No negotiating with enemies!

""Syria knows that we limited ourselves in our operations in Lebanon, and it knows that in an operation against Syria, against Damascus, Israel won’t limit itself," Israel Radio cited Olmert as saying.

A meeting participant told The Associated Press that Olmert told lawmakers that Israel sent a message to Syria during the war, ruling out negotiations. That position still holds now, he said. 

"This is not the time to talk to the Syrians," he quoted Olmert as saying, added that no new message has been sent to Damascus. 

"He said he would not negotiate with Syria at this time because Syria is the enemy," committee member Ran Cohen added. 

Olmert has articulated this position before, saying Damascus must first end its support for Lebanese and Palestinian extremists. 

After the war, Syrian President Bashar Assad signaled a harder line against Israel. He delivered a hardline speech praising Hezbollah and warned that future Arab generations might succeed with force where peace talks have failed so far — a reference to regaining control over the Golan Heights, the plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast War.  AP


It appears that Olmert, Ran Cohen, etc. share the Arab proclivity for viewing negotiations not as a Hegelian process of give and take leading to "synthesis" but rather as a process of discussing the surrender terms of the weaker party to a dispute.

"Israel won’t limit itself."  Since they are unlikely to use nuclear weapons and are too smart to occupy Damascus, what’s left?  It would appear that an even more ferocious bombardment of the Syrian population and infrastructure would be what’s left I suppose.  This is Douhet gone mad.

"..must first end its support for Lebanese and Palestinian extremists."  Once again, one must ask if this is negotiation as it is understood in the West.

Pat Lang

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26 Responses to No negotiating with enemies!

  1. John says:

    In negotiations you do not first start negotiating with yourself.
    People in the Middle East are the ultimate bargainers.
    Once you have staked your position out hard you start negotiating from there who do not start surrendering ground before negotiations have even started.
    I have a saying which comes in handy almost every day, “What people say and what the truth is are two different things.”

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Rubbish. What you are describing is not negotiation. It is mere bullying of an adversary into a position in which you can screw him as hard as you can rather than creating a meeting of the minds.
    That has worked so well for the Israelis, hasn’t it? They are locked in a perpetual struggle with an opponent who can not be destroyed and whose hatred for them grows with every clever move the Israelis attempt along the lines that you want. What results from that attitude is a situation in which the adversary does not give up his enmity for you and fights forever to screw you back.
    Thanks for the lecture on the Middle East. pl

  3. John Howley says:

    Israeli government spokespeople are hyperventilating about the “existential threat” Iran poses to their country, in harmony with the White House.
    If Olmert actually believes that Iran poses such a dire threat, then elementary strategic analysis would recommend “clearing the decks for battle” by means of a deal with Syria to secure the Lebanese flank and split Damascus from Iran as well as deprive Hamas of Syrian support. Olmert would also move to deal with the Palestinians to manage the major distraction of the Occupation.
    The failure of Olmert to do these things means to me that either (1) he is not serious about Iran being an “existential threat” [I suspect this] or (2) the Israeli elite is not capable of formulating and executing a conherent strategy for national survival [perhaps they caught this virus in Washington].

  4. taters says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    Thank you for this. This brings to mind the position of the Athenians in the Melian debate.
    Or in street vernacular, “Up against the wall!”
    “Ain’t no wall.”
    “Find one.”

  5. Fred says:

    Thanks for the postings. I Thought I knew something from 2 tours on submarines and pair of college degrees. The more I learn from your expertise the more questions I have. You mention nuclear weapons, God forbid, but I’ve actually got a pair of folks in my office (Detroit) who want the Israeli’s to nuke Iran. Just insanity.
    (I’ve been thinking hard on a prior post from Hal, understand his sentiment having been enlisted, but not sure I agree with the conclusion. Might just be different backgrounds). Thanks again for the insights.

  6. Soonmyung Hong says:

    It seems to me that Olmert et al. decided “We can’t negotiate now. If we did , it would be political suicide.”
    It is bad decision for statesman, but fair for average politician.
    deja vu…
    After six-day war, Sadat couldn’t admit his defeat(or incompetency). So he couldn’t negotiate, too.
    He “must” have far better result(Yom kippur war) before negotiation.
    I think there are two possiblities.
    1) nagotiation
    Who doesn’t have responsibility for defeat, replace Olmert. He then negotiate without burden.
    2) retaliation war
    They reject any negotiation, until they get stronger position via new victory.
    (chance of success? I donno.)

  7. arbogast says:

    The real problem with the Israeli position, and it is a problem that you clearly state, is that the natural end-point of their logic is a colonial war, a war of conquest.
    I suppose there is another possibility, namely exterminating everyone in a given country. It certainly looked as though Israel was sorely tempted by that option against Lebanon, but I would say that it is not a real possibility. Obviously, it is also highly resonant with the Jewish past.
    All that is left is conquest. But that option falls to pieces instantly. It is, if you will, “The Palestinian Problem” writ large. It simply cannot be extrapolated to other nations in the Middle East.
    It bears mentioning again and again in this context that the war in Iraq is a colonial war. A simple, straightforward, unvarnished colonial war. All the talk about “Democracy” is modern Madison Avenue cover for a war that any of the great 19th century colonial powers would have recognized in an instant for what it was. Obviously, colonies should have natural resources, be it slaves in 18th century Africa or oil in 21st century Iraq, but it is all the same.
    Will the US bomb Iran until it runs out of bombs? Probably. Will Israel invade Lebanon again and this time bomb Syria until it runs out of bombs? Probably.
    Will the US and Israel go the way of Rome? Without question.

