Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Resolving Israeli-Syrian Tensions

Israel should take advantage of the opportunity to renew peace negotiations with Syria while there is a real chance of success, or risk further...

Print Friendly

Israel should take advantage of the opportunity to renew peace negotiations with Syria while there is a real chance of success, or risk further destabilizing the Middle East, says a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). The report urges Israel to respond "positively" to Syria’s unconditional offer to resume peace negotiations and to "halt efforts to augment [Israeli] settler presence" in the Golan Heights, in order to revive peace efforts with Syria and pursue enduring normalization with the Arab world.

For most of the past 15 years, peace efforts between Israel and its neighbors have focused primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Hamas’s electoral victory in 2005 and the West’s subsequent boycott of the Palestinian Authority effectively blocked further progress on that track. Given the current impasse and Syria’s significant influence over Palestinian political affairs, the Israel-Syrian track could provide a better opportunity for engendering peace, according to the report.

The report also said there are could be significant costs if Syria is excluded from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"Damascus possesses multiple ways of undermining Israeli-Palestinian talks, whether by encouraging Hamas or Islamic Jihad to resort to violence; vocally criticizing Palestinian concessions; or, in the event of a peace deal, obstructing the holding of the referendum among Palestinian refugees in Syria," it says.

In 1967, Israel captured the Golan Heights—a 7-kilometer-long strategic plateau—during the Six-Day-War and has occupied it since. There exist some 32 Israeli settlements housing 20,000 people and a similar number of Syrian nationals concentrated in five northern villages throughout the occupied area, according to the report.

The ICG also called on the George W. Bush administration to stop its opposition to negotiations between Israel and Syria. The United States continues to isolate Syria because of its alleged role as a state sponsor of terrorism and has cut off most high-level contacts with the Syrian government since former Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in February 2005. A UN prosecutor has implicated Syrian officials in Hariri’s death.

"Although Washington denies it, there is every indication it has signaled to Jerusalem its opposition to resumed negotiations with Damascus which, in its view, Syria would use to break out of isolation, cover up greater intrusion in Lebanese affairs, and shift focus away from the investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination," said the report.

In early April, Newsweek magazine also published reports that Washington pressured Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to continue rebuffing Syria.

"[U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] argued that talks would amount to a reward for [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s backing of Hezbollah in Lebanon and his ties with Iran," according to official sources cited by Newsweek.

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visited Damascus in early April to meet al-Assad, in part to identify herself and the opposition Democrats with the findings of Iraq Study Group (ISG), the congressionally appointed panel co-chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker. The ISG’s report, released in December 2006, recommended that Washington reach out to Damascus and Tehran for help in stabilizing Iraq.

The Bush administration rejected most of the group’s recommendations, and admonished Pelosi for traveling to Damascus. Vice President Dick Cheney went so far as to assail the House Speaker for "bad behavior."

The U.S. stance is not the only obstacle. So far, Israel has conditioned any dialogue with Damascus on sweeping changes to Syria’s policy, which means cutting ties to Hamas, halting assistance to Hezbollah, and fundamentally changing the relationship with Iran.

"Hamas and Hezbollah are not mere tools of Syrian policy but they are adept at reading the regional map and would likely adapt their policies in response to signs of a changing Syrian-Israeli relationship," said the ICG report. "The same holds for Iran: Syria would be unlikely to break ties with its closest ally for two decades but Tehran would have to adjust its behavior as it faced the prospect of a peace agreement."

The current Israeli government, unpopular because of its performance in the Lebanon war and discredited because of multiple domestic scandals, lacks the influence to take on the settler lobby, "backed by a public that has grown accustomed to controlling the Golan Heights," according to the report.

Suspicion and distrust toward Syria also remain high because of Syria’s continued support of Hezbollah, most recently during the summer war of 2006.

That has not stopped some former Israeli politicians and Syrian businessmen from laying out an unofficial framework for a possible peace agreement between both countries.

In a series of secret meetings between September 2004 and July 2006, Israelis, led by Alon Liel, former head of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Syrians, led by Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim Soliman, recommended that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights to its pre-1967 borders in exchange for Syria’s agreement to stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, distance itself from Iran, and make efforts to stabilize Iraq.

"Bashar wants to see the Golan returned to Syria, and he’s genuinely prepared to make peace with Israel to get it back," said Soliman, as quoted in Newsweek.

"In today’s Israeli political scene, it is possible for a Prime Minister to stand up and say: ‘I’m going to test the Syria option and see if Assad is ready to make a deal’," Liel told an Israeli Policy Forum audience. "The ‘Golan lobby’ that will resist a deal with Syria is not as overpowering as everyone thinks."

Khody Akhavi writes for the Inter Press Service.

 

Citations

Khody Akhavi, "Resolving Israeli-Syrian Tensions," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, April 30, 2007).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Established in Baltimore in 1897, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is the oldest Zionist organization in the United States—and also among the most aggressively anti-Arab ones.


U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is a conservative Republican congressman who was voted into office as part of the “tea party” surge in 2011 and chosen by Donald Trump to be director of the CIA.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


Billionaire investor Paul Singer is the founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation and an important funder of neoconservative causes.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

President Trump and his Iranophobe supporters are itching for a war with Iran, without any consideration of the disastrous consequences that will ensue.


Print Friendly

The war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea make a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis more difficult than ever to achieve.


Print Friendly

The new White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, is anything but non-partisan or apolitical. For the deeply conservative Kelly, the United States is endangered not only by foreign enemies but by domestic forces that either purposely, or unwittingly, support them.


Print Friendly

The prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s prime minister are growing dim. But for those of us outside of Israel who support the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis and wish for all of those in the troubled region to enjoy equal rights, the fall of Netanyahu comes too late to make much difference.


Print Friendly

Rich Higgins, the recently fired director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, once said in an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio program, that “more Muslim Americans have been killed fighting for ISIS than have been killed fighting for the United States since 9/11.”


Print Friendly

This is how the Trump administration could try to use the IAEA to spur Iran to back out of the JCPOA.


Print Friendly

President Trump seems determined to go forward with a very hostile program toward Iran, and, although a baseless US pullout from the JCPOA seems unlikely, even the so-called “adults” are pushing for a pretext for a pullout. Such an act does not seem likely to attract European support. Instead, it will leave the United States isolated, break the nuclear arrangement and provide a very reasonable basis for Iran to restart the pursuit of a nuclear deterrent in earnest.


RightWeb
share