Ashkenazi: No officers at talks with Syrians

Lipkin-Shahak says IDF involvement in talks a necessity.

Ashkenazi 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ashkenazi 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On June 28, 1995, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, at the time the IDF's chief of General Staff, traveled to Washington, DC, under orders from prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to meet with his Syrian counterpart. The meeting was held at the White House; when it was over, the two generals were photographed with US president Bill Clinton. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also met with Syrian negotiators when he was chief of General Staff, before being replaced by Lipkin-Shahak. But according to new IDF policy, set by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, pictures of Syrian and IDF officers together will not be taken in any new round of peace talks. Ashkenazi decided several months ago - when talks with the Palestinians picked up speed - that unlike past rounds of negotiations, IDF officers would not sit at the table with the Palestinians. Lipkin-Shahak told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that while he understood Ashkenazi's decision, he believed IDF officers needed to be involved in the negotiation process. He said his meeting in 1995 with his Syrian counterpart had focused on security arrangements dealing with the Golan Heights following a withdrawal. "When dealing with security issues, you need the IDF and the Defense Ministry's involvement," Lipkin-Shahak said. IDF sources said Ashkenazi had made the decision because he believed it was not the job of military officers to sit across the table from the other side and negotiate when in uniform. The sources said that while officers would not sit at the negotiating table, the IDF was deeply involved in the work conducted ahead of the negotiations and participated in almost all of the meetings led by the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office. Several teams - made up of representatives from the IDF Planning Division and Military Intelligence - have been set up to prepare papers on Israel's security needs for both the Palestinian and the Syrian negotiations. One of Israel's chief negotiators on the Palestinian track is Brig.-Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, until last year head of the Planning Division's Strategic Department. In his previous IDF job, Dekel was responsible for strategic coordination with foreign militaries.