Talks with Syria may signal better days for Israel

With the news this week that Israel and Syria have launched negotiations, mediated by Turkey, we might see a paradigm shift in Middle East politics.

No one should yet jump for joy. This is Syria, after all, a ruthless dictatorship and state sponsor of terror. The regimes of Hafez Assad and his son, Bashir, have together constituted one of Israel’s implacable foes.

Some critics, such as Labor Party parliamentarian Shelly Yachimovich, have dismissed the announcement as a distraction from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s criminal investigation. Others worry a peace deal would require Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria, a security risk once considered unthinkable.

Finally, the U.S. government has reacted coolly to the news, given its inclusion of Syria in the “Axis of Evil” since 2002.

But the Bush administration is in its last months. Soon a new president will take the reins, and he or she may take a more favorable view of bilateral talks.

As for concerns about the Golan, some experts argue that intelligence technology today is so sophisticated, the need for the high ground of the Golan is no longer essential.

Moreover, a peace deal would surely come with ironclad security guarantees, including Syrian disengagement from Iran and Hezbollah. Even a weakened Olmert administration would sign no agreement absent those guarantees.

One way to view these talks is to put them in a broader context.

Even as Israel battles Hamas and other terrorists, it has also shored up its standing with its neighbors and in the community of nations.

Peace with Egypt and Jordan has held. If Syria makes peace, then Lebanon and perhaps the entire Arab world will follow suit.

Israel’s economic ties with the U.S., Europe, India, China and other powerhouses have never been stronger. The geopolitical landscape is more Israel-friendly than it has been in years. Consider the leadership in France, Italy, Germany and Britain, all strongly embracing Israel.

Similarly, consider the international marginalizing of Israel-haters like Iran’s Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Chavez.

The tide is turning, and Israel is on the ascent.

This doesn’t mean Israel or worldwide Jewry should ever drop its guard. Dangers abound, including an existential threat from Iran. Hamas will likely never drop terror as a negotiating tactic, and Bin Laden-style mass murder is a constant threat to Jews around the world.

But as the nation turns 60, these are auspicious times for Israel. Maybe, just maybe, even Syria wants to get on the right side of history.