Monday, April 20, 2009

Israel, Syria, and the Dangers of Peace

A few weeks ago I came to an astonishing conclusion: a peace between Israel and Syria means war between Israel and Iran.

Sounds crazy, no?

Here's how I got there.

A few weeks ago I kept on hearing people say that peace between Syria and Israel was possible and within grasp. It's no secret that former PM Olmert pushed for a deal, though how strong he did and if it could even be OKed in the Knesset is another matter entirely. The general shape of the deal would be peace between Israel whereby the Golan Heights would be returned to Syria, and, in exchange, Syria would sever its ties with Iran and stop arming Hezbollah. Basically it's a land-for-peace deal with some broader Middle East positioning thrown in.

Such a deal would be immensely beneficial for Syria, which has long demanded the Golan, having claimed to reacquire it by any means possible. However, for Israel, this deal makes no sense whatsoever, with perhaps one possible exception.

There are many obvious reason for not giving back the Golan from the Israeli perspective: it's an excellent military position, it gives Israel complete control of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), and the general fact that countries should never give up land unless they absolutely have to. Land is a country's most valuable resource, and the Golan is especially fertile land, a relative rarity in Israel. Not to mention the fact that Israel isn't exactly a huge coutry - giving up the Golan would amount to about an 8% reduction in territory, which is a huge economic and militaristic loss.

However, let us suppose that Israel was given such a tempting offer, no rockets from Hezbollah and Iranian isolation. Would it make sense for Israel to give up this land for peace?

I don't think so, and my answer is simple: once the government leaves the Golan they will not enter it again without force. Possession is key here, and while it is hard to walk away from a huge chunk of fertile land, it is even harder to ensure that what you walked away from will be delivered. In essence, Israel has no reason to trust Syria that it will keep up its end of the bargain, and even less reason to believe that even if Syria stops arming Hezbollah, they won't get their rockets from somewhere else.

It's not land-for-peace, it's land-for-promises, which are far less valuable than possession. Israel would be crazy to trust Syria, bearing in mind that if they're ever double-crossed their only option is a full-scale invasion of the Golan, which absolutely no one would want.

So why am I worried about peace?

Well, it seems to me that the only reason Israel would give up the Golan is if they really needed Syria to sit out a war, in particular, one with Iran. As it stands now, a war with Iran, which is three countries away, would almost certainly involve fighting on the Syrian front. If, on the other hand, Israel convinces Syria to take its land and walk away, the subsequent Israel-Iran war would probably go a lot smoother for the Jewish state, not having to deal with defending a Northern border.

Again, this comes down to trust, and there's little of that between Israel and Syria, but the only worthwhile gamble I see is militaristic - hope Syria stays out of an upcoming fight. Anything else are promises that not only may not be delivered, but may not be possible to be (after all, Syria doesn't control Hezbollah).

So beware talk of peace. It may be talk of war in disguise.

No comments:

Post a Comment