Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad (AP)
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Syria tried to retake the Golan Heights during the 1973 Middle East war. Despite inflicting heavy losses on Israeli forces, the surprise assault was thwarted. Both countries signed an armistice in 1974 and a UN observer force has been in place on the ceasefire line since 1974.
Overlooking northern Israel and southern Syria, the heights give Israel an excellent vantage point for monitoring Syrian movements. The topography provides a natural buffer against any military thrust from Syria.
The area is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.