The Other Track

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I’ve been pouring through the archives at King’s College, London, preparing for several interviews that I have coming down the pike. Israeli journalist and professor Ahron Bregman houses his papers in the Liddell Hart library, and included in the records are transcripts of interviews filmed for the BBC’s Elusive Peace — It’s the proverbial cutting room floor. And, as one would imagine, there’s some fascinating material that didn’t make the screen.
A pair of anecdotes from Shepherdstown, 2000:
Martin Indyk recalls riding with Ehud Barak on flights from Israel to Washington as often as possible in order to glean as much as he could about the prime minister’s thinking. At the time, it was apparently a rather battered old 707, with a bedroom that had been hastily installed with little room for more than a bed. On the eve of the summit, Indyk, then an assistant secretary of state, was waiting for Barak’s arrival at Andrews AFB. After the delegation filed off the plane the prime minister failed to emerge, Indyk climbed aboard and found Barak in his bedroom. Barak motioned for him to sit on the bed alongside him. He told him he couldn’t cut a deal with Assad — there would be no peace in exchange for the Golan.
Danny Yatom also recalls going to the gym with Barak and finding Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharraa there working out. Barak tried to make a joke, saying that he would follow al-Sharraa through the routine so they could see who was stronger; al-Sharra picked up his belongings and left without a word.
So where are we now, nearly a decade down the line?
While Washington seems to be content to quibble about whether Hillary was upstaged by the White House’s decision to return an ambassador to Damascus — apparently without a quo to match the quid — the difficult question remains unanswered: can Damascus really offer what Israel’s after?
Far more than recognition; more than a peaceable border — Hezbollah seems to be the one issue looming in the minds of the Israeli leadership.
Hezbollah, the dominant Lebanese political movement, or Hezbollah the militant lung through which Iran breathes?
If Israel attacks next year, we’ll certainly find out. But until then, post-election Hezbollah, the better equipped, more strategically positioned, and more internationally credible incarnation — having proved willing to play both sides of the democracy game — remains an insufferable ire for Netanyahu.
Bashar is looking for concessions that are quite tangible — one can wrap the mind around 1,200 square kilometers of strategic high ground.
But networks of support connecting Syria to Nasrallah’s army, contacts and friendships intertwined with intelligence and armament deals — these are less concrete, less severable bonds.
If Bashar is as eager to get the Golan back as we’ve all believed — and as David Lesch, who literally wrote on the book on the new lion, suggested while presenting a paper at the National Press Club last week — he’ll have to be less fixated on dangling his feet in lake Tiberias than his father was, and more devoted to delivering on the Party of God.
The Israeli leadership is rightfully wary of what the new lion can deliver.
— Brian Till

Comments

12 comments on “The Other Track

  1. Bath says:

    The problem is that the prospect of recovering the Golan appears remote now — and as long as it does, the regime in Damascus has little reason to compromise its interests with either Hezbollah or the mullahs in Tehran.

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  3. ... says:

    the idea that we would move forward and not repeat the mistakes of the past is certainly not something either the usa or israel is going to ever help along.. they are both too busy making wars on a regular basis to either protect their imagined turf, or grab more… the rational wigwag uses is to remain on the level of the barbaric.. i suppose it is supposed to balanced the sophisticated and nuanced persona that wigwag always likes to display here..

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  4. WigWag says:

    Jonst asks,
    “What is it about the character of the Syrian people that you believe they resent less the talking of their national territory, than they did a decade ago?”
    Was their “national territory” taken in war?
    Maybe in one sense, but so was the property that Jonst is living on. So is the property that everyone in the world alive today is living on.
    In 1967 Syria and Israel engaged in a war. Israel won; Syria lost. The result is that land once belonging to Syria now belongs to Israel.
    This is no different than what has happened after every war since the beginning of recorded history. The idea that Syria or any other nation can expect to be exempt from this reality makes no sense at all.

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  5. Zathras says:

    That would be the aspect of the Syrian people’s character that allowed the Assad family, father and son, to run the country for the last few decades, and therefore made the views of those two men of paramount importance.
    In this specific situation, Syria now has relationships both with Iran and with Hezbollah more extensive and complex than it did when Hafez Assad was president. That does not, as I say upthread in plain English, mean the Golan Heights are any less important to Syria than they used to be — only that the Syrians are unlikely to make many gestures toward Israel on that subject as long as they think return of the Golan is a remote prospect. Again, I’d like to be wrong about this, but “remote prospect” may be an optimistic way of describing this, given the number of Israelis now living and working on the Golan Heights.

