Danny Yatom is a former head of the Mossad. He’s a Labor MK who together with a Kadima MK, Dr. Moshe Amirav, a pragmatic right wing diplomat who has sought dialogue and compromise with the Palestinians, who is also close to Olmert, have written what is either a trial balloon by Olmert or a genuine appeal for the Israeli government to hold peace talks with Syria. Their premise is that Syria’s expressed desire to hold talks is similar to Sadat’s attempt to speak to Israel in 1972. Golda Meir dismissed his request and Israel paid the price with the ’73 War. These two men believe Israel is facing a similar juncture presently and talks with Syria would be a key to resolving many outstanding elements of the Arab-Israeli conflict while preventing a very possible war that could be costly to Israel in the same way ’73 was.
Golda dismissed Sadat’s words with characteristic scorn: “They are not even able to cross the [Suez] Canal.”
And then defense minister Moshe Dayan explained the strategic importance of the Sinai in his famous statement: “Better Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.”
The prime minister and the defense minister made a historic blunder, and failed to put the Egyptians’ desire for peace to the test. True to his promise, Sadat went to war a year later. The Golda-Dayan conception crumbled, and 2,700 Israeli soldiers paid for the arrogance and the stupidity with their lives.
It took a courageous prime minister like Menachem Begin to be willing to give up Sinai to achieve peace and security on the Egyptian front. The peace with Egypt is one of the most important strategic legacies Begin bequeathed us. Syrian President Bashar Assad recently repeated his offer to begin peace negotiations with Israel. Olmert’s response was identical to the one Sadat got from Golda – only, Sharm el-Sheikh as the justification for the rigidity has been replaced by the Golan Heights.
What is the Syrian president supposed to think when he hears Olmert declare that the Golan “will remain in Israeli hands forever?” Perhaps he will be tempted to follow Sadat’s lead and initiate a limited military campaign that will cost us dearly.
The leadership explains its inflexibility with the slogan: “Syria has not changed.” This judgment ignores important developments, the most significant of which was the Arab League’s decision (endorsed by Syria) in Beirut, supporting full peace and normalization of relations with Israel in return for the territories it has captured.
Also new is Syria’s willingness to begin talks without preconditions. Until now, it was always Israel that made that demand of its neighbors. Now that Syria has agreed, the government of Israel introduces preconditions.
Worth reading. And maybe heeding.