Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (PBS.org)
JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered Syria the Golan Heights if the Damascus regime cuts its ties with Iran and ends support for Palestinian terror groups, the Israeli media reported today.
The Golan Heights is strategic mountainous territory looking down on Israeli population centers twice used by Syria to launch wars against the Jewish state. Mainstream U.S. and Israeli military experts have long maintained Israel must retain the Golan to ensure against a ground invasion from Syria.
Israel’s leading newspaper Yediot Aharonot today quoted top Jerusalem officials stating Olmert used German and Turkish mediators to tell Syrian President Bashar Assad Israel would relinquish the territory in exchange for a peace agreement and Damascus’ severing of ties with Iran and Palestinian terror groups. The report said Olmert’s offer was approved by the Bush administration.
Olmert’s office has not denied the report.
One top Israeli official told Yediot Aharonot Olmert “realizes that a peace agreement with Syria would entail the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty.”
WND first reported four weeks ago Olmert used third party sources to explore the possibility of talks with Syria aimed at an Israeli retreat from the Golan.
The reports of a retreat from the Golan Heights follows the recent release here of a government-appointed committee report slamming Olmert’s decision-making process during last summer’s war against the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The report prompted mass demonstrations and widespread calls for Olmert to resign, including from the prime minister’s own deputy, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Analysts here have been publicly speculating Olmert’s popularity could rise within his leftist base if he conducted negotiations with the Palestinians or Syria.
WND reported in the weeks prior to the report’s release that Olmert, anticipating a major backlash, held meetings with leading leftist figures here pledging to carry out Israeli withdrawals in exchange for their continued support, according to diplomatic sources. The sources said Olmert told the leftist leaders he is willing to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians or conclude a peace agreement with Syria.
Knesset members today bashed Olmert’s willingness to relinquish the Golan, stating the prime minister was endangering his country’s security to save his political career.
“Ehud Olmert would sell the Golan Heights for his seat. He is trying to save his own skin, and his statement regarding a withdrawal from the Golan is a desperate attempt to survive,” said National Union Party Chairman Zevulun Orlev.
“The Golan will not be sold like Gush Katif,” said Orlev, referring to the slate of Gaza Strip Jewish communities the Jewish state evacuated in 2005.
Gideon Saar, Likud opposition faction head, said Olmert “has no public legitimacy for a withdrawal from the Golan. Far from our eyes, processes are taking place that will be hard to stop in the future. The responsibility for this lies upon all the members of the government and coalition.”
Likud Knesset Member Yisrael Katz commented, “It would be better to replace Olmert than to give up the Golan Heights.”
National Union Knesset Member Effie Eitam said Olmert was endangering Israeli security to cover up his “failures” during last summer’s Lebanon war.
Leftist and Arab leaders praised the reports of Olmert’s overtures to Syria.
“The price tag for a viable peace agreement with Syria is a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights,” United Arab List-Ta’al Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi said.
“The negotiations must be renewed immediately,” he said.
Extreme leftist leader Yossi Beilin, chairman of the Meretz party, called on Olmert to “launch negotiations as soon as possible and reach an agreement based on the Arab initiative.”
The Arab initiative calls on Israel to evacuate the West Bank, eastern sections of Jerusalem and allow millions of Palestinians into Israel’s borders.
Syria prepping for war?
While Olmert is reportedly exploring handing vital territory to Damascus, Syria, aided by Iran, has deployed a strengthened army along Israel’s northern border and is prepared to launch a surprise war against the Jewish state, according to senior Israeli security officials.
With Israelis this week commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War – when neighbors Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked the Jewish state – Israeli security officials told WND Syria has prepared for a confrontation and is capable of launching an immediate war.
The officials say the Syrian army is deployed along the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with strengthened forces after carrying out stepped-up training of troops the past few weeks. The officials noted the open movement of Syrian Scud missiles near the border with Israel and said Syria recently increased production of rockets and acquired missiles capable of hitting central Israeli population centers.
The Syrian army has improved its fortifications, according to the Israeli security officials, and has received modern, Russian-made anti-tank missiles similar to the ones that devastated Israeli tanks during the last Lebanon war, causing the highest number of Israeli troop casualties during the 34 days of military confrontations. Syria also received from Russia advanced anti-aircraft missiles.
The officials noted Syria stepped up the pace of weapons, including rockets, being shipped from the Syrian border to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Just yesterday, a truckload of weaponry meant for Hezbollah was confiscated by the Lebanese army.
Assad on a number of occasions the past few months has told his state-run media Damascus is preparing for war. He warned Israel to evacuate the Golan Heights.
Last weekend, Assad called for “better cooperation” between Damascus and Tehran in “the confrontation with the Zionist regime and the USA,” according to a report published Sunday by Iran’s official state news agency, IRNA.
Earlier this week, an official from Assad’s Baath party warned in a WND interview if Israel doesn’t vacate the Golan, residents in the strategic territory would launch “resistance operations” against Israeli communities.
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