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August 19, 2007

Iran

ThreatsWatch Symposium: Designating Iran's IRGC

Pros and Cons of designating the IRGC as terrorists

By ThreatsWatch | August 19, 2007

ThreatsWatch asked a couple of experts in terrorism and national security about the recent decision by the US government to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. We thank them for their insights and perspectives, and we thank them for participating in the first ThreatsWatch Symposium.

Specifically, what impact will the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization have on our ability to degrade Iranian ability to interfere in Iraq? Will it help us further de-legitimize and degrade the effectiveness of the Iranian regime? What negative consequences can you see coming about from this move, either on the terrorism front or with regards to their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons?

Thomas Joscelyn

My initial reaction to the news that the State Department was going to designate the IRGC a terrorist group was: What took so long? Every year from the late 1990’s through 2003, the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report (which has been replaced by another report), noted something similar to what was written about Iran’s behavior in 2001: “Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2001. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) continued to be involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts and supported a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals.”

That is, Iran was “the most active state sponsor of terrorism” and the IRGC is one of the two main organizations it uses to spread its terror. So, of course the IRGC is a terrorist organization. Recounting all of the ways the IRGC has been involved in terrorism would require more space than is available here, but it is worth remembering that the IRGC built Hezbollah, one of the two most dangerous terrorist organizations on the planet, and has worked in tandem with that group for decades.

Will the designation degrade their ability to interfere in Iraq? The designation, by itself, is unlikely to do have any effect on the ground in Iraq. I think, under General Petraeus, U.S. forces have now started to seriously target IRGC assets inside Iraq. Time will tell if they are doing enough and if what they are doing will work – the Bush administration did so little about their influence in Iraq for so long it may be impossible to substantially reduce their footprint now. But, the point is that the IRGC’s dirty-work in Iraq is being dealt with by our counter-insurgency strategy, not State Department designations.

Will the designation further de-legitimize and degrade the effectiveness of the Iranian regime? It is too early to tell and there are good reasons to think its impact will be minimal. The IRGC and Iran do little business with the U.S. currently because of existing laws and regulations, so the designation will not have any real direct impact in that sense. It may dissuade companies located in other Western countries from doing business with IRGC-run entities, but while that is possible it is also dubious. And, perhaps most importantly, the designation is unlikely to dissuade Russian and Chinese companies from doing business with Iran, including IRGC- run companies. The Bear and the Dragon are what keep the Iran regime going with vital assistance on numerous levels.

Are there any negatives to this move? I don’t think so. I see it as the U.S. Government finally calling it like it is. I am uncertain of its upside also, however. If the designation is a first step to finally dealing with the realities of Iran’s behavior, then it may have some impact down the road. But, the U.S. has simply ignored or minimized Iranian provocations for too long for me to believe that is true.

Andy McCarthy

Though better late than never, the designation of the IRGC [as a terrorist group] is about a dozen years overdue. Because of that, and because of striking inconsistencies in our foreign counterterrorism policy, its impact will be minimal, at least in the short term.

Unlike most other terrorist entities, the IRGC is an official component (as opposed to Hezbollah, which is an unofficial component) of a sovereign government, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which the United States not only recognizes but (a) as to which we shun a policy of regime change, and (b) with which we now even engage in direct negotiations. The closest analogue I can see is the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the terrorist arm of the Fatah organization which governs the West Bank and to which we now can’t seem to give enough foreign aid. Don’t think we won’t be reminded of this contradiction by the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, who want to negotiate with the terror-facilitating mullahs until they are a fully armed nuclear power … and will continue to do so regardless of the designation.

