(Washington, D.C.): When Syrian and Israeli negotiators reconvene their
Washington next month, they may or may not make rapid progress toward an agreement that
returns the Golan Heights to Syria and effectively “contracts out” to Hafez Assad responsibility
for safeguarding the Jewish State’s security interests in Lebanon. What is virtually certain,
however, is that whenever these momentous changes in what the Soviets used to call
correlation of forces” are accomplished, the ultimate result is more likely to be war
This point is powerfully made in an op.ed. article that appeared in the Jerusalem
Post on 15
December, authored by David Bar-Ilan — that newspaper’s former editor and the Prime
Minister’s Communications Director during the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Particularly noteworthy is Bar-Ilan’s point that the Arabs’ remain unreconciled to Israel’s
presence as a “Crusader” state in their midst, one that they intend to eliminate by
leading, in the final phase, to the ultimate liquidation of Israel via war.
That such attitudes continue to animate those in a position to act on them was recently made
clear by Hizballah’s Secretary General, Saykh Hassan Nasrallah. On 26 July 1999, he declared:
“Even if the Syrian Golan and southern Lebanon are returned by Israel, there will still be a great
national and Islamic problem to solve….The just and global solution to the Palestinian issue is
the restitution of all of Palestine to its true owners.” (Emphasis added.)
A Prelude to War
by David Bar-Illan
Jerusalem Post, 15 December 1999
What supporters of the proposed agreement with Syria expect is clear. Once the treaty is
the dream of comprehensive peace in the Middle East will finally materialize. Israel and its
neighbors will be swamped with investors. Tourism will burgeon. And free movement of people
and goods will transform the Arab dictatorships into enlightened, advanced societies. Surely,
relinquishing the Golan, painful though it may be, is not too high a price for so promising an
True, even the terminally optimistic realize that the Golan will not be the last Israeli
The “root cause” of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian problem, must also be addressed.
But the momentum created by peace with Syria, they believe, will persuade the Palestinians to
reach a reasonable compromise.
To debunk this utopian scenario is all too easy. The expectation that, once Israel “returns to
natural size,” the Arab regimes will discard antisemitic incitement, change textbooks, reduce
military budgets, seriously fight anti-Israel terrorism, support Israel in the international arena,
and promote peaceful cooperation instead of Israel’s delegitimation is a wish-dream that belongs
in fairy tales, not in Middle East reality.
As recent experience has shown, the more concessionary and conciliatory Israel is, the
is perceived to be, and the more likely it is to be subjected to escalating demands. Nor is there
any evidence that peace and stability attract investors rather than the prospect of profits and a
business-friendly environment. Some of the poorest countries in the world are peaceful and
Before surrendering the Golan, it may be useful to remember that unlike Israelis and other
Westerners, whose passion for instant gratification is quintessentially summarized in the slogan
“peace now,” Arabs view the conflict with an historic perspective. They believe the Zionist
enterprise is a foreign invasion like the Crusades, and that regardless of its current viability it is
doomed to fail.
When the 1973 war made them realize that Israel could not be defeated in a frontal military
attack, they changed tactics, not goals. The Arab League and the PLO constructed “the plan of
stages,” which envisioned retrieving as much territory as possible by peaceful means and
attacking Israel only after it becomes diminished and demoralized.
In Arab eyes, the plan is proceeding nicely despite internecine bickering. Israel’s gains in the
1967 war are being gradually eliminated, and the military balance is changing. Egypt, which in
1967 was a second-rate power equipped with inferior Soviet arms, now has a powerful,
American-armed military force. Despite traditional American promises to maintain Israel’s
qualitative edge, the Egyptian army has been supplied with sophisticated arms Israel does not
The Syrian army now expects to undergo a similar transformation. Ill-equipped and strapped
funds, it will be armed and trained by the US. And since the administration has not demanded
that it withdraw from Lebanon, it will be able to threaten Israel on two fronts.
The basic premise of President Clinton’s Pax Americana now being imposed on the region is
the main players should depend on American aid and arms, giving Washington control over their
military moves. That in the volatile Middle East such calculations do not always work was
evinced in Iran, where the vast American-built military infrastructure fell into the hands of the
To make the impending agreement palatable, a campaign of purification of the Assad regime
been launched by both the US and Israel. But Assad has not changed. He is a ruthless despot, a
sponsor of terrorism, and a major drug exporter who has kept Syria isolated, oppressed, and poor.
Touted as a man of his word, Assad has broken virtually every agreement he has ever made
Turkey, the Arab countries, and the US. The only area in which he avoids trouble is the Golan,
where the Israeli army is within striking distance of Damascus.
Nor is it likely that peace with Israel will make Syria “join the world.” Totalitarian regimes
how to filter foreign influences.
Chances are the opposite will happen. Syria considers not only Lebanon, but Israel and
part of Greater Syria. It is a belief deeply rooted in its history and national mystique, and openly
shared by Israeli Arab leaders. Syrian free access to these leaders is almost certain to create a
wave of irredentism, which will transform today’s demands for Arab autonomy in Galilee to
agitation for secession.
Combined with Syrian presence near (if not on) the Kinneret, the prospect of such agitation
makes Syria’s reoccupation of the Golan a decisive step toward the realization of the plan of
And, lest we forget, the last stage of this plan is war.