Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal threatened on Monday evening to return the Golan Heights to Syrian hands "by way of resistance if Israel [rejects] the Arab peace initiative." Bilal did not elaborate, but some analysts raised the possibility of either a full scale conventional war or a terror campaign in the Golan as one of the means to undertake a mukawama ("resistance" in Arabic). After saying that "Syria wishes to revive the peace process with Israel with the help of US and Russian mediators," Bilal immediately added a threat, saying that "if Israel [rejects] the Arab peace initiative, the only way to get the Golan Heights back would be the way of resistance." Bilal, speaking at a press conference in Damascus, was referring to the Arab peace initiative of 2002.
Don't underestimate Syria's military
Bilal's belligerent remarks followed on the heels of a visit by Syrian-born American businessman Abe Suleiman to Jerusalem last week.
Suleiman promised the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that "peace with Syria could be achieved within six months."
George Jabour, a Syrian member of parliament, said Suleiman was speaking on his own behalf and was in no way affiliated with the Syrian leadership. "Suleiman has zero credibility in the eyes of Syrians," Jabour said.
Bilal echoed Jabour's statements in an interview he gave on Syrian TV on Saturday, quoted by SANA (the Syrian Arab News Agency). He said that all the Syrian people stood behind President Bashar Assad's leadership for the achievement of just and comprehensive peace in the region.
He defined this "just and comprehensive peace" as the restoration of the "whole occupied Syrian Golan," what remained of the Lebanese territories under occupation, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Bilal also demanded the recognition of the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homeland.
While Bilal echoed the tenets of the Arab peace initiative, rejected by Israel wholesale, his demands went beyond the more recent Saudi initiative, which remains vague on the question of the right of return.
Jerusalem did not fully accept the Saudi initiative either, saying only that it contained a basis for further negotiations.
During the Second Lebanon War, Syria made peace overtures by agreeing to "unconditional" negotiations with Israel.
However, as soon as a cease-fire was achieved and Syria no longer feared possible engagement with the IDF as part of its campaign against Hizbullah, the Syrian leadership denied any willingness for unconditional negotiations.