The Syrian Channel, Pros and Cons

Pro: Israel is interested in a political arrangement that will remove the hostile country that pulls the strings of Hezbollah and Hamas from the cycle of conflict. The Syrian regime has proved its stability, internal control and honoring of agreements. President Bashar Assad wants negotiations, and the present war in Lebanon and Gaza has demonstrated, once again, that it is dangerous to ignore him.

Con: The price of peace with Syria is known - returning the entire Golan Heights, up to Lake Kinneret, and handing over the area overlooking the Golan Heights and Israel's water sources to Assad, the ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Frightening.

Pro: It's easier to come to an agreement with the Syrians than with the Palestinians. In the Golan there are no holy sites, and the refugee problem is negligible. All we have to do is determine a border and security arrangements, and there will be an immediate agreement.

Con: That was the belief of five Israeli prime ministers who conducted negotiations with the late Syrian president Hafez Assad during the previous decade. But at the crucial moment, Israel refused to give him the shores of the Kinneret, and he insisted on that. Even a dispute over a narrow strip of land can torpedo an agreement.

Pro: An Israeli-Syrian peace will sever the alliance between Damascus and Teheran, isolate Iran and strengthen moderate forces in the region. The Golan is a bargain price for such a deal.

Con: Israel's leaders describe Bashar Assad as childish and eccentric, but he is no fool. Why should he distance himself from Iran, which, from Damascus, looks like a rising star in the Middle East, in favor of a dubious alliance with the United States and Israel, which are sinking? Assad saw what happened to Palestinian Authority chair Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who gambled on U.S. President George W. Bush, and saw how his idol, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, has become the hero of the Arabs.

Pro: The war in Lebanon has proved that in the era of missiles, territory is of no significance, and the topography of the Golan will not provide security to Israel's home front.

Con: The war in Lebanon has proved that even in the era of missiles, the only way to stop them from being fired is by ground occupation of the launching area. It is preferable to control the Golan and threaten Damascus from there rather than to descend to the Hula Valley.

Pro: The present crisis has made it clear to everyone the need for an agreement with Syria that will prevent a regional war and Scud missiles with chemical warheads on Tel Aviv. We should leave the Golan quickly - before Assad, like Nasrallah, proves that Israeli deterrence is hollow.

Con: After we have absorbed thousands of rockets in the North without beating Hezbollah, will we leave the Golan? Has someone gone crazy?

Pro: A deal with Assad will complete the "ring of peace" with agreements with Syria and Lebanon, isolate the Palestinians and force them to compromise on the West Bank.

Con: The Palestinians are not suckers, and they won't let Assad sell them out to Israel. They have ways of interfering with the Syrian channel. A suicide attack or two that Syria will refuse to condemn, and the negotiations will cease immediately, as in 1996.

Pro: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan is dead, although he still believes in it, and he will be in desperate need of an alternative policy. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who wants to be "separated" from the prime minister and must rescue his left-wing image, is signaling a turn to the Syrian channel after the war. Olmert can outflank him from the North by making a surprising offer to Assad, which will enjoy the support of Kadima and Labor.

Con: Olmert rejects negotiations with Syria, "which is not a partner," and will need a good reason for changing his mind. More important, Olmert demonstrated during the war that he lacks military understanding, but has a good understanding of politics. And in the present composition of the Knesset, there is no chance of finding 61 MKs who will support leaving the Golan Heights.