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The Map is Not the Territory: Understanding Israeli-Syrian Tensions and Experiencing Them Are Different Things

If Israel had been foolish enough to trade “land” for the illusion of peace with Syria, would those shells remain on the Syrian side of the border?

A young IDF spokeswoman stands before a French Hotchkiss tank, one of the few armored vehicles available to the Israelis in the 1948 War for Independence. This particular tank had been commandeered by the Nazis, and is marked with a small swastika near the serial number. Photo Courtesy of Author.

Commentary by Kyle Shideler is the Director of Research and Communications for the Endowment for Middle East Truth. This is the first part of a two-part series. Part II of “The Map is Not the Territory” will focus on the situation of the “Human Terrain” among Israel’s population, particularly relations with the Israeli Arabs.

I just returned from a fact-finding trip to Israel and I have been struck by the old dictum that “The map is not the territory.” In other words, to understand a place, there is really no substitute for actual “boots on the ground.”

It is one thing to conceptually understand the strategic role played by the Golan Heights, for example, and another to overlook Syria, while you can hear the distant thunder of artillery shells from the civil war raging not 30 miles away.  If Israel had been foolish enough to trade “land” for the illusion of peace with Syria, would those shells remain on the Syrian side of the border? In a civil war between Al Qaeda on one side, and Hezbollah on the other, neither side could be allowed to position itself overlooking Israel.

The border between Israel and Syria. Photo Courtesy of Author.

You grasp this issue of territory also as you stand on a porch in a quiet suburban community overlooking a valley, and see Tel Aviv in the distance. You understand what Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan means when he explains that these so-called settlements are just neighborhoods where children play and parents go to work, and yet at the same time, they are “the shield” of the rest of Israel.

From that position, on that porch, rockets could be fired down upon Ben Gurion Airport, and even the heart of Tel Aviv. It is one thing to be told of the threat, and another to stand and look out over the skyscrapers of Israel’s high tech industry in the distance.

You instinctively take aim with an imaginary rocket yourself; so tempting is the target presented, anyone who has ever played soldier as a child can’t help but do otherwise. It is territory that a Palestinian population raised on incitement and the call to “push the Jews into the sea” can never be allowed to hold. No manner of negotiations or “good faith gestures” can change that.

The Israelis understand the territory in a way that the outside world does not, in large part because the story of Israel is the story of battlefield geography. History does not occur in places by sheer accident, but by the inevitable crushing logic of strategic necessity.

Consider Megiddo (or Armageddon, as it is referred to in many bible translations), an archaeological site hosting fortresses from as far back as 7,000 BC, because its position dictates it must be held if one is to secure the route between Syria and Egypt, (or Assyria and Ancient Egypt, as the case was.) Thutmose III fought there, but so did General Edmund Allenby in World War I. The terrain dictates its importance to every general whether in a chariot or a tank, even if it is not readily apparent when viewing political maps in an air-conditioned office.

[sharequote align="center"]Whoever controls this position, controls the road up to Jerusalem, indeed controls Jerusalem.[/sharequote]

The same is true of Latrun, where Joshua defeated the Amorites, The Maccabees fought the Greeks, the Templars built their fortress, and the Israelis fought the Jordanian Arab Legion in the War for Independence. Whoever controls this position, controls the road up to Jerusalem, indeed controls Jerusalem.

A young IDF spokeswoman stands before a French Hotchkiss tank, one of the few armored vehicles available to the Israelis in the 1948 War for Independence. This particular tank had been commandeered by the Nazis, and is marked with a small swastika near the serial number. Photo Courtesy of Author. 

The site now hosts the Museum of the Israeli Armored Corps, and a memorial of the lives lost to establish and preserve the Jewish state and its eternal capital. The many tanks assembled in long lines upon the ground express in a way that words cannot the knowledge that Israel intends to never again suffer the pain experienced along the Burma road, the makeshift path hewn out under Jordanian artillery fire, without which the defenders of the Jewish Quarter of the city would have fallen to the siege, and there would have been no Israeli control of any part of Jerusalem, East or West.

Speaking of the capital, at no time in our travels did we ever see a Green Line.

There are Arab neighborhoods and Jewish neighborhoods (and an Armenian neighborhood) in Jerusalem, but there is no line you can see painted on the ground that divides the city into East and West as simplistically as it appears on State Department-issued maps. Merely navigating through the city’s (horrendous) rush hour traffic requires a zig-zag path through the amazing cross-section of the city’s intermixed inhabitants. A house flying the Star of David stands on the same street where Arab peddlers sell keffiyehs and pictures of tourists riding on a surly camel, above the ancient Jewish cemetery where Jews ranging from King David’s son Absalom to Prime Minister Menacham Begin are buried.

A united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not merely a slogan, or an action item for pro-Israel groups, it is a fact of life in the Jewish state.

The view from the Mount of Olives into the Old City. The Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery can be seen in the foreground. Photo Courtesy of Author.

All states instinctively seek out secure borders on the basis of key strategic and immovable terrain features like mountains, rivers and deserts. Israel has, for the most part, achieved that situation now, de facto, even if not recognized de jure by the international community. The Israelis know,  that surrendering strategic territory, whether it’s the Golan Heights, the Samarian Hills, the Jordan Valley , or Jerusalem, is not a recipe for peace. It is a guarantee of future violence.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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