At this point, the designation also smacks of the law-enforcement approach to terrorism which the Bush administration used to criticize sharply. Throughout the 1990s, al Qaeda threatened to attack and attacked the U.S. We responded with indictments and not much else. Qaeda was emboldened and grew. Now, with a rich history of anti-American terror, Iran ups the ante by killing American forces in Iraq, harboring al Qaeda, holding Americans hostage, and building its nukes. We respond by offering direct negotiations and designating the regime’s official terror arm—the latter which merely allows seizing assets in the U.S. (which the IRGC won’t have in a traceable form), seizing assets in international transit (which we could only do with help from other countries, and thus is a non-starter), and prosecuting Americans who assist the IRGC (who could already be prosecuted under other laws). The upside is thus minimal and the downside is that we look, yet again, like we don’t have the stomach to deal with Iran in a meaningful way.

Steve Schippert

I may well be on an island nearly alone here. But please consider....

While one hand, it is refreshing to see the Bush Administration take some sort of fresh overt stand against the Iranians' terrorist endeavors, their elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the IRGC's Quds Force in particular, on the other it concerns me that the US Government would label a military branch of a sovereign state as a terrorist organization. And it doesn't matter if they train terrorists or engage in 'terrorist' attacks themselves. Here's why:

Terrorism is not simply defined as attacks on civilians or non-combatants, nor is it constrained to the emotional definition most observers attach to it. It is also importantly defined as an act of war by a non-state entity (or, in the words of our own State Department definition, a "subnational" group.) An act of war by a state, such as via Iran's IRGC or the Quds Force, is then, quite simply, an act of war. There is debate - in quite limited observable circles - whether part of the Administration's aim is to avoid this direct and unwelcome reality.

Regardless of what any intent may or may not be, the effect in the long struggle against terrorism could be potentially detrimental, lasting and incrementally acute.

There have been untold numbers of instances of civilians killed in warfare. In World War II, we fire bombed Dresden to destroy a key German industrial capability that produced weapons used to effectively kill Allied troops and also served as a critical logistics, transport and communications hub for the Third Reich's war efforts. Civilians were killed. The rationale behind using the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima was to break the will of the Japanese people and, thus, end the war saving potentially millions more lives. Civilian tolls in warfare are not distinct to al-Qaeda and Iran's IRGC and Quds Force-supported groups.

More recently, the attack on an al-Qaeda/Taliban madrassa that served as a terror camp in Bajour netted cries of civilian deaths, as did Israeli attacks on Hizballah positions in Lebanon in the Summer 2006 war. Yet, for an enemy which purposefully embeds itself within civilian populations for human shield defense and, posthumously, propaganda gains (Bajour, Islamabad's Red Mosque, Qana, etc.) we should refrain from the purely civilian-attack definition of terrorist activity and also adhere to the non-state actor portion as well.

The death of civilians in warfare is, thus, not a distinctly terroristic result. Not by a longshot. And the death of civilians was not then and is not now simply 'terrorism.' However, acts of war by a non-state actor are distinctly terrorist endeavors, including but not limited to civilian casualties and very often the intentional targeting of civilian populations.

If we insist on labeling any of Iran's military branches - even if they do train their own terrorist proxies like Hizballah and Iraqi militia groups - are we not then lending undue (foreign) credence to wild cries of a "terrorist US Air Force," et al, citing Bajour, Pakistan as just one example? That will be one result.

Inconsequential? Think "International Courts" and the ongoing efforts by less than friendly quarters to force the United States Military to acquiesce to the jurisdiction of "international" tribunals and trials at The Hague.

Do we truly need to fly beneath the umbrella provided by labeling the Islamic Republic of Iran a State Sponsor of Terrorism in order to distinguish specific commands?

Once again, lost is clarity...a clarity Iran once understood with great fear in 2001 and 2002. Just a few short years later, we now erect in place of clarity the arguability of nuance where we require none. None.

August 13, 2007

Pakistan

American Power Play In Pakistan

al-Qaeda Abandons Camps After US Intelligence Shared with Pakistan

By Steve Schippert | August 13, 2007

In Washington, the topic of Pakistan has come to the fore in all of the major institutional spheres that impact, influence and execute warfighting and foreign policy. Within the military and intelligence communities as well as the political arena, the long-deferred issue has bubbled to the surface; What actions should be taken to combat the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance shored up and thriving within the tribal areas throughout the western swath of Pakistan?

