Anything for a quiet life
It's time to take a closer look at the thinking and the behavior of the regimes to which we seek to grant concessions.
So far, the story of the current negotiations with Syria showcases a number of recurring problematic elements in Israel's approach to regional policy - and not just toward Syria. A chronic myopia serves Israel's cause poorly, and leaves the country open to manipulation.
For the Syrians, the Olmert government's offer to start negotiations was the equivalent of a "get out of jail free" card. French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Damascus in September set the seal on the Alawite regime's triumphant passage from isolation, a journey it began courtesy of the talks with Israel. In meetings in Damascus, in which the Emir of Qatar and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also participated, Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly issued a six-point document that we are told will form the basis for the fifth round of indirect talks. The document is understood to include a demand for Israeli withdrawal from the entirety of the Golan Heights.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has yet to set a date for these talks. It is not quite clear at the moment whether anyone involved expects them to lead anywhere. One Israeli source quoted in the press said there was no chance of a deal or even a breakthrough. Another dropped hints that the talks would be deadly serious, with far more happening behind the scenes than met the public eye. All, however, agreed that if there was any hope at all of a breakthrough, even a sliver, it was incumbent upon the government of Israel to try.
The Syrians, for their part, have made it clear, via every available platform, that the subject of the talks would be the return of the Golan Heights, in exchange for security guarantees on the Heights. They have repeatedly stated that there is no chance of putting other Syrian relationships - such as the strategic alliance with Iran, or the support for Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas - on the discussions' agenda. One witty Syrian commentator even suggested that just as the Syrians did not expect Israel to discuss Israeli-Georgian relations with them, so Israel should not presume to bring up other, unrelated aspects of Syria's system of alliances.
So the talks, which will probably lead nowhere, have already largely served the purposes for which the Syrians entered into them. If, however, they were to lead somewhere, it would inevitably require Israel to cede strategic ground to a regime that currently poses no credible conventional military threat, but which would reserve the right to continue to threaten in various other ways. That is, Israel would cede an important asset in order to offset a currently non-existent threat, while accepting that its concessions would have no bearing at all on very real and existing dangers.
"We have to try," we are told, all the same. If only to establish a "channel" of communication. This kind of rhetoric is the authentic voice of a widespread Israeli outlook that seeks a quiet life at all costs. The problem is that seeking a quiet life at all costs is not a good strategy for attaining one. Current Israeli strategy broadcasts a willingness to be led by the nose by even the vaguest hint of willingness for peace. In so doing, it gives a very large room for maneuver to countries that mean Israel ill.
Observe the sequence of events: Syria actively arms and supports bodies engaged in killing Israelis, maintains a rock-solid alliance with Israel's main strategic enemy, and is facilitating the rebuilding of a military infrastructure pointed at Israel in southern Lebanon. It seeks to avoid paying a price for any of this by expressing its willingness to begin peace talks. Israel rushes to accommodate. The message is thus conveyed that Israel apparently has no strenuous objection to neighboring countries helping to engage in killing its citizens, and will even hand out strategically vital territory on trust to these countries.
Such an approach serves to confirm the supposition of the Iran-led alliance facing Israel to the effect that the Zionist entity is a tired, befuddled creature, willing to grasp for any illusory fata morgana that seems to offer it the chance of saving its skin.
In the very brutal game of regional politics, as played by Syria and its allies, the current government may take credit for a number of tactical successes. The bombing of the Syrian plutonium reactor, and perhaps the killings of Imad Mughniyeh and General Mohammed Suleiman served as a warning to the Assad regime that its excitement following the 2006 Lebanon War was premature. However, the over-arching desire to immediately cash in on these security successes with a half-baked political process serves to nullify any gains. The Iran-led regional camp absorbs the blows, and, relentless, continues its long game of intimidation and blackmail. Those seeking a quiet life continue to wonder why it eludes them. After all, if they were Assad, they would jump at the chance. And so it goes.
It's time to take a closer look at the thinking and the behavior of the regimes to which we seek to grant concessions. It's time to understand that the Assad regime is simultaneously implacable, brutal and fragile, and for all these reasons should be contained - not offered gifts of territory. The matter at hand is a long game of chess, requiring strong nerves. It may last a generation. Peace now, or even peace soon, is not presently an option.
Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.