  8. taters says:

    Hi Fred,
    I’m a Detroiter, too.

  9. John in LA says:

    When Iran declares — or at least when it comes forth with the kind of ambiguous nonsense that the Israelis have dished out — there will be a new and more stable basis for conversation.
    With the (perceived) imbalance in lethality between the Israelis and the Arabs both sides could waste decades gnawing on wounds and wailing in the kind of infantile, self-righteousness that passes for political rhetoric in Washington, Israel and the Arab Capitals.
    Sorry to be reductionist, but it seems clear that MAD is what kept the Americans and Russians apart, what keeps the Indians and Pakistanis apart, etc.
    In other words, a nuclear Iran seems like it might have a stabilizing effect.

  10. super390 says:

    Maybe it’s hopeless to think the American people can be educated to recognize imperialism when they see it. Maybe in their hearts they know it’s imperialism and they still secretly wish that this time whitey shall prevail. At the very least, we need to slap silly every media blowhard who says that America is not imperialist because it makes no territorial demands. Every American school must teach kids what I was not taught: that Europeans used divide & conquer, annexing some lands, installing puppet regimes in others, bribing existing regimes elsewhere, until a region was enslaved. Bush and Ohlmert obviously are doing this, poorly. Does anyone think our ancestors negotiated with the Sioux in good faith?

  11. pbrownlee says:

    It seems the way of the world (or of the small men running it) that true negotiation is always seen as a sign of weakness rather than a means of obtaining the maximum of what you want at the minimum cost to you — with the other side/s doing exactly the same thing.
    Shimon Peres used to say (he seems to have forgotten recently) that you have to end up at the negotiation table sooner or later and sooner is cheaper. I suspect that one of the reasons these guys do not negotiate is that they are so spectacularly bad at it. They are rightly fearful of getting lost in the maze.
    It may also depend on which side of the paradigm shift you are standing — did others see William Gibson’s “Hammer, meet wasp’s nest” at

  12. MarcLord says:

    Col. Lang,
    Welcome back! As you note, “Once again, one must ask if this is negotiation as it is understood in the West.”
    Good question. You don’t negotiate with yourself, but role-playing often comes in very handy, and it’s generally a crummy idea to box yourself into a corner. As the fly-boys say, “Out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas.”
    The question got me so flummoxed I went to, the Israeli security news site. Seems they’re pretty confused by it all too:
    “Given the missed goals of Israel’s venture into the Lebanon war, it is no wonder that Binyamin Ben Eliezer, minister of infrastructure in the Olmert cabinet and a former defense minister, said bluntly Wednesday Sept. 6 that this was Israel’s worst defeat in all the wars it fought. Domestic criticism of the government spreads day by day as the bizarre, muddled and incomprehensible nature of the prime minister’s war decisions continues to mark his actions three weeks later.”
    Maybe it’s time for Olmert to act like a statesman and bow. The hell. Out.

  13. MarcLord says:

    In good faith or bad, imperialism undertaken poorly isn’t really imperialism. It’s more commonly known as “losing.”

  14. Alex says:

    But who on earth would you negotiate with except for your enemies? Isn’t negotiation the process by which the parties to an adversarial relationship settle their differences by compromise?

  15. confusedponderer says:

    history teaches us, that when adressing evil, negotiations are appeasement and that then holocaust is imminent! That line is the neo-con bread and butter general purpose surrogate for an argument.
    History also teaches us that when you cannot resolve a problem yourself, for example because you are unable to impose your terms, and want a solution, you have to negotiate. And then it is a logical necessity to do so with the antagonist, the enemy. That inevitably involves concessions.
    Faced with such ambivalence the typical wingnut’s heads usually explode.
    The Olmerts are more robust than that: They simply pretend they can impose their terms, pray to the almighty god of airpower, and increase speed on Israel’s way towards the cliff.

  16. confusedponderer says:

    considering how much unity Israel and the US display today regarding Middle East policy, they would be well advised starting to negotiate with themselves to find a coherent line.
    But alas, they don’t, and so the ideologues will continue their escalation game.

  17. Carroll says:

    I believe my own lying eyes and they tell me Israel will never negotiate, only demand.
    Until Israel is in the same position as Palestine, meaning beat to hell, decimated and desperate, they won’t do anything but what they have done in the past; provoke, then whine about security, delay,lather, rinse and repeat.