The driving factor heightening concern is the increasing instability and deteriorating nature of Musharraf's rule, challenged on both sides by violent Islamists and the largely secular pro-democracy opposition alike. Central to growing fears is the uncertain stewardship and control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal in a post-Musharraf Pakistan, be the American ally removed by assassination, coup, insurgency or electoral defeat.

Sharing Intelligence Often Nets An Alerted Enemy

Adding fuel to the fires of concern, Syed Saleem Shahzad reported in his latest from the region, 'Taliban a step ahead of US assault', that the United States supplied Musharraf's government with detailed and specific intelligence on 29 al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist training camps operating in the provinces of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. Not long after that transfer of intelligence, all but one of the terror camps went cold. They were abandoned completely “or are being operated by skeleton crews," according to a senior US military intelligence official who spoke to The Fourth Rail.

The remaining camp not abandoned, run by Mullah Abdul Khaliq, was described by the official as “only churning out Taliban, not al Qaeda.” This is a reference to distinguish the difference between training rendered at al-Qaeda terrorist camps and those established for the purposes of quickly supplying conscripts as front-line Taliban cannon fodder, primarily for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan which endure extremely high casualty rates.

Not only have the al-Qaeda terrorist training camps been abandoned, but as Shahzad reports, top local Pashtun Taliban commanders have disappeared and melted away, and “the top echelons of the Arab community [read: al-Qaeda's Arab core] that was holed up in North Waziristan has also gone.”

No Chain of Custody on Shared Intelligence

When intelligence is shared with another actor, it is driven by varying degrees of trust and necessity. Unlike evidence procedure in a criminal case, there is no 'chain of custody' for intelligence information once it is shared beyond the originating agency's control. This is especially evident in the sharing between US Intelligence agencies and Musharraf's Pakistani government and military, both in a general sense and especially in the matter of the information on the al-Qaeda camps in the Waziristan provinces.

It should be noted that the distrust factor is not necessarily between American intelligence services and the secular Musharraf, personally. Rather, the genesis of mistrust arises from Islamist elements within Pakistani military and intelligence ranks. For this reason, there is always a level of apprehension among the American intelligence community regarding Pakistani counterparts. After all, it was Pakistan's military intelligence, the ISI, that fostered the Taliban and still has elements very sympathetic to al-Qaeda and its Islamist global aims. Even the alliance itself between Pakistan and the United States that arose following the attacks of September 11, 2001, is one more of necessity than of keen friendship.

Musharraf faced an American fury leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan in which the encroaching military juggernaut may not have cared to distinguish much between Afghan or Pakistani Pashtun hosts to bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorists. His decision to ally with the Americans was one of necessity. As Reuel Marc Gerecht aptly describes, since Musharraf's necessary alignment with the US post-9/11, "Washington has resumed aid to Islamabad, with the result that Pakistan's counterterrorist and anti-Taliban efforts have been executed with diminishing enthusiasm." So too, in this instance, the intelligence sharing was driven far more by necessity than by the questionable degree of trust between the two allies.

Once intelligence is shared with Pakistan it must be presumed distributed in whole or in part to the enemy. To presume US intelligence professionals operate with this clearly in mind would be a well-placed bet, to say the least.

Why Share Intelligence If Pakistani Elements Inform al-Qaeda?

Most Americans likely wonder why we would share sensitive intelligence with Pakistan regarding al-Qaeda if it so clearly gets shared with al-Qaeda by Islamist elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence. After all, it is far from coincidence that 28 of the 29 al-Qaeda camps were vacated after the specific and detailed intelligence on them was shared.

The short answer is that the intelligence is not quite as sensitive as it would appear. Al-Qaeda knows that their camp locations are not a secret to the Musharraf government, as do we. Further, they know that significant new building construction shows up clearly on US satellite and UAV aerial photo and video reconnaissance imagery.

