Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why Bush went public on the raid

26 April, 2008

The Bush Administration went to Congress yesterday to disclose previously secret intelligence regarding Israel's September, 2007 attack on the Syrian nuclear facility. In Congress and in the United Nations the administration was strongly criticized for withholding the information, the assumption being that Bush's intended reason was to deliver a message to North Korea.

For seven months, and with American agreement, an unusual official silence has been maintained by Syria and Israel regarding the nature of the raid. The target itself was public knowledge since press reports early on accurately described it as a nuclear reactor, descriptions never officially denied. Even the press conference by Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu describing it as a reactor was in his capacity as a government outsider, and so not official. One reason for official silence by both sides might have been that public disclosure would embarrass Syrian national pride and possibly result in pressure to retaliate. Another might have been that the two sides were well advanced in backchannel negotiations via Turkey.

If Bush's intention was, as the many in Congress seem to take for granted, to embarrass North Korea, why now? I suggest that the timing of the disclosures was more intended for Tel Aviv than Pyongyang.


Suggestions of negotiations between Israel and Syria have been appearing more frequently in the news recently. According to reports, not denied, Olmert told the Turkish prime minister supposedly mediating backchannel discussions that he now agrees with his predecessors Rabin, Netanyahu and Barak that Israel should return the Golan in exchange for peace. Again last week Olmert is quoted ass tellling the Palestinians that in exchange for peace they could expect Israel to cede 64% of the West Bank, with the Wall as international boundary. He also proposed free access for the Palestinians to Old City holy places, in a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Both suggestions represent a significant retreat from Camp David, 2000 where Israel had agreed to return 96% of the West Bank and a divided Jerusalem/Al Quds. At best Olmert's reported offers might be called inadequate, at worst insulting. In either case they represent a slammed door on Palestine, the Roadmap and Annapolis, a rejection of Bush.

Bush has never been known to take opposition gently, and several administration actions this week seem addressed at punishing Israel. In addition to the reactor hearings in the Congress, in a surprising move more than twenty years after the fact, in a highly publicized arrest reminiscent of the Pollard Affair the FBI raided a New Jersey nursing home to arrest 85 year old Ben-Ami Kadish on charges of espionage for Israel in the 1980’s. The arrest raises questions of Israeli reliability, and the dual loyalty issue certain to leave American Jewry squirming.

To my mind it is not an enormous leap, given the history of this administration, to act first and think later, to surrender to emotion over logic; that this is yet one more instance, like Iraq, of Bush shooting first and facing the consequences later. Clearly he has no compunction to sacrifice US allies, even his own country's national interests for the satisfaction of giving vent to injured pride.


Reduced to an issue of land-for-peace, surrendering the Golan offers Israel enormous strategic diplomatic and economic advantages at the cost of surrendering a geological formation that has long since lost significant military purpose. Before 1967 the Heights provided the Syrians a vantage point from which to fire on the valley below, an advance observation from which to direct artillery and mortar. Today Syria has missiles capable of striking anywhere within Israel, has no need for advance spotters to direct fire. Is there a military cost in surrendering the Heights, yes: positioning heavy weapons with clear fields of fire aimed at Damascus and with little geography between to slow an attack. But again, in the age of missiles and hi-tech drone and manned aircraft, while there is some tactical advantage there is no strategic advantage to maintaining direct control of the Heights. And the nearly completed 2000 agreement between the two countries already provided Israel early warning observation posts in the Hermon range, as well as demilitarization of Golan and surrounding terrain.

Emotional there is a cost to surrendering sovereignty over Golan, a part of Israel for more than thirty years. And that impact will be especially hard on those who live there, on their children and grandchildren who have known no other home. But while the 2000 agreement promised the return of Golan to Syria, it also protected those settlements, provided for the rights of their residents. And there is no reason to believe that a 2009 agreement would be less protective of their rights than that of 2000.

In a previous article I suggested several strategic benefits to Israel resulting from peace with Syria, including the obvious reduction in tension in the north resulting in fewer life and economy-disruptive reserve mobilizations; possible open borders between the two states allowing free tourism and trade; and a way around the impossible Saudi roadblock to a global agreement with Israel, peace with the Palestinians. Peace under the Saudi proposal opens diplomatic relations between Israel and nearly the entire Arab-Moslem world. This promises to lead to an explosion in growth for Israeli commerce and economic development, which in turn would result in a reversal of the technological brain drain. Instead of yerida, expat Israelis would be clamoring to return!

All advantages, of course, are not exclusive to Israel. For Syria an Israel peace means liberation from the yoke of Iranian dependence. This in turn would result in improved relations with surrounding Arab states. Under a different American administration (serious negotiations cannot even begin until Bush is replaced in the White House) when realpolitik replaces Bush ideology, Syria will be seen as the important bulwark she is to Iranian hegemony, will realize Assad's dream of alliance rather than enmity with the United States. And of course reduced tension on her border with Israel will result in the possibility to reduce her military and grow her civilian economy.

The only barrier to Israel and Syria sitting down at the negotiating table is, as it has been since he invaded Iraq, Bush and his administration. So the next few months will be bumpy for Israel-US relations. Bush will attempt to derail improving relations across the Golan in the months leading up to a new American administration. But all three potential future presidents are on record as supporting peace between the adversaries, all agree that such a peace would dramatically shake up the landscape of the entire region resulting in increased regional stability and American credibility. And an Israel-Syria peace would go a long way towards repairing the US Middle East defense shield destroyed in the aftermath of Iraq, would check the increasing regional threat represented by Iranian power loosed when the Bush invasion of Iraq removed Iran’s main enemy across the Persian Gulf.

We have only to outwait Bush. And Pray.

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