Another Israeli | Businessman Israel
May 29th, 2008

Re: ‘Syrian Israeli Peace Process

Just as Olmert has become popular in Israel as the smell of Limburger cheese forgotten in a drawer for 6 months, the new peace process with Syria emerges. No wonder most Israelis view it as just additional Olmert spin aimed at trying to postpone the inevitable, early elections in Israel. If the Barak led Labor party buys into Olmert’s view that indeed the talks are serious, it may be reluctant to leave Olmert’s coalition and force early elections. Also, Olmert may be counting on support from parties outside his coalition (such as the Arab parties and left of Labor parties) to prop his government while peace talks with Syria are ongoing.
Most Israelis are not interested in Olmert’s short term woes and are asking the more fundamental question: What has Israel to gain from a peace agreement or peace process with Syria? Given the fact that Syria can neither disarm Hizballah nor cut its ties with Iran, what exactly is Israel getting in a peace deal? There are only two clear tangible benefits. The process with Syria will help move the Palestinian track forward at a faster pace. The Palestinians know that if Syria cuts a deal with Israel before they do, their position will be even weaker than it is now. The other tangible benefit from a peace deal would be Syria stopping its support of Hamas. As of now, Syria denies it is willing to do so but since it is not a Syrian vital interest, they may compromise on this issue.  A third less clear benefit from a peace process may be the possibility that due to the interaction, Syria will be less likely to take part in a regional war once the US and Israel attack Iran.
Some supporters of the peace deal speak of many intangible security advantages, but no one has spelled those out. Given the reluctance of Syria to retaliate against the Israeli bombing of its presumed nuclear reactor and the assassination of Mugniyeh, it seems clear that in the next few years Syria itself would not be a security threat to Israel. As for Hizballah, the results of the July 2006 war and its preoccupation with internal Lebanese affairs guarantee many years of quiet on the Lebanese-Israeli border even though arms continue to flow from Syria to Hizballah without hindrance. At most, the intangible security benefits will be harvested in the future which raises the question as to why Israel should hurry now to sign a peace deal with Syria.
Israel’s losses from a peace agreement are serious and quite tangible. First, it will have to return the Golan, a piece of land which is valuable to Israelis from three different aspects: security wise, economically and emotionally. Second, Israel would provide legitimacy to a terror supporting dictator and delay democratic reforms in Syria for years to come.
Third, Israel may hinder the international investigation into the alleged Syrian nuclear program. Fourth, Israel will further alienate the majority of Syrians who are Sunnis and will therefore jeopardize its future relations with Syria once the Sunni majority manifests its political will. Fifth, Israel risks a confrontation with the US over its Syrian policy. Sixth, at this point in time, a peace process with Syria would undermine Saudi led Arab efforts to minimize Syrian interference in Lebanon.
Two new laws pertinent to the peace process are making their way through the Knesset. Fifty seven Knesset members have already signed their approval on an amendment to the Golan law stipulating that any change in the status of the Golan will require at least 80 supporting Knesset votes (out of 120). Another law that is likely to pass is one that requires a referendum to ratify any law or agreement changing the status of the Golan. As both Barak and Rabin promised such a referendum in the past, Olmert will likely have to agree to one even if the law requiring a referendum does not pass.
Weighing the gains and losses expected from the deal and given Olmert’s shaky coalition and the requirement to bring any deal to the Israeli people for approval, it is unlikely that Israel would sign any peace deal with Syria in the near future.
As for Syria, it is unlikely that it is interested in peace with Israel. It is much more interested in a peace process only and with peace (or at least a cease fire) with the US. As the self proclaimed leader of the Arab resistance, Asad has much to lose from a peace deal with Israel. “The fortress of opposition and confrontation, the beating heart of Arabism” (Syria as described by its own regime) sees itself as a regional power on par with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Its current power comes from its ability to destabilize Lebanon, support Palestinian terror organizations and agitate the Arab street. Once a peace treaty is signed, where will Syrian power originate from? Syria is a third world country with an economy that will take decades to fix. Once a peace deal is signed, Syria’s power will diminish considerably. Even more saliently, a peace deal with Israel will endanger Asad’s regime. Without the excuse of the war with Israel as a shield against the dismal economic situation and with the mantle of the leader of the resistance gone, Asad will not be able to deflect the criticism of the Syrian people and will have to bear responsibility for their dire situation.
Given the above it seems that the peace process is the result of temporary convergence of interests of two besieged leaders but it is not a true change of perspectives that will lead to results.

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59 Responses to the Article

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

ayman hakki,
I argue in my piece that Syria is not a threat to Israel. If it didn’t react to the bombing of its presumed nuclear plant, it would have to be pushed really really hard to go to war. I also believe that Hizballah has lost all ability to act against Israel following the 2006 war because the rules of the game have changed.

And as for Israel being more democratic than Syria, that is a fact supported by tons of objective international rankings. Democracies are defined by how countries treat their citizens, not their enemies.

But now leet me answer your question: is Israel’s armistice with Syria sustainable if one believes that Syria’s regime-warts and all-is not?

