Peter Hoskin

What’s the deal with Syria?

What's the deal with Syria?
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Jerusalem, Israel

Syria received top-billing in our meeting with the Israeli prime minster's spokesman – Mark Regev – in Jerusalem this morning. Sadly, though, he was tight-lipped about that intriguing Israeli strike on a Syrian nuclear facility. How much did the Americans know? “No comment”. Was there a risk of wider conflict? “No comment”. Wha...? “No comment”.

What he did say, however, was revealing. Israel is so keen to enter meaningful dialogue with Damascus – and to come to some sort of peace agreement – that they're going to avoid upsetting the apple-cart in public. As Regev put it: “If there is going to be progress [with Syria], then it won't be on the front pages.” Hence the radio silence on that nuclear facility.

It's an understandable position. After all, peace with Syria has clear security benefits for Israel (it would break up the Iranian-Syrian axis, and force the terrorist groups which currently congregate in Syria to retreat to Tehran – a much safer distance). But what's the incentive for Syria? According to another Israeli official, there are three factors motivating Damascus – expectation of an economic crisis in the next few years; an awareness of Israeli military superiority; and fear of US-led invasion. Peace with Israel could remedy all these worries. Or at least that's how the thinking goes.

Which leaves one final question – what chance peace? I was surprised by just how optimistic the Israelis are on this front. Here's what that official had to say: “Is [Syrian president, Bashar] al-Asad prepared to pay the price for distancing himself from Iran? The answer is 'yes'.”

Watch this space.