Why did the Syrians come to Annapolis? Bush hinted that they arrived because the bombing of the site in northern Syria made them realize how weak they are. The weakness of an Arab opponent is advantageous to us, but experience taught us it doesn’t prevent war.
The Egyptians were perceived as weak, until they crossed the Suez Canal, exacted a terrible toll and forced us to return the Sinai to them. The Palestinians are also helpless, but they have been using the little power they do have to torment us for decades.
Syria will maneuver between Iran and the West but will not disregard its interests in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights. Sooner or later it will attempt to regain these territories, which it perceives to have been wrested away from it. Regardless of how big our military advantage is, a clash with Syria would be a heavy blow for us and it would be better to take advantage of the Syrian weakness, which may be temporary, in order to sign a peace treaty.
We know the price of peace, but Israel does not dare pay it, and the reasons for this can be justified. In the absence of an agreement, Iran will boost its influence in Syria and at this time it appears the only chance to sever the ties between Tehran and Damascus lies in a complete change in Iran. There is no telling if and when such change would take place, and Israel has not come up with an alternative strategy.
If we are unwilling to withdraw from the Golan, what else can we tempt the Syrians with? This temptation is Lebanon. Israel’s special attitude to its small northern neighbor was shaped even before the Jewish State’s establishment. Zionist Movement diplomats forged ties with the Christians in Beirut and Galilee farmers maintained good neighborly relations with the Shiites in the south of Lebanon.
Before we signed the peace treaty with Egypt we used to say that there is no telling which Arab country would be the first to make peace with us, but the second one would certainly be Lebanon. This statement was premised on the assumption that the Lebanese are not hostile to us and even view as us clandestine allies, yet their situation forces them to conduct themselves like Muslims Arab countries. This assumption has been refuted.
Christian hegemony won’t last long
Lebanon was separated from Syria upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The country’s establishment by imperial powers was meant to express the Christian uniqueness in the Mount Lebanon region, and a constitution like no other in the world guaranteed Christian-Maronite control.
However, constant immigration and different birthrates gradually changed the ratio of ethnic groups, and today Shiites comprise the majority. We can assume that in a few years the country’s constitution would give expression to the changed demographic reality. Either through arms or through the polls, Muslim Shiites will complete their takeover of Lebanon.
At this time, Lebanon enjoys the patronage of Western countries, but this is akin to artificial respiration. Christian hegemony will end in a few years. The Christian population is split and is unwilling to fight to the death for the independence of its homeland.
Beirut’s Christian quarters flourish on the strength of Saudi money, but in a few years there will be only two regional powers that can make it difficult for Damascus to take over this asset: Israel and Iran. At that point, Israel and Syria will have a joint interest – preventing an Iranian takeover.
Upon the elimination of the Christian hegemony in Lebanon, the old Israeli interest in maintaining an independent Lebanon will dissipate. The real alternatives are an Iranian Lebanon or a Syrian Lebanon. We do not know the price Syria will be willing to pay for a secret pledge that Israel would not do a thing to prevent Lebanon’s annexation to Syria, but it is worthwhile looking into it – this price may be Syrian willing to renounce its claims for the Golan.