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Damascus, Jerusalem, and Washington: The Syrian-Israeli Relationship as a U.S. Policy Issue

Overview

The priority the United States placed on the Israeli- Syrian relationship declined dramatically under the administration of George W. Bush, compared to its cardinal position during the period of the Clinton Administration. In addition, during the Bush years, the relative importance of the Israeli component of Washington's relationship with Damascus declined whereas other components, particularly Iraq and Lebanon, came to the fore. The Bush Administration's overall policy toward Syria —neither to engage with Syria...

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Overview

The priority the United States placed on the Israeli- Syrian relationship declined dramatically under the administration of George W. Bush, compared to its cardinal position during the period of the Clinton Administration. In addition, during the Bush years, the relative importance of the Israeli component of Washington's relationship with Damascus declined whereas other components, particularly Iraq and Lebanon, came to the fore. The Bush Administration's overall policy toward Syria —neither to engage with Syria nor attack it, but to seek soft ways of penalizing it —failed to work.

On the Israel side, the Israeli government's policy transformed from Ariel Sharon's and Ehud Olmert's initial rejection of "the Syrian option" to Olmert's quest for a settlement with Syria. It will be up to the Obama Administration and Israel's new government to decide whether to pick up where Olmert left off. Of critical importance is the fact that the emphasis of Syrian- Israeli negotiations has shifted from the relatively simple formula of "territories for peace" to a more comprehensive formula that includes Syria's relationship with Iran, Hizballah, and the radical Palestinian organizations.

The Obama Administration and Israel's new government will most certainly take a fresh look at Middle Eastern diplomacy. The Israeli government will have to decide whether it wants to proceed with the Syrian negotiations, in what fashion, and to what end. It will have to integrate such decisions into a larger strategy that will address the other core issues of Israel's national security policies: its relationship with the new U.S. administration, how to address the Palestinian issue, and what to do about Iran's quest for regional hegemony and a nuclear arsenal.

For the Obama Administration, Syria would be a small, yet a significant piece in a larger national security puzzle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815703242
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 3/25/2009
  • Pages: 50

Meet the Author

Itamar Rabinovich is an expert on the policies and politics of the Middle East, with a particular interest in Syria, Arab-Israeli relations, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. He served as Israel's ambassador to the United States and as chief negotiator with Syria from 1992 to 1996. He holds distinguished positions on the boards of several international foundations and on the faculty of leading academic institutions, serving as professor emeritus of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University and distinguished global professor at NYU.

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