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A recent statement which threatens to kidnap Israeli soldiers to trade for Syrian prisoners is either an empty threat or the work of the Syrian government. The statement was made by a previously unknown group claiming to be operating on the Golan Heights.
No group can operate in the Golan Heights region without the permission of Syrian authorities. The Syrian border around the Golan Heights is extremely secure, and it would be almost impossible for a non-government-sanctioned group to infiltrate it and reach IDF forces.
The war in Lebanon and the subsequent UN intervention has placed pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to deal with the Golan Heights issue directly and no longer work through proxies, such as Hizbullah and Hamas. Since 1973, the Syrian government has attempted to pressure Israel into negotiations over the Golan Heights through indirect means. Now we have reached a moment of truth and Assad realizes that he must deal with the issue directly.
Assad's threat to kidnap soldiers may be an attempt to force negotiations over the Golan Heights. However, Israel cannot succumb to these pressures for the following reasons: Assad's continued political and military support of Hizbullah and Hamas, Syria's relationship with Iran and Syria's role in aiding terrorist activity in Iraq. Because of Israel's relationship with the US, it cannot make peace with Syria while Damascus supports and enables terrorist attacks on coalition forces in Iraq. Until Assad cleans his hands in these three areas, there is no room for negotiation, no matter how much pressure Assad brings to bear.
If Israel were to engage in negotiations with Syria and return the Golan Heights in the current environment, it would gain very little. From Israel's perspective, peace on the Golan Heights is not the only issue; Syria must first change its policy regarding its support of terrorism and its relationship with Iran.
The writer, a former head of the Lebanon desk for Military Intelligence, is now a research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya.
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