Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of January 12, 2000

PAINTING A LION AS A LAMB

By David Bar-Illan

 To make its acceptance of Syria's demands palatable to the public
our government is cleansing and purifying the Assad regime.

 An American politician once remarked that no one ever lost an election by underestimating the intelligence of the public. If Israeli rationalizations for the deal with Syria are any indication, the government has adopted this credo with unbounded enthusiasm. To make its acceptance of virtually all Syrian demands palatable to the Israeli public, the government has launched a campaign to cleanse and purify the Assad regime. This is no minor challenge.

Syria's dictator, Hafez Assad, like Saddam Hussein, invaded and occupied a small neighboring Arab country. He has forced it to employ a million Syrian workers and to serve as a terrorist base and narcotic trade center. It took Assad one week in February 1982 to massacre 20,000 civilians in Hama while suppressing a Moslem Brotherhood rebellion. His troops and proxies have been responsible for the death of tens of thousands in Lebanon. He ordered the killing of 250 American marines in Beirut and the assassination of Lebanon's elected president Bashir Gemayel.

Assad is the sponsor of some of the world's most murderous terrorist organizations. He is the second largest exporter of hard drugs. He has violated virtually every agreement he has made. Assad also boasts some special distinctions. His is the only regime in the modern era to have awarded medals to army officers for beheading prisoners of war and whose defense minister has authored a book about Jews using the blood of gentiles in matzot. He has given refuge to Adolf Eichmann's deputy, Alois Brunner, a war criminal responsible for killing at least 150,000 Jews.

Had such a regime existed in Europe, Israel would have been outraged if anyone dealt with it, let alone praised it. Yet Prime Minister Barak has repeatedly called Assad a great leader, the founder of modern Syria, and a man of his word. Had this fulsome praise not been so obviously intended to flatter the Syrian dictator and draw him to the negotiating table, it would have been mistaken for sarcastic mockery.

BARAK has also undertaken to sell the agreement by forecasting paradise on earth if it is consummated, and catastrophe if it is not. An agreement with Syria, he says, means open Arab markets and shorter army service. Failure to reach an agreement bodes permanent war and destruction. No economist believes Israel can benefit greatly from Arab markets. At most, more Israeli factories will open in Arab lands, providing employment to the local population. And Israel will become dependent on Arab oil and gas supplies and water resources, hardly a reassuring prospect. Nor does a cut in army service, contemplated for years and now ostentatiously publicized, depend on an agreement with Syria. It will be implemented if the number of recruits warrants it. To suppose that a modernized Syrian army in possession of the Golan is less of a threat than a weak Syria without the Golan is to defy all logic.

But perhaps the most intelligence-insulting ploy is the denigration of the Golan as a strategic asset. Generals who only yesterday asserted that without the Golan the country is dangerously vulnerable now declare that it is a strategic burden. And to compound the absurdity, the government estimates that just to compensate for the loss of this valueless burden and equip the military with adequate substitutes Israel would need $20 billion to $30b.

It is in this sphere that the contempt for public intelligence is most pronounced. The government actually expects Israelis to believe that a world consortium will be found to put up the $65b. that the deal with Syria would require, and the additional $30b. to $50b. that would be needed to resettle the descendants of Palestinian refugees. Not to mention the annual expense of stationing American combat troops on the Golan.

But such funds are simply not available. And if the administration has led Assad to believe that billions would be allotted to rescue his economy and revamp his army and has assured Israel that the funds to compensate for the loss of the Golan can be found, it is perpetrating an unforgivable hoax.

President Clinton may be telling Barak that even his Republican nemeses in Congress will not want to appear to oppose peace and will vote for such staggering amounts. But it is difficult to imagine that a majority will fail to see the absurdity of spending billions under the banner of peace to build up the forces of one of the most expansionist, belligerent, anti-American and anti-democratic regimes on earth.

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David Bar-Illan was former editor of The Jerusalem Post and acted as Communication and Public Planning director under PM Benjamin Netanyahu.



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