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Zalman Shoval
Don’t rush to Damascus
Israel should accept US position on Syria instead of restoring to baseless fantasies
The message I received in Washington about two weeks ago was clear and included a trace of displeasure: Why do you have people, and ministers in particular, who continue to amuse themselves with the baseless notion that conditions for peace between Israel and Syria have been created?

 

Indeed, in holiday interviews with the prime minister, as well as the wave of previous news stories, we repeatedly heard about messages being seemingly conveyed and feelers seemingly being sent out between Jerusalem and Damascus.

 

Before we address the matter, we should consider whether Israel should or should not be taking America’s position on this matter into consideration.

 

It is clear that we do not have to blindly follow the American compass on every single matter, but to show contempt to a clear US interest, at least the way the current administration interprets it, could rightfully be considered as an unwise and possibly ungrateful move.

 

Indeed, others voices are being heard in Washington – by Senator Obama for example, or the authors of the famous Baker-Hamilton report – but we should note that they tie the dialogue with Syria to a simultaneous dialogue with Ahmadinejad’s Iran, with their guiding principle being priority to the “carrot” when it comes to the carrot and stick approach.

 

On the other hand, Washington’s objective, and recently that of Paris, is to isolate Damascus, destroy the terror bases in Lebanon and in Syria, and undermine the terroristic path leading from Syria to Iraq.

 

Don’t all of the above, in addition to being an American interest, also constitute an Israeli interest?

 

Syria won’t sever ties with Iran 

Yet even if we put aside for a moment the American interest, one of the most common illusions around here among those backing the Syrian channel, in addition to the desire of some of them to view it as a counterweight to the Palestinian channel, is the hope that if we reach a peace agreement with Syria it will immediately sever its close alliance with Tehran.

 

There is no evidence that supports this theory in reality – among other things, because for the ruling Alawite minority Iran serves as an insurance policy vis-à-vis the threat posed to the regime by the Sunni majority.

 

Moreover, Syria’s status in Lebanon is in practice being maintained by Hizbullah – which follows Iran’s orders. Can we imagine President Assad risking the loss of this lever?

 

Most Israeli governments spared no effort in order to examine whether a peace initiative with Syria could bear fruit despite all – yet unsurprisingly, all these attempts failed. The ministers who currently rush to embark on the path to Damascus while declaring that “the price of peace is already known” will not be advancing peace, yet the message they will be conveying to the Syrians is that we have already ceded, in advance, the entire Golan, including the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore (which, by the way, never belonged to Syria,) and all that’s left now is to discuss the additional terms.

 

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