It’s happening yet again. Syria, while simultaneously aiding and facilitating anti-American, anti-Israeli, and general anti-Western terror, is again trying to prettify its image in the West by, among other things, conveying an interest in “peace talks with Israel.”
Not only that, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset on Monday that Syria “is now willing to negotiate without preconditions”—meaning Damascus is no longer demanding, as in the past, that Israel concede the entire Golan Heights as a condition for starting talks in the first place.
Lest the excitement get unbearable, Netanyahu acknowledged that French president Nicolas Sarkozy had told him that “the Syrians…do not want to negotiate directly, only via a mediator. I replied to Sarkozy, ‘I prefer direct negotiations, but if the Syrians want mediation, you mediate.’”
Sarkozy, however, told Netanyahu that the Syrian choice of mediator was not himself, but Turkey—already a monkey wrench in the works?
Although Turkey mediated the latest round of indirect Israeli-Syrian “talks” in 2007 while Ehud Olmert was still Israeli prime minister, since then Turkey’s star has not shone brightly in Israeli skies. During the Gaza war, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Israel of “perpetrating inhuman actions [that] Allah will sooner or later punish,” further stoking anti-Semitic agitation against Turkey’s Jewish community. In October Turkey ousted Israel from a planned NATO military exercise, prompting the United States and Italy to withdraw as well. Israeli-Turkish relations are currently—at best—in rescue mode.
But for Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz—which, on Tuesday, gave major billing to Netanyahu’s words about talks with Syria—such details are, as usual, nothing to dampen the “peace” palpitations. Also on Tuesday Haaretz ran an op-ed by Hebrew University professor Elie Podeh complaining that “On peace with Syria, Israeli leaders only talk the talk.” Haaretz, particularly its English website, is one of the main forces in the world propagating the notion that the Arab Middle East is seeking peace with Israel while Israel is the obstacle, and this op-ed fits squarely in that inglorious tradition.
“Making do with noises about peace has a number of advantages,” Podeh grouses.
“Psychologically, it gives our leaders, and perhaps some of our citizens, the feeling that Israel really wants peace, while the other side just talks about it…. different pretexts are given for not negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Assad: His government bankrolls terror attacks, it’s in a strategic alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, all he wants is to dip his toes in the Kinneret [i.e., regain the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret for Syria], and so on.
Without belittling the importance of these matters, it should be stressed that if Anwar Sadat’s positions had been scrutinized like this, there would have been no peace deal with Egypt….”
Well, not exactly. By 1977, when Sadat’s diplomatic overtures to Israel began, Egypt had already ended its alliance with the Soviet Union and was looking to realign with the West. A proper analogy would be Syria having already removed itself from the Iranian axis and then showing an interest in talks with Israel. But again, why look too closely at the truth.
If one did that, one might also want to check into this latest dispatch by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which reports that as recently as December 1, “Radio Damascus broadcast particularly offensive anti-Semitic propaganda employing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and reviling Jewish religious figures.”
After setting forth the unlovely details, the ITIC notes that:
The article is the rule rather than the exception in the Syrian media, which is generally characterized by strong anti-Israeli propaganda laced with blatant anti-Semitic themes [and is] subject to the strict supervision of the Syrian regime. Bashar Assad’s regime proclaims its desire for peace with Israel as a strategic choice, and has again suggested the renewal of negotiations with Israel (on Syria’s terms). However, the regime not only does not make the slightest effort to prepare Syrian public opinion for coexistence with Israel and the normalization of relations between the two countries, it consistently permits and even encourages strong anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement.
Although one can’t expect Israel’s perennial peace inebriates to pay much mind to such things, one can expect better from Jerusalem. In fielding this latest transparently cynical “overture” from Assad, the highly image-conscious Netanyahu clearly sees another opportunity to disprove his own “hard-line” profile and build his credentials as a peace-seeker. He should not, at the same time, help Assad’s effort to get himself in the West’s wholly undeserved good graces.