Former US Envoy to Syria: Assad Was Willing to Break With Iran and Hezbollah, Broker Israel-Lebanon Peace Treaty in Exchange for Golan Heights
A veteran US diplomat who served in various high-level positions related to Syria revealed Wednesday that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad said he was willing to end his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah and broker an Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty, if Israel returned the Golan Heights in their entirety.
In an article published in Newlines magazine on Wednesday, Frederic C. Hof — who served as an envoy and special adviser for transition to Syria under former president Barack Obama — said that Assad made the unprecedented offer during a meeting that took place on Feb. 28, 2011.
Along with dismissing Hezbollah’s claims that Israel was occupying Lebanese territory in Shebaa Farms — which the Iran-backed terror group exploits to justify its ongoing war with Israel and iron grip on Lebanon — Assad said that, if Israel returned all territories seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, he would end Syria’s military connections with Iran and follow up with a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon, effectively sidelining Hezbollah.
Hof said that the meeting was part of an ongoing process that started in 2009 between himself and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who advocated Israeli-Syrian peace in return for the Golan Heights, and first mooted the possibility of a general realignment of Syria away from Iran and Hezbollah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hof said, was interested in a deal, particularly after he was told it could involve removing the Hezbollah threat to Israel’s north. But Netanyahu was skeptical of Assad’s sincerity, and wanted him to commit to a split with Iran and Hezbollah.
Despite American assurances that Assad would follow through on his promise, Netanyahu remained suspicious of then-US secretary of state John Kerry, who he believed might be biased as a result of his intense desire for a major diplomatic achievement.
In early 2011, Hof asked Netanyahu if he might be reassured if the US diplomat met one-on-one with Assad and received the Syrian’s personal assurance that he would keep his promises. Netanyahu replied in the affirmative, leading to the Feb. 28 meeting.
“Al-Assad’s absolute lack of hesitancy in declaring himself willing to trade long-standing relationships for recovering real estate surprised me,” Hof wrote. “I had not anticipated he would be so categorical and forthcoming.”
At the same time, however, Hof was skeptical that Assad could actually deliver, as Iran and Hezbollah would be unlikely to accept an end to their influence over the region. Assad, however, was confident he could do so.
Later in 2011, in the wake of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, the Syrian civil war began — a still-ongoing conflict in which over half a million people have been killed and Assad has found himself a client of Iran.
The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.