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Monday, February 08, 2010

The last thing Assad wants is real peace with Israel

The first half of this JPost editorial really gets it right.
Bashar Assad understands the price he and the ruling Alawite minority would have to pay, in a country that is 74 percent Sunni, for a genuine peace with Israel. That is why in this week’s New Yorker, Assad frankly told Seymour Hersh that even if Syria regained the entire Golan, Israel, “cannot expect me to give them the peace they expect.”

Indeed, if Israel got the peace we expected, Assad’s de-facto truce with the Muslim Brotherhood would come undone. He’d have to expel Hamas leaders from Syria, a step the Brotherhood would find insufferable. A bad divorce with Teheran would ensue. Hizbullah would reorient Lebanon’s policies accordingly.

In short, Assad would be going down the path taken by the late Anwar Sadat: carving out a separate peace with Israel while the Palestinian issue festered, albeit due to the Palestinians’ own intransigence.

Naturally, if Assad got the Golan Heights on his terms, the legitimacy of his regime would be bolstered. But no Israeli government – not Yitzhak Rabin’s and not Binyamin Netanyahu’s – can come down from the Golan in return for a sham peace.

Assad will not risk a real peace that would force Syria to rethink its ideological identity in the absence of the Zionist bogeyman. How could he justify continued authoritarian rule?

Moreover, real peace would open Syria to progressive influences. The regime could come under pressure from now dormant liberal reformers. The 18,000 Druse and 2,000 Alawites on the Golan would be reunited with their co-religionists, but decades of life under the Zionists will have created social, economic and, yes, political expectations that could “contaminate” the larger Syrian polity.

So a strong argument can be made that the last thing Assad really wants is peace with Israel.


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