The Golan Heights

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Uriel Sinai / Getty

Israeli tanks take part in a training exercise near Gadot in the Golan Heights.

Caught in between four countries and sixty years of conflict, the disputed territory of the Golan Heights seems closer than ever to a permanent resolution, after decades of tug-of-war between Israel and Syria over its rightful ownership. Israel's new Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, has expressed a commitment to resolving the Golan issue once and for all, while outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned the impossibility of ever hoping for peace with the Syrians without giving up the Golan Heights in a recent interview.

The history of the rocky, Los Angeles-sized plateau, strategically nestled between Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan, traces back to biblical times. From 953-586 B.C. the Golan Heights was both a buffer zone and a contested area for the ancient Kingdom of Israel and the Aramean Kingdom in Damascus.

In the following centuries, the Golan Heights changed hands incessantly, enduring brief bouts of occupation by everyone from Alexander the Great to the Roman Empire. The area finally settled under the control of the Ottomans in the 16th century, where it remained until the dissolution of the Empire after World War I. French mandated modern-day Syria emerged from its ashes and the Golan Heights was included within its newly defined borders.

After the establishment of the state of Israel and the ensuing Arab-Israeli War of 1948-9, the Golan Heights once again became the site of tumultuous border clashes. Syria took advantage of the area's mountainous terrain and high vantage points to shell the Israeli border below while Israel attempted to occupy and control the demilitarized areas and divert the Golan Heights' freshwater supply from the Jordan River for its own uses.

Israel finally seized control of the Golan Heights as well as Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza during the Six-Day War of 1967. Approximately 100,000 of the Heights' mainly Druze inhabitants fled or were forced out as Israel rushed to tap into the freshwater source, build settlements and use the high ground to monitor Syrian activity below.

Repeated attempts by Syria to regain the Golan Heights, including a disastrous war and numerous failed negotiations, have proved fruitless. The stalemate over its status has strangled Israeli-Syrian relations, pushing Syria to ally itself with other nations and groups hostile to Israel's agenda such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, while urging Israel to push for the ostracization of Syria by its Western allies.

However, momentum for a peace agreement has picked up force in the past year after the two countries agreed to a series of closed-door discussions mediated by Turkey. Israel's advanced reconnaissance capabilities have almost eliminated the need for watch posts in the mountains and a peace treaty would remove the threat of a possible Syrian blockade of the water supply. As Livni, Olmert and Syria now appear willing to talk, the Golan Heights could be ready to change hands once more.