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  6. jonst says:

    Zathras,
    What is it about the character of the Syrian people that you believe they resent less the talking of their national territory, than they did a decade ago?

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  7. ToddinHB says:

    I’m with you, Zathras. It’s amusing to see posters trying to peddle their wares on a site like this. I knew times were tough, but seriously…

    Reply

  8. mo says:

    Steve, What is it you or the Israelis think Syria can deliver in regards to Hizballah? Up until 1991 Syria was their mortal enemy and only the rapproachment between Syria and Iran ended that fight. Hizballah does not need Syria; Syrias help simply makes some operations easier but for Syria, the “Hizballah” card is and always has been a bluff card.

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  9. Zathras says:

    Personally, I’d be interested in a guest post on this site explaining why spammers for Michael Jordan shoes, cheap jewelry and used hospital equipment would think it worthwhile to struggle through the captcha to post here.
    Returning to the topic, Brian Till’s post here is a little confusing. It is true that Hezbollah is more important to Israel than it was a decade ago, and probably true that the Golan is not all-important to Bashar Assad in the way it was to his father. However, the Golan is also more important to Israel than it was ten years ago. More Israelis live there, even work there now than did then, raising the question of why Israel would be any more eager to return it to Syria than it was in 2000 — Hezbollah or no Hezbollah.
    From the Syrian side the situation may be more complicated. How important are Syria’s connections to Hezbollah, or to Iran for that matter, compared to recovery of the Golan Heights? Probably not that important, even today. The problem is that the prospect of recovering the Golan appears remote now — and as long as it does, the regime in Damascus has little reason to compromise its interests with either Hezbollah or the mullahs in Tehran.
    I’d be happy to be wrong about this, and happier still if Brian Till were correct that the key to an agreement between Israel and Syria about the Golan Heights is Syria’s ability to deliver — whatever that may mean — on Hezbollah. I understand there are other factors in play here as well, but my impression is that Hezbollah may be more an excuse than a reason for Israel not to seek such an agreement.

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  10. JohnH says:

    Till asserts that Assad will “have to be less fixated on dangling his feet in lake Tiberias than his father was, and more devoted to delivering on the Party of God.”
    Funny, isn’t it, how Israel can go around occupying its neighbors with impunity. And then, when resistance to their brutal occupations ultimately arises (Hezbollah, Hamas), Israel up and walks away from the problem it created. And then in a sign of ultimate hubris, it DEMANDS that OTHERS solve the problems it created.
    Instead of questioning Assad’s desire to dangle his feet in Lake Tiberias, maybe people like Brian Till whether Israel should be allowed to suck dry all the watersheds and aquifers of the lands it illegally occupies. And why shouldn’t the onus be on Israel to fix the many messes it has created?

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  11. Joe M. says:

    This post is true stupidity Brian. You act as though there are two opposing forces with mutual grievances. That simply is not true. What you have is one side that has illegally occupied the territory of the other, that has never recognized international law, and that has no right to demand anything from the other side. The other side, Syria (while no beacon of justice generally), is totally just in demanding a full and unequivocal withdrawal by Israel. Israel has no right to demand anything.
    That said, if we are talking a straight power play, where you decided that might makes right, and thus Syria has to give up its rights to have alliances with its allies, because Israel’s power dictates the rules, well, then there will not be peace any time soon. And Syria should do all it can to destroy the terrorist state of Israel. Syria has every right under international law to gain the Golan Hights back through military means, whether that is by supplying Hizbullah with weapons, encouraging Palestinian resistance, or any other form of resistance to Israel’s violence.
    Israel is not a state like normal countries, and Israel’s violence should never be accepted as a reality, in the way you seem to. IF might makes right (as you imply), then I hope the Arabs wipe the zionist cancer off the map. IF not, then Israel should simply end its illegal occupation of the Golan Heights, and act as a sensible, normal country, and not a terrorist, vigilante state.

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  12. arthurdecco says:

    “Hezbollah, the dominant Lebanese political movement, or Hezbollah the militant lung through which Iran breathes?” Brian Till
    “…Hezbollah the militant lung through which Iran breathes”!?!?
    Tell me this ain’t hyperbole by the farm yard full, Brian.
    Tell me with a straight face.

    Reply

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