Israel Must Keep Much of Golan: Netanyahu Aide

Israel is ready to withdraw from areas of the Golan Heights, but it will not give up large parts of the occupied territory in any peace deal with Syria, a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday.

In an interview that shored up the contradictions in Israel’s foreign policies, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper the Jewish state plans to withdraw from some areas in the Golan Heights, Syrian land captured in the 1967, but intends to remain in the strategically key areas.

Arad followed his announcement with a demand that as part of a statehood deal that settles the conflict with the Palestinians, Israel should be granted NATO membership.

The consensus in Israel was that it must keep a strong presence in the Golan Heights for "strategic, military and land-settlement reasons," despite Syria’s demand for a full Israeli withdrawal as part of a peace deal which includes normalizing ties with Israel.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last month peace talks could not resume because Israel was not committed to reaching a deal. Turkey has said it was willing to resume mediating the indirect negotiations.

But according to Arad a peace deal cannot stipulate full withdrawal. "If there is a territorial compromise, it is one that still leaves Israel on the Golan Heights and deep into the Golan Heights," Arad said, noting also the plateau’s water resources.

Netanyahu has said he is ready to hold peace talks with Syria without preconditions, but that any agreement must address Israel’s security needs.

Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, held indirect talks with Syria through Turkish mediators, but they were suspended when Netanyahu’s right-wing government took office in March.

Netanyahu has in the past expressed opposition to Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau of about 1,200 sq. km (460 sq. miles) that also contains important water sources in an otherwise arid region. He offered in May to talk to Syria but indicated he would make no commitments on land.
Peace Not in Sight

Arad had expressed, in excerpts of the interview published on Thursday, a deep skepticism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians and questioned whether there was a Palestinian leadership which could deliver.

In further comments published on Friday, Arad said he could not rule out some form of Palestinian state emerging in the next few years — he mentioned 2015 — but said that it would be a "fragile structure. A house of cards."

He added that after reaching a statehood deal with the Palestinians, Israel should be granted membership in NATO and a defense alliance with the United States as a "quid pro quo."

Arad avoided acknowledging the rare rift between Israel and the United States over Jewish settlement building in the West Bank, reiterating instead the necessity of keeping a tight alliance with its long-time ally while cultivating relations with other powers such as the European Union, Russia, China and India. 

Iran and Nukes

Arad also alluded to what is widely believed to be Israel’s own nuclear arsenal and a standing policy of "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) and warned that other countries they could bring about their own devastation if they launched an attack.

Arad said Israel must have "tremendously powerful" weapons to deter a nuclear attack or destroy an enemy that dares to launch an atomic strike.

Israel, the only state in the Middle East with full nuclear capabilities, has never confirmed it has atomic arms.

Israel fears that Iran, despite denials from Tehran, is enriching uranium with the aim of producing nuclear weapons.

A military option must be available if international diplomatic efforts did not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms, Arad stressed.

"The more credible and concrete the option, the less likely that it will be needed," he said.

However on Thursday French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned that a unilateral attack by Israel against Iran to thwart the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions would be an "absolute catastrophe,"

"Israel should know that it is not alone and look at all this calm. If I have fought so hard in the name of France to get people talking about Iran it’s also a message to the Israelis that they are not alone," he said.

Sarkozy was speaking after a summit of G8 and other leaders in Italy at which they agreed on the need to pursue a negotiated deal with Tehran to halt a program which Western powers fear hides a plan to acquire nuclear weapons.

( and Agencies)

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