THE BIGGEST news to emerge from the recently concluded round of peace talks between Israel and Syria was not that it was inconclusive, or that the two sides agreed to meet again. Instead, it is speculation that Israel will request $65 billion to $70 billion in U.S. aid to cover the costs of the peace agreement.
Initial reports indicated Israel had requested $17 billion in military hardware as compensation for withdrawing from the Golan Heights. On Jan. 7, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz said the cost of peace had risen as high as $70 billion.
During this election year, such a hefty price tag is likely to induce sticker shock among Congress members, U.S. policy-makers and taxpayers. A peace pact is likely to include billions of dollars to supply the Israeli defense forces with high-tech planes, tanks and missiles. Billions more would be spent to relocate Israeli citizens from their homes on occupied lands that would be returned to the Arabs.
Besides the astronomical costs and burden to the American taxpayer, there are a number of reasons why this request should be flatly rejected. First, it is unnecessary. Israel has been the dominant military power in the region for more than 30 years.
None of the Jewish state's Arab neighbors, either individually or collectively, can match Israel's military power.
Syria, Israel's only potential conventional military foe, lost its main weapons supplier a decade ago with the demise of the Soviet Union. Syrian military hardware, at least a generation behind Israel's state-of-the art weaponry, is increasingly obsolete.
The Syrian government is hard-pressed even to maintain its conventional forces. The same can be said of Iraq.
ka-10 The Israeli press has reported Israel would not oppose a Syrian request for U.S. military aid, as long as Israel retains its military edge. Granted, there is a conventional arms race in the region. Saudi Arabia, Iran and the oil-rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf are spending huge amounts on weapons.
ka0 But these governments are not buying weapons to attack Israel; they want them to put down possible internal rebellions or to fend off attacks from each other.
Israeli military planners are more concerned about future conflicts with Iran or a post-sanctions Iraq than they are about their neighbors. Even if Israel faced a conventional military threat from its neighbors, it holds the ultimate trump card -- a nuclear arsenal, air superiority and the likelihood of U.S. military intervention.
Israel has such a large technological advantage that its existence is assured. Consequently, the military component of this so-called peace package stands in stark contradiction to the stated goal of turning swords into plowshares.
If there is any lesson from the past 50-plus years of conflict, it is that the endless supply of arms has not brought peace and serves only to foster insecurity. Though the United States is Israel's main ally, Washington should not consider paying compensation to Israel for ending its long, often brutal occupation of Arab lands.
Regardless of the causes of the Six Day War in 1967, Israeli governments deliberately decided to invade and occupy Arab lands, expel hundreds of thousands of inhabitants and invest in the policy of settlements.
The plight of the Palestinians under direct Israeli military occupation and indirect control by the corrupt Palestinian Authority can be calculated into several billions of dollars, which Israel has chosen to ignore.
Israeli construction in the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank was in direct violation of international law and numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions.
This has transformed Israel into not only an occupying force but also a colonial power. Now that Israel has agreed in principle to end its occupation, it has again extended an outstretched palm toward the United States.
What will happen if Israel asks the United States for $65 billion to $70 billion and the request is rejected?
Will it result in the death of a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement?
For many in the region, Israel's main reason for participating in the peace process is not land-for-peace and peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. They see it as a move by Israel to ensure its continued military, political and economic domination of the region. Israel's failure to work out a fair agreement with Syria would only confirm these concerns.
Sunni M. Khalid is a free-lance journalist and former foreign correspondent who was based in Cairo, Egypt, for three years.