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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Feb 25th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow Syria closes in on peace deal with Israel
Syria closes in on peace deal with Israel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv, The Sunday Times   
Sunday, 03 August 2008

Israel took the Golan Heights after the 1967 six-day war
Israel took the Golan Heights after the 1967 six-day war

The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is racing to conclude a peace deal with Syria before he steps down from office in a few months.

Syria is close to agreeing to “normal relations” in the words of its president, Bashar al-Assad, and to disengage from Iran in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights. The outline of a deal was reached in talks brokered by the Turks, according to reports in Israel.

“We [Syria and Israel] desire to recognise each other and end the state of war. Let us make peace . . . let us end, once and for all, the state of war,” Imad Mustafa, Syria’s ambassador to the United States, told a Washington audience last week.

Assad, who is due to visit Tehran this weekend, is expected to inform his Iranian partners that Damascus has opted to loosen its links with them and move closer to Israel. The meeting is likely to be a difficult one since Iran has been financing the rebuilding of Syria’s armed forces and a mutual defence pact has only recently been ratified.

Olmert is driving a hard bargain for what will be an unpopular deal in Israel. He wants the closure of the Damascus offices of Hamas and other militant organisations and a promise that Syria will not implement its defence pact with Iran if Israel or the United States should go ahead with an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s deputy prime minister, told a Washington audience last week that Iran is on the path to a “major breakthrough” in its nuclear programme, which he described as “unacceptable”. Mofaz, tipped as a future Israeli leader, said the country faced an existential threat.

“Israel’s main purpose is to create a barrier between Syria and Iran and if this is achieved, the return of the Golan Heights to Syria would be a worthwhile price,” said an Israeli defence source.

“Assad is not stupid,” political sources told the Israeli paper Ma’ariv. “He knows that being stuck between the Iranian leader [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and the Hezbollah leader [Hassan] Nasrallah can only harm Syria. He wants to be part of the West. He wants Syria to be no longer included in the ‘axis of evil’ and taken off the American list of countries that support terrorism. Israel should seize this opportunity with both hands.”

As part of his campaign to bring Syria in from the cold, London-educated Assad and his British-born wife Asma were received by President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris last month. The peace negotiations paved the way to an end of years of diplomatic isolation.

Assad will take a message from the French president to the Iranian leadership, warning Tehran that it must agree to international incentives in return for a cessation of its uranium enrichment programme, which is widely believed to be part of a nuclear weapons programme.

But President Ahmadinejad seemed to rule out any progress last night when he was quoted on his official website as saying after talks with Assad that Iran would not retreat “one iota” from its nuclear rights.

For all Olmert’s efforts it will be almost impossible for him to achieve peace before leaving office. A decision on withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since its victory in the six-day war in 1967, would need the approval of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and possibly a referendum. “Anything can happen in the Middle East between now and when Olmert finally steps down,” said a security source.



'Substantive' fourth round of Israel-Syria talks ends in Istanbul
Jul. 30, 2008

Even before Turkey's Constitutional Court handed down a decision against banning the ruling Justice and Development party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish mediation of Israel-Syria negotiations was giving Erdogan an important domestic boost, Turkish sources said Wednesday.

"People in Turkey see the Turkish role, and while not knowing all the details, say, 'Look, Turkey is a strong country. Israel and Syria are using us to bring them together,'" the sources said.

The Turkish government, the sources said, was getting good domestic PR for the mediation efforts, using it to show that Erdogan has "shaken up Turkish foreign policy," and made Ankara a key player in the region.

The good domestic bounce has been important for Erdogan at a time when the 11-member constitution court was debating whether the Islamic-rooted AKP should be banned for becoming a focus of anti-secular activity.

Israel and Syria wrapped up a fourth round of indirect talks in Istanbul on Wednesday, with a Turkish official being quoted in AP as saying that the two sides have decided to hold more indirect talks there in the coming months. There has been no decision yet on when direct talks will begin.

Turkish involvement in the talks - Turkish mediators shuttle back and forth between the Israeli and Syrian teams who are in different hotels - has also helped Erdogan's image, enabling him to be seen domestically not only as the former mayor of Istanbul, but also now as a world statesman.

The sources said there was not undue concern in Ankara that failure in the talks would be placed at Turkey's doorstep, since Turkey could always say that while they tried, the two sides were unable to bridge the gaps.

The sources said that in addition to serving Erdogan's domestic interest, the talks also help Turkey's internationally standing, showing that Turkey uniquely holds the trust of both Israel and the Arab world.

Turkey's role in the negotiations was not merely as a messenger, passing notes back and forth, but also to a certain extent sounding the sides out about various issues, the sources said.

While neither Israel, Syria nor Turkey has divulged the content of the indirect negotiations, it is widely believed that the sides are talking about security, border and water issues. The Turkish source said that after four rounds of talks, it seemed clear that the sides were addressing substantive, and not only procedural, issues.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1215331146185&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

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