IMRA: Why not strengthen Peace Now or The Council For Peace And Security instead of forming a new group?
Sasson: No. No. This doesn't have anything to do with Peace Now or The Council For Peace And Security. We established this forum because we believe that it is necessary to pressure the Government of Israel and in particular the prime minister to engage in negotiations with Syria.
IMRA: This is an international group?
Sasson: Right now it is Israeli. I am flying to London now and may establish a core group and perhaps later a forum there between Israel and Syria.
IMRA: You see having broad activity with advertising in the newspapers and direct mail etc.
Sasson: Yes yes. It must be done and I know from American and British sources close to me that are in touch with the Syrian foreign minister that they are interested in making peace. A stable peace. The Golan Heights can be developed for tourism.
IMRA: So you are talking about a campaign with a serious budget.
Sasson: Yes. It is a very serious matter. Before Sadat came that was also ridiculed and today the matter of Syria is being ridiculed. I once said "if we don't believe the Arabs there will never be peace".
IMRA: How large a budget is required for such a serious campaign?
Sasson: In truth we don't yet have a budget. We are doing it from our own money. And we already need help.
IMRA: You foresee a situation in which the same foreign elements that contributed to the activities of Peace Now and The Council for Peace and Security might also be a source for this serious campaign?
Sasson: I don't know. I haven't contacted any group to raise funds but I believe in what I am doing. . If there is peace between Israel ad Syria it would also be good for the Americans.
IMRA: Of course there is the question as to what one will ultimately have if one signs an agreement with someone from a regime that represents less than ten percent of the population of a country before it has another revolution. But I am not coming here to debate with you. You know better than I that the regime now controlling Syria is a minority regime and there is no way to know what tomorrow may bring.
Sasson: We didn't concern ourselves with that when we made peace with Egypt.
IMRA: Of course. I didn't come here to argue. For that matter no one knows what will be with Egypt.
Sasson: You know, my friends who drank in coffee houses and ate at restaurants in Damascus found that eighty percent of the people they sat with are interested in peace.
IMRA: Do you foresee the same model with regard to Syria that there was with Egypt?
Sasson: It will be better.
IMRA: In terms of the amassing of arms afterwards.
Sasson: What arming?
IMRA: Well, as a result of the peace between Israel and Egypt the Egyptians went from being armed with old weapons from the then Soviet Union to a situation in which they have the most advance American weapons. So I ask if the same thing will happen with the Syrians.
Sasson: The peace, if it happens, will strengthen all the moderate Arab states.
IMRA: That's not my question. I am asking you a concrete question: to the extent that there will be peace . . .
Sasson: Arming is not something we think about. Why? Because if there will be peace there will be less arming.
IMRA: Well, there is peace with Egypt and they decided to direct the overwhelming majority of the billions of dollars of American aid that they received towards buying top of the line weapons.
Sasson: That's a matter between America and Egypt.
IMRA: So you see the same situation developing between America and the Syrians?
Sasson: It could be also. The agreement would bring them closer the West - to the U.S.
IMRA: I am talking about arming. Right now the Egyptians have a much stronger navy than the Israeli navy thanks to the peace. Could the same thing happen with the Syrians?
Sasson: You can't tell them not to arm because others are arming. This is not the matter. The important thing for us is the matter of peace and if there is peace there won't be a need for massive arming. The biggest danger is the conflict between us and this leads to the arming on both sides.
IMRA: That's to say that you don't rule out the possibility that on the one hand we might have some international park on the Golan Heights while on the other hand the Syrians will have billions of dollars of American made weapons.
Sasson: That isn't the most important point. Today war isn't as it was thirty of forty years ago. There is a change. The conflict between us and the Arabs before was political. Now it is a religious dispute and this is the greatest danger.
IMRA: So you are saying that balance of power and military capabilities are no longer considerations in the initiation of war.
Sasson: Developments in recent years because we denigrated the Arabs led to the situation that they turned to religion. That's why Hamas strengthened.
IMRA: You raise an interesting question because there will always be radical Islamic groups that will take the position that even if we sign a peace agreement with our neighbors that they still won't accept us.
Sasson: The moment we sign a peace agreement all these groups will weaken.
IMRA: You don't think that poverty also causes them to strengthen.
Sasson: Poverty doesn't lead to such a situation.
IMRA: Is it possible that matters not connected to Israel and its relations with its neighbors may lead to a strengthening of radical Islam?
IMR: Things having nothing to do with Israel.
Sasson: No. No. This is an internal matter for them. The Arab states fear war. Why? Because if there is war then radical Islam will strengthen in their states.
IMRA: My question is a bit different Mr. Sasson. As someone who has a personal familiarity with the middle east over the years do you rule out the possibility that something that has nothing to do with Arab Israeli relations could cause a rise to power of radical Islamic elements in the states in our neighborhood?
Sasson: If the situation continues.
IMRA: No. I am asking beyond Arab Israeli relations is it possible that other matters not associated with Arab Israeli relation could bring to power radical Islamic elements.
Sasson: I am saying that radical Islam exploits the Arab Israeli conflict
IMRA: You are saying that there is nothing other than the Arab Israeli conflict that can bring radical Islam to power? Only that?
Sasson: Only that.
IMRA: Only that?
Sasson: Only that.
IMRA: That is the absolute only thing in our region that can bring radical Islam to power?
IMRA: So that's to say that every place in the middle east that radical Islam came to power it was because of Israel?
Sasson: It was one of the reasons.
IMRA: One of the reasons. So there were also other reasons.
Sasson: But the main reason was the Arab Israel conflict.
IMRA: Mubarak said that corruption is the primary reason that radical Islam can come to power. Corruption.
Sasson: Today there is corruption also in the West. Also in America.
IMRA: So people have gotten to be so accustomed to corruption that it won't bring radical Islam to power.
Sasson: The moment that there is peace the standard of living will start to recover and this will help the poor.
IMRA: You are a businessman. As one you are aware of factors that can affect a market that have nothing to do with you. For example, if the price of oil drops to $25 a barrel something like that couldn't lead to a situation of upheaval in the region that has nothing to do with Israel?
Sasson: Ten years ago oil dropped below $15 a barrel and today it went up and we see that that isn't the reason. The reason for trouble is the Arab Israeli conflict.
IMRA: That's to say that it isn't poverty, it isn't corruption. The only thing is what happens between the Arabs and Israel.
Sasson: There are of course other things such as poverty etc. But radical Islam, be it in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Jordan - all point to the Arab Israeli conflict. Even Bin Laden.
IMRA: There is a line of thought that says that when leaders face domestic upheaval that they turn to external conflicts to divert the public's focus from internal problems. They seek external conflict to stay in power. That they go to war not because of the claim they have against their enemy but instead the need to turn the opposition of their public away from them towards an external enemy.
Sasson: There are many reasons for war. Economic ones.
IMRA: Not economics. You are in power and you don't want to be put out of power.
Sasson: But religious ones - they are the worse ones.
IMRA: And those who see all of Palestine as waqf, such that there is no place for a Jewish State.
Sasson: Look. All the Arab states back the Saudi initiative of land for peace. Peace brings security. No matter how strong we are and how strong America is it won't help. Security doesn't bring peace. Only peace brings security.
Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
(Mail POB 982 Kfar Sava)
Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-3-7255730
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