Monday, December 25, 2006

Brothers in Arms?

I never thought I'd see the day when Bibi Netanyahu supports peace talks whilst long time dove Shimon Peres is against. Truth is, discussions over peace with Syria aren’t that simple – things rarely are in the Middle East; but Bashar Assad's offer to start negotiations without preconditions has got everyone arguing and throwing in their two pennies. I don’t see why I should be any different.

There are clear strategic reasons for ignoring Bashar's pleas – Syria's regime is in trouble and its Alawite minority rule looks increasingly threatened in the face of international isolation. And as Head of Mossad Meir Dagan said recently, initiating dialogue with Syria would not only be a stab in the back of the moderate Arab States, but to our friends the U.S aswell.

There are also strong emotional attachments to the Golan. As Arik Bachar wrote last week in Yediot Acharonot, the public loves the area so much that the chance a referendum on giving back the Heights would pass is currently about as high as the Teheran Conference concluding that the Shoah actually happened.

And why shouldn’t Israelis love the Golan - its beautiful, peaceful, quiet. It's populated by good ideological people. There aren’t any demographic issues like in the territories; very few Arabs, no Intifada; no rocks or Kassams are being fired…

All in all, it’s a bit like the Sinai was in 1971, two years before the Yom Kippur War.

And that’s what worries me…Because if we aren’t prepared to discuss the future of a place when (or specifically because) its quiet, we may well be forced to discuss its future when its not. How can we convince our neighbours that Israelis don’t just understand force when we reject negotiations during peacetime?

And what will we say to the next Commission of Inquiry that assesses why we lost hundreds of soldiers in what may well be an unnecessary conflict with Syria?


Anonymous said...

We're at peace because we aren't really fighting the Syrians - just a proxy in Lebanon that is armed by them?

If their overtures for peace are simply bombing our cities I'd hate to see how they prepare for war.

Anonymous said...


Enjoying a good read through your blog. I think the big issue here is nothing to do with the Golan per se, and everything to do with the track record of Land For Peace as a concept. And that track record has been in areas of less apparent strategic value (Sinai, Gaza), and with American-European cash to bribe the Arab party involved to stick to their half of the deal.

What are your views on how the Syrians would actually keep their part of the bargain, especially given their chumminess with Iran and the apparent lack of will from the USA and Europe to provide them the kind of cash that Egypt and Jordan (and the pre-Hamas PA) get to maintain their peace?

Also the Mubaraks and the Hashemites see the peace concept as a play in their own domestic survival. They will never win over the Islamic Brotherhood and Palestinian majority respectively, but the cash keeps the Egyptian elite in guns and the Jordanians who actually do have a vote see an improved economy.

It's hard to see the same play working in Syria...



Michael Sprung said...

Hi Calev,

I enjoyed the article. I think there are few more points worth mentioning in this context:

1) As you stated: The alawites are a minority ruling over a Sunni majority. Assad is a weak leader and he might not be ruling over Syria for as long as his good ol' dady did. Moreover, signing a peace agreement with a dictator who represents a fraction of the population is, in my opinion, unethical.

2) The Golan was given to Syria in 1946 after the French mandate in that area was concluded. This means that Syria ruled over the Golan for around 20 years before Israel won it over in the six day war.
When we took the Golan (or after Yom Kipur), we would have given it back for peace. Just like we did with Egypt. Assad and Co. decided to keep waging war... yes, we do peace with enemies but the reality in the Golan has changed (as you mentioned).
Israel has been ruling over the Golan for around 40 years. Thats twice the time the area was under Syrian rule so calling it "Syrian territory" is, in my eyes, not serious. The land belongs to the people who cultivate it and develop it. Thats just my view.

Take care, I enjoy reading your articles.

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Calev said...

Thanks for everyone's points;

I dont think Assad has suddenly become a Zionist and started reading AB Yehoshua. And i continue to hope that his regime will somehow collapse and a group of liberal Syrians will take over and make peace without the Golan.

Its impossible to know how sincere he really is - the head of Mossad says one thing, the head of military intelligence disagress. The Foreign Ministry weighs in on behalf of talks, a former Israeli UN ambassador rejects them. One labour politician, Ami Ayalon (the new white hope)calls for peace with Syria and suggests a Hong Kong type solution where we recognise their sovereignty but continue to live there(Michael F - you're right to be suspicious - i am too. whatever happens, we would have to set up some very specific actions for the Syrians to take before we move anyone from the Golan)

Whatever the full picture, this is not for the little people like us to decide.

But what i do think is that this government owes it to the soldiers it sends out to kill and be killed on behalf of us all to prove to
the Israeli public that if violence does erupt, it is not because we turned down an offer to discuss peace. Because this country has always (atleast officially) maintained that peace is more important than territory.

And if we have a chance to prevent a potential Shia Crescent from Teheran to Ghajar, and weaken Iran before it becomes a regional hegemon, then maybe we shouldnt turn down that option too quickly.

Anonymous said...

Agree with you that the big picture has to be knocking out the Shia extremists. Ultimately they have states and (shortly) nukes, whilst Sunni extremists ie Al Qaeda are leeching off their brethren - if this can be proven to be to their detriment, and real alternatives are presented, they will not remain passive hosts.

I'm a big advocate for Israel to strike a big peace deal with Saudi Arabia for just this reason. From an oil export perspective, the idea of tacking onto the EAPC TIPline and skirting Suez is immensely beneficial. Also a cooperative set of economic solutions using Saudi petrodollars and Israeli technology might create sustainable wealth for the oil-poor Palestinians and Jordanians.

Much as it's a cliche, Israel should be playing the "moderates vs. extremists" card a bit better, and stop kidding itself that Fatah are moderates. Find some allies who have a genuine need and desire to be the moderate, reformist characters instead, and learn from the Oslo debacle.

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