Golan Heights
Golan HeightsIsrael News Photo: (file)

President Obama, before he took office, pressured outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to put a quick end to the Cast Lead counterterrorist operation against Hamas, according to New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh.

Hersh, who previously has divulged conversations with leaders promoting pro-Arab positions vis-à-vis Israel, reported in the current edition that President Obama approved of recent talks between American officials and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The journalist stated that he conducted an e-mail interview with Assad, who wrote him that he wants to resume talks with the Netanyahu government. Outgoing Prime Minister Olmert sent senior aides for talks with Syria, mediated by Turkey, until instability in the Israeli government and the war against Hamas froze the discussions.

“The Obama transition team…helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration,” Hersh wrote. Israel stopped the campaign and agreed to a ceasefire without demanding the return of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and without the establishment of measures promised by the United States and other Western countries to stop weapons smuggling for Hamas.

Concerning Syria, Hersh said that one e-mail to him from Assad expressed a desire for a peace pact with Israel despite Cast Lead. The Syrian president reiterated that a surrender of the strategic Golan Heights was a precondition to an agreement. Hersh, whose agenda previously has pushed for Israel agreements with Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority, quoted American officials that “Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely.”

Hersh described the theory, adopted by Obama advisors, that an Israeli-Syrian agreement would wean the Damascus regime away from Iran and Hizbullah. He explained that the success of Hamas to remain in power throughout the Cast Lead campaign gives Assad “enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world.”

Concerning the Golan Heights, he quoted former American Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk: “The return of the Golan Heights is part of a broader strategy for peace in the Middle East that includes countering Iran’s influence.”