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