The Pakistani intelligence and military have known precisely where such facilities are located. It is suspected that significant elements of the Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) continue to directly support both groups in their operations, to say nothing of the Islamist terror groups linked directly to al-Qaeda, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, who have openly received support from the ISI for operations in the disputed Jammu & Kashmir regions. That Pakistani intelligence – historical 'godfather' to the Taliban - would somehow know less about al-Qaeda and Taliban operations and camps within its own territory than US forces is a wholly untenable argument. It is, however, an argument put forth regularly by Pakistani leadership.

So then the natural question, why share what Pakistan knows?

One of Musharraf's regular public defenses in response to American criticism over perceived inaction against al-Qaeda and its established and operational havens within Pakistani territory has specifically been that the United States has not provided actionable intelligence. How can we attack them, Musharraf's defense would assert, if we don't know where they are? But this defense is public folly, and all sides know it, as demonstrated in the logic above.

The sharing of this intelligence on al-Qaeda terrorist training camps with Pakistan should be seen as an attempt to remove the 'no actionable intelligence' leg from the table of inaction. It was almost certainly shared knowing full well that the information – and the intended actions against al-Qaeda camps it sought to drive - would eventually find its way to the Islamists in North and South Waziristan. The level of sympathetic elements within Pakistani intelligence almost certainly assures this. And thus, the intelligence community is likely unsurprised that “neither the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led coalition in Afghanistan nor Pakistan intelligence has detected any movement in the camps” since the data was delivered.

Driving The Endgame

The sharing of this intelligence preceded last week's grand jirga in Kabul. Shahzad's Asia Times article reported that the shared intelligence “was to be followed up with military strikes at militant bases in Pakistan, either by the Pakistani armed forces in conjunction with the United States, or even by US forces alone.” With the camps not unexpectedly emptied, attacks now would be largely fruitless. The targets are not simply the brick, mud and mortar of structures, but rather the human capital of al-Qaeda's global terrorist headquarters. In the end, it is the terrorists in western Pakistan that must be confronted, killed and decisively defeated, not simply their infrastructure.

On the final day of the four-day talks among political and tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf addressed the Kabul jirga and acknowledged that Taliban fighters have been launching attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistan. He couched his relative inaction against the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance as a measure of prudence and caution. Musharraf said, "The issue then is of winning hearts and minds of people who are not militant and weaning them away from the die-hards. We must also understand that the indiscriminate use of force will only aggravate the problems. It will alienate people and further fuel the conflict."

There is truth to his words, as “alienating people” through “the indiscriminate use of force” is precisely the lesson al-Qaeda itself struggles to learn in the Iraqi theater of conflict as the Iraqi Sunni population continues to turn on bin Laden's henchmen. Further, in a hypothetical Pakistani tribal region where al-Qaeda terrorists have been defeated and its global ideology driven out, there will remain in its wake an indigenous and militant Pashtun society straddling the Pakistani-Afghan border seeking to create its own Pashtun state from slices of both countries.

However, Musharraf's reluctance to fully engage al-Qaeda and its Pashtun Taliban allies within his own territory has less to do with “alienating [local Pashtun] people” in the long term than it does the very real immediate fear that his leadership would likely not survive the ensuing civil war/insurgency such aggression would spark within Pakistan. The Pashtun Taliban and the Arab al-Qaeda are and would remain tightly allied in such an event.

Also a consideration for Musharraf is the fact that a significant portion of his rank and file foot soldiers in the Pakistani military are, in fact, Pashtuns. Gambling on their motivation and eagerness to engage their tribesmen in pitched battle must be considered at least questionable, particularly at a point where Musharraf's power is receding and his longevity in question.

