Basher Assad's recent address, as well as Ehud Olmert's response, has renewed discussion over the question of whether Basher Assad is serious about peace; does he really mean what he says?
With all due respect to this question, this is not the issue that needs to take center stage in the Israeli public discourse. Even the question of whether Assad is capable or not is not so important. The real issue is: Is an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement, assuming it is possible, good for Israel?
Such a peace agreement, assuming that it would be similar to the one almost achieved in 2000, would be predicated on the return of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for four things:
Peace reminiscent of the peace agreement with Egypt; security arrangements; a Syrian assurance that that it would not support terror against Israel; and an assurance that the streams of the Golan will continue to flow (cleanly) into the Sea of Galilee.
Is such as agreement worthwhile?
Vis-à-vis the benefits of peace there are six reasons why we should have reservations towards such a possible agreement:
• The agreement does not solve a single one of Israel's other security problems. It doesn't impact in any way the Iranian threat, nor does it quell the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the opposite is true,) and contrary to the situation in 2000 it does not ensure the disarmament of Hizbullah in Lebanon.
• A peace agreement with Syria would not impact the relationship between Israel and the Arab world and would not contribute to our international legitimacy, just as the peace agreement with Jordan did not.
• It is reasonable to assume that a peace agreement with Syria, normalization and open borders, would expedite the end of the artificial Alawite minority regime in favor of the Sunnis (which comprise 80 percent of Syria's population.) When the Sunnis take over, with the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is entirely unclear whether they would adhere to the agreement signed by the "illegitimate infidel Basher Assad."
• The fourth reason is US support. The US would not oppose an Israeli-Syrian peace process, but contrary to the past it would not be prepared to finance it. In all our previous negotiations – with Egypt, the Palestinians and even (in our last attempt to achieve peace) with Syria – it was clear that a major part of the compensation would be provided by the Americans and not by the Arab side. Now, without such compensation, the agreement is far less attractive.
• The most important reason of all is security-related. Through in-depth familiarity with the security arrangements discussed in 2000, I believe that it cannot provide Israel with minimal level of required security.
• And finally, the Golan Heights is one of the few areas that allow us to "get out for some fresh air," to enjoy a real trip that includes landscape, water and Jewish history.
Some will say we can tour the Galilee, and that we would also be able to visit the Golan Heights under Syrian rule. This is true, but after resettling the residents of the Golan Heights in the Galilee much of the natural landscape will be lost.
And with regards to touring the Golan Heights under Syrian rule – just see how many Israelis visit Jordan to realize that it's not the same.
To sum up, is such a peace agreement worthwhile despite there being reservations? – This is a legitimate discussion that should be made, on condition that we understand that this is the real issue and not the question of "how much Assad really wants peace."
Giora Eiland is a retired IDF major-general and former head of the National Security Council