Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 07:53:48 -0500
To: pnews <email@example.com>
Subject: Israeli Fears and the Syrian Negotiations
For more than a few Israelis, there is a growing concern that after a peace accord with Syria, and the withdrawal from the Golan Heights Syrian soldiers will again take up positions on the ridges of the Golan and on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, controlling our main source of water, threatening the security of communities in the Galilee, and eventually becoming tempted to launch a tank offensive on the north of Israel.
Without presuming to forecast future developments, it can be said that these fears are baseless, even if they cannot be totally dismissed.
In any peace settlement with Syria, the Golan (or most of it) will be cleared of Syrian forces, which will also be reduced and pulled back toward Damascus. Further, warning systemswhether American-manned ground-based stations on the Hermon and the Golan, and/or aerial warning systems like satellites and reconnaissance aircraftwill become employed.
Moreover, it can be expected that the return of the Golan to Syrian sovereignty will severely limit, if not completely remove, Syria's primary motivation for war against Israelwhich found expression in the Yom Kippur War, when the IDF controlled the entire Golan Heights.
The Syrians are extremely aware of Israel's overall strategic advantage even without the Golan Heights, and they also know that in the event of an attack on Israel they can expect to be resoundingly defeated. Syria's rulerswhether Assad or his successorswill clearly recall the military defeats of 1967 and 1973, despite the fact that other Arab states fought alongside Syria against Israel in those campaigns, and that Syria received massive Soviet backing. As we know, more than a few years have passed since Syria has received strategic Soviet backing and Syria has little chance of persuading Egypt and Jordan to breach their peace agreements with Israel to join in a new all-Arab assault.
Concerning the Syrian threat to the sources of water: an Israeli withdrawal to the international border will leave the entire shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israeli control, such as to prevent Syrian access to Israel's reservoir (although the international border passes ten meters from the waterline of the north-eastern Kinneret). In this respect, it should be noted, that following the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Syrian forces took control of some parts of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Banias River canyon, and Hamat Gader (where the Jordan and the Yarmuk Rivers meet), and held them until the eve of the June 1967 War. Syria is now demanding to return to this line, and clearly, Israel will not respond to this illegitimate and problematic demand. In any case, it can be expected, that in the context of an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement, the issue of arrangements concerning the flow of water from the Banias and the Hatzbani to the Jordan River will be settled, and perhaps there will also be agreement on regional cooperation to develop sources of water, and in other areas.
Therefore, an agreement with Syria, does not have to rely upon deterrence and Israeli strategic superiority, but also on cooperation in creating a regional infrastructure - in water, transportation, energy and tourismwith the objective of basing the peace upon joint economic and strategic interests. Although, even without cooperation with Israel, Syria has, for years, been working towards accelerated economic development, and the improvement of its citizen's standard of living, many of whom seek to desist from war and enjoy the fruits of peace.
There are those who contend that economic development in Syria, and a peace agreement with Israel, are likely to disturb the stability of the harsh, autocratic regime, due to anti-Ba'athist, democratic ideas, which Israeli tourists will spread, resulting in Assad's opposition to normalization with Israel. It is difficult to accept this assessment. The experience of Egypt and Jordan do not support it, and the Ba'ath regime itself, is capable of retaining tight political control, even during wider economic development. See, for example, the Chinese model. Of course, there is no way of knowing what will happen after Assad disappears. However, it should be remembered that he has ruled Syria since 1970, that the Ba'ath regime has existed there since 1963, which have given the country considerable stability, which is likely to continue after Assad.
Finally, Assad's decision to make an arrangement with Israel, is not his personal whim, but a Syrian national interest, which is likely to persist with his successors as well.