At the General Staff's annual conferences, Defense Minister Ehud Barak loves to talk to officers ranked colonel and above. These meetings are usually held at air force bases, known for their fine cuisine. In February 2000, at Palmahim Air Force Base, Barak explained to the officers the importance of a peace agreement with Syria. A decade has passed. It is now February 2010, and a little further south, at Hazor Air Force Base, Barak once again presented his doctrine: Without a peace agreement with Syria "we are liable to enter a belligerent clash with it that could reach the point of an all-out, regional war."
To spare Barak his usual speech at the next General Staff conference in 10 years at Nevatim Air Force Base (the air force has since moved to the Negev), we need energetic diplomatic activity, one of whose main protagonists is the defense minister himself. After all, he said on Monday that "we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues which we have been discussing with them for the last 15 years." The fact that this is not an original insight will not comfort the thousands who will be casualties in the unnecessary war that might break out, according to the defense minister.
Lt. Gen. Barak was the chief of staff during the Madrid conference, at which talks were launched between Israel and Syria. And in 1994 as chief of staff, he met in Washington with his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Hikmat Shihabi. As prime minister and defense minister at the Shepherdstown conference, from which Barak came to the officers' meeting a decade ago, he bargained with Syrian foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa. Barak heard from him, along with U.S. president Bill Clinton, who "did not appear surprised," that Sharaa had a letter from Barak's predecessor as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, confirming Yitzhak Rabin's and Shimon Peres' agreement in principle to an arrangement harking back a line to be called "the 1967 border."
Barak now plays a key role in the Netanyahu government, which has not yet moved ahead on talks with Syria. Barak can leave the government if the prime minister refuses to move toward peace with the Syrians and the Palestinians. If he does not and makes do with remarks to officers, he is afraid to pay a price - not the known price of withdrawal from the Golan Heights after an agreement, but the price of giving up his cabinet post. Therefore Barak, even more than Netanyahu, may be responsible for the all-out and unnecessary war he warned of on Monday.
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