  18. Jon Stopa says:

    One way to look at this,is if the US and Iran reach a point that there is open warfare, how would we extract an army designed to run on oil products without those products? Iran should be able to shut down the Gulf. Where would those troops walk? Kurdustan and Turkey are quite a hike from Baghdad, not to mention Basra. Help and new lines of communication could come through Syria, (if Syria doesn’t mind!)

  19. Matthew says:

    Israel can no more “solve” its problems than Apartheid South Africa could solve its. When you place a European colony in a land already occupied–and then dress up your aggression as “God’s Will”–conflict with your neighbors is inevitable. The Jewish presence in Palestine is eternal; the Zionist ideology, in contrast, is in terminal decline. Good riddence.

  20. zanzibar says:

    “But who on earth would you negotiate with except for your enemies? Isn’t negotiation the process by which the parties to an adversarial relationship settle their differences by compromise?” – Alex
    It need not be adversarial. Two parties may just decide to cooperate and negotiate in good faith their cooperation agreement. Many contract negotiations between business partners are just that.
    The problem with the Israel-Palestine-Lebanon-Syria situation is that Israel wants a “surrender” agreement without having defeated the other side.
    “Sorry to be reductionist, but it seems clear that MAD is what kept the Americans and Russians apart, what keeps the Indians and Pakistanis apart, etc.
    In other words, a nuclear Iran seems like it might have a stabilizing effect.” – John in LA

    That’s an interesting line of thinking and worth pondering! Of course the counter will be that Iran is run by a bunch of “martyrdom loving” crazies. But in a way there are probably more jihadis per capita in Pakistan than anywhere else.

  21. Griffon says:

    “Sorry to be reductionist, but it seems clear that MAD is what kept the Americans and Russians apart, what keeps the Indians and Pakistanis apart, etc.
    In other words, a nuclear Iran seems like it might have a stabilizing effect.” – John in LA
    That’s exactly the problem for Israel. Should Iran ever have nuclear arms, Israel’s march and dreams of Middle East conquest will end.

  22. fasteddiez says:

    Soonmyung Hong,
    Gamal Abdel Nasser, not Anwar Sadat was president of Egypt during the six day war of 1967, so it is unfair to blame Sadat for the decision, even though the two were “runnin partners” from wayback. Nasser (though an Army officer), had no combat experience to speak of, so that might have been an excuse (geez, sound familiar?)

  23. confusedponderer says:

    a nuclear Iran? Why not. After all, both the US and Israel live in a big, big world. A nuclear Iran would just be a reminder.
    Striving to be the ‘benevolent global hegemon’ (or it’s ‘belligerent local viscount’) gets you light in the head and creates silly ideas of omnipotence and delusions of grandeur and entitlement.
    Competition neccessiates reality checks.
    A nuclear Iran would question the utility of Israel’s strategic posture. That sure would be a healthy cold shower for Olmert and his buddies. Who knows, maybe there will me a Middle Eastern Helsinki one day.
    But then, maybe they’re so afraid of the prospect they decide to go berserk to pre-empt it.

  24. Alex says:

    Zanzibar, the point is that it is a structurally adversarial relationship. In your example, both parties want to gain at the other’s expense by driving a hard bargain. If the contract is signed at a higher price one side benefits but the other loses out.
    They decide to negotiate because otherwise both parties would lose. But they both pursue their interests at each other’s expense.

  25. zanzibar says:

    Alex, your point well taken. No doubt each party is focused on their self-interest, however, the best agreements are were both parties feel they got what they wanted – “win-win”. If any party felt they gave in too much they are bound to come back at another point to renegotiate.
    confusedponderer, there is a strong argument for “balance of terror” as the results of MAD have been good so far. A potent case in my mind is Pakistan-India. A lot of hatred, many wars between the two countries, a territorial dispute, the use of terrorism. Yet they have not crossed the line due to threat of nuclear weapons. However, as you point out it will be a major strategic “defeat” for Israel as it could not use the military option to solve issues each and every time.

  26. confusedponderer says:

    The real threat posed by a nuclear Iran is indeed the end of Israel’s nuclear Monolpoly. Indeed, it would force the US and Israel to negotiate with them. Considering the possible devastation, as soon as Iran can retaliate in klind agressive use of military force becomes too costly.
    I don’t understand all the hyperbole about the ‘threat’ posed by a nuclear Iran. Iran, with 3 or 10 nukes a threat to the US? Who have 2000+ nukes??! Let’s be serious: Iran is a threat to policies preferred by the current administration and Israel. Nothing more, nothing less. If the price to make possible these policies is a possibly nuclear pre-emptive war, then these policies are misconceived.
    Ahmedinejad’s rhetoric nonwithstanding, Iran can be deterred, if not by Israel’s nukes by America’s nuclear Umbrella. After all the Mullahs want a people to rule over, and I think their refusal of nuclear or chemical, let alone biological weapons, use on religious grounds is sincere.
    Why then is Ahmedinejad making his tirades? He thinks America and Israel will go away anyway, without his help. Unlike the neo-cons he is not so crazy as to think he can write history. He instead has faith in pre-determination. Thus he has no need to be aggressive toward Israel and the US, their doom is certain anyway, but therefor he sees no need to deal with them.

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