The debate over deploying troops on the Golan Heights as a guarantee of peace between Israel and Syria has prompted a number of studies on the dangers and effectiveness of such a move.
The studies have reached varying and opposite conclusions, and have raised the pitch of the debate.
One of the most contentious, a classified study written by the RAND Corporation for the Pentagon, concludes that the United States “is likely to be called upon to play a critical role” in providing Israel with early warning and effective peace-keeping on the Syrian border.
Another study, by the conservative Center for Security Policy, concludes that there is no justifiable mission for U.S. troops on the Golan Heights.
And in perhaps the most far-reaching analysis, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy states that the United States “should stand ready to participate in peace-keeping,” if requested.
The 54-page RAND study, a copy of which was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, states that U.S. troops on the Golan would serve the interests of peace.
“If the primary U.S. objective within the region is to promote a stable peace, this objective may ultimately override the costs of various possible roles the U.S. may be called upon to play,” according to the study, titled “Possible U.S. Roles in Support of a Syrian-Israeli Peace Agreement.”
The RAND Corporation compares the stationing of troops on the Golan to the multinational observer force that has monitored the Israel-Egypt border since 1982.
RAND acknowledges the profound difference between the vast expanse of the Sinai Desert that separates forces there, and the close proximity of the Israeli and Syrian troops on the Golan.
In sharp contrast to the RAND report, a study by the Center for Security Policy, titled “U.S. Forces on the Golan Heights: An Assessment of Benefits and Costs,” concludes that there is no justifiable mission for U.S. troops on the Golan.
“There is no mission or rationale for a U.S. peace-keeping force on the Golan that would justify the resulting costs and risks,” the study says.
The Center for Security Policy study examined the roles U.S. troops could play on the Golan, including monitoring the region, acting as a military deterrent or as a symbol of U.S. support for the Israeli-Syrian peace process.
“The net effect could be negative for Israel’s security and regional stability, while the consequences could include the loss of U.S. lives and, possibly a credibility-damaging retreat of U.S. forces under terrorist fire,” the study concludes.
The study also said the issue warrants serious scrutiny before any commitment is made.
“A U.S. deployment on the Golan Heights deserves immediate, serious consideration by U.S. policy-makers, legislators and the public,” the study says.
U.S. troops could become the targets of terrorist attacks from southern Lebanon and other nearby areas, the 23-page study suggests.
Such attacks could not only jeopardize the peace agreement, but could damage U.S.-Israeli relations, as well.
Signatories to the report include: Retired Army Gen. John Foss, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, former acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney Jr. former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Richard Perle, former Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director Eugene Rostow and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Henry Rowen.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy takes the hardest look at what Israel and Syria would need to do to minimize the risks to U.S. forces.
In disagreeing with the center’s report, the institute argues that there are ways to accomplish this, and thereby justify the deployment.
The institute’s study, “Supporting Peace: America’s Role in an Israel-Syria Peace Agreement,” argues that before U.S. troops are sent, Israel would need to sing peace treaties with both Lebanon and Syria.
Syria would also have to take steps to disarm the militant Hezbollah group that operates out of southern Lebanon and crack down on the cultivation of drugs in the Bekaa Valley.
“If these requirements are met, Washington should be prepared to contribute personnel to serve on the Golan in Israel-Syria peace-keeping,” the study states.
If these requirements are not met, then the United States should confine its role to providing technical assistance and monitoring, the study says.
The institute does not advocate an open-ended mission, but rather advocates an “target date” for re-examining the deployment.