Just when it looked like Ehud Olmert could not mess things up any worse than he already had, it was reported that he and his mates had been secretly negotiating a deal with Syria. Allegedly, Israel would reward Syria for 70 years of aggression by basically shrinking itself to its pre-1967 dimensions and returning to what Abba Eban once dubbed “Auschwitz borders.”
Under the proposed deal, Israel would abandon the entire Golan Heights, which would be turned into a large “park” under joint Israeli-Syrian management. Israel and Syria would then demilitarize areas on both sides of this nice park, with the Syrian side’s demobilized zone larger than Israel’s. Israel would get a nice written set of promises from Syria – one of those being to rein in Hizbullah.
The Syrian state-controlled TV and newspapers are already repudiating and denying the deal. Syrian intransigence may yet save the Jewish people from the mega-stupidity of Israeli political leaders, and not for the first time: a deal for a “return” of the Golan Heights to Syria was almost signed by Ehud Barak in 2000. Had it been concluded, it would have moved Syrian armed forces right up to the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
The Golan Heights are Syrian in precisely the same sense that East Prussia is German. In other words, not at all. Just like East Prussia was once German but was lost forever to the Germans due to German aggression and atrocities, so the Golan Heights are “Syrian” only in the historic sense.
The Golan is certainly far less “Syrian” than the Alexandretta Province, which belonged to Syria before World War II until Turkey decided one day to gobble it up. Syrian maps, of course, show both the Golan and Alexandretta as integral parts of Syria. Today the optimal peace plan that Israel should adopt is the same as that still used successfully by Turkey regarding Alexandretta: every time Syria starts bellowing and threatening, rattle the sabers and watch the Baathists cower.
The Golan Heights are not good for much besides attacking Israel. In fact, that is the real reason why Assad Jr. wants to get them back. Israeli proponents of “returning” the Golan to Syria argue that the Camp David accord with Egypt is a clear precedent for such a deal. After all, Israel agreed to give back to Egypt every last centimeter of Sinai. But the deal with Egypt was (or should be) a “first through the gate” one-time deal that in no way obligates Israel to strike a similar deal with Syria.
Camp David was signed almost 30 years ago, and only after Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem and spoke in a convincing way to the Israeli public about peace. Assad Senior could have followed in Sadat’s footsteps in the late 1970’s and signed a peace deal with Israel, but he refused. Syria should be made to pay for three decades of foot dragging. It should also be forced to pay for its role in Hizbullah terror.
In other words, “land for peace” should decidedly not be the basis for any deal with Syria, unless it is to be land for peace in the form of Syria offering Israel additional lands east of the Golan.
The other important difference between Egypt and Syria is that Egypt is a large and powerful country, one with which Israel was willing to pay a huge price to end the outright state of war. But Syria, which already has partly lost its hegemony over Lebanon, is a relatively small, backward, poor country surrounded on all its borders (besides Lebanon) by pro-Western regimes friendly to the U.S.
There is no reason to believe Syria would comply with any deal it strikes with Israel. First, the Baathist junta represents a tiny ethnic-religious minority that could easily be toppled and replaced. The younger Assad is a dimwitted leader whose chances of ending up on a gallows like Saddam are not bad. Rather than reward the unstable Assad regime with the Golan Heights, a far better strategy would be to sit back and watch as Syria’s economy collapses under its own centrally-controlled deadweight, the same way that Soviet regimes collapsed one after the other in the early 1990’s.
All that Israel would get out of any deal with the Syrians would be yet another set of empty promises. Syria would follow up any agreement with a massive escalation of violence against Israel from Lebanon via its terrorist surrogates there. It would ignore all obligations for disarmament, in a Ruhr-Valley-style strategy of defiance.
In addition, Syria would use its presence along the shores of the Sea of Galilee to recruit and arm terrorists from among Israeli Arabs in the Galilee. It would station missiles and arms it receives from Iran on its soil, perhaps also weapons of mass destruction. The missile barrages this past summer on Northern Israel were a pale preview of what would follow.
Even the peace deal with Egypt has been to a large extent a failure. Egypt today supplies all the explosives and arms being smuggled into Gaza, including those used to build the rockets that bombard the Negev each morning. The Egyptian media are at least as anti-Semitic as the Iranian media. Egypt is accumulating huge stocks of military armaments and there is no guarantee it would not join in any future Arab armed assault on Israel.
Kal v’chomer, how much more so should there be reason for skepticism about Syrian behavior after any “peace deal” Syria signedwith Israel.
In one of the Godfather movies, the young Don Corleone is asked what his offer is to a corrupt congressman. His answer: “We offer you nothing. Absolutely nothing.” I can think of no better Israeli strategy for dealing with Damascus, at least until Syria evolves into a stable, democratic country seriously seeking peace with its neighbors.