Syria’s President Bashar Assad claims that the Israeli government, especially Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is sending out “mixed signals” in regards to possible peace negotiations with Syria. Olmert’s recent announcement that his government is ready to enter into serious negotiations with Syria involving the Golan Heights, is coming on the heels of both countries preparing for a future military conflict over the territory taken by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.

Assad, who recently declared that his country is ready to retake the “Heights”, sees Israel in a much weakened position following last summer’s Lebanon II war. Basking in his so-called “re-election” for another 7 year term as president, Assad seems more determined to reclaim his country’s ownership of the territory still being held by Israel. Olmert for his part is offering to return nearly the entire Golan Heights, except for small sections around the Sea of Galilee, including Hamat Gader, one of the important sources of the Jordan River and a major water supplier for Israel.

Giving back this territory to Syria, which would include the entire Mt. Hermon Ski area as well as most of the eastern shore of Lake Kinneret, would mean that Syria will once again be sitting literally on Israel’s doorstep. It would also mean that Syria would have full access to Israel’s most important fresh water supply, and could literally pump out the same water now being used by Israel. Some of the region’s best fruit crops, especially apples, are grown on the Golan; and more recently world-class quality wines are produced there as well.

More than 30,000 Israelis live on the Golan Heights, as well as several thousand Druze who still claim Syrian nationality. Returning the Golan to Syria would necessitate relocating the Jewish inhabitants back to Israel – a feat much more difficult than the disengagement from Gaza in August, 2005.

The Golan Druze, however, still remain loyal to Syria despite receiving various services from Israel including medical care..

Many analysts agree that Prime Minister Olmert is offering up the Golan Heights out of a position of weakness; and that a stronger leader would not have considered this gesture to one of Israel’s worst enemies. Still, other political leaders including Yizhak Rabin and even Binyamin Netanyahu have made similar offers in the past.

Both Israeli and Syrian military forces have recently staged military exercises on each other’s respective side of the border; and intelligence reports indicate that the Syrians are repairing and cleaning bomb shelters and bunkers on their side of the cease fire line. Syria reportedly has hundreds of Scud-type long range missiles aimed at central Israel, including major population centers like Tel Aviv. And if Syria and Israel were to go to war, The Hezbollah in Lebanon would certainly “join the party”.

Present day realities show that returning the Golan Heights to Syria is not as simple as returning the Sinai to Egypt. If this is not believable, then all one has to do is to go to the Golan and see this reality ‘on the ground’ Still, peace – even a cold one like the current relations with Egypt and Jordan, is still better than no peace at all, many declare.

That may be true, but can the Syrians really be trusted to abide by a peace treaty? And who would gain most by a final agreement. Possibly both countries would, if they take it seriously.