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Bashar Assad
Photo: AFP
Not under fire or fear
Regional, international assistance required to achieve peace with Syria

The Syrian option has been grating the air since the end of the Second Lebanon War. Recently it was reported that the prime minister is also examining it. Moreover, during the last few days the media has reported that military officials, no less, fear military escalation if such a move is not taken. If these reports are true then the Syrian option is now being weighed for the wrong reasons.

 

Putting the Syrian option on the table the day after the Second Lebanon War seems to have stemmed from the need to create a diplomatic process which will culminate in withdrawals aimed at achieving calm. The "realignment" plan has found a substitute: If there is no withdrawal from the West Bank, we'll withdraw from the Golan Heights. This motive is peculiar, and creates the impression that we need to make concessions in exchange for calm.

 

The apparent push for talks by an army that fears a military confrontation with Syria is no less peculiar. This attitude underscores the loss of our power of deterrence, a grim outcome of the last war. If the reports are true, then military officials whose job is to provide security, deterrence and victory are finding themselves hinting that they are incapable of doing so, and therefore recommend entering negotiations.

 

In both cases the arguments for the diplomatic options creates an "atmosphere of missing the point." The diplomatic motive testifies to
a conciliatory approach whereas the apparent military motive testifies to an atmosphere of fear or anxiety. Together they position Israel as inferior in the bargaining process. If Israel engages in negotiations in such a situation it is likely to miss out on its objectives. The risk of failure would then be greater than the risk involved in not entering negotiations.

 

Perhaps there is a third motive among some of those calling for negotiations: Namely, a diplomatic process as a means of achieving political survival. This stems from the belief in the "sacred cow" effect, which would see such an act as extending the government's lifespan despite it having lost the authority to undertake diplomatic or military moves.

 

Entering talks with Syria at this point in time is wrong for the following reasons: It is not enough that Israel's inferiority in the balance of bargaining power may deprive it of its ability to reach a deal that would satisfy security needs and interests on the Golan Heights - the only stance Israel could take vis-à-vis its inferior position would be to accept Syria's demands in full.

 

This same inferiority would also deprive Israel of the ability to bring about the change that supporters of negotiations claim would result from an agreement: Syria's severing of strategic ties with Iran.

 

For Syria to sever ties with Iran, it would need to receive concessions and incentives that Israel cannot provide. The assumption that Syria and Iran would sever ties is unsubstantiated at this point in time, and in order to achieve this goal Israel would require bargaining power and the aid of other nations. Thus, advocating one-sided negotiations is doomed to failure.

 

International statesmanship needed

In order to achieve sustainable peace with Syria we would require conditions that do not currently exist: Primarily, we should see real indications that Syria's preparedness for negotiations does indeed reflect a change in its agenda. Secondly, in order for the entire burden of the give-and-take, including concessions, not to fall on Israel's shoulders, there is a need for partners, particularly the US and Europe.

 

There is a need for an understanding that the former phrasing of agreements is no longer valid, and that a deal would require flexibility on Syria's part regarding a future territorial arrangement on the Golan Heights. Not only is a comprehensive withdrawal from the Golan not in Israel's interest, in this matter Israel is backed by a long-term American commitment, which has been renewed by President Bush.

 

Turkey can testify that when the Syrians have a vested interest they are able to back off on territorial demands, as they did on the Alexandretta front.

 

Therefore, from Israel's point of view more time is needed to prepare the diplomatic and military ground before it can enter negotiations with a relevant Syrian regime.

 

Negotiations are not entered under fire or fear. Hence the necessity for Syria to halt its indirect war against Israel via Hamas and Hizbullah

 

What is required here is international statesmanship to establish a coalition that would identify the incentives and concessions to make the strategic change required of Syria, and also so that the burden of concessions doesn’t fall entirely on Israel. Hence, the solutions that could lead to future effective talks with Syria are regional and international.

 

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