Analysis: An attempt to break the Iranian-Syrian alliance

What Syria is really after is not the Golan, but a renewal of ties with the US.

golan 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
golan 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It was only a month ago that Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to cancel a planned trip to Berlin due to rising tensions along the Israeli-Syrian border. At the time, Israeli forces were put on high alert as the Syrian military was beefing up and maneuvering its forces near its border with Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. That was a month ago, and on Wednesday, Damascus, Jerusalem and Ankara simultaneously put out press releases claiming that for the past three days, Syrian and Israeli officials have been holding peace talks in the Turkish capital. Israel's interest in peace talks with Syria is not new. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began declaring his readiness to talk with Syrian President Bashar Assad shortly after the Second Lebanon War, when tensions with Syria increased. By sending his chief of staff and diplomatic advisor to Ankara, it appears that Olmert has accepted the IDF's assessment vis-à-vis Syria and not that of the Mossad. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin have for the past year-and-a-half voiced their support for peace talks with Syria. Mossad chief Meir Dagan has disagreed, claiming that Syria's intentions were not sincere. There is no doubt in the Israeli defense establishment that negative processes are currently taking place in Syria. On Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post reported on its front page that a high-level Syrian military delegation - led by Air Force commander Gen. Akhmad al-Ratyb - was in Moscow to discuss arms deals and Syria's interest in buying the most advanced MiG fighter jet, the latest Russian ballistic missile, and advanced anti-aircraft systems that would pose a major threat to IAF fighter jets. Syria's involvement in Lebanon is another point of concern for Israel. Since the Second Lebanon War, Syria has been the main facilitator for weapons transfers to Hizbullah - from its own stockpiles and from Iran. In addition, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed this week that it had captured a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who underwent military training in Iran. He told his interrogators that he had entered Iran after first flying into Damascus. Also of concern are the news reports that emerged on Wednesday, according to which inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were denied access to two facilities in Syria suspected of being connected to the nuclear reactor that Israel bombed and destroyed along the Euphrates River in September. The nature of the facilities has not been exposed, but it leaves open the possibility that Syria may still have operational components of its destroyed nuclear program. According to the thinking in the IDF, peace with Syria could break the strategic alliance the country has forged with Iran. Yadlin and Ashkenazi believe that while peace with Israel is not Syria's ultimate goal (Assad wants to renew relations with the United States), it is a step toward further isolating Iran and dealing with that country's race for nuclear power. Behind closed doors, Ashkenazi has even mulled the possibility that the repossession of the Golan Heights is not at the top of Syria's agenda. While the Golan is important to the Syrian ethos, the IDF believes that Assad is more interested in retaining influence over Lebanon and in his own political stability, which is dependent on his country's economic situation. What Syria is really after is not the Golan, but a renewal of ties with the US and the subsequent potential benefits - billions of dollars in US aid.