"It may certainly be assumed that the [Baker] institute sent the [Sagie] paper to both the Syrian president and his foreign minister. For them, it will surely be an interesting paper, providing them with an opportunity to enter the thoughts of the Israelis sitting across from them at the negotiating table."3 So writes Ze'ev Schiff, dean of Israeli military journalists, about the study under review. Schiff assumes Damascus will have closely read the Sagie study because its author, a retired major general and former head of military intelligence, went on from his research stint in Houston to head Prime Minister Barak's team negotiating with Syria. What will they learn?
Sagie's study comprises two distinct parts, one on background, the other policy recommendations. The background section looks at how global events affected the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, what has happened since those negotiations began in 1991, the U.S. role in them, and the personalities of Hafiz al-Asad and Ehud Barak. Much here is insightful, such as Sagie's understanding that peace with Israel "will create a sense of threat to Syrian domestic stability as it exists today," so care must be taken to convince Asad that "peace will promote the preservation of the Alawite regime (keeping it in his family's hands) and not pose a threat to its survival." But Sagie is on far shakier ground when he asserts that "Asad is anxious to reach a peace deal today," given that negotiations have been going on for nine years without any tangible results.
More surprising are Sagie's policy recommendations for Israel. He is ready to concede (1) a demilitarized zone in Israel; (2) recognition of permanent Syrian control over Lebanon; and (3) less than full normalization of relations in the initial stages. Sagie has carried this outlook to the real world of negotiations, opening him to criticism from his countrymen. Thus, Ehud Ya'ari has commented that "each of his totally unnecessary interviews to the media only serves to impress upon the Syrians his over-eagerness and his keenness to make premature concessions, for example on Lebanon. None of that helps!"1
1 "Time to Punch Back," The Jerusalem Report, 14 February 2000.