ISRAEL-SYRIAN RESOLUTION OF DIFFERENCES?

By Bernard J. Shapiro

There were many factual and analytic errors in a recent article by Alon Ben-Meir on Israel-Syrian peace possibilities. The article appeared in the Jewish Herald-Voice (Houston) on January 22, 2004.

Here are a few points by Ben-Meir and my counterpoints (facts):

Ben-Meir statement: Most issues were resolved in negotiations between Israel and Syria in 2000.

FACT: The issues were not resolved and Syria rejected the very generous offers of Israeli PM Ehud Barak. There was NO deal and the government of Israel changed. It is absurd to suggest that the new Israeli government should honor offers by an opposition party defeated overwhelmingly by the Israeli electorate that brought the Likud to power.

Meir: Geopolitical changes since the defeat of Iraq make Syrian-Israeli peace more likely.

FACT: It is true that the geopolitical situation in the Middle East has changed, but this has greatly weakened the despotic, anti-Israel, terrorist supporting government of Syria. In fact, the authoritative London -based Jane's Intelligence Digest reports today that the US is seriously considering confronting Syria militarily with the aim of "regime change." Increasing pressure on Syria can be found in the recent Syrian Accountability Act signed by US President George Bush last December. Syria would certainly welcome peace talks with Israel as a way to relieve the pressure to changes its policies, including its brutal occupation of Lebanon. It should not be forgotten that American troops in Iraq are facing Syrian facilitated terrorists and weapons.

Meir: Israel would benefit from a peace of reconciliation with Syria.

FACT: The Israel border with Syria has been the most peaceful in the last 37 years. A retreat from the strategic mountains of the Golan would certainly result in renewed aggression by Syria. It would also stimulate more attacks on Israel from every hostile Arab force. The view of Israel "running" from Lebanon was a direct cause of Arafat's decision to start the Oslo war of September 2000. The reader should remember the Munich Appeasement Agreement with Hitler in 1938. Appeasement and concessions to dictators makes them hungry for more and DOES NOT lead to peace.

BRIEF COMMENTARY:

Moshe Arens, who served three times as Israel's Defense Minister, wrote in a recent article (Haaretz, January 20, 2004), that Syrian crime should not pay. He recounts their many crimes:

1. Two invasions of Israel, 1948 & 1973

2. Brutal shelling of peaceful Israelis 1948-67

3. Vicious torture of Israelis falling into their hands

4. And finally support for multiple terrorists organizations including Hisbullah

Arens says that to reward them by a retreat from the Golan would encourage future aggression by making it a win-win option: for example: lose territory and then get it back through negotiations.

I want to express the opinion that the time has come to clear the smoke and mirrors. There is a significant Israeli dilemma in the negotiating framework with Syria. I call this dilemma: the "Mubarak gambit." After Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat's death, his successor Hosni Mubarak discovered that Egypt could ignore its peace treaty obligations to Israel with impunity. Sadat had signed over 50 agreements and amendments to the Camp David Accords, which spelled out in great detail normalization of relations with Israel. These included trade, tourism, science, cultural and other attributes of peaceful relations. The late Menachem Begin, of blessed memory, fully believed that his sacrifice of Sinai, with its air bases and oil, was worth the inauguration of peaceful relations with the most important country in the Arab world.

From this experience Mubarak devised the "Mubarak gambit," which sets out the principle that an Arab country can promise Israel peace and full normalization as a negotiating tactic in order to force an Israeli withdrawal from territory. Then after the territory is recovered, the Arab country can ignore the normalization part of any agreement.

Mubarak first convinced terrorist leader, Yassir Arafat, to try out the "Mubarak gambit." We all know what has happened, including the famous handshake on September 13, 1993. We also know that all of Arafat's promises to the Israelis, including revising the PLO Charter and stopping violence, have not been honored.

In my opinion, whether peace is possible depends upon your relative propensity to believe in fairy tales. If you believe in the real possibility of achieving utopia or nirvana; and if you believe in the tooth fairy, then peace with Syria is not only possible but desirable.

Bernard J. Shapiro
Executive Director, Freeman Center For Strategic Studies
Editor, The Maccabean Online and the Freemanlist