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Israel’s ’74 pact with Syria shows we can deal with Iran  
by Joel Rubin
Jan 19, 2012 | 3465 views | 4 4 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Joel Rubin</i>
Joel Rubin
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WASHINGTON — In 1974, Israel struck a security deal with Syria that is still in effect today.  The West should seek to do the same with Iran in 2012.

When the subject of diplomacy with Iran comes up, the debate in Washington usually centers on whether a deal with Iran on its nuclear program would stick.  But Middle Eastern diplomatic history is full of surprising twists, including diplomatic breakthroughs.  Israelis understand this.

Remember, in 1974, when Israel and Syria signed their Yom Kippur War “Separation of Forces Agreement,” they had just fought a disastrous war that lasted less than three weeks and killed nearly 20,000 people, including several thousand Israelis.  The situation was grave for Israel, who was desperately fighting for its survival against a neighboring country who had a patron — the Soviet Union — with thousands of nuclear missiles at its disposal. 

Yet unfortunately, neoconservatives such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich do not want you to contemplate how Israel and Syria negotiated a diplomatic agreement that both sides have honored for nearly four decades, creating security and stability on their border.   

Instead, they want you to believe that it would be inconceivable that a country supposedly bent on annihilating Israel through invasion and backed by nuclear weapons could be trusted to make a deal.  That was exactly the definition of Syria in 1974 and it is the definition of Iran today. 

The parallel between Syria in 1973 and Iran in 2012 is clear.  Just like in 1973, a war with Iran today would unleash, according to pro-Israel commentator Jeff Goldberg, massive dangers to both Israel and the whole Middle East. Just like in 1973, a war with Iran today would still require a diplomatic deal tomorrow. 

Importantly, military action with no clear endgame, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reminds, would not resolve our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.  Instead, according to leading Iran expert Vali Nasr, it would likely accelerate the Iranian nuclear activities about which the West is so concerned.

Yet when neoconservative war advocates, such as Max Boot, call for pre-emptive military action against Iran, they often cite the Israeli actions in the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1981 Osirak attack against Iraq’s nuclear facilities as evidence that military strikes are the only path available for the West. That’s engaging, as former national intelligence officer for the Middle East Paul Pillar explains, selective history.

However, engaging in selective history — such as ignoring the lessons of Israel’s Yom Kippur War and diplomacy with Syria — can lead to major miscalculations that, in today’s case of Iran, may undercut the goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon.  

A fair reading of Israel’s history with its adversaries should therefore make us cautious about using military force to achieve this goal.

Today’s situation with Iran is perilously close to Israel’s situation with Syria prior to the 1973 war, where stalemate dominated and diplomacy was in short supply.  The end result of that experience was that diplomacy was still needed to resolve the conflict between the two countries.

Interestingly, diplomacy with Iran today should be even more plausible than it was between Israel and Syria in 1974, as leading Israeli national security officials such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan do not view Iran as an existential threat, as opposed to the very real existential threat that Syria posed to Israel in 1973. 

And like in 1973, what we currently have, according to Gary Sick, a National Security Council official in the Reagan administration, is a stalemate.  We should learn from the 1973 stalemate experience and move more aggressively diplomatically, so that it doesn’t take a war in the region to show us once again that, even after a war, we’ll still need diplomacy to resolve our concerns. 

This is primarily because a military attack against Iran — despite the protests of the war advocates — will also produce a stalemate.  


The only way to avoid stalemate — other than by concluding a diplomatic deal — is by massively invading and occupying Iran — a country that is three times the size of and much more nationalistic and well-defended than Iraq.  Fortunately, Americans wisely do not support a repeat of the Iraq war in Iran.

Therefore, it is time to obtain security and stability in the region through concerted diplomatic activity.  Avoiding war is a precursor to achieving such stability, as war will only produce stalemate at best.  At worst, war would be uncontrollable, unleashing a scenario where the overall outcome that we want to avoid — a massive war in the Middle East that could threaten Israel’s survival — would become a reality. 

So let’s skip the war and just move to the diplomacy.  After all, if the Israelis could cut a deal in 1974 with a country like Syria, certainly the international community and the U.S. could seek to do the same today with a country like Iran.

(Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs at Ploughshares Fund in Washington, D.C., and a Pittsburgh native, can be reached at joelr@thejewishchronicle.net. His views are his own and not necessarily those of Ploughshares Fund.) 

Comments
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Danny Brode
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January 22, 2012
You cannot compare today's Iran with Syria, then or now. The regimes are totally different, with different goals, and strategic outlooks.

Syria is an Alawite led, a minority ruled, country. It is most interested in advancing its regime/ kins status within Syria and dominating Lebanon. The regime knows that tauting an anti-Israeli line offers legitimacy with the Sunni majority, not much anymore, but is not willing to go into open war with Israel. It is nothing more than that, just open ended threats and half-hearted proxy support. Treating Iran as Syria is a grave mistake...

Dr Langhorne
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January 20, 2012
Clearly have head in the clouds. Syria is/was a secular dictatorship. A throwback to the height of the Pan Arab nationalist movement of the 50s. Iran is a radical theocracy, as most level headed people know, and their motives are not based on anything rational. Rubin, obviously a Jewish Leftist working for a leftist funded "think tank", uses weak and pathetic arguments as an opportunity to bash supporters of a strong Israel. Ultimately if Israel strikes Iran, as Panetta suggests, oil prices will skyrocket and his boss will surely get fired. This is the main fear of Jewish liberals who know the Jewish vote counts in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio & Pennsylvanua. These liberals with microphones, like those at the NY Times, are scurrying about hurling everything and anything non-stop at Netanyahu. They're pinning their hopes on turning Jewish voters against Netanyahu's Israel in favor of Obama, period. Will it work? Only time will tell.
NunShinBD
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January 19, 2012
B"H

This article compares Syria with Iran regarding the military situation and assumes that they are comparable at a diplomatic level. Unfortunately Syria is more focused on power maintenance than Iran while Iran is focused on creating the apolcalyptic scenario that froa Muslim point of view (Shiite). Syria never sought this. Iran does. This does not allow for negotiations. Jews have no options exept to prevent Iran from nuclear viavility. Iran will not stop with Israel. For the Quran speaks of Jews hiding behind trees and rocks and trees and rocks calling out to the faithful that the Jew is hiding and telling the faithful to kill them. This occurs at the final war. An Iran that seeks apocalypse and a world Islamic government go hand in hand. According to Islam (Sunni AND Shiite) the Jewish genocide occurs at this time.

This belief is a fundemental and core belief of Islam. This is what Iran wants. Genocide not war.
Seán Ó Maoildeirg
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January 19, 2012
I agree wholeheartedly with everything in this article but there are those in the arms business and in politics, sometimes in both, who stand to make vast fortunes from a major war in the middle east and they aim to see it happen by hook or by crook. The Middle East is the US's land of opportunity. It is also the key to control of the worlds biggest oil reserves.