In late 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in secret, US-brokered discussions with Syria for a possible peace treaty based on a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a former Israeli official involved in the talks confirmed to The New York Times.
According to Michael Herzog, who served in top positions in the Defense Ministry, one goal of the talks was to unravel the alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, Herzog said. But the negotiations were cut short by the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East in early 2011, and the treaty was never finalized.
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“Nothing was agreed between the parties,” Herzog said told the NYT. “It was a work in progress.”
Yedioth Ahronoth first reported on the the American-led effort on Friday, and Herzog, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, confirmed the outlines of the discussions. He told the NYT that he was called in to help with the negotiations in 2010, after he had already retired from military and government service.
The contacts were mediated by Frederick Hoff, a recently-retired a special coordinator for Lebanon and Syria at the US Department of State, and Dennis B. Ross, who was then a special assistant to President Barack Obama on the Middle East.
“There was a detailed list of Israeli demands meant to serve as a basis for a peace agreement,” said Herzog, noting that the stipulations centered on security arrangements.
“The idea,” he said, “was to see if we could drive a wedge in the radical axis of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah” by taking Syria out of the equation. Next, he said, the goal was to pursue peace with Lebanon.
However, Syrian President Bashar Assad apparently would not unambiguously express willingness to split with Iran, and Netanyahu was cautious too, distrustful that Assad would deliver.
'PM never agree to withdraw'The negotiations never came to a head. By early 2011 the region was in upheaval and the talks fell apart.
Yedioth Ahronoth said in the original report that Netanyahu agreed to a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace agreement. The Prime Minister’s Office denied on Friday that Israel had agreed to a withdrawal.
Speaking to the NYT, Dore Gold, a former aide, reinforced the denial.
Gold, who served as an adviser during Netanyahu’s first term in office, said that in September 1996, he personally secured an assurance from the US, under instructions from Netanyahu, that all previous Israeli statements regarding readiness for a full withdrawal to that line “have no political or legal standing.”
Netanyahu “has always viewed the Golan Heights as a strategic asset for the defense of Israel,” Gold, who is now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said, adding that it is “completely unthinkable that Prime Minister Netanyahu would ever contemplate the kind of withdrawal.”
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