March 27, 2000
Opinion piece by Ariel Sharon, chairman of Israel’s Likud Party
President Clinton yesterday met with Syrian leader Hafez Assad in hopes of
jump-starting stalled peace talks between Israel and Syria.
Whatever the outcome, Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
face one clear deadline: the U.S. presidential campaign.
According to Clinton and Barak, the peace package is nearly a done deal: Syria
will “allow” Israel to withdraw its troops safely from Lebanon, while Israel will
agree to a complete withdrawal from the strategic cliffs of the Golan Heights to
the vulnerable shores of the Sea of Galilee, and to concede El Hamma – an area
that never belonged to Syria.
It is Assad who is in no hurry. He knows that with patience he can squeeze
more concessions. Future historians will be left to explain how an ailing
president of an impoverished Syria was able to dictate the national-security
interests of Israel and the Jewish people.
Does Assad really want peace? As Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shar’a
explained, an agreement with Israel is a temporary phase marking the
continuation of war with Israel by other means. Assad and the future Syrian
leadership reject the term “normalization.”
Lebanon is a good example of Syria’s intentions. Assad knows that Israel’s
planned July withdrawal will disrupt the Syrian game plan, undermining its grip
on Lebanon and freeing Israel from additional concessions on the Golan. So
Syria is already preparing for the next round, as expressed in the resolutions of
the recent Arab League summit in Beirut.
This includes continued terrorist attacks inside Israel and abroad as well
as armed struggle until Palestinian refugees in Lebanon secure a right of return
and East Jerusalem is put back in Arab hands.
Syria was not required as part of a peace agreement to withdraw its
forces completely from Lebanon.
Nor was any demand made that in return for Israel’s conceding defensive
assets – the Golan – Syria would reduce the size of its military forces and its
Syria, in fact, was not expected to make any painful compromises for
peace. Yet Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill and leaders of Jewish organizations
were mobilized by the Clinton and Barak peace teams to lobby Congress for a
generous financial aid package to Syria. Some advocates of this aid, designed
to ease Syria’s shift to a U.S. strategic embrace, compare it to the Marshall
A Marshall Plan for the Middle East is a good idea, provided it includes the
types of conditions that were present in the original plan for Europe. The
Marshall Plan was predicated on a gradual move toward democracy through
social and economic reforms. In addition, there were inspection measures to
prevent the emergence of a new Mussolini or Hitler.
In order to serve the cause of comprehensive peace as well as U.S.
interests in the Middle East, such a program must incorporate the following
- Joint deterrence. Israel must retain control of the commanding grounds of
the Golan Heights, even after peace with Syria. In fact, there must be a clear
link between its final border with Syria and an overall move toward
normalization, security and reconciliation with Israeli’s entire eastern front
(Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan).It is untenable for Israel to undertake the risk of withdrawal just as
threats from Iraq and Iran intensify. Large Iraqi forces fought on the Golan in
the 1973 war, while Iran remains a key strategic partner of Syria. The U.S. and
the international community should renew the United Nations
weapons-inspection regime in Iraq and step up efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear and
- Denial of direct financial or military aid. No weapons and no direct
financial assistance should go to Damascus. An effective economic-aid program
must be based on direct private investment in the Syrian civilian economy,
giving Syrian leaders and people something to lose and thus a stake in peace.The $2 billion of financial aid Syria received for its passive participation
in the Gulf War went to purchasing hundreds of top-of-the-line tanks and
artillery. If Syria replaces its aging MiGs with F-16s, what have we
accomplished? The rearming of Syria with advanced Western weapons would
threaten not just Israel but also Jordan and Turkey.
- Long-term security agreements. Whatever aid program is provided, the
territorial concessions demanded of Israel must extend over long periods of time
(similar to the Okinawa arrangements the U.S. had with Japan after World War II).This would enable both Israel and the U.S. to assess progress toward real
comprehensive regional peace based on democratic reforms, economic
cooperation and an end to official incitement, and all forms of terrorism.
Throughout and after this period, Israel must be able to defend itself using it
own military and strategic capabilities. Neither expensive American technology
nor U.S. troop deployment is a substitute for Israel’s own independent
Finally, a word of caution regarding long-term financial aid to Arab countries.
What the Middle East needs is a program of support and incentives for private
investment that will broaden its economies. Experts are anticipating a decline in
the use of Middle East oil in the next 10 to 15 years, which could severely
damage existing economies.
In this scenario, Israel will remain an island of stability and economic
growth amid the surrounding dislocation. But the prosperity and development of
the entire region is an Israeli interest.
U.S. presidents have their eyes on short-term, election deadlines.
But Israel must look at the long term. More important than any deadline is the
survival and destiny of its people.
The rest, with all due respect, can wait.