
Bilal echoed Jabour’s statements in an interview he gave on Syrian TV on Saturday, quoted by SANA (the Syrian Arab News Agency). He said that all the Syrian people stood behind President Bashar Assad’s leadership for the achievement of just and comprehensive peace in the region.
He defined this “just and comprehensive peace” as the restoration of the “whole occupied Syrian Golan,” what remained of the Lebanese territories under occupation, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Bilal also demanded the recognition of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homeland.
While Bilal echoed the tenets of the Arab peace initiative, rejected by Israel wholesale, his demands went beyond the more recent Saudi initiative, which remains vague on the question of the right of return.