Golan Heights

Lebanese experts are concerned that the United States’ recent decision of recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights would also include the Lebanese occupied territories of Shebaa Farms.

“The Shebaa farms was occupied by the Syrians long before the Six-Day War of 1967. When Israel occupied the Golan Heights, they seized Shebaa Farms also. So the question of Shebaa Farms cannot be separated from the Golan Heights,” Hilal Kashan, chair of the Political Studies Department at the American University of Beirut, told Xinhua. Shebaa Farms are located on the border between Lebanon and the occupied part of Golan Heights. Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1978 and annexed the Golan Heights, including the Shebaa Farms, in 1981, a move never recognized by the international community.

There was a dispute over whether the farms belonged to Lebanon or Syria due to lack of official delineation between the two countries. After the liberation of southern Lebanon and the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, Syria declared without formal documentation that Shebaa Farms belongs to Lebanon. However, U.S. President Donald Trump signed in March a proclamation placing the Golan Heights under Israel’s authority which was met with strong international condemnation. It aroused fears among Lebanese officials about the possibility of a later decision by Trump to include Shebaa Farms in his equation. “Trump’s decision affects Shebaa Farms for sure because the Syrian regime has not been forthcoming in providing Lebanon with documents and maps to show that the farms belong to Lebanon,” said Khashan.

However, Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights is not very meaningful and a possible announcement of Shebaa Farms in the future would only be symbolic because Israel is not going to pull out anyway, he added. Both Israel and Hezbollah do not have an interest in the liberation of Shabaa Farms, Khashan said.”Israel wants an external source of threat, which is Hezbollah in this case, because the Israeli society is fragmented. If there are no external issues, then Israeli politics will become extremely divisive and it would be difficult to operate the Israeli political system,” Khashan explained. On the other hand, in the event that Israel pulls out from Shebaa Farms, the demands for disarming Hezbollah would accelerate. “Hezbollah is interested in keeping Shebaa Farms with Israel, which gives the Shiite party a pretext to keep its armament in the name for the need of the resistance to continue the efforts to liberate the Farms,” he said.

Khashan believes that in all cases, Hezbollah achieved its objectives in Lebanon and they do not want to go to war with Israel. “They are reaping the fruits of their military activity against Israel. If they will go to war, they will compromise their achievements,” he said. Retired Lebanese Army Brigadier General Elias Farhat reiterated Khashan’s remarks by saying that the U.S. decision of recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights would include Shebaa Farms, but such a move would only be symbolic and would not likely lead to military action. He explained that the United Nations Security Council released the Resolution 497 in December 1981, declaring that the Israeli Golan Heights Law, which effectively annexed the Golan Heights, is “null and void and without international legal effect” and further calls on Israel to rescind its action. “Therefore, Trump’s decision is illegal and illegitimate,” he said, ruling out the possibility of military action for the liberation of Shebaa Farms any time soon.

Likewise, Lebanese former Ambassador to the United States Riad Tabbarah told Xinhua that the U.S. announcement is not very meaningful because it comes from only one country. The announcement is considered only as a gift for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the elections, he said. “The issue of Shebaa Farms should be solved between Lebanon and Syria. Syria must give documents to Lebanon, proving that Shebaa Farms are Lebanese which will enable Lebanon to submit a claim to the United Nations to restore its land,” he said.

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