Uri Sagi – A Thinking Tough guy

4116a "Sagi believes that six years ago, Israel missed a rare opportunity to sign a peace treaty with Syria under Hafez Assad. "The United States did not stand by its word to Assad and Barak got cold feet at the last minute." He wants to believe that the day is not far off when the younger Assad will finish the job and even surpass his father. He is convinced that the key to Israel’s long-term security problems lies with Syria: the options of neutralizing the actual Syrian threat, a road to an arrangement with Lebanon and even opening a window through it to Iran are all in Syria. He notes that the Iranians in 1991 gave Syria a green light to join the Madrid Conference and promised not to disrupt the negotiations with Barak."  Dan Murphy


I know Uri Sagi.

For many years he has followed this path in advocating a diplomatic path to peace that passes through Damascus and which could lead to both Beirut and Teheran. 

After his retirement from the IDF, Sagi was Israel’s chief negotiator with the Syrian and, IMO, came very close to completing a deal with Hafez al-Assad that would have ended the Syrian confrontation with Israel.  The elder Assad was very sick at the time.  He knew he did not have much time left on earth.  He was very concerned about the ultimate fate of his family in the context of American hostility and continued de facto and de jure states of war with Israel.  He knew well that the Saudis hoped and plotted for the day when Sunni Islam would be restored to supremacy in Syria.  This obviously threatened the furure of Assad dynastic rule in Syria.  Syria’s semi-alliance with Iran was a poor substitute for the long standing relationship which the country had long enjoyed with the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union was no more.

In the end, as Sagi says in this interview, the Americans did not really want the deal and Barak lacked the courage to go forward with this deal in the absence of American acceptance.

The excuse found for inaction was some nonsense about a strip of land two or three hundred yards wide on the eastern shore of Lake Kinnaret (the Sea of Galilee).  This had been Syrian territory before it was lost in combat to Israel.  It is at the altitude of the lake with high ground to the east that the Israelis had already agreed to return to Syria.  Assad wanted this piece of the lake front, and a refusal to return it was enough to kill the deal.

Will history be kind and provide "another bite at that apple?"  Who knows.

Pat Lang


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27 Responses to Uri Sagi – A Thinking Tough guy

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    Is peace even possible? Isn’t this now a religious war between Judaism and Islam?

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I refuse to give up. If you follow that formulation, then in some sense it is also a war between Islam and Christianity. pl

  3. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I read that the national anthem of Israel talks of the “longing in the soul of a Jew”, that the Rabbanite is a very powerful institution in Israel, that many of the citizens of Israel seem to be observant Jews. The Arab side also seems to have become more and more religious.
    So, I am wondering if the Arab-Israeli War has now entered a religious phase.
    I do not believe that there is yet a war between (Protestant) Christianity and (Sunni )Islam although the possibility exists.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Why just Protestant Christianity?

  5. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    Latin countries, by and large, are out of this conflict (South America, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France). The Vatican supports a dialog with Muslims.
    The Orthodox countries are also not significant adversaries of Islam. Yes, I know of Chechens but that does not resonate with Muslims and Kosovo is quiet. And Greece has been a friend of the Arabs.
    The major participants are US & England, two essentially protestant states.

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In fact, I used to think these wars and conflicts had a rational (i.e. material) basis. Now I tend to think that war and a decision to go to war is non-rational.

  7. b says:

    Assad wanted this piece of the lake front, and a refusal to return it was enough to kill the deal.
    Did that piece of land include the access to water? If so, it was certainly of very high value.

  8. zanzibar says:

    Ultimately there will have to be a diplomatic compromise to get a peace deal. The treaties with Egypt and Jordan provide a template in that it has worked and in fact both Egypt and Jordan are in actuality part of the US/Israel alliance , although they counseled against the Iraq invasion.
    But at this stage there does not seem to be much impetus for a diplomatic solution as Israel emboldened by blanket US approval and egged on by the neocons believe they can achieve their goals of both territory and security through military means. They seem convinced they can crush the Palestinians and create Palestinian “bantustans” that are walled off and completely controlled. Now with their forceful attack on Lebanon and Hizballah they are sending the message to a weakened Syria that Assad can and will be toppled. During the Cedar Revolution, one of Assad’s key ministers resigned and went into exile opposing him. Such exiles will be bought and become the vanguard for regime change in Syria. Iran seems to be the only party providing the glue to the opposition and our misadventure in Iraq has provided them a critical opportunity to be the leader of the Muslim opposition.

