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Syria and Arab-Israeli Relations

The ethos that binds Syria together is essentially resistance to Israel. Successive generations of Syrians have been raised around the core principal that Syria is threatened by Israel. There is endemic skepticism in Syria that a return of the Golan will ever be possible. There is little objective discussion of what peace would entail. A failure to prepare the public for possible concessions could prove a vulnerability on the Syrian side. The security establishmentcould conceivably be threatened by the absence of war. The Arab street viewed Asad as the only Arab leader to oppose Israel's actions and support the resistance in an unambiguous way. Asad's credentials on this point were strengthened immeasurably by Israel's operation in Gaza.

Syria was an active belligerent in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, during which Israel occupied the Golan Heights and the city of Quneitra. Following the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, during which Israel occupied additional Syrian territory, Syria accepted UN Security Council Resolution 338, which signaled an implicit acceptance of Resolution 242. Resolution 242, which became the basis for the peace process negotiations begun in Madrid in 1981, calls for a just and lasting Middle East peace to include withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in 1967; termination of the state of belligerency; and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all regional states and of their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.

As a result of the mediation efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Syria and Israel concluded a disengagement agreement in May 1974, enabling Syria to recover territory lost in the October war and part of the Golan Heights occupied by Israel since 1967, including Quneitra. The two sides have effectively implemented the agreement, which is monitored by UN forces.

In December 1981, the Israeli Knesset voted to extend Israeli law to the part of the Golan Heights over which Israel retained control. The UN Security Council subsequently passed a resolution calling on Israel to rescind this measure. Syria participated in the Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, and negotiations that were conducted intermittently through the 1990s came very close to succeeding. However, the parties were unable to come to an agreement over Syria's nonnegotiable demand that Israel withdraw from occupied territory in Golan to the positions it held on June 4, 1967. The peace process collapsed following the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in September 2000, though Syria continues to call for a comprehensive settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the land-for-peace formula adopted at the 1991 Madrid conference.

Tensions between Israel and Syria increased as the second Intifada dragged on, primarily as a result of Syria's unwillingness to stop giving sanctuary to Palestinian terrorist groups conducting operations against Israel. In October 2003, following a suicide bombing carried out by a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Haifa that killed 20 Israeli citizens, Israeli Defense Forces attacked a suspected Palestinian terrorist training camp 15 kilometers north of Damascus. This was the first such Israeli attack deep inside Syrian territory since the 1973 war. During the summer of 2006 tensions again heightened due to Israeli fighter jets buzzing President Asad's summer palace in response to Syria's support for the Palestinian group Hamas, Syria's support of Hizballah during the July-August 2006 conflict in Lebanon, and the rearming of Hizballah in violation of UN Resolution 1701.

Rumors of negotiations between the Israeli and Syrian Governments were initially discounted by both Israel and Syria, with spokespersons for both countries indicating that any such talks were not officially sanctioned. However, the rumors were confirmed in early 2008 when it was announced that indirect talks facilitated by Turkey were taking place. The talks continued until December 2008 when Syria withdrew in response to Israel's shelling of the Gaza Strip. Turkey’s relationship with Israel cooled following the Israeli attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, part of the "Gaza Flotilla" in 2010, which resulted in the deaths of Turkish civilians including a participant with dual American and Turkish citizenship. Turkey also has criticized the Syrian Government strongly over its violent repression of opposition protesters, and indirect peace talks are not considered possible through this channel.

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Page last modified: 22-03-2019 04:00:29 ZULU