Israel's poor performance against Hizbullah last summer boosted support for President Bashar Assad's popularity among the Syrian people who are ready for confrontation with Israel, a senior Syrian journalist told Ynet.
"There is no doubt that the Lebanon war and the Israeli defeat are a source of encouragement, and also a source for recruiting the Syrian people who see itself as a pioneer and example to other Arab people. It is looking at how the Lebanese defeated and expelled the Israelis from their land while its land remains occupied. "The Syrian people understood the possibility that a war will break out, even at the price Damascus and Syrian cities being bombarded," a senior Syrian journalist told Ynet.
His words reflect the Syrian regime's mood as Israel continues to shun Syrian peace overtures.
Assad has been signaling willingness to talk peace with the Jewish state, but on the other hand, the journalist says, "The principle is that so long we haven't freed our land in a peaceful path, we are entitled to do so militarily. The Syrian people in the occupied Golan Heights have the right to return to their homeland."
He said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ruling out of talks with Syria is a sign that, "Israelis are not serious about talks with Syria … one time they demand that Syria sever its ties with Israel, another time to sever ties with Hizbullah – and another time with Hamas. All this show that the Israelis look for excuses in order not to deal with the real issue – fully withdrawing from the Golan Heights."
Supposing no progress is made toward the opening of negotiations – is a military scenario a possibility from the Syrian standpoint?
Certainly. Perhaps this scenario will not be realized through direct combat between the Syrian and Israeli armies, but guerilla warfare in the Golan is definitely being considered. In my opinion, without a diplomatic breakthrough soon this option becomes more and more significant.
What about the scenario raised in Israel according to which Syria would agree to lease out the Golan Heights to Israel in exchange for recognition of Syria’s sovereignty over the region?
This is another excuse, another ploy the extent to which the Israelis are playing games and are not serious. There are seven wonders in the world, and the possibility of leasing out the Golan Heights is apparently one of them.
The Syrian stance is clear: We went to Madrid based on the territories for peace principle and Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. This must guide the negotiations; nothing else. Territories for peace – or more accurately, all of the territories for peace; this will prevent people from instilling any word games into international decisions. Leasing? The only chance this could ever happen is if a new Syrian regime comes to power on the back of an American tank. And this of course will not happen.
Why isn't Syria ready for compromise on this issue? Why is Syria always expecting too much?
The Syrians have always said that peace is our strategic choice but the current status quo cannot continue. The Syrian people are sick of the whole thing not being serious, although it is committed to peace. As far as we are concerned things are not complicated, and the content of negotiations is not clear. The Israelis need to decide if they are ready or not – and let them stop looking for and making up excuses.
Were Olmert's comments, and those of other Israeli leaders, covered in the Syrian press?
Of course. For at least two years, the Israeli media and comments by Israeli leaders are being translated and not just for government institutions but for the media and for Syrian papers. Everything is translated. Politics in Israel received great interest here, interest that only grew. There were also official responses, mainly by the Communications Minister, who said that if Israel is serious, talks based on negotiations in Madrid are very possible.
Israel's dependence on America is not that tremendous. Israel should set its policy and future according to an American position of a kind or another or to that of an American president. That's Israeli unwillingness and an excuse to avoid talks that could lead to stability in the region – because stability is against Israel's basic interests. Because when there is stability in the region, Israel loses its position as a central card of the west and America."