Syria and Israel have not been able to reach a peace agreement over the years in large part because neither country has felt a sense of urgency for doing so. While peace was and continues to be desirable for both sides, the continuation of the status quo was not viewed as costly or intolerable – until now perhaps.
In the past, both countries preferred to kick the can down the road until conditions changed and became ripe for peace. The consensus among analysts and policymakers in Washington was that for Syrian-Israeli peace to be achieved, a major shock to the external or internal environments in which both countries operate would have to take place in order to break the logjam and alter the strategic calculus of both sides.
The success of the Egyptian uprising represents precisely that kind of strategic driver that could reshuffle the deck of Syrian-Israeli relations and move their peace process forward. Two things explain this potential development: First, Egypt’s uncertain political future has made Israel nervous about its external security environment.
Perceptions matter greatly in international relations. Even though post-Mubarak Egypt is likely to preserve its peace treaty with Israel, Israel’s worldview and perception of external military threats may have already changed and taken a more pessimistic turn. Consider Jerusalem’s perspective: Turkish-Israeli relations are uncertain at best, Iran seems determined to acquire nuclear weapons, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is dead, and Hezbollah’s political and military power is at an all-time high. Add to that the serious concern over Egypt’s political direction and you have a worried leadership in Israel. To balance against perceived security threats, reduce strategic uncertainty, and ameliorate its deteriorating external environment, Israel may have fresh incentive to reach out to Syria and cooperate on a peace deal.