But, for Musharraf and Pakistan, the initiative is not entirely their own to procrastinate. There have been several assassination attempts on Musharraf and the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance openly call for the removal of Musharraf, by any means, and an end to Pakistan's alliance with America in the War on Terror. As well, the cresting insurgency in the North West Frontier Province is an example of Islamist initiative employed effectively. Al-Qaeda seeks the forfeiture of the North West Frontier Province in similar fashion to that seen when Musharraf withdrew and ceded control of North and South Waziristan and Bajour.

The black banner of al-Qaeda can be seen in prominent display in many shops in the capital city, Peshewar, and elsewhere throughout the NWFP. This is not necessarily a display of local allegiance with al-Qaeda in all cases, perhaps not even in most, as it could be simply an overt insurance policy against attack from the same. But regardless of the degree to which al-Qaeda's black banner of jihad is displayed as a matter of oath or insurance, both reflect a local sentiment of understanding where the power lies in many areas of the NWFP.

Clearly, the initiative does not rest entirely with Musharraf, and to the degree that it does, most choices remain between bad or worse, with the former and the latter interchangeable depending on which perspective from which the situation is viewed.

Who Leaked the Intelligence to al-Qaeda and Why?

It is highly unlikely that there will ever be a definitive answer to who precisely leaked the US intelligence on al-Qaeda camps in the Waziristan provinces. However, the effect of the intelligence in the hands of al-Qaeda ironically serves both the Islamist terrorists and Musharraf at the same time. Therefor, there are two trains of thought to consider.

The first is obvious. It is clear that Islamists sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda within Pakistani military and/or intelligence viewed or otherwise obtained the targeting information provided, allowing the Islamists to vacate and save their significant investment in human capital, including al-Qaeda senior leadership (AQSL). This indicates a potential difficulty and a fear shared among American intelligence and military regarding potentially flagging loyalty within Musharraf's own military.

But another possibility that should be considered is that the intelligence may have been provided to these sympathetic members by Musharraf himself or at his behest. This, of course, necessarily presumes that a sympathetic members of Pakistani intelligence were not among those cleared to review it to begin with. But the short-term benefits to Musharraf as a result are undeniable, and desperate men can rarely see beyond the immediate. This can be evidenced by Musharraf's recent consideration of declaring a state of emergency in Pakistan.

It is plausible that Musharraf may have wanted the information to reach al-Qaeda with the assumption that al-Qaeda terrorists would do just as they have done in vacating the camps. With the camps vacated and the primary targets dispersed, Musharraf could then perceive a short-term reprieve from American pressure to attack or cooperate in large scale American-led attacks. Fear of the aftermath as stated above would be a driving short-term factor in the mind of the Pakistani president already under domestic siege.

Conclusion: Intelligence Sharing An American Power Play

At the end of the day, how al-Qaeda received the American intelligence – essentially a target list on their infrastructure of training camps and other assets - is less important than the meaning behind the American intelligence sharing. The United States is clearly removing the Pakistani argument of 'no actionable intelligence' on al-Qaeda targets. Under Musharraf, Pakistan has consistently employed the intelligence defense to explain away a reluctance to directly engage the dangerous (to all) Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance on Pakistan's own soil while demanding that US forces respect their territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The targeting information shared represents a power play by American leadership. The debate within the intelligence and counterterrorism communities has notably shifted from whether Musharraf's rule will survive to one which nearly exclusively centers around the state and nature of the leadership in a post-Musharraf Pakistan. Musharraf represents the only bona fide trustworthy nuclear weapons stewardship. After him come only question marks at best.

On one side of the debate, it is rightly pointed out that the Islamists and their political powers poll at less than 20% inside Pakistan. On the other side of the debate, it is also rightly pointed out that the remaining ~80% non-Islamist majority (comprised of various parties) is not the side with the guns, and that the 'change of command ceremonies' may well commence long before any Pakistani elections, which are scheduled for sometime in early 2008.

Musharraf does not even believe he would receive much support at the polls which would elect the parliament that would, in turn, elect him as president. This is evident by his contested desires to have the current parliament re-elect him to a new five year term before the majority pro-Musharraf MP's are swept from office.

