The Israeli and Syrian military officers who began negotiating in Washington in late June about the future of the Golan Heights should have had Aryeh Shalev's book in their briefcases. They would have found it useful on the technical level and helpful for its review of past agreements and comparable models: But if they were to follow its policy recommendations, they would be sowing the seeds for further conflict.
Shalev's goal is to produce recommendations for the "bottom-line security arrangements which Israel will have to insist on during negotiations with Syria." In pursuit of this goal, he reviews a range of specific components relating to topography, the balance of forces, security risks for Israel during the implementation of a peace agreement, and the possible status of such an agreement. Components are examined in detail, with the findings summarized into a policy prescription for a settlement between the antagonists.
The technical details of topography, along with accompanying maps, clarify many of the military concerns that will arise in the negotiations. The discussion of early-warning problems which emerge from the topography of the Golan Heights is particularly useful for better understanding of what Israeli bargaining positions might be. Likewise the identification of water issues and some of the mutual history surrounding water sources is helpful for understanding the Israeli concerns for the Banyas and Hasbani sources. The presentation of the linkage between the Golan Heights and air-war dynamics is instructive.
The book contains a number of useful appendices (past disengagement agreements, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979) and maps that illuminate for the uninitiated the complexity and implications of the geography of the Golan.
The policy recommendations proposed contain four major points:
- a phased withdrawal by Israel linked to corresponding simultaneous confidence-building measures by Syria on establishing a comprehensive peace regime. These include the integration of Palestinian refugees into their host countries, peace among the Arab states, normal trade/tourism relations, and even changes in Syria's educational curriculum prior to the final pullout of the IDF and any settlements;
- IDF early-warning installations and forces to remain at the eastern edge of the Golan as well as retention of all settlements until the final stage of complete recognition;
- A 3-4 kilometer-wide international boundary shift to the east all along the Golan's western edge so that Israel gains water and access routes to the Golan;
- Syrian demilitarization of both the Golan as well as a substantial area up to Damascus.
The author grounds his argument on a number of questionable assumptions, however, that raise serious concerns about the soundness of these policy prescriptions. Two are particularly objectionable. The first concerns the fundamental motivations and intentions of the antagonists. In Shalev's world, Israel is striving for peace, is only asking for minimum security needs, has reasonable expectations, speaks with one voice, has security concerns that take priority over Syria's, and is clearly non-aggressive. The simplistic picture of Syria that emerges revolves around its supposed desire to wipe out the Jewish state, its untrustworthiness, the dependence of policy on the whims of President Hafiz al-Asad, its fixation on the Golan, and its fear of Israel. Out of this perspective on the intentions of the actors comes the need for Israel to keep the settlements in place until the final phase of the peace process, the need for the IDF to remain in force on the Golan for years, and the requirement for various boundary adjustments.
Shalev tries at different points to sound an alternative motivational note, but he remains unconvincing, with the result that the underlying tenor of his book leaves the reader feeling as if the policy prescriptions came first and the "rational" evaluation was simply a justification. He assumes that Israel's sincerity and lack of aggression are clear for all to see, ignores the fundamental issue of the Zionist land grab, misses the way changes occur in a state's foreign-policy motivations over time, and dismisses the impact of domestic debate and conflict over policy, ignoring similarities and differences between Labor and Likud.
A second set of assumptions that skew his argument arises from his commitment to a step-by-step process for disengagement. Nowhere does he evaluate the costs and benefits of this scenario; he assumes a gradual, step-by-step, tit-for-tat approach is the only possibility. Given the high security and human costs resulting from the delay in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, and the regional costs incurred during the Kissingerian step-by-step negotiations over the Golan and the Sinai, a clear evaluation of this fundamental assumption would have been appropriate. He then might have suggested alternatives and evaluated their implications. For example, given Syrian fears of Israeli expansionism and commitment to Zionist ideology, if Israel were to give back the whole Golan and withdraw all settlements in one dramatic gesture, would this not increase the likelihood of a desired Syrian response, while removing the potential for both domestic and international contexts to undermine the successes of the move?
In general, the book contains a number of inconsistent assumptions, as when Shalev argues that Syria has learned not to start small wars with Israel since they lead to big wars, yet later implies that Israel's primary concern must be to create a redoubt on the Golan to defend itself against a small war directed at regaining Golan territory only. Another example is when he suggests that Israel is highly susceptible to American pressure while simultaneously arguing that Israel can easily ignore it.
The policy prescriptions are also flawed by the book's denial of two problems: the Syrian refugees issue and Israel's repression of the remaining communities on the Golan. Shalev ignores the plight of 124,000 Syrian villagers exiled from their land in 1967 and of the 131 villages razed by the Israelis. It would appear that their return to their land would raise problems for his suggestion that Jewish settlements remain in place on the Golan until Phase III of the settlement. Likewise, his rosy picture of the relationship between the Druze community remaining on the Golan and the Israeli authorities is completely at odds with the repression, denial of land and water rights, and abuse of the education system that have actually occurred. The Droze are unwilling to accept continuation of the Israeli occupation into some indefinite future, as suggested by the author.
Finally, the book suffers from a lack of reference to any of the literature on negotiation processes, game theory, arms-race evolution, boundary analysis or psychological dynamics of foreign-policy making. Neither opinions derived from the author's experience since 1949 as a military negotiation and intelligence analyst, nor policy recommendations proposed in the book, are compared or informed by any analytic framework that might challenge, clarify or modify them. Shalev's proposition, for example, that Israel's need to maintain IDF troops on the eastern edge of the Golan should be understood and accepted by Syria as simply defensive might have benefited from reference to Robert Jarvis's discussion of the psychological implications for other states of one state's push for security.
Obviously a book written in late 1993 could not have included reference to new agreements such as the Jordanian-Israel accords or the PNA-Israeli negotiations. However, the dynamics of these two agreements so differ from Shalev's proposals on the Golan that one is struck by the expression of his limited vision of the situation contained in numerous references to "the only possible alternative" and to what can be "expected." Likewise, the latest revelations about the possible substance of an Israeli-Syrian agreement on the Golan (an initial Israeli withdrawal from a few settlements, American troops into a demilitarized zone, Syrian control of Hezbollah during Phase I) contrast sharply with his prediction of the stages of a settlement and raise questions on the clarity of the analysis involved.
Judged within its own time frame, the book remains of specific value to academics and to Syrian politicians wishing to understand some of the key strategic and technical perspectives Israeli negotiators are bringing with them to the table. If this is the only material in the Israelis' briefcase, however, they will miss a range of opportunities to understand and move the Syrians. They will find themselves making unrealistic and counterproductive proposals that enhance the prospect for war rather than reducing it.