Has Syria chosen the military option?

Last week I quoted a Syrian statement that more or less threatened war if the Golan Heights were not returned. And I’ve mentioned the fact of the Syrian military buildup, particularly in the areas of short and medium range missiles.

It’s important to understand the significance of this. The obvious interpretation is that the Syrians believe that in light of Israel’s poor performance in last summer’s war and their own military strength, Israel can be threatened into giving up the Golan.

Another possibility is that Syria wants to make it impossible for Israel to take credit for a Golan peace initiative. Any such initiative could now be presented as another Israeli surrender in the face of military pressure, like the withdrawals from South Lebanon and Gaza.

Finally, there is one other possibility, much more worrisome. Assad may have decided, like Nasser in 1967, that a regional war will be to his advantage, and he is beginning to set the stage to justify such a conflict on the basis of Israel’s ‘intransigence’. The take-it-or leave-it presentation of the Arab Initiative in a form which Israel simply cannot accept is also evidence that the Arabs have decided to choose the military option over negotiations with Israel.

This does not represent a change in attitude in the Arab world, which has stayed more or less the same since 1948. The only thing that has changed very recently is the new Arab perception that Israel can be defeated militarily.

Therefore, because of the strategic importance of the Golan in the event of war it is extremely important that Israel does not bow to pressure and return control of it to Syria. Rather than reducing the chance of war, this would increase it.

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