Thursday, July 17, 2008

Israel’s strategic partner is Syria, Assad and the Golan, not Palestine, Bush and Annapolis

14 November, 2007

Why are Abbas and Olmert playing the Bush/Condi Annapolis charade? For Abbas it’s about the courage: the courage to finally assert control, if he is able, first over Fateh and the machinery of governance he inherited from Arafat. Should he achieve that he must then abandon his obviously failed two year-long effort to appease Hamas and the other extremist groups in the Territories and beyond, to absorb them under the umbrella of Palestinian political unity. A leader capable of leading is the precondition for any possibility of negotiating statehood with Israel.

For Olmert it is also about courage. Outside of Bush Administration pressure there is no logical reason for Israel to expend time and emotion on a pre-acknowledged fantasy. Years of “negotiating” with the Palestinians have produced naught but a weak, if apparently dovish successor to Arafat’s hawk. Olmert must know that, even if a Palestine track offered a possibility of success, still the Syrians are far more important to Israel’s security and strategic needs. Olmert must demonstrate the courage to respond to the public overtures of Baathist Syria, to test President Assad’s seriousness and ability to deliver across the negotiating table. As prime minister an guardian of the state he must take the politically unpopular but necessary step of finally accepting the cost of peace with Syria already agreed to by Israel in 2,000, the return of the Golan. Or would he be alone in exploring the Syrian option. Defense Minister Barak, Military Intelligence and the IDF all agree in assessing Syria sincere in its desire to negotiate peace.

As to Bush and Rice, they have spent the past seven years destabilizing the Middle East, devoting the past four years concentrating their efforts on destabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. Had they the capacity for diplomatic foresight and strategic thinking they might have understood that neutralizing those two traditional enemies of the Islamic Republic would unleash the Sh’ia Iranian tiger to threaten the Sunni oil producers across the Gulf; to support anti-Lebanon and anti-Israel terror through their allies, Hezbollah and Hamas; and, in fact, to openly challenge the US in the Iraqi civil war that followed President Bush’s declaration of victory. By their actions Bush/Rice encouraged by incompetence Iranian nuclear ambitions, providing that country yet another and credible weapon with which to threaten her neighbors and the Gulf shipping lanes supplying a world economy dependent on oil. And then there was the single significant Bush contribution to the Israel-Palestine quagmire, his insistence against the advice of Abbas and Olmert, that the Palestinian elections take place with Hamas. Of course Hamas won as Olmert and Abbas had tried to warn the president. And eventually Gaza was separated from Palestine. Enter the Annapolis peace conference.

The list of Bush-bungling is endless. The obvious conclusion for Olmert should be that Israeli priorities must take precedence over pandering to this failed American president. And while Palestine may be important to Bush/Rice as a final effort to achieve some appearance of success, no matter how small and temporary, as they slink out of office, for Israel the strategic future is with Syria.

What makes Syria strategically important? In the first place, in regards to a Palestinian peace, Syria houses and protects Palestinian anti-peace terror precisely to assure that Syria will not be left in the cold to face Israel alone. Syrian policy has long been, Syria First, then Palestine. But beyond the obvious if, as MI and the IDF suggest, a Syrian peace is possible then negotiations would certainly include removing Iran from Syria and the Levant and expelling anti-peace Palestinians from Damascus (both of which Asad has signaled would serve him as well). A Syrian peace would also open the door to a dialogue with the Saudis and the extended Arab world; it would reduce the constant distraction of possible war on Israel’s northern frontier.

Should a Syrian peace be achieved then trade with Syria and the Arab world would open new and untapped markets for Israeli goods and services, unleashing the full potential of Israel’s economy. The reduced threat of war would mean fewer reservist call-ups and, as a result, lower taxes and increased manpower hours available to grow the economy.

The cost for peace with Syria was formally accepted by Israel seven years ago, recognized as pre-condition years earlier. Negotiating with Palestine is, in the foreseeable future, a waste of time, energy and emotion. Peace with Syria is Israel’s next diplomatic challenge. It’s time to accept the challenge.

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