Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Olmert’s Latest Push for Surrender

P. David Hornik | 5/28/2008

“You help me get out of the Hariri investigation, and I’ll help you get out of the corruption charges.” The Syrian and Israeli governments’ simultaneous announcing of their peace talks last week was timed with such transparent cynicism that the respective heads of state, Bashar Assad and Ehud Olmert, might as well have used that wording.

Syria had just gotten a major boost with Hezbollah’s effective takeover of Lebanon in the Doha agreement, and now Israel was, moreover, anointing Assad as a peace-seeker. As for Olmert, his legal woes are mounting, and getting parts of the Israeli establishment to view him as a key to peace is a known way to extricate oneself from such woes. But whatever the blatant utility of its timing, the Syrian-Israeli announcement prompted a rash of writings on the prospects of a Golan-Heights-for-peace deal. The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi claimed on Saturday that Assad was caught between his foreign minister Walid Muallem, who supports a deal with Israel and a Syrian realignment with the West, and his deputy Farouk Sharaa who’s keen to remain aligned with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

Amir Taheri also wrote that the apparent warming toward Israel stemmed in part from Syrian fears of growing “Shiification” of the country by Iran, which has recently opened fourteen “cultural centers” in Syrian provinces.

For Israeli Middle East maven Guy Bechor, all that wouldn’t matter because a peace deal would mean “Assad’s minority Alawite regime [would] be toppled” since “his regime has no legitimacy in Syria as it is, particularly when it comes to the [Sunni] Muslim Brothers, whose power keeps growing.”

The upshot would be that “the Golan Heights would turn into a radical spearhead against Israel” with forces amassing there “from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere” and “life in the north [of Israel] turn[ing] into an unbearable nightmare” of terror attacks.

Meanwhile the Bush administration was reported to be incensed at Israel with one official calling its announcement of the Syrian talks “a slap in the face.” The administration was right, of course, to criticize Olmert’s choosing as “peace partner” the thuggish Assad regime with its string of terror-assassinations in Lebanon, major facilitation of the Iraqi insurgency, and—seemingly most telling from Israel’s standpoint—recent abortive nuclear ambitions.

Lost, though, is the fact that since adopting the cause of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah terror organization, also as an alleged peace partner for Israel—even though, for instance, it gives Palestinian kids the identical education as Hamas—the Bush administration has been a major encourager of Israel’s own ongoing “peace” pathology of courting and rewarding terrorists and despots.

Of the various points made about the hypothetical Israeli-Syrian deal, the most resonant concerned the asymmetry entailed: whereas Israel would be giving up something very tangible, the strategic Heights, Syria—an example par excellence of the volatile, fractious Arab Middle East—would be giving promises, promises, easily trampled and forgotten.

Those of an empirical cast of mind would look at other Israeli peace deals as precedents. The wind blowing from Egypt, for instance, has been particularly cold lately—and not only because Egyptian Sinai continues to serve as a weapons conduit from Iran to Hamas.

Earlier this month Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said he would “burn Israeli books himself” if they were found in Egyptian libraries. Last week an amateur Egyptian soccer team in Rome, which included Egyptian diplomats from the embassy there, decided to boycott an international tournament because it turned out it would have to play an Israeli team.

The latest is that a group of elderly Egyptian-born Jews from Israel have had to cancel a visit to Egypt because this sparked a “frenzy” in the Egyptian media.

And if one casts one’s empirical gaze toward Jordan, with which Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994, the situation isn’t much better. The Intelligence and Information Center gives examples of blood-curdling anti-Semitic material in the Jordanian press including the partly government-owned Al-Dustur.

Israel didn’t, at least, make any significant land concessions to Jordan, and as Bechor points out, “the Sinai Peninsula is so large that the situation there is always reversible…. Yet with Syria the situation will be different: from an empty buffer zone, the Golan Heights will turn into a crowded anti-Israel region for generations to come.”

The basic problem—one that neither Olmert nor Bush has the guts to look at—is that the Arab Middle East remains intensely hostile to Israel. That means keeping Israel both viable and a formidable, valuable U.S. ally requires strengthening it and not turning its remaining strategic assets into a clearance sale for hostile parties. At this late date, it’s a lesson still not learned.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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