Iran's man in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad, has just had the best week of his career as dictator. Everywhere he cast his gaze he was greeted by massive victories. Most were courtesy of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his colleagues in Kadima, the Labor Party and Shas.
Monday morning, it was already clear that the sun was shining on Damascus when Vice Premier Haim Ramon acknowledged that in direct contravention of the government's own binding decision, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is conducting negotiations with Iran's Palestinian proxy Hamas.
The day after Ramon's announcement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak went down to Egypt to conclude a cease-fire agreement with Hamas through the group's Arab sponsor – Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. The terms of the accord require Israel to stop fighting Hamas. Hamas has pledged to decrease the number of rockets, missiles and mortars it shoots at Sderot, Ashkelon and surrounding communities. During its bombing hiatus, Hamas will build its army and bring in still more weapons and fighters from Iran through Egypt.
Once the cease-fire agreement is finalized, Hamas and Fatah will immediately reunify their forces. Since Israel has now accepted Hamas as a legitimate force, it will have no call for arguing against Fatah doing the same. Through the new Hamas-Fatah government, Hamas will maintain its military control over Gaza and expand its control over Judea and Samaria and the US-trained and armed PA militias. With Hamas formally ensconced in power, Western states will line up to recognize it and remove it from their terror lists. Israel will be forced to continue provide food, water, fuel, medical care, electricity, jobs and consumer markets for the Palestinians.
HAMAS'S GREAT leap forward on Monday and Tuesday would have been enough to put a smile on Assad's face but then along came Wednesday and turned that smile into a glow of unqualified delight. For on Wednesday, Syria regained effective control over Lebanon and was restored to its position of honor in the Arab world. Washington too, was compelled to forego its legitimate hostility.
Syria's road to Beirut was paved Wednesday by the Saniora government's official surrender of power to Hizbullah. In the "agreement" mediated by Qatar – one of Iran's Persian Gulf affiliates – Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora ceded control over the Lebanese government to Hizbullah, which now has a cabinet majority. This couldn't be better news for Syria.
Hizbullah has acted as Damascus's chief defender in Lebanon since Lebanon's now defeated March 14 democracy movement forced Syrian troops out of the country in March 2005 after Damascus masterminded the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Hizbullah's takeover of the Lebanese government will enable Syria to again treat Lebanon as its colony. Hizbullah's control of the Lebanese government has also guaranteed that Beirut will stop supporting the UN's investigation of Hariri's murder and this is deeply significant for Damascus.
With the termination of the UN inquiry comes the termination of Damascus's international isolation. Since the regime in Damascus is no longer in danger of being convicted of murder, it will be impossible for Western governments to argue that it should be overthrown or even sanctioned for its criminal behavior.
The Olmert-Livni-Barak (née Peretz) government is at least partially to blame for Hizbullah's takeover of Lebanon.
By refusing to fight the 2006 war with Hizbullah to victory, the Olmert-Livni-Peretz government paved the way for the Iranian proxy group's takeover of Lebanon. Last week the Olmert-Livni-Barak government had the option of acting to prevent Hizbullah's takeover of Lebanon. In deciding to do nothing, it enabled Hizbullah's putsch in West Beirut and Tripoli and through them, its assertion of control over the whole of Lebanon.
So between Monday and Wednesday, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government enabled Iran's proxies and Syria's terror clients to entrench their control along its northern and southern borders. And that isn't all it did.
JUST AS the Saniora government was signing its unconditional surrender to Hizbullah in Doha, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office released its announcement that Israel is negotiating the surrender of the Golan Heights to Syria through Turkish mediators.
Ankara and Damascus released identical announcements of the talks at the same time as Jerusalem. Although the official scripts were serious in tone, once they were out, Syrian spokesmen could not restrain their glee. Members of Assad's ruling clique rightly bragged that Israel's acceptance of Assad as a legitimate negotiating partner makes it impossible for the Sunni Arab states and the US to boycott Damascus.
So just two months after the Lebanese, Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians boycotted the Arab League summit in Damascus as a sign of their rejection of Syria's Iranian controllers and of Damascus's support for the Hizbullah takeover of Lebanon, thanks to the Olmert-Livni-Barak government, Syria is again a full-fledged and respectable member of the international community. The US and Iran's Arab foes now have no choice but to accept Syria.
Israelis such as retired generals Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Uri Saguy have close personal relations with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Barak and have been pushing for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights for some 15 years. Their argument for moving ahead in recent years has been that by offering the Golan Heights to Syria, Israel will pull Syria out of Iran's sphere of influence. Opponents of negotiations such as Mossad chief Meir Dagan have argued that such negotiations will have just the opposite effect.
