This year we discovered how lucky we were not to make peace with Syria.
by Hagai Segal
At least one good thing happened to us this past year: We did not make peace with Syria. We were spared. A miracle happened to us. Fortunately, we did not hand over the Golan Heights to Bashar Assad before his countrymen rebelled against him and exposed his murderous tendencies. We spared ourselves the need to share the Sea of Galilee with the trigger-happy tyrant, who is being shunned even by Moscow and Cairo at this time.
As we may recall, up until six months ago a peace treaty with Assad was considered one of the most spectacular challenges around here. A true national desire. A wide spectrum of leaders and men of letters warmly endorsed a quick agreement. In Jerusalem, we saw the establishment of a movement of leading intellectuals favoring peace with Syria at almost any price.
How lucky we were not to have listened to them. What a pity not to hear them issuing apologies at this time.
Shamefully enough, not only our politicians and commentators argued that Assad is a worthy partner for a final-status agreement. Our defense establishment also endorsed this foolish idea. On many occasions we heard hints that the IDF top brass warmly recommends negotiations with Assad, in order to remove him from the axis of evil.
The awkward doctor from Damascus was portrayed as a good guy who merely found himself entangled with dubious Iranian-Lebanese company. Intelligence warnings about an imminent war in the north were being leaked to the media in order to convince the public that there is no other choice – we must withdraw from the Golan. Senior leftists openly lamented reaching a situation whereby an important Arab leader offers us peace, while the Israeli government ignores him.
The truth is that our government didn’t quite ignore him. Ehud Olmert wanted to do business with Assad, but gave up the idea only because of George W. Bush’s displeasure. The smeared American president saved us from ourselves. If it hadn’t been for Bush, Assad would have likely been butchering Golan residents at this time.
What’s the rush?
Olmert was followed by Netanyahu, who already agreed to withdraw from the Golan during his previous term in office. When Avigdor Lieberman spoke about Assad disparagingly about a year and a half ago, Netanyahu’s office was quick to disassociate itself from these remarks. Ehud Barak rushed to state that an agreement with Syria is a “strategic target” and declared: “I’m telling Assad, instead of trading verbal blows let’s sit at the negotiating table.”
By the way, this is the same Barak who was eager to make peace with Bashar’s father, a mass murderer in his own right. Only the late Assad’s insistence on getting access to the Sea of Galilee’s shore averted warm handshakes between the two leaders. In a 1999 lecture, Barak described Assad senior as “the leader and shaper of Modern Syria.” Did he not hear about the tens of thousands of protestors buried by Hafez Assad in the town of Hama?
Barak did hear about it; in fact, everyone around here heard something about it. Yet nonetheless, there was great desire here to exchange envoys with the evil Syrian regime. In the era before al-Jazeera and Facebook, our leaders tended to repress such crimes for the sake of noble diplomatic objectives. Horrific acts were swept under the red carpets of various peace processes.
Only this summer, after Assad’s deeds were aired on every screen worldwide, we finally heard Israeli statements about ending the dream of cutting a deal with him. Even Shimon Peres stopped bugging Netanyahu to talk with that man. Thank God, it happened with Hermon Mount and the city of Katzrin still in our hands.
Of course, the risk of war between Israel and Syria still exists. It always exists. However, today it’s clear that a peace agreement with Assad would not have minimized the risk. Once the Syrian tyrant meets Gaddafi in The Hague or in the afterlife, his successors would not be committed to any agreements he signed. Prominent Arab affairs experts estimate that these successors will then embark on a terrible civil war. Who knows, Ahmadinejad’s emissaries may end up winning it.
Hence, it is clear that we spared ourselves plenty of national anguish by missing out on peace with Syria. Indeed, we did not get to fly our flag above an embassy in Damascus, but we avoided the horrific sight of Hezbollah flags on the Golan.
The immediate lesson here is that time is not always working against us. At times it’s important to take a deep breath and be patient. It is very possible that in the new Middle East we shall be able to secure peace without undertaking dangerous withdrawals. And if we can’t, we shall wait another 50 years. What’s the rush?