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Syrian-Israeli Negotiations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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For over a year now there has been serious but intermittent communication between Syria and Israel via Turkish mediation after Israel bombed a nuclear installation in Syria (September 2007).

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s public announcement that negotiations with Syria are serious, many observers believe that peace between the two nations is farfetched.

There are two reasons for this: One, there is absolutely no chance that Syria will abandon its radical commitments to Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The Syrians publicly declare that this can never be achieved and pigeonhole it as part the rejection of the preconditions.

Two, if Syria genuinely wanted to abandon its radical allies then it would not build a nuclear reactor so that it may become more radical than North Korea.

According to a Western politician who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity; the most important question in the Middle East today is: What is the nature of that radical alliance? Is it simply a transitional stage or is it a game? Is Iran the only radical party or is the matter more deeply rooted in the Middle East?

The answer to that question is: Radical elements are present in the Middle East and they will prevail.

The source explained, “For decades Syria has been radical and it remained to be so even when the price of radicalism was extremely steep.”

Syria supported Iran in its war against Iraq, which is what isolated it from the Arab Sunni world, since everyone stood by Saddam Hussein against Ayatollah Khomeini – even those who hated Saddam Hussein wanted Iraq to defeat Iran. Syria was the only exception in the Arab world and it chose to side with Iran at a time when it was very costly to do so.

But Syria continued to follow the radical course, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For a while it believed that it should claim to have abandoned the radical axis, which is when it allied itself with the US in Kuwait’s liberation war; however, when late Syria President Hafez al Assad realized that the US was incapable of imposing its will on the Middle East, he reverted back to his radical positions.

As such, the idea that Syria is capable of abandoning its radicalism is unreasonable, because it would also mean that Syria would be more accepting and open to the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.

“If Syria could get something more important than the Golan Heights, specifically an American acknowledgment of its role in Lebanon, even then – it would still remain radical and loyal to Iran and it would still support Hamas and Hezbollah. It would still not become pro-American,” the same source said.

He added, “The biggest incentive for Syria to work with the US was when its [Syria] position was threatened in Lebanon. And all what the Americans wanted from Syria at the time was to curb the infiltration of terrorists through its borders into Iraq – but Syria refused to comply.”

According to the politician, when he heard that Syria and Israel were going to resume negotiations before it was officially announced, his initial reaction was: “it is over for Lebanon”.

But why? “These negotiations mean that Syria will continue to impose its will on Lebanon via Hezbollah and in return; the US, Israel and France cannot act against it. These negotiations give Syria immunity.”

As for the reason behind Syria’s insistence on making its negotiations with Israel public; it is to prevent America, Israel and France from taking any action against it in Lebanon so that it may have freedom of movement there.

“Syria has gained freedom for maneuvering in Lebanon. Investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri will not resume and there will not be an American threat like the one that drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon. Syria, Hezbollah and Iran will control Lebanon and France and the US will not be opposed to this.”

According to my source, this is likely to cause a catastrophe for the Christians in Lebanon in the near future. In the case of a war with Israel, “If the situation in 2006 had been what it is toady, Israel would have bombed Lebanon’s entire infrastructure because Lebanon would have been considered a hostile state. The reason behind America and France’s defense of Lebanon against Israel is the presence of Fouad Siniora’s government. Today, the government will be Hezbollah’s – regardless of the name it operates under.”

Syria will not abandon its radical alliance and this will not motivate Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Additionally, polls in Israel indicate that there is no support in Israel for withdrawing from the Golan Height in return for peace.

Syria will not separate from its radical alliance; this will not motivate Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights. In addition, polls in Israel don’t indicate support for withdrawing from the Golan even in return for peace. The statement issued by Olmert’s government upholding that it wants to withdraw from the Golan Heights and the West Bank practically means that it will not withdraw from either, because the Israelis against withdrawal from the Golan Heights have joined forces with the Israelis against withdrawal from the West Bank.

And to confirm Syria’s radical nature; a Syrian military delegation arrived in Tehran on the same day in which the first round of indirect Syrian-Israeli negotiations was concluded in Istanbul. According to my source, the recent agreement between Iran and Syria is serious, “but it does not indicate anything new as such. If Syria had been ready for a strategic change in its relationship with Israel, then the Syrians would have signed an agreement with Iran and not considered it serious. But what happened recently is serious and the strategic cooperation between the two states is ongoing; it is genuine cooperation that reinforces the relations between them.”

It is possible that Olmert may know that these negotiations will lead to nothing but he embarked upon them because he did not want war with Syria – in the case of the US launching an attack on Iran. Olmert is driven by reason to negotiate with Syria so as to alleviate the tension, and even if Iran was subjected to an attack; Israel would not necessarily become implicated in a war with Syria.

But what are the chances of a war against Iran? The politician reminded me of what US President George W. Bush recently said in Israel, which was that there are options available. Although he said that only 20 percent [in the US] were for going to war with Iran, he said that he does not underestimate that percentage because the US and Israel insist on not allowing Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.

.My source pointed out that the US is not in favor of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, as opposed to the French who are willing to accept the defeat of the Lebanese government. The politician insisted that in light of these negotiations, “Hezbollah will resume its control over Lebanon. Hezbollah is smarter than Hamas in Gaza. It does not want to shoulder the responsibility in Lebanon; it wants a government that is headed by Fouad Siniora or Saad Hariri so that it may bear the responsibility while it [Hezbollah] reaps profits and consolidates interests.”

However, if the US launches an attack on Iran then it would lead to war in Lebanon if Hezbollah launches rockets on Israel. In this scenario, my interviewee does not rule out that a war with Hezbollah will lead to a war with Syria but he added, “Olmert has a different agenda, he believes that Israel bombing a nuclear reactor in Syria was a military action and that Syria had the right to retaliate. This is why he believes that negotiating with Syria will distance it a little further away from war.”

And why is Turkey playing that role? Because Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to become a player in the international arena and he insisted on this role. The process began with a fundamental improvement in Turkish-Syrian relations and has evolved so that Turkey has become the mediator between Syria and Israel.

Turkey does not want to play a role that is against Iran; rather, it seeks to balance matters. Perhaps Iran could later appoint Turkey as a mediator. Turkey wants to play a positive role in the region in confronting Iran’s negative one.