The Truth About the Sheba Farms

DAMASCUS, Syria -- There has been a lot of talk in the international community, and in Syria and Lebanon in particular, about the status of the disputed Sheba Farms. The small area, made up of 14 farms spread out over 25 square kilometers, has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The governments of Syria and Lebanon insist that Sheba is Lebanese, while Israel and the U.N. claim that it belongs to Syria, since it was under the jurisdiction of Syria at the time of its occupation in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. (Lebanon, after all, was not even involved in the Six Day War.)

Some contend that the intense dispute over Sheba arises out of a fabrication by former Syrian President Hafez al-Asad months before his passing in June 2000, when it became clear to him that the Israelis were about to leave South Lebanon. Supporters of this argument claim that Asad created the idea of Sheba belonging to Lebanon to justify the continuation of a militant Hizbullah in Lebanon. If all Lebanese land was seen to have been liberated from Israeli occupation, after all, it would have been very difficult for Hizbullah to maintain support among the Lebanese public for maintaining its arms. And for Asad, Hizbullah's arms were important because they were the main instrument of his own proxy war with Israel.

Those who refute this argument raise a few obvious questions: If the dispute over Sheba was indeed due to Asad's scheming, why didn't Israel withdraw from Sheba after leaving Lebanon in May 2000? Wouldn't that have ruined Asad's plan and destroyed any excuses for the continuation of war between Hizbullah and Lebanon? Why doesn't Israel make life difficult for Hizbullah and foil whatever Hafez al-Asad had in mind by withdrawing from Sheba now?

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