Syria’s Latest “Peace” Overture – by P. David Hornik


It’s happening yet again. Syria, while simultaneously aiding and facilitating anti-American, anti-Israeli, and general anti-Western terror, is again trying to prettify its image in the West by, among other things, conveying an interest in “peace talks with Israel.”

Not only that, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset on Monday that Syria “is now willing to negotiate without preconditions”—meaning Damascus is no longer demanding, as in the past, that Israel concede the entire Golan Heights as a condition for starting talks in the first place.

Lest the excitement get unbearable, Netanyahu acknowledged that French president Nicolas Sarkozy had told him that “the Syrians…do not want to negotiate directly, only via a mediator. I replied to Sarkozy, ‘I prefer direct negotiations, but if the Syrians want mediation, you mediate.’”

Sarkozy, however, told Netanyahu that the Syrian choice of mediator was not himself, but Turkey—already a monkey wrench in the works?

Although Turkey mediated the latest round of indirect Israeli-Syrian “talks” in 2007 while Ehud Olmert was still Israeli prime minister, since then Turkey’s star has not shone brightly in Israeli skies. During the Gaza war, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Israel of “perpetrating inhuman actions [that] Allah will sooner or later punish,” further stoking anti-Semitic agitation against Turkey’s Jewish community. In October Turkey ousted Israel from a planned NATO military exercise, prompting the United States and Italy to withdraw as well. Israeli-Turkish relations are currently—at best—in rescue mode.

But for Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz—which, on Tuesday, gave major billing to Netanyahu’s words about talks with Syria—such details are, as usual, nothing to dampen the “peace” palpitations. Also on Tuesday Haaretz ran an op-ed by Hebrew University professor Elie Podeh complaining that “On peace with Syria, Israeli leaders only talk the talk.” Haaretz, particularly its English website, is one of the main forces in the world propagating the notion that the Arab Middle East is seeking peace with Israel while Israel is the obstacle, and this op-ed fits squarely in that inglorious tradition.

“Making do with noises about peace has a number of advantages,” Podeh grouses.

“Psychologically, it gives our leaders, and perhaps some of our citizens, the feeling that Israel really wants peace, while the other side just talks about it…. different pretexts are given for not negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Assad: His government bankrolls terror attacks, it’s in a strategic alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, all he wants is to dip his toes in the Kinneret [i.e., regain the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret for Syria], and so on.

Without belittling the importance of these matters, it should be stressed that if Anwar Sadat’s positions had been scrutinized like this, there would have been no peace deal with Egypt….”

Well, not exactly. By 1977, when Sadat’s diplomatic overtures to Israel began, Egypt had already ended its alliance with the Soviet Union and was looking to realign with the West. A proper analogy would be Syria having already removed itself from the Iranian axis and then showing an interest in talks with Israel. But again, why look too closely at the truth.

If one did that, one might also want to check into this latest dispatch by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which reports that as recently as December 1, “Radio Damascus broadcast particularly offensive anti-Semitic propaganda employing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and reviling Jewish religious figures.”

After setting forth the unlovely details, the ITIC notes that:

The article is the rule rather than the exception in the Syrian media, which is generally characterized by strong anti-Israeli propaganda laced with blatant anti-Semitic themes [and is] subject to the strict supervision of the Syrian regime. Bashar Assad’s regime proclaims its desire for peace with Israel as a strategic choice, and has again suggested the renewal of negotiations with Israel (on Syria’s terms). However, the regime not only does not make the slightest effort to prepare Syrian public opinion for coexistence with Israel and the normalization of relations between the two countries, it consistently permits and even encourages strong anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement.

Although one can’t expect Israel’s perennial peace inebriates to pay much mind to such things, one can expect better from Jerusalem. In fielding this latest transparently cynical “overture” from Assad, the highly image-conscious Netanyahu clearly sees another opportunity to disprove his own “hard-line” profile and build his credentials as a peace-seeker. He should not, at the same time, help Assad’s effort to get himself in the West’s wholly undeserved good graces.

