US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mission to Syria may have had the desired domestic political consequences (President Bush is annoyed), but I fail to see a good reason for Israel to talk to Bashar Assad today.
Last summer, Syria provided material support to Hezbollah in its war with Israel (it’s probably safe to say that Hezbollah’s threat would be insignificant without its Syrian backing). And since the cease-fire, she has continued to resupply Hezbollah across the Syrian-Lebanese border. Syria has continued to be a major source of support for Hamas, hosting the hard-line Khaled Meshaal in Damascus. Recently she herself has been engaged in a military buildup, leading some commentators to worry that the next round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah will include Syria.
Israel’s possession of the highly strategic Golan Heights is a major deterrent to a Syrian attack. In 1973, it made the difference between a moderate number of military casualties and possibly thousands of military and civilian dead, and may have determined the course of the war. Israel can not afford to give up this barrier until there’s hard evidence that Syria’s intentions have changed.
Of course, recent events show the exact opposite. The only kind of agreement that Israel should even think about is one in which Syria provides concrete evidence — such as the removal of forces from the border areas, an end to support for Hamas and Hezbollah, normalization of relations, etc. — before Israel returns the Golan.
And therefore until there is some kind of signal that Syria wants to move in the direction of reducing tensions, instead of exacerbating them, there’s nothing to talk about.