Every few weeks we see headlines about the possibility of securing a peace deal with Syria. Beyond the legitimate question of whether a peace treaty is a good or bad thing, it is difficult not to be bothered by the way we run things. The three most bothersome issues are as follows: The order of our actions, the absence of a genuine security assessment, and the disregard shown to the United States.
Order of actions: When the political leadership wishes to advance a strategic move (whether peace or war,) it would be best to do it in the following sequence: Describe reality by drafting basic assumptions, outline Israel’s interests (and rank them,) and prepare a “map of interests” (showing what the various players want to achieve.) Based on the three abovementioned factors, the leadership should define the “required achievement” (the desirable and possible negotiation outcome.) Only then, the fifth phase should be entering negotiations.
The definition of the required achievement is a decision that the political leadership should approve before embarking on talks. Yet has the cabinet convened for such session? Has such discussion taken place in any other forum? Did some kind of professional team analyze the components that must precede negotiations and presented them, at the very least, to the prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister? It appears that we are starting our strategic planning process in the fifth phase.
Security assessment: In the negotiations with Syria about nine years ago, the Israeli position was premised on the unequivocal assessment that Israel cannot defend itself without controlling the Golan Heights. If so, how did former Prime Minister Ehud Barak agree to hand over the Golan to the Syrians? The “trick” was as follows: Our troops were indeed to evacuate the Golan, but were expected to be deployed nearby. The Golan Heights was to be demilitarized, and the Syrian armored divisions would have been pushed back to the east. And so, had we later realized a war is about to erupt, we would have enough time to take over the Golan before the Syrian army arrived.
This doctrine was very problematic back then already, and in my view it is unreasonable today. Therefore, a thorough assessment involving the army is required at this time. After that, if we indeed decide that we are willing to hand over the Golan Heights, we need to take one of the following two decisions: Either we adopt the doctrine presented nine years ago (that is, evacuating the Golan only if we estimate that we would be able to retake it before the Syrian army arrives) or alternately, deciding that it is possible to start the war with our army deployed south of the Golan and defend Israel from there.
Those who engage in talks with Syria and deal with questions pertaining to the drawing of a border without clarifying this major issue are showing dangerous superficiality.
Disregarding the US: It is no secret that the current American Administration is not thrilled with the Israeli-Syrian talks. In the past, when the US Administration was excited (during Clinton’s era,) Israel had the possibility of asking the Americans for something in exchange for our “painful concessions.” Today, this element is missing, and moreover, the US elections are two months away. Should the next American president be interested in promoting Israeli-Syrian peace, we would not be able to condition various concessions on American compensation if we already made these concessions before. As such, the timing of the accelerated talks is truly odd.
The manner in which negotiations with the Syrians have been conducted is reminiscent of the Oslo agreement, as well as the talks with the Americans on the question of disengagement. We saw a secret team engaging in negotiations, with a detailed document presented to the government only after a detailed
agreement was secured with the other side. At that point it was impossible to hold a discussion on the fundamentals of the agreement, and we could not change course, because, after all, ”we already promised.”
This is a dangerous and undemocratic approach. One wonders why the ministers do not demand to discuss the fundamental questions, only few of which were represented here, before we send our representatives to engage in talks. Even if they fail to reach an agreement, the words uttered by official Israeli representatives will bind us in the future.