Lessons learned from the bloodshed in Syria.
I recently went up north for Shabbat. I spent hours just looking at the mountains of the Golan Heights as they reddened toward evening. But slowly the pure pleasure I was getting out of their amazing beauty was replaced by a deep discomfort.
So wrote left-of-center Israeli columnist Ari Shavit on Thursday in Haaretz (full text available by scrolling down here). He knew well, of course, that beyond the tranquil scene he was witnessing lay Syria, a zone of turmoil and brutality.
couldn’t help but think what would be happening today if the ideological position I had long held—peace in return for the Golan—had been accepted…. I have to admit that if the worldview I had championed had been applied, battalions of global jihadis would be camping near Ein Gev [beside the Sea of Galilee] and there would be Al-Qaida bases on the shores of [the lake]. Northern Israel and the country’s water sources would be bordering this summer on an armed, extremist Islamic entity that could not be controlled.
Shavit and most of the Israeli left had, of course—until the chaos erupted in Syria last year, when they fell silent—long advocated restoring the Golan Heights to the tender mercies of the Assad regime. In 2000 then-prime minister Ehud Barak tried in earnest to hand the Golan over to Hafez al-Assad, father of the current embattled president. Assad responded by posing conditions that even the “peace”-hungry Barak could not meet—inducing relief among realistic Israelis and frustration among the left.
Shavit now sees, though, that even in the hypothetical scenario of the Assads accepting the Golan offer and then keeping the peace, they always headed a despised, minority regime in a region marked by severe volatility. He envisions global-jihad forces on the shores of the lake because, of course, such forces are now running rampant in Syria and threatening to fill its leadership vacuum once Bashar Assad falls—though, if so, it will fortunately be with the formidable Golan Heights between them and Israel.
Indeed, Shavit’s Shabbat idyll continued to be disturbed by visions:
If we’d had peace in the 2000s, then today we’d already have bloodshed. If we had gone to bed with Assad a decade ago, today we’d be waking up with jihad…. Strange substances would be flowing into the Jordan River tributaries….
The Syrian Golan would be turned into a black hole far more dangerous than the black hole of the Sinai desert…. Sooner or later, Israel would have been forced to once again ascend [the Golan]. But this time such an operation would bring ballistic missile barrages on Tel Aviv. The peace I had believed in and fought for would have turned into an enormous war in which it’s possible thousands would have been killed.
How significant is Shavit’s mea culpa? First, it should be noted that Shavit has long been somewhat of an anomaly on the Israeli left, occasionally able to listen to right-wingers and not just vilify them. While criticizing Binyamin Netanyahu, Shavit portrays him as a complex human being and has given him lengthy, respectful interviews. In the late 1990s Shavit made waves with an article castigating his fellow leftists for mindlessly demonizing Netanyahu during his first stint as prime minister.
Yet, for all that, Shavit has been a card-carrying “land for peace” acolyte, and the confession he published on Thursday is symptomatic. No doubt his colleagues on the left—and especially his home paper Haaretz—keep robotically charging Netanyahu with failing to “make peace” with the Palestinians and with “rushing into war” with Iran. Unlike in the 1990s, though, the left no longer even tries to organize demonstrations for “peace.” Nor, this summer, has it been able to revive last year’s brief but widespread “social justice” rallies, instead mustering at most a few thousand radicals and malcontents to bellow inane slogans in the streets of Tel Aviv.
The reason is that Israel is in a different, sober mood now, as the upheavals in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere have revealed levels of instability and primitive hatred that have surprised even some of the realists. The Israeli left still has strongholds in the media, universities, and justice system and still makes noise, but no longer stands a chance electorally. With Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad having told a gathering of Muslim ambassadors in Tehran last week that “Any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime”—and with even the civilized world reacting with bored silence—Israelis no longer want to hear that Netanyahu is the obstacle to peace.
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