While facing weapon-smuggling tunnels in Gaza and Iranian statements regarding Israel's upcoming disappearance, it is hard not to recall the explanation attributed to former PM Rabin regarding the need to advance the Oslo peace initiative despite the risks.
Rabin apparently feared the closing window of opportunity as a result of a triple threat: Iran's nuclearization, the quick boost in radical Islam's power, and the weakening of the IDF.
It is hard to believe how clearly he saw what was to come and how quickly his vision materialized. Let's not fool ourselves – the window has already closed, and so have the mesh and shutters behind it. The last hope is the lock, which may still remain unlocked. Regrettably, the keys are no longer in our hands; rather, they can be found hanging off President Bush's belt, yet he refuses to make use of them.
In the face of the limited American diplomatic imagination, and while the noose is growing tighter around Israel's neck, there is room for calling on the US to adopt a new initiative, which may end the dead-end. The keyhole is of course Syria. This is where we must aim, and there's a decent chance to remove the deep rust that is making the act of turning the key difficult.
The duality characterizing Syrian President Assad's declarations in recent weeks may mean that he has not fully decided which path to take, and it may be possible to help him make the right choice.
To that end, President George W. Bush will need to slightly breach his strict worldview and surprise Assad with an invitation to a summit meeting. With the two of them sitting comfortably at a neutral location, Bush will offer a give-and-take package to be implemented simultaneously and include the following components:
- Syria will recognize the damage caused by its support for terror and agree to remove from its territory the headquarters and infrastructure of Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and all Palestinian and other terror organizations, in accordance with the Jordanian model. In addition, Syria will cut its ties with Hizbullah and stop equipping it with weapons or being used as a pipeline for weapon transfers from other countries. Damascus will cut its military ties with Iran, but will be able to maintain diplomatic and civilian relations. Syria will also completely seal its border with Iraq, and secretly cooperate with Washington on intelligence and security in order to thwart terror acts in Iraq.
- The US will officially remove Syria from the list of terror-sponsoring states and turn it into a significant beneficiary of its foreign aid plan, both in civilian and military terms. The Syrian military will enjoy a comprehensive modernization plan, based on the Egyptian model, and will be built in accordance with the highest standards of the 21st century. Washington will breathe new life into the diplomatic process and push Israel to return to the negotiations table based on understandings already reached in the days of Barak, Peres and Rabin – including the famous deposit given by the latter to Clinton in August 1993 regarding Israel's principled willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and Hafez Assad's positive response.
What are the benefits for all sides?
Syria, following 40 years of "wandering in the desert", will regain the Golan, find a way to integrate into the Free World in a dignified manner, enjoy processes of modernization and economic prosperity, and maintain its unique characteristics without having American-style democracy dictated to it.
Syria's defense establishment will strengthen and would be able to more effectively help in stabilizing the regime over time (after all, this regime will also not enjoy automatic immunity in the face of the boost in the power of radical Islam in the region.)
The US and the Free World will be able to bring Syria into the circle of sanity, break a significant link in the global terror chain, and boost the bloc of countries resisting Shiite-Iranian influence in the Middle East.
Western countries would be able to use Damascus as a channel for dialogue with Teheran, and of course as an effective leverage for moving forward a diplomatic process between Israel and the Arab-Muslim world, that under those new conditions could lead to a quick comprehensive agreement.
Personally, Bush will significantly boost his leadership image and if he is quick to declare such initiative, he may earn a few votes in the Congressional elections (this is true even if Assad declines the invitation.)
Israel will seemingly have to pay a price (giving back the Golan and Syria's rearmament,) yes this price pales in comparison to the expected benefit in this dark period. If this initiative is successful, Israel will also benefit from this success; if it fails, Israel won't sustain damages, as the Syrians will again be viewed as rejectionists.
The writer served in senior intelligence posts and was a senior instructor at the National Security College