Secret agreement between Isarel and Syria? (updated)

Ed Lasky
The Israeli paper Haaretz is reporting tonight that secret understanding were reached between representatives of Israel and Syria during a series of secret meetings that occurred in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006. The main points are:
An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.

As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.

At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.

Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.


The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.

According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran. 

These meetings were carried out with the knowledge of senior officials in the government of Ariel Sharon and included meetings occurring during last summer's war in Lebanon. The meetings purportedly ended after Syria asked that these meetings be upgraded to include more senior officials, including American officials. The Syrians also asked for help in lifting the American embargo on Syria (America has restrictions on doing business with Syria). Syria also told the Israelis that it considers itself to be an integral part of the Sunni world and that it objects to the Shi'a theocratic regime in Iran. A senior Syrian official "stressed that a peace agreement with Israel will enable Syria to distance itself from Iran".
This report so far has appeared only in Haaretz.

One has to wonder about the reliability of the report since it has not been confirmed elsewhere and because Syria's actions during last summer's war in Lebanon seem to indicate that their alliance with Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah seems to be as strong or stronger than ever. Of course, unofficial talks and meeting of the sort outlined in this article probably happen somewhat frequently (indeed, such unofficial talks led to the Oslo Accords)-even with foes. There are always issues that can be discussed and short term deals cut that are mutually beneficial and serve the interests of both parties.

However, a further question arises-as they do whenever leaks of this sort happen:

Who benefits from the release of this story?

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and his Kadima party have seen their popularity and support crumble in the last year. The poor performance of Israel against Lebanon has taken its toll, as have problems following the pullout in Gaza. Corruption investigations are hounding Olmert and his administration. What better way to show progress than revealing that "understandings" have been reached with one of Israel's most dangerous foes that might lead to a peace agreement? A more positive spin on these talks than they warrant might be a ploy to bolster the Olmert administration at a time when it most is in need. Haaretzbeinga liberal newspaper and one that supports peace overtures-would be a very willing media source that would accept the veracity of this story and promote it.

Syrian sources also seem to offer support for the article.  How would Syria benefit from a release of this story? The UN investigation of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri is heating up this week: an upcoming vote in Lebanon will decide whether to support the investigation. Syria faces extreme pressure, as conspirators behind the murder reportedly include members of the Assad ruling family. Basher Assad, the current leader of Syria, may be hoping to deflate some of the pressure against him by appearing to be willing to entertain peace overtures. The quid pro quo would be that the Hariri investigation be stalled or ended. In the bazaar culture of the Middle East, tempting the world's powers with the hope of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria may just be enough to put the investigation on ice. A good trade for the Assad regime.

Assad may also be willing to send up a trial balloon. One of the divisions that have rent the Arab world is that between the Shi'a and the Sunni versions of Islam. While Syria is majority Sunni (80%), the ruling Assad regime is Alawite, a sect that many consider a branch of Shiism. Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Sunni world and as protectors of Sunni Islam's holiest two sites (Mecca and Medina), has a vested interest in eroding the alliance between the Shiites in Iran and Syria. The Assad regime might wonder what the Saudis (and America) would offer in the way of recompense if Syria would break from its alliance with Iran, and thus severely disrupt the ascendancy of Shiite power in the Arab world.

Stay tuned as the story develops.

Update:

The Jerusalem Post reports reports that both sides deny it.

Israel and Syria both issued vehement denials on Tuesday to a report that there had been secret agreements between the two countries during former prime minister Ariel Sharon's term as prime minister.

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said that "the Israeli government is unaware of any such meetings."

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also denied the reports.

"That there were no contacts and the report is totally false," said a statement released by the ministry.

Sharon's former chief advisor Dov Weisglass, former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Yuval Steinitz and former foreign minister Silvan Shalom also refuted the claim.

The Israeli paper Haaretz is reporting tonight that secret understanding were reached between representatives of Israel and Syria during a series of secret meetings that occurred in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006. The main points are:
An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.

As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.

At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.

Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.


The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.

According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran. 

These meetings were carried out with the knowledge of senior officials in the government of Ariel Sharon and included meetings occurring during last summer's war in Lebanon. The meetings purportedly ended after Syria asked that these meetings be upgraded to include more senior officials, including American officials. The Syrians also asked for help in lifting the American embargo on Syria (America has restrictions on doing business with Syria). Syria also told the Israelis that it considers itself to be an integral part of the Sunni world and that it objects to the Shi'a theocratic regime in Iran. A senior Syrian official "stressed that a peace agreement with Israel will enable Syria to distance itself from Iran".
This report so far has appeared only in Haaretz.

One has to wonder about the reliability of the report since it has not been confirmed elsewhere and because Syria's actions during last summer's war in Lebanon seem to indicate that their alliance with Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah seems to be as strong or stronger than ever. Of course, unofficial talks and meeting of the sort outlined in this article probably happen somewhat frequently (indeed, such unofficial talks led to the Oslo Accords)-even with foes. There are always issues that can be discussed and short term deals cut that are mutually beneficial and serve the interests of both parties.

However, a further question arises-as they do whenever leaks of this sort happen:

Who benefits from the release of this story?

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and his Kadima party have seen their popularity and support crumble in the last year. The poor performance of Israel against Lebanon has taken its toll, as have problems following the pullout in Gaza. Corruption investigations are hounding Olmert and his administration. What better way to show progress than revealing that "understandings" have been reached with one of Israel's most dangerous foes that might lead to a peace agreement? A more positive spin on these talks than they warrant might be a ploy to bolster the Olmert administration at a time when it most is in need. Haaretzbeinga liberal newspaper and one that supports peace overtures-would be a very willing media source that would accept the veracity of this story and promote it.

Syrian sources also seem to offer support for the article.  How would Syria benefit from a release of this story? The UN investigation of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri is heating up this week: an upcoming vote in Lebanon will decide whether to support the investigation. Syria faces extreme pressure, as conspirators behind the murder reportedly include members of the Assad ruling family. Basher Assad, the current leader of Syria, may be hoping to deflate some of the pressure against him by appearing to be willing to entertain peace overtures. The quid pro quo would be that the Hariri investigation be stalled or ended. In the bazaar culture of the Middle East, tempting the world's powers with the hope of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria may just be enough to put the investigation on ice. A good trade for the Assad regime.

Assad may also be willing to send up a trial balloon. One of the divisions that have rent the Arab world is that between the Shi'a and the Sunni versions of Islam. While Syria is majority Sunni (80%), the ruling Assad regime is Alawite, a sect that many consider a branch of Shiism. Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Sunni world and as protectors of Sunni Islam's holiest two sites (Mecca and Medina), has a vested interest in eroding the alliance between the Shiites in Iran and Syria. The Assad regime might wonder what the Saudis (and America) would offer in the way of recompense if Syria would break from its alliance with Iran, and thus severely disrupt the ascendancy of Shiite power in the Arab world.

Stay tuned as the story develops.

Update:

The Jerusalem Post reports reports that both sides deny it.

Israel and Syria both issued vehement denials on Tuesday to a report that there had been secret agreements between the two countries during former prime minister Ariel Sharon's term as prime minister.

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said that "the Israeli government is unaware of any such meetings."

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also denied the reports.

"That there were no contacts and the report is totally false," said a statement released by the ministry.

Sharon's former chief advisor Dov Weisglass, former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Yuval Steinitz and former foreign minister Silvan Shalom also refuted the claim.