And the loyalty of the Pakistani military is considered 'in-play,' replete with literally thousands of generals who often operate more for profit than serve out of patriotism or duty. They are regularly compensated handsomely in order to assure their loyalty. Financially secured loyalty is a sword that can cut both ways particularly among the more powerful where the stakes - and gains - are higher.

In any event, Musharraf's troubles seem to grow by the day and his hold on power more and more tenuous, perhaps insurmountable even for one of the world's most skilled survivors. This acknowledgment is now nearly universally held in US intelligence and military circles. With the prospect of the window of a Musharraf-led Pakistan closing in months not years, the race is on to prevent al-Qaeda terrorists and aligned Pakistani Islamists from obtaining Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and their associated launch codes.

The al-Qaeda terrorists openly seek to kill both him and us. The American push on Musharraf could be read as a decision that, if he is going to fall, Washington is going to do all it can to ensure that he falls fighting the terrorists in a frontier offensive and not in an Islamabad retreat. At the very least, gone is his defense that he cannot attack them due to a lack of actionable American intelligence. That al-Qaeda obtained and reacted to the intelligence is secondary to the fact that it was delivered to Musharraf.

August 6, 2007

Lebanon

Lebanon: Stability or Chaos, Peace or War?

For Israel, will Syrian President Bashir Assad become the peacemaker or the aggressor?

By C. Hart | August 6, 2007

The divide in Lebanon’s government between pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian ministers is creating a chaotic situation that could lead to civil war. It could also lead to two separate governments within the country which would cause further destabilization of the nation.

Hizballah, one of Lebanon’s growing political parties, has been accused of abetting in the assassinations of anti-Syrian government ministers, with the aim of gaining a majority control in Lebanon’s parliament. The militant terrorist army wants Lebanon to become a Syrian puppet regime, resulting in increased political and military power for Hizballah, securing its already strong presence in the south of the country.

International demands on Syria remain high, with a recent move by the UN to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashir Assad to stop the flow of arms from Iran to Hizballah. Syria’s obstinacy undermines the agreement between Israel and Lebanon after the war last summer.

In the meantime, in defiance of that same agreement, Hizballah has re-armed itself in preparation for a future war with Israel. Syria is encouraging Hizballah both politically and militarily because Assad needs a distraction from the UN Tribunal, which is calling for his account in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, and several other Lebanese leaders.

When the stakes for Assad become too high, it is expected that he will unleash Hizballah guerrillas to fight Israel, in addition to committing his own troops to war against the Jewish state. Already, Assad has been preparing for such a scenario, fortifying positions on the border with Israel; opening up roads leading from Damascus to the future warfront (Quinetra); getting more sophisticated equipment from Russia, with promises of arms purchases from Iran; and securing strategic alliances (including China) for diplomatic backing in order to justify a future confrontation.

An Israeli military official stated a few weeks ago that a war with Syria would be 10 times stronger than what the population faced in the summer of 2006. Furthermore, an even larger confrontation with Syria’s strategic military partner, Iran, has had Israeli military leaders scrambling to purchase more sophisticated air defense systems and state-of-the-art war planes, as well as launching advanced spy satellites into space for more accurate intelligence gathering on Iran’s nuclear program.

But, it’s the current saber-rattling by Assad that has caused Israelis to worry, as well as recent threats by Syrian-backed Lebanese leader Hassan Nasrallah. He has stated publicly, that Hizballah has long-range missiles that can hit anywhere in the Jewish state.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has tried to calm the population assuring citizens that he does not think the north will heat up any time soon. Olmert has made peace overtures toward the Syrian president, despite Assad’s insistence that any start-up of negotiations would require Israel to completely withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Olmert believes Assad might be willing to compromise. Yet, according to Israeli Major General (res.) Yossi Peled, within Syrian society from school textbooks to the mentality of the population, there is an underlying hatred towards Israel. “And, every Syrian has a mission to take back the Golan Heights,” he said, speaking in Jerusalem at the Israel Newsmakers Forum.