As Syria's ecstatic reaction to Israel's announcement demonstrated, the Saguy-Shahak-Barak-Ashkenazi crowd is completely wrong and Dagan is completely right. By negotiating with Syria while it is firmly entrenched in the Iranian axis, Israel has not moderated the regime. It has legitimized Syria's presence in the Iranian axis.
That is, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government's embrace of Syria as a credible negotiating partner and Olmert's statement Wednesday evening that he supports giving Syria the Golan Heights – even as the Assad regime hosts Hamas and a dozen other genocidal jihadist groups; as Syria acts as Hizbullah's partner and logistical base and the main entry point for jihadists into Iraq; and with Damascus having effectively rendered itself Iran's Arab colony – mean that Israel has legitimized Syria's behavior. Now that Syria has received Israel's stamp of approval, the other Arabs and the US have no excuse for continuing to oppose it.
IN ISRAEL, news of Olmert's embrace of Syria was greeted with derision by the public. According to a Channel 2 poll conducted after Olmert's office announced its negotiations with Syria, 70 percent of Israelis oppose surrendering the Golan to Syria in exchange for peace. Fifty-eight percent of Israelis believe that Olmert is only conducting negotiations to divert the public's attention away from the latest corruption probe being carried out against him.
It is deeply frustrating that Olmert, who led Israel to defeat in war in 2006 at the hands of Hizbullah; who has allowed southern Israel to become a free fire zone for Hamas; who is under five separate criminal investigations for financial corruption and influence peddling; and who is conducting talks with the powerless Fatah terror group toward the surrender of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Hamas, now is pushing an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights to Syria. And all the more depressing is the fact that he is getting away with it.
Many supporters of Israel cannot understand how it is that Olmert and his colleagues – principally Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni – have managed to stay in power. Through
out their two-year tenure in office, Olmert and his colleagues have displayed nothing but incompetence bordering on idiocy in their conduct of Israel's foreign affairs. They have caused enormous damage to Israel's strategic ties with the US by refusing to contend with Iran's Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian clients and proxies or with Iran itself. Why, these supporters of Israel ask, is the Olmert-Livni-Barak government still in power?
The Olmert-Livni-Barak government has three main assets that make it all but impossible to topple and set a date for new general elections. The first asset is Olmert's complete and utter lack of shame, coupled with his unbridled opportunism. Olmert is a man who will stop at nothing to remain in power. He will lose the war with Hizbullah and refrain from defending southern Israel. He will imperil the North by facilitating Hizbullah's takeover of Lebanon and its rearmament. He will imperil Jerusalem and the center of the country by negotiating the surrender of Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. He will do all of this and more if that is what it takes to stay in power. And by his estimation that is what needs to be done because to stay in power he needs to maintain the support of the post-Zionists who control the media, the Labor Party and the State Prosecution. All these make up the government's second asset.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon exposed and exacerbated the underlying corruption of Israel's political classes by doctrinaire leftists who control the media and the State Prosecution when in late 2003 he responded to the corruption probe being carried out against him and his sons by announcing that he would expel all Israelis from Gaza and hand the area over to the Palestinians. For his efforts on behalf of the radical Left, Sharon received a "Get Out of Jail Free" card and was hailed as a visionary leader.
Already on Sunday – after Ramon announced the government's negotiations with Hamas – Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz said the current probe into suspicions that Olmert received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from American businessman Morris Talansky will take months to conclude. The implication was clear: Olmert is free to go ahead with all negotiations toward land giveaways.
The fact that Olmert's announcement of his talks with Syria was synchronized with the release of new details of his alleged criminal activities made a lot of reporters snort. The opportunism was too blatant to ignore. And yet, the heavyweights at Haaretz and their water-carriers at state television didn't bat a lash as they launched into impassioned defenses of Olmert. Ignoring the general glee in Damascus, Channel 1's diplomatic reporter and Olmert cheerleader Ayala Hasson said the announcement couldn't be "spin" since Syria released its announcement of the talks the same time Olmert's office did. And of course, Hasson explained sagely, Syria wouldn't want to do Olmert any favors.
Labor ministers such as Peace Now cofounder Education Minister Yuli Tamir said that obviously Labor will be compelled to stay in the government now because the "peace process" must not be sacrificed for anything – even if it means that a crook remains in charge.
The Olmert-Livni-Barak government's final asset is the fact that the Right was decimated in the 2006 elections. Without Shas and some breakaways from Kadima, there is simply no way to bring down the government. The votes aren't there. And Shas isn't going anywhere. Olmert made sure of that by approving 286 building permits for new homes for Shas voters in Beitar Illit on Wednesday afternoon.
So Olmert and his cadres remain in power and all of Israel suffers. But at least Syria's happy. And so is Iran. And so is Hizbullah. And so is Hamas.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.