Israel doesnt need to make peace with Syria or Assad

The resumption of the Israeli-Syrian peace talks is being hailed as a major breakthrough following 3-1/2 years of stalemate. But frankly, I think little will come out of it.

That is because Syrian President Hafez Assad — the man who still calls the Syrian shots — remains as inscrutable as ever. The sphinx is still not showing his cards, so it is far from clear that he is moving toward peace.

Despite the back channels and open diplomacy, despite the attempts by the French, Germans and British and Americans, despite even this latest development, I figure we will remain at square one for quite some time to come.

And the real question is: Who cares?

The status quo between Israel and Syria can continue for the next thousand years. Israel is a growing, thriving country, with an expanding economy. It has made peace with Jordan and Egypt. It is working on peace with the Palestinians. Its circle of friends in the international community is growing and consolidating.

In contrast, Syria is increasingly xenophobic and isolated. Its economy is in decline and the country is at growing odds with the world, including the Arab world. Its totalitarian regime is like something out of the history books. And despite a huge investment in security, both internal and external, Assad remains threatened from within and unable to pose a real threat to anyone else.

His war-making capability is limited to national suicide — should he decide to attack Israel. The future of his ruling Alawite regime, representing the 10 percent of the population that makes up Assad's power base, is in serious doubt.

Assad's chosen successor, son Basil, was killed in a car crash, bringing to the fore another son, Bashar, a timid ophthalmologist, who is about as ready to take over Syria as Assad is prepared to do an eye operation.

Assad's brother, Rifa'at, is his sworn enemy, and Assad's youngest son, Maher, recently put a bullet hole in the chest of Assef Chawkat, Assad's son-in-law and confidant of Rifa'at.

Quite a family. Just the type of people you can make a stable peace with.

I have always advocated making peace with our neighbors. It seems sensible that one would try to make peace and thus divert the billions of dollars the sides spend on defense to more productive use.

But in the case of Syria, I don't know anymore. What's in it for us?

Should we give up the Golan Heights to a regime that may not be there in a few months' time? Make a pact with a loser who has no future in his own country? Repeat the mistake we made with the Shah of Iran or the Phalangists in Lebanon, putting our chips on the wrong bet?

There is very little for Israel to gain from peace with Syria at this time. Our main problem is Lebanon. And while it was once widely assumed that the two — peace with Syria and accommodation in Lebanon — were linked, Israel will be out of Lebanon within the next six months.

Modern technology has made it possible to neutralize the threat of Katyusha rockets, which have not improved since the 1950s when they were invented, without committing ground troops to holding the security zone. With or without peace with Syria, the Lebanese conundrum will be resolved.

Furthermore, the Israeli-Syrian border has been totally peaceful since 1973. That Assad will reopen it to terrorist action against Israel or launch a military attack is implausible.

Assad could have made peace with the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The formula was there: The depth of Israeli withdrawal from the Golan would be equal to the depth of peace. Warren Christopher, then the U.S. secretary of state, made a fool of himself shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus trying to sell the idea to a Syrian president who thought he had veto power.

Truth be told, Assad has no power. He could have ended his career as a great statesman. Instead, he will end it as a wimp who could not return to his people what he lost in ill-advised war.

Despite my inclination for regional peace, I say that this man had made himself irrelevant, a dinosaur on the world stage. We have passed Assad by. He has missed the opportunity to make life better for his people.

It won't be long before he tries to board a helicopter to "freedom" in some European or South American hideaway. He is certainly not Anwar Sadat or Yasser Arafat. He's just a loser who played his cards all wrong. An impotent leader of a tiny minority destined for failure and historical perfidy.

For years we were conditioned to be believe that Assad was one of the great leaders of the region. How disappointing to discover he is but another mortal with a shortsighted view of the future. We can only hope that both an American president eager for another White House ceremony to cap his term, and an Israeli prime minister hoping for another term of office, will recognize Assad's weaknesses and not play to his supposed strengths.

Peace is vital for Assad and the Alawites. It is marginal for Israel and America. So if we're going to resume negotiations, someone had better have the courage to read Assad the riot act and stop pandering to his Old World, archaic, Stalinistic preferences.