Polls indicate that Olmert does not have the support of most Israelis to give away the strategic Heights to the Syrian dictator. Currently, a clear majority of the Jewish population, 63-70%, favors staying on the Golan Heights. Even if Israel withdrew from the entire Heights, only 51% of Syrian’s would be interested in a lasting peace with the Jewish state. Peled says Israel cannot take the chance of giving up such a strategic military asset merely hoping for peace under Assad’s rule.

Recent indicators reveal that Syrian reformists living abroad do not believe that Israel should make a deal with Assad, but instead should wait until Syria chooses leaders interested in reform. That make take many years, and time is running out for Israel and Syria.

According to Hebrew University Professor Moshe Maoz, the Syrian president knows that Israeli guns are 55 kilometers from Damascus. However, Assad wants the Golan Heights back, as well as, greater influence in Lebanon. Maoz asked the rhetorical question about Assad: “Is he going to be the aggressor or peacemaker with Israel?” Maoz believes that without the American Administration involved as a third party to peace negotiations, any attempt at making a peace deal will fail.

When considering a deal with Syria, Maoz claims that most former prime ministers of Israel have been willing to give up the Golan Heights, even Benjamin Netanyahu when he was prime minister. But, today, Netanyahu speaks differently. In May, at a conference in Israel sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Institute, Netanyahu stated: “We’re surrounded by authoritarian dictatorial regimes of one shade or another. And therefore, the only kind of peace that can last opposite a dictatorship like Syria’s, is a peace which you can defend. If you cannot defend the peace, the peace doesn’t hold. If we get off the Golan Heights, we get a piece of paper, but not a peace we can defend. The only way we can defend it is to stay on the Golan Heights.”

Most political and military leaders in Israel are coming to realize that if there are no direct peace negotiations with Assad, then there will be war with Syria. It’s just a matter of time. Peled, himself is concerned. “It’s impossible to talk about a relationship between Israel and Syria without mentioning the last war one year ago. And, the result of that war very much influenced this relationship. It’s the first time in 30 years that Syrian senior officers, when they sit and talk, say to each other: ‘the IDF (Israel’s Defense Forces), is not what we thought. We are able to fight them.’ Even if they are wrong, and they are wrong, the fact is, it’s their attitude toward the IDF, and it means maybe we are on the road to a new war between us and them.”

Peled talked about the difference between peace in the north of the country and peace in the south. Israel gave up the Sinai to make peace with Egypt, but it did not endanger strategic areas in Israel, or deal with points in such close proximity such as main roads, water sources, and industry. He claimed that Israel must take into account how it would protect itself in a crisis once a deal had been finalized. “Peace for us is not a goal. If a nation that fought so many years becomes a tired nation that starts to think that peace is a goal, we put ourselves at a very high risk. The goal is the assurance of the existence of Israel as a free nation. That’s the goal. If we achieve that, let’s hope we can do it and also achieve peace. But, the priority, first of all, is to assure the existence of this country.”

While Israelis continue to debate whether peace with Syria is a good idea or not, and whether the lack of peace will soon lead to war, Peled tried to explain that he is basically a man who wants peace. But, his comments were not convincing, and pointed towards war. “We should come to an agreement with Syria that will not include giving back the Golan Heights. If you say there is no way to do it, I prefer to live with the Golan Heights.”

Meanwhile, challenges lie ahead for the Lebanese people after their recent election, with many wondering whether the country will enter a period of stability or chaos. The same question is on the mind of Israelis. Some feel the countdown with Syria has begun -- first in Assad’s determination to gain greater influence and control over Lebanon; second, in Assad’s determination to obtain the Golan Heights either through peace or war.

For now, Israelis are preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best. They know Israel will eventually come face to face with Syria, not knowing exactly what side of Assad they will soon encounter.... the peacemaker or the aggressor.

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