Basher Assad's peace declarations publicized in the media over and over again this week may be misleading, and indeed they are designed to mislead.
An examination of Assad's speech before his parliament few days ago, and a monitoring of the Syrian arena, regretfully shows the opposite. The Syrian president, who was sworn in for a second term in office this week following a staged referendum, is doing all he can to flee any peace negotiations. Similar to the way his father fled when it became clear to him that the other side - then Ehud Barak and currently Ehud Olmert - may indeed cede the Golan Heights.
After all, the entire regime is premised on the animosity and conflict with Israel. If there is no conflict with Israel there will be no minority Alawite regime ruling Syria either.
The Syrian president took a sharp turn and is now hindering any chance of making progress with Israel. The conditions he is demanding make it impossible. Until his address this week, Syria stressed that contrary to the past it was setting no preconditions for engaging in talks with Israel. The Syrians argued that it was in fact Israel that was making such stipulations.
However, the moment the Syrians realized that Olmert could indeed cede the Golan Heights – or at least profess to do so – they went into a state of shock.
In his inauguration speech Assad announced the new conditions for engaging in talks:
• Prime Minister Olmert must transfer "written guarantees" in an official document, according to which Israel is prepared to hand over
• At this stage a type of indirect mediation will begin between Israel and Syria by means of a third party, to be agreed upon by both sides. There is no apparatus that can determine who the third party would be and why it is necessary.
• Assuming that all issues are clarified, open and public negotiations will commence.
What is Assad really saying here? That he wants it all. Does he really think that either side would agree to the demands of the other side without actually engaging in talks? And what is he giving in exchange? "We have no faith in the Israelis," Assad said in his address. Does anyone in the Middle East have faith in him?
Assad's speech attests to Syria's existential dilemma. On the one hand, Syria is in need of some kind of process with Israel that would save it from an international tribunal regarding the Rafik Hariri assassination. On the other hand, peace with Israel would mark the end of the regime.
It is astonishing to see how each time an Israeli leader demonstrates a willingness to cede the Golan Heights the Syrians flee as fast as they can. Assad's new conditions are akin to evasion. When will we finally be able to read the true intentions of the Assad family and the Syrians?