All Writings
September 24, 1992

The Peace of The Brave

Syrian and Israeli willingness to negotiate peace on the basis of United Nations Resolution 242 – trading territory for peace – represents a major breakthrough in the long and intractable Syrian-Israeli conflict. Both sides, however, will have to meet each other's national-security and territorial requirements to make peace real.

Syria's history of recalcitrant behavior and territorial ambitions (specifically for "Greater Syria," which includes Israel), together with the fact that political authority in Syria is arbitrary, gives Israel no reason for comfort. Citing two decades of merciless Syrian bombardments of Israeli settlements from the highlands of the Golan before 1967, many Israelis still insist on retention of the Golan for security reasons. Against this backdrop Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin must convince the Israelis that territorial concessions that produce peace are in the best national interest.

Syria's President Hafez al-Assad made the recovery of the Golan Heights a national imperative and the centerpiece of his policies toward Israel, particularly since no country has recognized the Golan's annexation by Israel. Assad cannot make peace with Israel and stay in power unless this national requirement is satisfied. This is what Assad means when he speaks of "the peace of the brave."

In Israel the pressure exerted on the government by the Golan settlers (nearly 13,000) is supported by the majority of the Israeli public. This emotional issue is further charged by the distrust that Israelis feel toward the Syrians. The question therefore is: How can Israel's security and Syria's sovereignty over the Golan Heights be reconciled to satisfy the skeptics in both camps? An agreement between Israel and Syria would have to entail a number of stages allowing for confidence-building measures to take hold. Since Assad needs to justify his peace with Israel, he must demonstrate that he has achieved a certain territorial gain in return. It is likely that Israel would, as stated by Prime Minister Rabin, agree initially to make such an important territorial concession to signify Israeli willingness to trade territory for peace in accordance with UN Resolution 242. This, however, should provide only the beginning of a process that eventually will restore Syrian "sovereignty" over the Golan Heights under specific conditions, including a timetable.

To allay Israeli anxiety over repeated terrorists activities in Israel and across the Lebanese borders, Syria could reciprocate by reducing its military and financial support to the Marxist terrorist groups operating from Syrian or Lebanese territories. Moreover, Syria should show restraint in the acquisition, development and deployment of missiles and the production of mass-destruction weapons. And finally, Syria should begin the process of normalizing relations with Israel. These are the type of signal s that Israel will be seeking for reassurance regarding Syria's intentions.

Following this first phase, and within a specified three to five year time frame, Israel could "officially surrender" the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty under a UN agreement. Syria will then lease the Golan Heights back to Israel for an extended period of time (say 50 to 100 years). The enforcement of the agreement could be monitored by the UN Security Council, where the US has veto power. The lease could be renewed, modified, or canceled only by mutual agreement between Israel and Syria. Many Israeli military experts, including Gen. Dan Shomron, Israel's former military chief of staff, argue that under conditions of peace the importance of the Golan Heights as a strategic asset diminishes considerably. As long as peace prevails, both sides would develop extensive vested interests in their relationship. Neither country would have a compelling reason to undermine the agreement. Thus the Syrian flag will fly on the Golan for the Syrian people to see, while Israel's security is not compromised.

To ensure Israeli security, other protective measures should be in place, such as: electronic surveillance, permanent demilitarization, on-location verification and early warning systems, along with UN observation teams. Cementing the peace and making renewed hostilities undesirable requires the creation of confidence-building measures and mutually vested interests. A peace of reconciliation will occur only as Israel and Syria work together on regional problems such as water supply and arms control, establish trade, cultural, and technological exchanges, and invest in each others' economy. Full compliance and adherence to the timetable engenders trust. During these confidence-building years, the Golan settlers may relocate with full compensation such as that received by the inhabitants of Yamit and other settlements in the Sinai. Sinai settlers at first vehemently resisted relocation but then were persuaded to leave in compliance with the Camp David accords. In the end, Israel and Syria will have to compromise.

The Syrians are not likely to regain the Golan Heights unless they choose, in Assad's words, "the peace of the brave" – a full-fledged peace of reconciliation and not a mere state of non-belligerency against Israel. The Israelis, who have not known real peace with Syria since the creation of their state in 1948, may yet find that no piece of land could in the long run substitute for real peace.