By Yossef Bodansky

On Sunday, January 19, international wire services reported from Jerusalem that the Israeli Government has resolved to launch a "diplomatic campaign" in order to "restart Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations." President Clinton is expected to soon host the leaders of Israel, Egypt and Jordan in Washington. Jerusalem hopes that "the Israel-Syria talks will be high on the agenda." Reacting to an earlier report in the French newspaper Le Figaro that Mr. Netanyahu stated that the Golan was non-negotiable, David Bar-Illan, Mr. Netanyahu's spokesman, told AP that "Netanyahu never said the Golan is non-negotiable." Bar-Illan stressed that the Israelis "are eager to get back to the talks [with Syria]."

This newly found eagerness for negotiations with Syria is expressed only a couple of days after the principles of the Israeli national intelligence threat assessment for 1997 were leaked by Jerusalem. The primary item in this national assessment, as reported in the January 17 issue of Yediot Ahronot, is that "Syria might realize the military option" later this year. Israeli Military Intelligence believes that the continued diplomatic paralysis might prompt President Hafiz al-Assad to revive the military confrontation with Israel. The assessment also points out that key components of the Syrian arsenal are getting old and outdated, and that Damascus is incapable of modernizing and replacing these weapon systems. Hence, with no diplomatic breakthrough in sight, Damascus might be tempted to utilize the "military option" as a decisive political instrument before key segments of the Syrian Armed Forces become obsolete.

On the surface, this Israeli national intelligence threat assessment reinforces and justifies the political decision to urgently concentrate on reviving the Israeli-Syrian negotiations. However, a closer look raises a very disturbing and profound question.

The quintessence of a peace agreement between two states is that both have forsworn the use force against each other. When two states decide to negotiate genuine peace, the underlining precondition is that both have already excluded the use of force from the list of viable options to resolve outstanding disputes no matter how serious.

Hence, for as long as the Syrian military option is a viable threat, the concurrent diplomatic process between Israel and Syria is not a peace process. Nations do not make peace under the gun. At best, nations reach agreements on a cease-fire or even non-belligerency arrangements -- all temporary measures -- while pointing guns at each other. Nations may not be killing each other during such diplomatic negotiations, but they don't make peace in the process either. Moreover, given the rhetoric coming out of Damascus, what's happening between Syria and Israel is a strategic extortion.

The same type of "relations" exist between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Arafat personally ordered the "spontaneous" outbreak of violence last fall, and is constantly threatening a new Intifadah if his demands are not met. Again, this is not forswearing war -- this is extortion.

For as long as Arab leaders consider the use of force -- including threats to use force -- as a legitimate component of their relations with Israel, they don't mean "peace". Given the fact that the military preparations of both the Palestinian Authority and Syria are very real and menacing, Jerusalem should draw the appropriate conclusions rather than rush to surrender additional strategic assets for worthless pieces of paper.

The issue is both very simple and profound: Just as a woman cannot be partially pregnant, there cannot be a partial peace. The issue at hand is neither the likelihood or probability of a war breaking out, nor is it a question of a direct confrontation versus a use of proxies (state-sponsored terrorists). The issue here is far simpler -- is the use of force a viable option or not. For as long as a government is contemplating circumstances for initiating the use of force against another, this government is not considering genuine peace with that other government, the formal title of their prevailing diplomatic contacts notwithstanding.

Either nations bury the hatchets for good or they don't. Covering the hatchets with shrubs, perhaps even a little gravel, is not burying. Covering means that the hatchets are there as viable instruments to be brought back and used if "peace" no longer delivers results. With Egypt, it took more than 15 years before the "cold peace" was completely transformed into a "cold war" -- a profound change. With Syria and the PA -- the threats of war escalate even before the so-called "peace process" has been completed.

If the Israeli Government is convinced it cannot withstand the pressure from Washington and the Israeli "peace camp" to pursue the Syrian track, put Damascus to a test. For example, Jerusalem might demand that Damascus forswears the use of force and unilaterally redeploy its armed forces away from forward dispositions near the Golan and the Lebanese border before any meaningful discussions about the Golan even begin. The "risk" Damascus is called upon to assume in the name of "peace" is far smaller and eminently more reversible than the withdrawal from the Golan Israel is expected to agree to. If Damascus cannot agree to these elementary confidence building measures -- which is most likely to be the case -- it means that Damascus remains beholden to the military option. In turn, this means that Damascus is not interested in a genuine peace with Israel. As things stand at this time, Damascus continues to rely on military extortion as the primary instrument for furthering the "peace process".

Ultimately, it is high time for Jerusalem to confront reality. The number one obligation of any government is to ensure the freedom and security of its citizens -- not to sacrifice their security and risk their freedom (as well as lives) in order to appease the White House or even stifle political and media criticism at home. It is incumbent upon the responsible government in Jerusalem to boldly act on the basis of facts, not wishful thinking and self-delusions, before it is too late.

Yossef Bodansky has been the Freeman Center's World Terrorism Analyst since 1994 and a frequent contributor to THE MACCABEAN as well as a contributing editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy. He has written widely for such specialized journals as Jane's Defense Weekly and Global Affairs. Bodansky has contributed chapters and essays to the International Military & Defense Encyclopedia among other books, and has lectured widely to professional audiences in the defense, intelligence and security fields in the United States, Europe and Asia.

He was a visiting scholar in the Security Studies Program of John Hopkins University and served as consultant to the U.S Departments of Defense and State prior to assuming his current post. Bodansky is a recognized authority on terrorism worldwide, as well as an expert on guerilla and unconventional warfare and all aspects of the military affairs of Russia/The Soviet Union and the Third World.

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