The lowest number that has been suggested for the cost to
America of Israel's peace with Syria is $17 billion. Other
estimates have gone up to around $70 billion. All these
estimates refer only to cash for Israel, and do not include
aid to Syria which would presumably be expected as well.
Few, if any, know what is really going on from the Israeli
side. Prime Minister Barak keeps his experiences and his
plans very private. He does not even report to his own
Cabinet as required by law. Yet the lower figure, at least,
has some confirmation from sources in the United States.
Talks about American aid are said to be continuing on their
own, even as the high level talks proceed.
Israel says that it wants the aid to replace its physical
presence, which gives it warnings of Syria's preparations and
intentions, with an electronic presence that can provide the
same level of information. A virtual frontier will thus
replace the physical frontier that is being given back to
However, the response that was quoted, anonymously, in the
United States press did not seem so sympathetic to Israel's
approach. American officials reportedly characterized the
Israeli military shopping list as "grab what you can." Other
American officials said it was "peace at our expense."
It is no secret that U.S. President Clinton has an ulterior
motive in promoting an Israeli-Syrian settlement, as he wants
to leave a major foreign achievement, as that would be, to
remember his presidency by. Yet it seems that the Israeli
diplomats may have overestimated the intensity of his desire
as well as his ability to pay.
So far, Clinton has not yet delivered the $2 billion that he
promised Netanyahu for signing the Wye Agreement, even as
Barak handed over the land to the Palestinians. The U.S.
Congress balked at spending the money and has so far not
authorized it. It will not be easy to sell them an even
bigger package, especially if the salesman is on his way
Moreover, if Israel gets military goodies in return for
signing, Syria will expect and demand similar consideration.
Many experts say that the state of Syria's armed forces is
very poor. It may be that Syria will benefit even more,
relatively speaking, from American aid than Israel and,
conversely, it may be better to forgo aid to Israel in order
to prevent Syria from also receiving help in restoring its
crumbling armed forces.
Netanyahu earned favorable publicity in the United States
when he proposed a gradual reduction in the aid that Israel
receives from the United States. An Israel-Syria settlement
that includes a bill attached for the American taxpayer may
not sit well with the American voter. There are also many
U.S. observers who have no excess love for Israel and will be
glad of an opportunity to present it as a money-hungry state
that is taking resources away from American poor.
We do not know how important these funds are in Prime
Minister Barak's personal calculations of what he is prepared
to do in return for which consideration. However, if our
analysis is correct, he would do well to redo the figures,
and revise his monetary requests sharply downward.