Peace with Syria as vital as stopping Iran's bomb
Though Syria is a key country in the new Mideast axis being formed, Netanyahu does not want peace.
Ehud Barak said what he had to say, Bashar Assad did not understand or maybe he did, Avigdor Lieberman uttered his usual concoction, Benjamin Netanyahu explained that "we want peace," and life is good. Everything is all right. This week's ruckus is over. All that remains is the media circus. Because war, we should recall, is not something Israel does in winter.
The chatter, on the other hand, works all year round and Lieberman is its strategic asset. Lieberman can babble on about the collapse of the Assad family's rule, swear at Hosni Mubarak and ridicule Jordan. His importance at the Foreign Ministry compares only to that of the Strategic Affairs Ministry under Moshe Ya'alon or the Regional Development Ministry under Silvan Shalom. These three frustrated ministries fall under the category "we want peace" and have transformed chatter into policy.
But Lieberman is not really the problem. The root of evil is the hoax of "we want peace," because Israel is not really interested in peace with Syria - not at the cost of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. Israel's working assumption is that there is no rush for negotiations with Syria; our northern neighbor does not constitute a military threat and its regional position does not allow it to rally the support of other Arab countries to carry out a full-blown war. Syria can be threatened without risking damage.
Syria itself "contributed" to this Israeli approach by keeping the border calm for decades, and there is no way to convince Israelis, who understand only Katyushas and Qassam rockets, that Syria is a threat for which a single bed-and-breakfast needs to be removed from the Golan. The Syrian promise for the "fruits of peace" is also shoddy. Compared to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, Syria is not offering any real economic incentives to make peace.
But Syria holds an asset that Israel does not recognize. Peace at this time means the possibility that Israel's strategic position in the Middle East and the world will change. Syria is a key country along a new axis being formed in the Middle East, which includes Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The backbone of this axis is economic, security and diplomatic cooperation that would replace the old axis of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Iran's burgeoning political influence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, the huge amounts of oil still available in Iraq, Turkey's influence on Central Asia and its control over a gas pipeline to stretch from Iran to Europe, as well as the new link between Saudi Arabia and Syria and Syria's great influence on Palestinian politics and Lebanon's Hezbollah - all these may make this axis much more wealthy and influential in the next decade. So a very important arena of interests is forming, not only for Israel.
The United States of Barack Obama has already realized that Syria, with or without peace with Israel, is a country Washington needs to preserve its position in the region and beyond. A U.S. ambassador is expected to be sent to Damascus in the near future, and Europe is negotiating with Syria, not only on economics, but also on an entry point to the entire Middle East. Our friend Silvio Berlusconi should be asked about his view on Syria when his country's trade with Damascus stands at about $2 billion, some 20 percent of overall trade between Syria and Europe.
Israel, which is used to examining the region through a lens that counts Hezbollah's missiles and Hamas' explosive barrels sent to sea, and which considers the prisoner numbers in the Gilad Shalit deal the crux of the security threat, is blind to the region's strategic developments. The expression "we want peace," which is void of substance, cannot even begin to express the folly and shortsightedness of Israel, which is shrugging its shoulders at a chance to reach peace with Syria, if for no other reason than to prevent a damaging blow from this new axis.
To this end, we need a statesman, not a comedian. The leader who can make Israelis understand that peace with Syria does not mean eating humus in Damascus but is an existential interest, no less important than blocking Iran's nuclear ambitions. But this is the kind of statesman we're lacking. For the time being we have to make do with a thug who cries out - "hold me back!"