Golan safe for now
Syria, Israel may be interested in dialogue, but not in peace or withdrawal
Golan residents can relax. The Golan Heights will apparently not be handed over to the Syrians in the coming years, if at all. Syria has no interest in peace with Israel, just like Israel has no interest is handing the Golan over to the Syrians.
Syria cannot deliver the minimal goods required of it; that is, severing its ties with terror organizations and the Iranian influence in favor of normalization with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel has no desire to provide the Syrians with military positions on the Golan, which would again threaten Israeli communities, or to allow the Syrians access to the Sea of Galilee.
On the other hand, both sides have an interest in maintaining a sort of pre-dialogue process; that is, an interest in being perceived as though they are aspiring for peace while the other side is presented as the rejectionist.
The supreme interest of President Bashar Assad, who is a member of the Alawite minority, is to safeguard his regime – a complicated mission considering the small size of the ethnic minority he is a part of. Any action undertaken by Assad stems from this desire.
The question which many Israelis must ask themselves is not how much peace we shall receive in exchange for the Golan, as if the Heights were a tradable commodity with a set price, but rather, does Assad really want peace? Would such peace serve his supreme goal, which is the safeguarding of his regime?
The answer to that is negative of course. The hatred for Israel, the external enemy, enables him to maintain absolute power in his country despite the economic and social repression suffered by the masses. The connection with terror groups, Iran, and the Palestinians enables Assad to get along with the Arab world and with his own citizens under the umbrella of hostility to Israel.
Such common denominator with the Iranian Shiites, the Syrians, and the Palestinian Sunnis guarantees the regime’s stability. Peace with Israel will mix him up with all of them and endanger his regime to a much greater extent than an ongoing low-intensity conflict with the “Zionist enemy.”
War between Israel and Syria will apparently not break out either. Israel, of course, will not embark on such war. In democracies such as Israel, nobody wants war as long as other options are available. On Assad’s part, a war won’t help his regime, because Syria is expected to lose it. War threats benefit Assad, but a war defeat would take the wind out of his sails and could accelerate his regime’s demise. Under such circumstances, Syria would also lose any trace of Israeli faith and willingness to hand over the Golan.
Assad must appear as though he wants peace, especially vis-à-vis the world and the United States, and in light of the International Court of Justice proceedings against him over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Hence, Assad’s declarations regarding his desire for talks with Israel are directed at the White House in Washington and at The Hague more than they are at Jerusalem.
When Assad’s people say that they are willing to engage in negotiations with Israel without pre-conditions, they only mean no Israeli pre-conditions, of course. The Syrians, on the other hand, are taking the pre-condition of getting the Golan for granted.
The Israeli government is of course interested in engaging in dialogue. Yet beyond the questions regarding the timing of the revelations, with the probe against the prime minister in its midst, there is no genuine Israeli desire to hand over the Golan to the Syrians.
The Golan isn’t Gaza, or even Judea and Samaria. It has no Arabs residents, with the exception of four Druze villages. The Golan, which is based on Jewish settlement, dominates the entire Galilee region.
Israeli officials understand the real interests in the region and know that there is no reason to give the
Syrians the Golan in exchange for peace that apparently won’t come, when there is no guarantee that the Syrians won’t attack again once the conditions or regime in Damascus change.
Therefore, beyond words, war threats, and the rustle of papers, apparently nothing will be changing on the Golan in the coming years.
Shai Bazak is a communications lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.