While Israel military doctrine has conventionally held that it would be a mistake to surrender the strategic plateau, the shifting forms of modern warfare make it a conceivable step in exchange for enforceable guarantees. "Remember, Ehud Barak is a former chief of the army, and he's still Israel's minister of defense and its most decorated soldier," says Beyer. "Security remains his first priority, and if he deems it permissible to cede the Golan, that carries tremendous weight."
Israel's primary tactical concern is to avoid a repeat of the October 1973 war, when Israel suffered critical losses after being taken by surprise by a Syrian buildup. Israel will therefore insist on demilitarization and extensive monitoring as a precodition for withdrawal. Despite security fears, peace with Syria would mean that all of Israel's immediate Arab neighbors recognize the 51-year-old Jewish state as a permanent reality, and that remains an enticing prospect for Barak to be pursued with urgency before the ailing Assad leaves the scene, potentially complicating any peace moves. Right now, Israeli opposition to ceding the Golan actually suits Barak's negotiating strategy by emphasizing the difficulty of Israel's concessions. "Polls may show Israelis divided over handing over the Golan, but they also showed Israelis opposed to handing back the Sinai to Egypt ahead of the Camp David talks," says Beyer. "Public opinion will shift quickly once a deal emerges."