I mentioned these secret talks earlier and maintain that the smartest move the US could make would be to broker a settlement between Syria and Israel (but not at the expense of Lebanon). Oren seems to think, however, that the US is against these talks and that a peace between Syria and Israel would be opposed by Washington:
The last thing Washington wants is a Syrian-Israeli treaty that would transform Mr. Assad from pariah to peacemaker and lend him greater latitude in promoting terrorism and quashing Lebanon’s freedom. Some Israeli officials, by contrast, see substantive benefits in ending their nation’s 60-year conflict with Syria. An accord would invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hezbollah, which endanger Israel’s northern and southern sectors.
More crucial still, by detaching Syria from Iran’s orbit, Israel will be able to address the Iranian nuclear threat — perhaps by military means — without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles. Forfeiting the Golan Heights, for these Israelis, seems to be a sufferable price to pay to avoid conventional and ballistic attacks across most of Israel’s borders.
The potentially disparate positions of Israel and the United States on the question of peace with Syria could trigger a significant crisis between the two countries — the first of Mr. Bush’s expressly pro-Israel presidency. And yet, facing opposition from a peace-minded Democratic Congress and from members of his own party who have advocated a more robust American role in Middle East mediation, Mr. Bush would have difficulty in withholding approval from a comprehensive Syrian-Israeli agreement.
I tend to believe that the Assad regime wants first and foremost to stay in power and regain the Golan Heights. Yes, Damascus has been bruised by being thrown out of Lebanon, but it’s entirely possible that Assad wanted to leave and is fighting an internal battle with the remnants of his father’s security regime. The problem is that the decision-making process is so opaque in Damascus that it’s very difficult to see who’s making which calls.