By Vic Rosenthal
Syria’s suddenly getting a lot of play from the West:
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – After an undeclared two-year boycott, U.S. and European officials are talking to Syria again, signaling a possible easing of its international isolation.
Syria had its first high-level contacts with the U.S. in two years at a weekend conference in Baghdad on possible ways to stabilize Iraq. A high-ranking U.S. diplomat visited Damascus on Tuesday, followed Wednesday by the European Union’s foreign policy chief. — (Guardian, UK)
In Damascus with Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem, Javier Solana of the EU said:
With the President (Bachar al Assad) we have also talked about the peace process in the region. We understand it in a comprehensive manner. We would would like to work as much as possible to see your country Syria recuperating the territories occupied in 1967″.
“I would like to repeat, we look at the peace process in that way,” he added. — (European Jewish Press, Brussels)
I’m not sure why the EU is suddenly interested in Syria. Perhaps they think it will be possible to move Syria away from Iran and keep her from further mischief in Lebanon. This would please Saudi Arabia, the major energy supplier to the EU. The US, of course, sees Syrian cooperation as vital to a clean exit from Iraq.
From an Israeli point of view, these developments are highly worrisome.
In last summer’s war, Syria served as the primary arms conduit to Hezbollah, and since then has facilitated Hezbollah’s rearmament (even Solana admitted that while he didn’t know how arms were getting to Hezbollah, he didn’t know of any other way than across the Syrian border). Syria hosts Hamas ‘military’ head Khaled Meshaal, the man responsible for the Gilad Shalit kidnapping. Syria has assassinated various moderate leaders in Lebanon, driving the possibility of an Israel-Lebanon peace, once considered likely, even further away. And Syria is currently engaged in a major arms buildup:
According to Ze’ev Schiff, one of Israel’s leading military analysts, the Syrian arms buildup over the past few months has been on a scale unprecedented in recent times.
With generous funding from Iran, Syria is buying thousands of sophisticated anti-tank weapons from Russia, upgrading its navy and deploying advanced Scud-D missiles with a range capable of covering virtually every point in Israel. The Syrians also recently successfully test-launched a Scud-D missile and reportedly have been supplying Hezbollah in Lebanon with medium-range rockets with cluster-bomb warheads. — Jewish Exponent
The Golan’s importance to Israel is strategic, both to provide depth in which to repel a Syrian invasion and as a deterrent against Syrian rocket attacks. Let me explain by repeating what I said last year:
On the Israeli side, there is a steep dropoff to the Jordan River and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). On the Syrian side, it’s only a short tank ride to Damascus.
The tank ride, of course, is the deterrent I mentioned.
Prior to 1967, the Syrians often shot down at nearby Israeli kibbutzim. I once visited a friend at Kibbutz Tel Katzir. The heights loomed above us, and we saw a tall, pockmarked concrete wall that the kibbutzniks had built to protect their children’s house from Syrian snipers. During this period Fatah terrorists often infiltrated into Israel from the Syrian side to raid Israeli villages.
When the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973, only possession of the Golan Heights saved an unprepared Israel from suffering massive civilian casualties in Syria’s surprise attack. Today, with Israel under Hezbollah’s guns (well, rockets) from Lebanon, it’s even more important.
And we can’t forget Syria’s own rockets, and their arsenal of chemical and perhaps biological weapons.
It’s to be expected that the demand for Israel to give up the Golan will be softened with plans for demilitarization, early-warning facilities, perhaps UN peacekeepers, etc. And some kind of peace agreement or normalization with Syria will be held out as well. But it’s important to understand that such measures can be ephemeral or not helpful (witness the withdrawal of peacekeepers from the Sinai in 1967, the recent remilitarization of the Sinai, the blind eye cast on Hezbollah activities by UN troops in Lebanon, etc.). Given the historical record of Syria’s behavior, it would be foolish for Israel to agree to give up the Golan without reasonable guarantees, which are practically impossible.
So, theoretically, one day Israel may well return the Golan in return for a peace treaty. But that would have to be with a different Syria. Today it would be suicidal.