The inconvenient truth is that Syrian President Bashar Assad has a good case for attacking Israel militarily. The frustrating, infuriating truth is that Israel has handed that case to him. This is how it is: The democratic world, Israel's peer group, considers the Golan Heights to be rightfully Syria's, but at the same time it believes Israel has the right to recognition and peace from Syria. In short, the democratic world, or free world, believes that the just solution to the Israeli-Syrian dispute over the Golan Heights is "land for peace." This is the essence of the famous UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in regard to the Golan. Against that background, Assad can say to the democratic world: "Well, I'm holding up my side of the bargain, but the Israelis aren't holding up theirs. I'm offering to talk about making peace with the Israelis, but they're not willing to talk to me about giving Syria back the Golan. So what am I supposed to do? If I can't get my land back by peaceful means, the Israelis are leaving me no choice but to try to get it back by war." What can Prime Minister Ehud Olmert say in reply? That Syria must first stop aiding Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad? That happens to be his argument, but there are at least two holes in it. For one, Israel, in the eyes of the world, cannot demand that Syria meet preconditions for peace talks if Syria is not demanding preconditions from Israel - i.e. withdrawal from the Golan. (Until the 1990s, this was Syria's precondition for talks, while Israel would always insist on peace talks without preconditions.) The other hole in Olmert's argument is that from 1991-2000, five successive prime ministers - Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak - conducted direct or indirect peace talks with Syria while it was aiding Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So Olmert doesn't have a leg to stand on. As everyone knows, the real reason Olmert isn't talking with Syria is because George W. Bush doesn't want him to - but that doesn't cut a lot of ice outside the US and Israel. Given Olmert's intransigence, if Assad were to attack Israel in the name of regaining the Golan, and especially if he were to confine his attack to the Golan, the rest of the democratic world, not to mention the undemocratic world, would be hard-pressed to condemn him too forcefully. He would, after all, have a case. The free world - maybe even including the US - would be screaming for two things: 1) an immediate cease-fire, and 2) intensive, internationally-mediated negotiations between Israel and Syria based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. In other words, land - the Golan Heights - for peace. There would be a couple of differences, however, between Israeli-Syrian peace talks then and peace talks now. One is that Syria would have a stronger position going in, having shown up Israel's stubbornness for the dangerous idiocy it was. The other, of course, is that a lot of Israelis and Syrians would have paid for those negotiations with their blood. THERE IS a way, though, for Israel to avert that horrible scenario, and that is by agreeing to talk peace with Assad. Not only do I think we have nothing to lose - except the Golan, which is worth giving up for peace with Syria - I also think that even if such negotiations failed, Israel would emerge in a much stronger, safer position than it's in today. Here's how it goes: In return for the Golan, Israel's demand that Syria cut ties with Hizbullah and the Palestinian terrorist groups would, I have no doubt, be recognized by the free world as a legitimate one; otherwise, what is the meaning of this "peace" that Assad is offering? If Assad agrees to the demand, the way is open to peace, and the Middle East changes dramatically for the better. If Syria makes peace with Israel, Iran loses a crucial ally and becomes that much more isolated. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other Palestinian terrorist groups lose their host and patron. Syria goes from being the linchpin in the Iranian-terrorist axis to being the wedge that divides it. It leaves the Arab rejectionist front and joins Egypt and Jordan in the camp of Arab moderates. This may, of course, be too good to be true. But if it is - if Assad refuses to agree to break with Hizbullah and the Palestinian terrorists - then Israel will not give him the Golan Heights, and the free world, I fully believe, would understand Israel's refusal. Assad would have lost his case for war. And without such a case, he would be unlikely to start a war, because he - like Hizbullah last summer - would be blamed by the free world as the aggressor. Israel would have a freer hand in war and a stronger position in any peace talks that might follow. Today, with Assad the willing negotiator and Israel the unwilling one, the situation is exactly the opposite. Today, Assad looks to be in good shape to launch a brief, limited, successful war against Israel. We've been through this before. As David Kimche wrote in the Post on Friday, Olmert is making the same mistake Golda Meir made in turning down Anwar Sadat's peace offers, a mistake that led Sadat to start the Yom Kippur War, which in turn led Israel to give the Sinai back to Egypt in return for peace. It's funny - there's an Israeli saying that Arabs only learn from getting whacked in the head. I'm wondering if Israelis even learn from that.