  9. lina says:

    Camp David, Oslo, The Road Map, etc.
    What’s the point of all the negotiating and signing of accords and treaties if one suicide bomber or one kidnapping destroys the entire entity?
    Having a policy of “reaction” to individual acts of terrorism or rebellion or defiance with large-scale military force only serves to perpetuate endless war.
    Somehow the leadership of the non radical factions have to transcend individual (or group) acts of violence and try to see the long term goal of regional peace. Throwing gasoline on a small brush fire is not the way to prevent the whole forest from burning.
    After 60 years of doing the same thing over and over again, you’d think someone would notice they’re not getting a different result.

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In a religious war no theoretical settlement is possible. Your observations are in conformance with my initial question to Col. Lang.

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    This was not about water. It was about the Israeli resort hotel on the beach there. And that was just a pretext. pl

  12. W. Patrick Lang says:

    As an opponent of the economic determinist school of human events, I agree with you and always have. pl

  13. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Not sure what you mean by “essentially.” Catholicism is the largest individual sect in the US, followed by Southern Baptists but I must say that the Catholics I know do not seem different from their Protestant countrymen on this issue. pl

  14. Soonmyung Hong says:

    Sagi described how the negotiation was broken off. But It seems quite different to “My Life”(Bill Clinton)’s view.(Clinton blamed Syrian’s inflexibility)
    Is there any other good book for this negotiation?

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    US polity, since even before the inception of the United States, was strongly protestant: quakers, dissenters, (ana-)Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans etc. And many had strong anti-Catholic views.
    Yes, the Catholic Church is still the largest Christian denomination but it is still a minortiy when one adds all the protestant denominations together.
    What you stated: “Catholics I know do not seem different from their Protestant countrymen on this issue” is consistent with some non-US views of the American Catholics: that they have become more similar to protestants.
    All I wanted to point out that there is a string religious element in the US-UK endeavours in the Levant and the Persian Gulf. And as you know, some evangelical Christians are nominally very supportive of Israel since-as far as I understand it-they need the States of Israel to exist so that it can be destroyed so that the Second Coming could transpire. And apparently they vote Republican in US.

  16. zanzibar says:

    I have been very impressed by Haaretz which I have read for the first time in the last few weeks.
    It is very impressive that they have published several dissenting articles to the current Israeli actions and policy both in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories. This demonstrates a remarkable tolerance for debate and diverse view points and not just knee-jerk jingoism.
    This is impossible in the US corporate media today where anyone that opposes Bush-Cheney’s policies are traitors and unpatriotic. And the corporate media have become complicit in perpetuating without any questions the administration’s propaganda campaign.

  17. jonst says:

    I agree with regards Haaretz and the M$M in the States today. But just to be fair should we throw in “and of course its always been that way in the Arab press”?

  18. zanzibar says:

    At least the Arabs don’t make any pretense that they are liberal constitutional democracies.
    The comparison was more with us and our corporate media. We are out there spreading democracy at the tip of the spear and epitomize a constitutional democracy yet in practice are trending towards Pravda.
    I was amazed to read the diversity of opinion and outright crticism of policy by Israeli’s published in a leading news publication during a “war”.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I would like to add that so far and to my knowledge, Pope Benedict has been the only Christian leader to have spoken out against what is being done to Lebanese Christians and Muslims.
    Protestant Christians are all silent.

  20. wtofd says:

    Babak, from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury:
    “It pains us all greatly to see again the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East fleeing the land where they have borne witness for two millennia and to contemplate the hardships that will be faced by those who stay…
    My prayers and sympathy are with the principal victims, the innocent civilians on both sides of the border, who now live in terror and are powerless to prevent the collective suffering at the hands of Hizballah and the Israeli military.”
    Full text here.

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I stand corrected.

  22. wtofd says:

    Babak, thanks. I’m not sure you’re wrong. The various American churches have been slow to criticize Israel’s targeting civilians. Strange.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Let me see if I can narrow it down:
    “War of English-speaking protestant Christians against Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims in the War between Judaism and Islam”
    I think this covers most of the participants (but not all.”

  24. wtofd says:

    Babak, almost perfect. Could you include, “with a side war of Anglo-American Protestants against Arabic-speaking Christians”?
    I laugh at Evangelicals supporting Jews killing Christians as a way of hastening the Messiah. Perhaps racism trumps religion for these people.

  25. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I find it astonishing and quite repugnant when the Foreign Minister of Canada takes side with the foreign government that murdered Candian citizens.

  26. wtofd says:

    Babak, you have to wonder if these people think things through. When the IDF re-invaded Manger Square, Bethlehem and one of their snipers “accidentally” killed a monk an evangelical friend defended the “mistake.” I asked why.
    “Because they (the Christian Palestinian clergy) hate the Jews.”

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    No, they do not think it through, quite clearly.
    Which means their decisions are emotional. Then their war will go on since neither side can be defeated.

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