President Assad is willing to finalize a peace treaty, should Israel and the United States grant him what he wants: That is, the entire Golan Heights, a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, access to the Sea of Galilee, and an economic and military aid package in line with the Egyptian model. This is the recent assessment provided by the IDF intelligence chief, and it in fact constitutes the assessment of the IDF Intelligence Branch, which appears to be pushing for a deal with Syria.
Without going into the question of why a military assessment body provides wholly diplomatic assessments, the Intelligence Branch is wrong, as was the case in the past. In order to understand this, we must first understand several strategic processes that emerged in recent years, and which in fact completely changed our security doctrine.
Israel’s classic security doctrine, which was formulated in the State’s early days, called for wars to immediately be shifted to enemy territory, due to the country’s tiny size and great population density. This is how Israel’s wars were waged following its inception, up until the 1987 Intifada. Those wars were about tanks rushing forward and Air Force planes, usually operating far away from our civilian population centers. We had a faraway front, and an emotional home front, until a ceasefire ended the wars.
However, this has been completely reversed, because the other side realized it must shift wars into Israeli territory. This is how it has been operating, be it through missiles from Lebanon, rockets from Gaza, or human missiles in the form of suicide bombers in Israel’s cities.
Israel, on the other hand, is prevented from operating in enemy territory replete with civilians that serve as a human shield for terror. This population is aided by “human rights groups,” by the international media, and by elements within Israel, among others. The IDF cannot operate, while the other side can go on infiltrating Israel from the air or over land. This situation depresses Israel, which feels that its immense army is not so relevant.
There are there options for addressing this situation and formulating a new defense doctrine.
The first option: Passivity and defense. This is the approach adopted by Israel at this time. We sustain the hits and try to minimize the damage or prevent it via all sorts of lulls.
The second option: A pro-active offensive approach: This doctrine is unacceptable in Israel at this time. It calls for going on the offensive, despite the civilian wall of defense on the other side, in the form of surgical strikes and numerous quick operations, as well surprising military maneuvers.
The third option: The wisdom of deterrence. This is the best way – Delivering a big bang, that is, a powerful and symbolic blow, after which the other side will realize that it cannot afford to keep firing. This is also the common approach in the Arab world.
Bashar Assad realizes that the only theater still adhering to the old classic model, which plays into Israel’s hands, is the Golan Heights. There, the tanks can still rush forward far away from civilian population centers. He has no sympathetic Syrian population there (the Druze are insignificant in this context,) and he cannot utilize covert “resistance” terrorism, as he is doing in Lebanon at this time, for example.
Bashar is “stuck” in a situation whereby Israel enjoys perpetual military supremacy over him. What he would love to do is fill the Golan with one million Syrian settlers, thereby immediately shifting to the new model of conflict against Israel, where it is seemingly trapped and lost.
This is why the Golan is so important to Assad. It will enable him to broaden the model of the struggle, whereby he (or his predecessor) will roll up his eyes to heavens and say: What can I do, those are militias operating in the Golan Heights. I have no control over them.