Peace between Israel and Syria?

Paradoxically, the talk about possible war between Israel and Syria has been mixed with suggestions that a peace deal might be possible:

JERUSALEM, June 8 (Reuters) – Israel has told Syria it is willing to trade land for peace and is waiting to hear whether President Bashar al-Assad would cut ties with Iran and hostile guerrilla groups in return, Israeli officials said on Friday.

One said Syrian officials had so far indicated a willingness to conduct discreet contacts that might lead to a resumption of formal peace talks after a seven-year hiatus. In two weeks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush, who would play a crucial role in any such process.

Israel may well talk to Syria because it does not wish to miss (or be perceived as rejecting) any opportunity for peace. But although Assad would certainly like the Golan back, In an interview with Michael J. Totten, Barry Rubin, author of The Truth About Syria, thinks that it is unlikely that he wants it in the framework of a peace agreement:

It is commonplace to say that Syria wants back the Golan Heights. But one need merely ask the simple question: what happens if Syria gets it back? If Syria’s regime made peace with Israel it has no excuse for having a big military, a dictatorship, and a terrible economy. The day after the deal the Syrian people will start demanding change. The regime knows that.

Indeed, Rubin sees Syria’s leadership as heavily invested in quite the opposite of peace:

While the Syrian regime poses as being desirous of peace and engagement with the West, in fact its institutions, ideology, propaganda, and activities go in the exact opposite direction. To survive, the minority-dominated, dictatorial, and economically incompetent government needs radicalism, control over Lebanon, regional instability, anti-Americanism, and using Israel as a scapegoat.

Syria is sponsoring a terror war against Iraqi civilians and American forces in Iraq; it is subverting Lebanon, not even stopping at killing the most popular political leaders there; playing the leading role in being the patron of radical Palestinian forces against Israel; promoting anti-Americanism; formulating the new “resistance” strategy which combines radical Arab nationalism and Islamism; being Iran’s main Arab ally; and even being the main Arab state sponsor of revolutionary Islamism.

American plans to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran — which may include awarding the Golan to Syria — are not likely to be successful, says Rubin, because there is little we can offer the regime compared to Iran:

Iran supplies Syria with a strategic ally and protector, a lot of money, an Islamist and Islamic cover, and much more. The two countries may not have identical interests but they are close: making Iraq into a member of their alliance; dominating Lebanon; driving out U.S. and Western influence; destroying Israel; backing Hizballah and Hamas; and so on. What can the West possibly offer Syria to replace that? High-tech military weapons? Lebanon and Iraq as satellites? To discuss the issues is to show how ridiculous the idea of splitting the alliance is in practice.

The whole Totten interview is worth reading (and probably so is Rubin’s book).

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