Golan Withdrawal Price Tag: $20 billion +

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - It would cost more than $20 billion for Israel to leave the Golan Heights in the event of a peace agreement with Syria, according to retired Israel Air Force colonel and military analyst Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto.

Tsiddon-Chatto, a member of the Ariel Institute for Policy Research, told CNSNews.com his calculations were based on "maximizing [Israel's] deterrence after having withdrawn from the Golan Heights."

No one has yet promised to fund the massive bill for a Golan withdrawal, Tsiddon-Chatto noted.

During Prime Minister Ehud Barak's visit to Washington this summer, he mentioned to President Clinton that it would cost tens of millions of dollars to leave the Golan Heights.

Clinton, who is pushing hard for an Israel-Syria peace agreement, has promised to do all that he can to facilitate Jerusalem's peace with Damascus. However, he is currently battling Congress to appropriate the $1.2 billion dollars he pledged to the Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians at the Wye River Memorandum signing last year.

Barak told the Knesset this week that Israel must maintain its current deterrent capabilities in any peace agreement with Syria. But Tsiddon-Chatto said that even if Israel was to achieve the "peak of deterrence" at enormous expense, the country would not enjoy nearly the level of strategic defense it already has "free of charge" on the Heights.

The main problem, Tsiddon-Chatto said, was the 800 or so surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles in the Syrian arsenal. The use of those missiles, assuming they are fitted with conventional warheads only, could make it "impossible" for Israel to mobilize its reserves quickly.

Tsiddon-Chatto explained that Israel's "doctrine of war [allows] 48 to 72 hours for standing forces to hold the front-lines until reserves can get into place and launch a counterattack."

The missiles would "buy time" for the Syrians to deploy their forces. "One can safely assume that the standing forces [of Israel] would take 150 hours or more to mobilize."

The loss of the Golan would require Israel to maintain much larger and better equipped forces along its new, lower-lying frontier, which would not be a natural defense position. Much of northern Israel and all of the Galilee would effectively become a military garrison.

Tsiddon-Chatto, who was chief of planning for the Israeli Airforce before the 1967 Six-Day War, calculated that Israel's needs would include:

$5 billion for two heavy high-readiness, fully equipped, manned mechanized divisions;
$3 billion for 100 Apache-Longbow attack helicopters;
$400 million for 20 battle-ready CH53 helicopters;
$500 million for an air-transportable, anti-tank brigade with missiles;
$6 billion for two F15(I) squadrons;
$2 billion for constant surveillance aircraft;
$1 billion for ground and airborne signal intelligence and active electronic warfare facilities; and
$2 billion for enhancing the military including Northern Command headquarters and the air force.

In addition it would cost some $5 billion annually to sustain the force's readiness.

To relocate Israel's 14,000 citizens now living on the Golan would cost another $10 billion or so, he estimated.

Tsiddon-Chatto agreed that demilitarization would be a much cheaper option, but said history showed it did not work. A demilitarized zone could only exist, he said, as long as both parties felt it served their interests.

Before the Six-Day War, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula was "demilitarized." United Nations troops were stationed there and Israel had a written agreement concerning the zone and a guarantee from the U.S. However, Egyptian President Nasser was still able to expel UN forces and prepare for an attack along Israel's southern border.

Israel could not rely on U.S. or UN guarantees, Tsiddon-Chatto said. "They can only work for a short period of time."

Asked why he thought Israel is proceeding with the "peace process" in the light of these arguments, Tsiddon-Chatto said the answer lay with "the Syrian occupation of Lebanon."

Barak was elected on a platform that included a promise to withdraw all Israeli troops from the south Lebanese security zone within one year of taking office, with or without a Syrian agreement. Public opinion in Israel has swung against the military engagement in Lebanon, where hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed.

Tsiddon-Chatto predicted that Israel would probably be involved in Lebanon "until the Syrians depart."

But despite signing four separate agreements to pull out of Lebanon, Syria has never done so and continues to dominate its smaller western neighbor politically, economically and militarily.