Assad - The wildcard
Sadat - A successor?
Livni - Damascus must prove itself
Photo: Yaron Brener
'Assad is the next Sadat'
At the Foreign Affairs Ministry's conference on foreign policy for 2009, signs of change in 'the very fundamentals' of how Israel's diplomats see Syrian President Bashar Assad. Due to the complexities of the Palestinian situation, say officials, if Damascus proves its earnestness Israel may find it a better candidate for peace
The director of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's Center for Policy Research, Nimrod Barkan, believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad "is the next Anwar Sadat.
Speaking two weeks ago at a strategy conference on Israel's foreign policy for the year 2009, Barkan praised the divisive Syrian leader as the harbinger of peace on Israel's eastern border.
Sources within the Foreign Ministry were quick to stress that Barkan's comments do not express the views of the prime minister-designate, Tzipi Livni, who is currently still the minister of foreign affairs.
The conference was attended by the ministry's top brass, including ambassadors stationed throughout the world.
A senior official in the foreign service said that Barkan's comments were indicative of significant changes in the ministry's outlook. "The statements made during the discussion on foreign policy in regards to Syria Lebanon were very meaningful," he said. "There's no doubting that the trends have shifted compared to what we saw at the ministry six or twelve months ago."
Barkan implied that Assad may yet surprise Israel as the late Egyptian president did, and move towards thawing the relations between the two countries. Sadat's earth-shattering visit to the Knesset, which had been preceded by clandestine talks with Menachem Begin's government, eventually led to the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979.
'Potential greater than with PA'Another source in the ministry testified that the dialogue being held with Syria via Turkish mediation since February of this year has changed the very fundamentals of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's perception of Syria and its president. Damascus, the ministry believed, was an indivisible part of the Axis of Evil while Assad was merely playing games and would never be willing to pay the price a genuine peace process with Israel would exact.
"But today you hear other voices in the ministry, people who see a potential for peace with Syria, and (Barkan's) comments prove that."
The official said that peace with Syria may be far more attainable than with the Palestinians because of the complexities of the situation with the latter.
But not everyone agrees with these sentiments. Another senior diplomat said that Barkan's views were far from those held by the ministry. "There's no doubt that there's extensive interest in the Syrian track within the Foreign Ministry, but this exists alongside the fundamental argument over whether we should trust Assad or continue to be wary of his alignment with the Axis of Evil," he said.
"It could be that the next peace agreement Israel signs will be with the Syrians, but to say that this is the ministry's official position is certainly far-fetched. There are proponents of both viewpoints within our ranks. At the end of the day, the decision is left to the prime minister."
Either way, there has been no marked change in Livni's stance. The leading candidate for the premiership believes that Assad must prove his earnestness by breaking away from the axis, ending Syria's involvement in internal Lebanese affairs, blocking the smuggling of arms from Iran to Hizbullah, and expelling terror organizations from Damascus.