Not at the start of the skiing season, Bashar
Under Assad, we read that he is young, immature, his leadership is not yet stabilized, he is not serious, he wants to make an impression on the United States and he's too tall. The word on Gadhafi is that he is interesting, original, brave, unexpected, understands the new circumstances and is worth looking into and meeting with.
Who is the most appropriate Arab leader for making peace with Israel? The catalog of traits that Israel has been forced to open again because two Arab leaders bothered the country with their intentions of peace contains the following technical specifications: Under Assad, we read that he is young, immature, his leadership is not yet stabilized, he is not serious, he wants to make an impression on the United States and he's too tall. The word on Gadhafi is that he is interesting, original, brave, unexpected, understands the new circumstances and is worth looking into and meeting with.
In Israeli eyes, Libyan ruler Muammar Gadhafi is an authentic Arab leader - meaning he is off his rocker or at least exotic. His son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, is a "very interesting and intelligent fellow," in the words of MK Ilan Shalgi (Shinui), "but displayed arrogance." The diagnosis of the matchmaker who managed the coupling was that it's possible to do business with the Libyan family. As for Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, the answer is negative for now. Let him do a little growing up first. Let him mature.
Because the Israeli conception, as Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summed it up, is that Israel does not make peace, Israel grants peace. According to Netanyahu, "Assad needs peace more than Israel," hence the difference in approach toward Assad and Gadhafi. This approach rests on the assumption, according to which the connection between every Arab state and Washington passes through Jerusalem. It's as though the strategic order that existed until the Iraq War hasn't been jolted.
Brimming with pleasure, Israel is relying on the image the Arab states created for it, holding that the "Zionist lobby" is in total control of the White House and Congress. Syria will not be able to form new relations with Washington, get its name removed from the list of states that support terror or attract investors to Damascus as long as it has not been granted the Israeli seal of approval. Israel, if so, is only a middleman. A tough bouncer that understands that Syria intends only to pull the wool over its eyes: to declare peace in order to get into Bush's club.
Then, suddenly, a surprise. The owner allows in a new guest without the doorman even noticing. Gadhafi has "returned to the family of nations" on the fast track. The pathetic slogan uttered by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in asserting that Israel will conduct negotiations with Libya only if it stops supporting terrorism and destroys its weapons of mass destruction, is no longer valid. It was replaced a month ago. America is already dancing with Gadhafi, and all Israel can do is tell the guys how Saif al-Islam Gadhafi kissed it in the hall - well, okay, didn't kiss, touched. Last summer.
Israel is also watching with no little anxiety the romance developing between Washington and Tehran between the mounds of earthquake rubble in the city of Bam. "Iran is renewing the supply of arms to Hezbollah," Israeli security officials were quick to warn. It could have been a sensational story had the same officials not related that Iran stopped its arms deliveries on the eve of the war. But then the danger didn't exist that Iran and the United States might have a rapprochement, and we don't go around praising Iran for no reason.
And now Assad, visiting Turkey, is talking about a "dramatic change" in the relations between the two countries. Turkey is ready to mediate between Israel and Syria, the United States will certainly not object if the peace process between the two countries is renewed, but Israel seems to be saying that this is absolute lunacy. Why do we need a peace like that if the border on the Golan Heights is so quiet, and why now, of all times, just as the skiing season is getting under way? As everyone knows, Israel does not negotiate under threats of terrorism, and without terrorism there's no reason for negotiations. Besides, Israel isn't available this week. It's already so immersed in the peace process with the Palestinians that there is no opening in its calendar for talking to Assad.
Assad may not be serious, but he is part of the movement of icebergs that began in the wake of the Iraq War. That shift has generated a rapprochement between Iran, Egypt, and perhaps the U.S., between Syria and Turkey, has brought Libya back into the "family of nations" and has also moved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the department of strategic threats to the corner of the gang wars. That will be the ice floe on which Israel will continue to float when the Middle East really begins to be "new."
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