Saturday, April 30, 2011

Syria Not A Partner For Peace? So What's New?

By Barry Rubin

The Obama administration no longer considers Syria a potential peace partner for Israel because of its repression against its own people. This is according to media background interviews with government officials.

But wait a minute! What do we know about that regime now that we didn't know--I should say, should have known--a month or six months or six years ago? Syria has been a  repressive, radical dictatorship at least since 1963 and arguably a few years earlier.

We know the same thing about Hizballah and the other rulers of Lebanon; Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip; and--to a much lesser extent but it's still basically true--the Palestinian Authority.

So what has been the Western idea up until now? Namely for Israel to make a peace with these "partners" involving major risks and concessions. For example, Israel is supposed to give the Golan Heights to this regime in Syria in exchange for its promise of peace.

If you've never seen the Golan Heights in person you can't imagine its unique strategic significance. Israel's territory is perfectly flat and stretches to the nearby Mediterranean. The Golan Heights rise almost vertically above it and looks over this land like a balcony. Those up on the Heights can bombard downward to their heart's content with artillery, rockets, missiles, and mortars. Once Israel gives up the Heights there are no natural defenses between there and the sea. And by the same token it would be very hard--and costly in casualties--for Israel to recapture the Golan.

It is almost impossible for any piece of territory to have a greater military advantage.

Giving this territory to the Assad regime is the kind of silly idea that passes as somewhere between brilliance and conventional wisdom in every Western government and mass media outlet.

Of course, if the Syrian government were the kind of regime that would agree to eternal peace and keep that agreement then such a deal would make sense. But it isn't.

If one could have a real knowledge in advance that its successor would also keep a peace treaty--as long as the sky is blue and the rivers flow--it could be justified. But that's not true either, as the situation in Egypt is showing, as the situation in the Gaza Strip has shown. How many examples do you need?

And if one could know that the Western countries would keep their promised guarantees and then come riding like the cavalry to smite the evildoer who broke agreements with Israel than those guarantees would be credible. But, once again, that's not true, as the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip with Hamas, and the truce ending the 2006 war with Hizballah, and the 1993 agreement with what became the Palestinian Authority show. How many examples do you need?

According to the current way of thinking then, only after the concessions have been made, the risks undertaken, and the piece of paper signed  do we find out that these weren't partners for peace. But then it would be too late.

Isn't it better to learn such things beforehand? In fact, isn't it better to learn that reality right now this minute?

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