Building Bridges: Iran or the Golan
Posted by Yariv Oppenheimer
Thursday Apr 24, 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's relaxing vacation in the Golan is just bad timing. It serves to fuel the conflict that exists within Israeli society which grapples between staying in the Golan Heights and the need for a peace agreement with Syria.

Truthfully, when the North is brimming with tourists and activities, when Golan wineries are awarded international prizes and when the Golan's communities see renewed vigor, it seems unnecessary and unrealistic to give up the Golan. The Israeli public does not sense directly the extent of the damage caused to our country due to the lack of peace with Syria nor does it understand the hefty price we are paying because of the continued hostilities with Syria.

Seemingly, ceasefire agreements between Israel and Syria are honored and despite Israel's presence in the Golan Heights, the Syrians avoid attacks on Israel soldiers based along the border. The widespread train of thought is that there is no hurry to reach a peace agreement with Syria and that it is a shame to give up such beautiful and important land as the Golan Heights. In effect however, the reality on the ground is the exact opposite. Israel is paying the price of staying in the Golan on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most painful and immediate price that Israel was forced to pay for its continued presence in the Golan and the lack of peace with Syria is the strengthening of Hizbullah and the fall of hundreds of men during the Second Lebanon War. When Barak decided to pull the IDF out of Lebanon unilaterally and without a Lebanon-Syria-Israel agreement, it became clear that without a return to the internationally set borders with Lebanon and without a solution to the Golan situation and without an agreement with Syria, the calm in the north would be only temporary.

The Second Lebanon War was a direct consequence of the continued conflict between Israel and Syria, a conflict based on the Syrian claim that the Golan Heights must be returned, as was the case with Egypt.

However, even after the end of the Second Lebanon War, the state that benefits the most from a lack of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria is Iran, Syria's neighbor to the north who finds itself in this day and age a potential ally to the regime in Damascus.

When the Israeli and American governments refuse to converse with the Syrian leadership, Bashar Assad is left with only one option - that is to stick to the alliance with Iran and to enable the Islamic Republic to aid Hizbullah which further threatens Israel's security. If indeed the Iranian threat is top priority and the need to isolate Iran becomes an existential matter, a peace agreement with Syria is the strongest strategic approach in the face of Ahmadinejad and the regime of the Ayatollahs.

Even if the official Israeli spokespeople are asked to deny and dismiss claims that Olmert promised the entire Golan to the Syrians in exchange for full peace, their denials and dismissals will play into insignificance. The State of Israel has already determined the set price for peace when it signed an agreement with Egypt at Camp David - full peace was conditional on the full withdrawal of Israel from the land it conquered in 1967.

No Syrian President would settle for anything less than what Sadat was able to obtain, no Israeli PM would settle for anything less than what Begin was able to obtain. The only question that begs an answer is how many wars and deaths will the two sides have to absorb in order to sign a peace agreement between them.

Original article: Jerusalem Post - Blog
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