Mideast Peace May Cost US BillionsBy Mark Lavie
Associated Press Writer Monday, Jan. 24, 2000; 7:21 p.m. EST
JERUSALEM -- The United States will be asked to pay the multibillion dollar bill for peace between Israel and Syria, a Cabinet minister involved in the negotiations said Monday.
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, chief of staff of the Israeli army before entering politics in 1998, said the bill could reach the $17 billion reported in the Israeli media, and said it would be a "reasonable price" for the United States to pay.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak picked Lipkin-Shahak and Foreign Minister David Levy to join him in talks with the Syrians. Syria called off the most recent round, scheduled for last week. No new date has been set.
"The (Israeli) army knows what it needs," Lipkin-Shahak told The Associated Press in an interview at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, spelling out the expensive security arrangements Israel would require as part of its peace deal.
Syria is demanding that Israel return the strategic Golan Heights, a plateau overlooking Israel's north and providing Israel a clear view of Syrian military deployments. Israel captured the territory in 1967. Barak has indicated that he would be prepared to give up most or all of the highlands in return for security assurances from Syria.
Washington is hoping a peace arrangement between Syria and Israel will help push the region to an overall peace. In return for cooperating with U.S. efforts in the region, Syria hopes for massive U.S. aid to revamp its economy.
Despite some signs of shock from Washington at the thought of a multibillion dollar pricetag, Lipkin-Shahak expected that the U.S. would pay the bill in the end, calling it an investment.
"How much did the (1991) Gulf war (against Iraq) cost?" he asked. "How much is it worth (to the United States) to have stability in oil prices? How much is it worth to develop a Middle East market to American products?"
The ex-general said Israel must keep its listening post high atop Mt. Hermon at the northern edge of the Golan Heights, the highest elevation in the region, where Israeli soldiers keep an eye on Syrian troop movements all the way to the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Lipkin-Shahak confirmed media reports that Israel would ask for Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States.
Israel would need cruise missiles in case of a war against faraway enemies like Iran or Iraq, said military analyst Shlomo Brom, a former director of military planning, "to hit distant targets without the need to overfly countries with which we are at peace, using manned aircraft."
Much of the expense would be for relocating Israeli army bases on the Golan Heights, Lipkin-Shahak said. He said security arrangements would have to be in effect for ten to 15 years "to build credibility between the two sides."
Lipkin-Shahak rejected the contention by some military experts that Israel must recreate its entire array of offensive and defensive capabilities once it withdraws from the Golan Heights. "We are making peace, not war," he said.
(c) Copyright 2000 The Associated Press