Olmert to Syria: Cut Ties With Iran, Receive Golan

Prime Minister Olmert offers the Golan to Syria, in exchange for full peace, including cutting ties with Iran and terrorists.

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Hillel Fendel and Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

Minister Yitzchak Herzog
Minister Yitzchak Herzog

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered the Golan to Syria, in exchange for full peace, including cutting ties with Iran and terrorists.

Israel's daily Yediot Acharonot reports Friday that PM Olmert has agreed to a deal with Syrian leader Bashar Assad, whereby Syria would receive control of the Golan Heights in exchange for revoking the Syrian-Iranian alliance and cutting all ties with terrorist organizations.

Olmert reportedly informed Syria, via a third party, that he is aware that a peace agreement with Syria "means returning the Golan to Syrian sovereignty."  He said he is willing to do so, but wishes to know if Syria, in return, will "dismantle, in stages, its alliance with Iran, Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorist organizations."

Just this past April, Olmert projected a different message, releasing a statement that "despite Israel's sincere wish for peace with Syria, Syria continues to be part of the Axis of Evil and a terror-encouraging element throughout the Middle East."

Assad has not yet responded to Israel's latest offer.

Herzog Paves the Way
On Thursday, Minister of Social Affairs Yitzchak Herzog made headlines by saying that Israel is ready for diplomatic negotiations and dialogue with Syria.

"Israel is prepared for diplomacy with Syria, and for a serious and honest dialogue with them," Minister Herzog said during a meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos. The ministers met in Bucharest during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world's largest regional security group, including 56 states. The topic of the OSCE conference in Romania was anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Minister Herzog said that the obstacle to diplomacy is the Syrian regime's support for the Hamas and Hizbullah terrorist organizations, as well as its partnership with Iran. All three of those allies of Syria have expressed and acted upon their hostile intentions regarding Israel's existence.

"The Syrians should not miscalculate," Herzog said. "The chances for negotiations are dependent on the seriousness of President Assad's intentions. In recent days, we have made it clear that Israel has no intention of opening up a front with the Syrians. We hope that on their side, as well, there is no intention to drag the region into unnecessary tensions."

Herzog was reiterating the position expressed by Prime Minister Olmert during a recent meeting of the security cabinet. Olmert said then he was ready to hold direct negotiations with Syria, warning the ministers that any statements they made to the media could push Israel towards war. The Syrians "have very sensitive nerves," Olmert said, and they could easily become aggressive. He also rejected predictions that Syria would attempt to stage a military operation to take parts of the strategic Golan Heights from Israel.

Netanyahu Talked with Assad the Father
Opposition leader and ex-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a radio station on Thursday that the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez Assad, had been willing to "cede" the strategically-critical Mt. Hermon to Israel. "In my contacts with Assad," Netanyahu said, "he agreed to give me the Hermon... I told him that I have a pre-condition [for giving him the Golan], and that is the Hermon, because there is a threat from Iran, and he gave it to me. I must say I was surprised, and I was happy."

Israel took control of the Golan Heights in the Six Day War of 1967, after the Syrians had used the area for years to shell Israeli kibbutzim below. Since then, the Syrian border has always been Israel's quietest.

Israel annexed the Golan in 1981. In early 1999, the Knesset voted that no part of the Golan or Jerusalem may be transferred to a foreign power without an absolute majority of 61 Knesset Members and a popular referendum in accordance with a to-be-legislated Referendum Law. Just last month, the Knesset voted, in a preliminary reading, to require the referendum even before such a Referendum Law is legislated.

Syrian Response
On Thursday, a Syrian official was quoted by the French press agency AFP as saying, "We are prepared to renew peace negotiations and we are interested in peace."

Meir Dagan, the director of the Israeli espionage agency, the Mossad, told a closed government meeting last month that Syria was broadcasting its willingness to talk with Israel strictly as a tactical maneuver. This conclusion, he said, is based on intelligence information and internal Mossad analysis. Furthermore, Dagan said that even were Israel to open a channel of negotiations with Syria, the Assad regime would not cut its support for, or ties with, the Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon, although it might do so in the cases of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

According to the head of the IDF Intelligence Corps' research division, Brig.-Gen. Yosef Beiditz, Syria is "increasing weapons purchases and training exercises. While there is no change in the deployment in the Golan Heights, which is a defensive array, [Syria] could improve its positions and deploy offensive capabilities."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz noted that the change from defensive to offensive deployment on the Golan can be accomplished "within days, not months... We are prepared for any eventuality." In that regard, Israeli defense and emergency forces recently held a large exercise simulating a military confrontation with Syria. At the same time, Peretz said that Israel should not "shut the door" on Syria's intimations that it is prepared to negotiate with the Jewish State.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a recent telephone conversation with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asked the Iranian leader for better coordination against their common enemies, Israel and the United States. The conversation was excerpted on Ahmadinejad’s personal blog.

The United States doubts that Syria is interested in negotiating peace, but "we are not going to manage Israel foreign policy," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Wednesday. He commented following the first day of talks between Bush administration officials and visiting Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz, who is a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister.

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