Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Negotiations with Israel

The last time (indirect) negotiations took place between Syria (Hafiz al-Assad) and Israel (Ehud Barak), was in 2000 in Geneva, with Bill Clinton acting as a mediator. However talks were soon suspended after Barak failed to deliver on earlier pledges to completely withdraw from the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the 1967 June War – thus incurring Assad’s anger and Clinton’s great displeasure.

Although Syria remains formally at war with Israel, Damascus has repeatedly declared its readiness to sign a peace treaty in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from Syria’s Golan Heights. From the Syrian perspective, this had been the objective of the abortive Madrid peace process and of subsequent negotiations with the Israelis during Hafiz al-Assad’s presidency. There has been no change under Bashar al-Assad. From 2004 to 2006 Syria engaged in secret talks with Israel, and the President reiterated his regime’s readiness for a negotiated settlement with Israel in a speech to the Syrian Parliament on 17 July 2007, after he had been sworn in for a second seven-year term as President. Damascus and Israel later pursued indirect peace talks, with Turkish mediation, but these were suspended in December 2008 as a result of that month’s Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Syrian nuclear plant at al-Kibar, near Deir al-Zor, before and after the bombardement in September 2007 by the Israeli Air Force

The fragile state of Israeli-Syrian relations, despite the talks, was emphasized by an Israeli air raid on an alleged nuclear facility near Deir al-Zor, in north-eastern Syria, on 6 September 2007.