  • Robert Bernier

    The Terrorist State of Syria.
    Israel cannot be reconciled with the Mafia regime of Assad. Syria will wait till the moment that it sees chances of defeating Israel. Syria cannot efford good relations with Israel.
    The Assad family has established a hereditary dynasty shored up by repression within, and confrontation and terror abroad. The rule of the Assads is not aimed at improving the lot of their people or forwarding a particular ideology. They changed ideology from secular Arabism to a seemingly impossible confection of pan-Arabism and Islamist extremism because it was expedient to do so. Hafez Assad came to power following a dizzying succession of coups that had made Syria the most unstable regime in the Middle East. The Assads are seated atop a bucking bronco. They are members of the Allawi religious minority who are usually not even considered to be Muslims. They rule a country of disparate minorities with a potential for chaos almost as great as that of Iraq. The radical Muslim Brotherhood is always there, threatening to take over the country by fair means or foul, and the usual Ba’th party rivalries that have plagued all such regimes are also a threat to Assad family rule.
    Their rule is not about improving living standards for Syria. Syrian living standards have fallen behind the none-too-glamorous ones of Jordan or Egypt. It is not about democracy, a Western luxury Syria can’t afford, according to Bashar Assad. The Assad regime is about stability, and it is about money and power for the Assad family. The regime is comparable in every way to the fictional Corleone Mafia family.
    Prosperity and peace would ruin the Assad regime. Therefore, Western assumptions that Syrian leadership must want peace and prosperity are mistaken, and it is pointless to “engage” Syria in dialogue except insofar as it is possible to confront them with their violations and insist that they mend their ways as explained at :

  • keithrage

    How could anyone trust the words of Assad, he loves to play the double dealing game while the people of Syria live in the dust. A good tree is known by its fruit.

  • welldoneson

    “different pretexts are given for not negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Assad: His government bankrolls terror attacks, it’s in a strategic alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, all he wants is to dip his toes in the Kinneret [i.e., regain the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret for Syria], and so on.”

    That doesn't sound like anybody trying to persuade readers that Syria is reaching out while Israel is stonewalling. Sounds more like a list of reasons to attack Syria militarily. Really an “own goal” by the left – they seem to be doing that a lot lately, not just in the MidEast but generally.

  • USMCSniper

    Syria remains Israel’s principal immediate military threat. In the past three years, Syria has spent more than $3 billion on weapons, up from less than $100 million in 2002. Even as reports disclosed that Syrian and Israeli officials were engaged in peace talks mediated by Turkey, the Syrian Defense Minister was in Iran discussing strengthening military ties. “Iran and Syria share the same viewpoint regarding regional issues and efforts will be made to strengthen our shared interests and bilateral relations,” said Hassan Turkmani, who was dispatched to Tehran after Iranian officials condemned the resumption of negotiations with Israel.

    Syria has reportedly received $1 billion from Iran in 2007-8 to buy surface-to-surface missiles, rockets, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft systems. According to Haaretz (March 21, 2008), “Israel has learned that Syria is buying more missiles than tanks, on the assumption that attacking the Israeli home front would deter Israel on the one hand, and help to determine the war on the other.”

    A Syrian delegation visiting Moscow in May 2008 was reportedly seeking a variety of new weapons systems that Israel views as threatening. Israel is particularly concerned with a Syrian request for long-range S-300 surface-to-air missiles that could threaten IAF jets flying on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. Syria also reportedly wants MiG 29 fighter jets and the Iskander surface-to-surface missile system, which is a longer range and more accurate missile than the ballistic missiles currently in Syria's arsenal. The Syrian navy, which currently has no submarines, is apparently also looking to purchase two Amur-1650 submarines from Russia. The dramatic increase in military spending and effort to significantly upgrade its military capability is one more reason Israelis are skeptical about Syrian intentions.