Syria vs. Israel: war or peace?

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images Last week, I made light of unconfirmed news reports that Syria had re-occupied a remote part of Lebanon. Yesterday, the Internets were abuzz with rumors of a Syria-Israel war, coupled with a report that Syria had told its citizens to get out of Lebanon before July 15th. Again, no major news outlets ...

600691_070710_bashar_05.jpg
600691_070710_bashar_05.jpg

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, I made light of unconfirmed news reports that Syria had re-occupied a remote part of Lebanon. Yesterday, the Internets were abuzz with rumors of a Syria-Israel war, coupled with a report that Syria had told its citizens to get out of Lebanon before July 15th. Again, no major news outlets confirmed the story.

Here's what I think is happening. Neither Syria nor Israel want war. Both countries, in fact, desire peace. With very little coverage in the major U.S. newspapers, Israel and Syria have been sending each other increasingly frank signals indicating that they want to sit down and at least begin talks. At the same time, each side wants to send the message that it is prepared to resolve their differences another way (and Syria is sending its own warnings regarding Lebanon). Hence the rumors of a war that would be in neither country's interest.

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, I made light of unconfirmed news reports that Syria had re-occupied a remote part of Lebanon. Yesterday, the Internets were abuzz with rumors of a Syria-Israel war, coupled with a report that Syria had told its citizens to get out of Lebanon before July 15th. Again, no major news outlets confirmed the story.

Here’s what I think is happening. Neither Syria nor Israel want war. Both countries, in fact, desire peace. With very little coverage in the major U.S. newspapers, Israel and Syria have been sending each other increasingly frank signals indicating that they want to sit down and at least begin talks. At the same time, each side wants to send the message that it is prepared to resolve their differences another way (and Syria is sending its own warnings regarding Lebanon). Hence the rumors of a war that would be in neither country’s interest.

Just today, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert advanced the ball, saying of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, “I am willing to sit with him if he is willing to sit with me. We’ll talk about peace.” The sticking point: Assad wants the United States to mediate, but the Americans don’t want to let Bashar off the hook while the U.N. is still investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

Olmert knows that both the Egypt-Israel peace agreement and the Oslo Accords began without U.S. involvement. What he does not publicly admit is that it’s doubtful that each side is willing to pay the other’s price right now. Assad will settle for nothing less than the full Golan Heights, while Olmert wants Syria to renounce terrorism as a tool of statecraft and break with Iran. But Assad would be a fool to do that without the kind of guarantees that only the United States can provide. And so we wait.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.