Bashar Assad

JERUSALEM – The White House quietly has been urging Israel and Syria immediately to renew negotiations aimed at an Israeli retreat from the strategic Golan Heights, WND has learned.

According to informed Middle Eastern security officials, the Obama administration believes an accord with Israel will strengthen the position of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime is threatened by unrest similar to the protests that toppled the leadership of fallen Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The White House is pushing an agreement whereby Israel would either evacuate much of the Golan Heights, or Syria would agree to lease the territory to Israel for a period of up to 30 years.

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Thousands of Syrian demonstrators took to the streets this week and are set to carry out mass demonstrations today.

Assad blamed the ongoing anti-government protests on foreign “plots hatched against our country.”

Israeli security officials believe the Muslim Brotherhood is deeply tied to the riots in Syria.

The Brotherhood, the most organized opposition group in Egypt, wants to create an Islamic caliphate. Both al-Qaida and Hamas are Brotherhood offshoots.

Indeed, a source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told WND the Israeli leader believes Assad’s presidency is better for the Jewish state’s interests than any regime that would replace him.

Netanyahu believes an Islamist entity tied to the Muslim Brotherhood would rise to power in Syria in the place of Assad, the source said.

Netanyahu recently expressed this opinion in meetings with Russian leaders, said the source.

The sources said Netanyahu told Russia that even if Assad coordinated with Iran, the Syrian president is still more desirable than dealing with a Muslim Brotherhood entity.

Much of the recent violent demonstrations against Assad’s regime took place in the cities of Daraa and Latakia.

Assad has claimed protests were a mix of a genuine need for reform and instigators influenced by foreign plots.

“The plotters are the minority,” he said this week. “We didn’t know what had happened until the sabotage operations had happened, since then we could see the difference between reform and killing,” Assad said, adding, “We are for people’s demands but we cannot support chaos and destruction.”

Assad said that the people of Daraa, where most of the violent protests took place, are “not responsible for the chaos that ensued.”

“They are true patriots, people of true integrity, and the ones that will eliminate whoever instigated this violence,” Assad said.

In response to the unrest, Assad is expected to introduce a number of so-called reforms, including the lifting of Syria’s emergency law, which has been in place since the Baath Party came to power in 1963.

Jewish Golan

With Assad’s regime faltering, the White House has been pushing Israel to surrender the Golan in an accord with Syria.

Syria twice used the Golan, which looks down on Israeli population centers, to mount ground invasions into the Jewish state.

News media accounts routinely billed the Golan as “undisputed Syrian territory” until Israel “captured the region” in 1967. The Golan, however, has been out of Damascus’ control for far longer than the 19 years it was within its rule, from 1948 to 1967.

Even when Syria shortly held the Golan, some of it was stolen from Jews. Tens of thousands of acres of farmland on the Golan were purchased by Jews as far back as the late 19th century. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire kicked out some Jews around the turn of the century.

But some of the Golan was still farmed by Jews until 1947, when Syria first became an independent state. Just before that, the territory was transferred back and forth between France, Britain and even Turkey, before it became a part of the French Mandate of Syria.

When the French Mandate ended in 1944, the Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state of Syria, which quickly seized land that was being worked by the Palestine Colonization Association and the Jewish Colonization Association. A year later, in 1948, Syria, along with other Arab countries, used the Golan to attack Israel in a war to destroy the newly formed Jewish state.

The Golan, steeped in Jewish history, is connected to the Torah and to the periods of the First and Second Jewish Temples. The Golan Heights was referred to in the Torah as “Bashan.” The word “Golan” apparently was derived from the biblical city of “Golan in Bashan.”

The book of Joshua relates how the Golan was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh. Later, during the time of the First Temple, King Solomon appointed three ministers in the region, and the area became contested between the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom based in Damascus.

The book of Kings relates how King Ahab of Israel defeated Ben-Hadad I of Damascus near the present-day site of Kibbutz Afik in the southern Golan, and the prophet Elisha foretold that King Jehoash of Israel would defeat Ben-Hadad III of Damascus, also near Kibbutz Afik.

The online Jewish Virtual Library has an account of how in the late 6th and 5th centuries B.C., the Golan was settled by Jewish exiles returning from Babylonia, or modern day Iraq. In the mid-2nd century B.C., Judah Maccabee’s grandnephew, the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannai, added the Golan Heights to his kingdom.

The Golan hosted some of the most important houses of Torah study in the years following the Second Temple’s destruction and subsequent Jewish exile; some of Judaism’s most revered ancient rabbis are buried in the territory. The remains of some 25 synagogues from the period between the Jewish revolt and the Islamic conquest in 636 have been excavated. The Golan is also dotted with ancient Jewish villages.

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