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Olmert makes a bid for peace through strength

Pool/Getty Images News On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was interested in holding peace talks with Syria, without precondition. According to reports, he said: We want to make peace… we are willing to make peace with Syria unconditionally and without demands. I have a lot of respect for the Syrian leader and ...

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Pool/Getty Images News

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was interested in holding peace talks with Syria, without precondition. According to reports, he said:

We want to make peace… we are willing to make peace with Syria unconditionally and without demands. I have a lot of respect for the Syrian leader and the Syrian policy.

Taken by itself, the offer is a strange one, as it requires the Syrians to do absolutely nothing. However, when viewed in light of recent events, it makes sense. Allegedly, the Israelis conducted an air strike against a Syrian nuclear facility earlier this month. Now, a few weeks later, Olmert offers to talk to the Syrians “unconditionally”.

He doesn’t have to name conditions. The raid—and the Syrians’ muted reaction to it—was enough to reassert Israel’s military supremacy in the region. The Syrians know going into the talks that they are in a weaker position, as Israel has show itself willing to take action as a means of deterrence. Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said as much on Sunday. According to reports, he told a Knesset panel:


[Israeli deterrence] is having an impact on the whole region, including on Iran and Syria.

That was his only mention of Syria during the meeting. But it was enough to make his point. 

The attack also appeases Israeli hawks, who have repeatedly criticized Olmert for failing to forcefully protect Israeli interests. It’s similar to Anwar Sadat’s attack on Israel in 1973; Use military strength to appease hard-liners in your own government before sitting down with your enemy to make peace. The end result of Sadat’s action was the Camp David Accords. Will Olmert’s gamble yield a similar result? It’s doubtful, but only time will tell.

UPDATE: It didn’t take long to determine if Olmert’s strategy would work – a report in the official Syrian newspaper Tishri dismissed the Israeli offer as “trickery.” It continued:

If Olmert were a man of peace, he would not have launched the war, last year, against the people of Lebanon, nor ordered his government to violate Syrian airspace, and would have brought a halt to Israeli human rights violations in the Palestinian territories.

So, if Olmert wanted to coax Syria into peace talks, his strategy backfired. If, on the other hand, all he wanted to do was attack a suspected nuclear facility, then Syria’s rejection is no real loss for Israel.

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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