Asad has made sure that the only alternative to his regime is the Muslim Bortherhood (MB). He has killed off all secular liberal democratic organizations (just like Mubarak). So if Asad goes, there will be a period of civil war in Syria following which the MB will take power or another strongman from within the current regime. Those are the only possibilities. If a strongman takes over, we are back in the current situation. If the MB takes over they will need many years to establish their regime and they will not want to be isolated politically. They will either cooperate with the US and other ARab countries or all of Syria will become like Gaza. In any case, Syria will become much weaker and more isolated and very unlikely to want war with Israel.

ayman hakki Says:

Good judgment comes from experience, experience-unfortunately- comes from bad judgment. Revisit your supposition about regime change in Syria and you may see my point, a point independent of my admiration for Syria’s party line. First: Experience shows that a weak and backward Gaza is more likely to launch missiles, not less likely to do so. Second: No strong man will ever rule Syria unless he promised more confrontation with Israel. Both ways the odds of belligerency are higher-not lower-with a regime change in Syria. On some level you know this to be true, but the thought of giving the Golan back to Syria for “Peace” is (to you) like giving up. And, it is. Sooner or later you will give up, not because Syria will one day become stronger than Israel, but because Israel wont be this strong. Once the dream of expansion dies this’ll happen. No one in his right mind would rather live in Haifa than South Beach. If you detect glee in my words it is unintended, I’m being realistic. It’s been nice chatting with you all, and if you are ever in Washington DC look me up, I’m in the directory. It’ll be simpler to make my point of “mutuality” in person than it is in writing, because we Semites are all prone to polemics and the repetition of cliche’s, and it serves no purpose. So long now, peace.

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

Ayman hakki,
Good judgement comes from facing reality. Many, many people would rather live in Haifa than in South Beach. Many, many Israelis are returning to Israel because that is where they feel they belong and that is where their friends and family are. And they can return because the Israeli economy creates high paying jobs for these people.

For 60 years Israel has only been getting stronger. For 60 years people like you have been telling us that one day Israel will get weaker but even during the horrible second intifada Israel just grew stronger and stronger relative to the Arab countries. These are the facts you choose to ignore. It turns out that Israel and globalization are a great fit and it is something that Israel can readily exploit to its economic advantage. For example, Google, Microsoft, Motorola, Intel etc. etc. have development centers in Israel (a few in Haifa). Which other small country can make the same claim?

I really find the argument that Israel should deal with Syria now because things afterwards will be worse quite amusing for a simple reason. If things would really be worse for Israel, how much more bad will they be for Syria? If a fundamentalist regime in syria is bad for Israel, isn’t it just horrible for Syria? If that is the case, Syria should be more inclined to make peace than Israel. But obviously the syrians are not worried about a fundamentalist regime so why should the Israelis be?

Plus, I think a fundamentalist regime in Syria would make Syria ultra weak and unable to stand to Israel at all. Yes they could fire rockets. But they would pay a high price and stop quickly. Unlike the Palestinians, the Syrians have a lot to lose.

In the end all the arguments are the same. Israel has to change, the Arabs don’t. Forget it, the only way to reach a true peace in the middle east is through reform of the Arab states. Israel cannot help you with that. But once the Arabs reform, and become democratic, they will become a formidable force that can easily beat Israel.

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

I am not from Haifa but you really really do not understand what a great place Haifa is.

For starters do they have the following in South Beach:'%C3%AD)

Take a look at
Haifa has much more to offer than South Beach.

The trouble with many people in this discussion is that they have a very limited understanding of what Israel really is. Come and visit, don’t be shy.

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

Please release from the spam filter a post of mine about Haifa.

Jad Says:

This is my answer to AIG
Golan height is Syria’s land and we will get it sooner or later with or without your permission, in a way, similar to the exchange you did this week with Huzballah.
Follow is a nice and great poem that has a better answer…

أعمدة النور لها أظافر

وللشبابيك عيون عشر

والموت في انتظاركم

في كل وجه عابر أو لفتة أو خصر

يا آل إسرائيل لا يأخذكم الغرور

عقارب الساعة إن توقفت لابد أن تدور

إن اغتصاب الأرض لا يخيفنا

فالريش قد يسقط من أجنحة النسور

والعطش الطويل لا يخيفنا

فالماء يبقى دائماً في باطن الصخور

هزمتم الجيوش إلا أنكم

لم تهزموا الشعور

قطعتم الأشجار من رؤوسها

وظلت الجذور

* * *

ما بينا وبينكم لاينتهِ بعام

لا ينتهِ بخمسة أو عشرة ولا بألف عام

طويلة معارك التحرير كالصيام

ونحن باقون على صدوركم كالنقش في الرخام

باقون في صوت المزاريب وفي أجنحة الحمام

باقون في ذاكرة الشمس وفي دفاتر الأيام

باقون في شيطنة الأولاد في خربشة الأقلام

باقون في شعر امرئ القيس، وفي شعر أبي تمام

باقون في شفاه من نحبهم

باقون في مخارج الكلام

We will stay.

Chris Says:

The Golan is Syrian like California is Mexican.

Chris Says:

I find the notion of the Druze inhabitants of the Golan being under Israeli “occupation” a bit absurd. If Israel grants the Druze of the Golan Heights citizenship, the right to vote, and of course, allows them to participate in government is it really “occupying” them? I wonder what Salim Jubran the Druze member of Israel’s Supreme Court would say to this question. I wonder how Salah Tarif, a Druze citizen of Israel who served in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, would answer this question. Occupation takes on a new meaning when the occupied people are elected to and serve in the highest positions of the governmnent of the occupying power.

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