In This Review

Reaching for the Heights: The Inside Story of a Secret Attempt to Reach a Syrian-Israeli Peace
Reaching for the Heights: The Inside Story of a Secret Attempt to Reach a Syrian-Israeli Peace
By Frederic Hof
U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2022, 216 pp.

In the early years of the Obama administration, Hof led a U.S. attempt to secure a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. The effort foundered in 2011 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters horrified U.S. officials and sank the negotiations. It is not clear, however, that the process, which was shot through with flaws, would have succeeded in any event. U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Security Council seems to have mistaken Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a comprehensive settlement to the region’s troubles, and neglected the Syrian track. Syria appears to have entertained the discussions largely to improve relations with the United States. And the Israeli government was alternately tempted by and skeptical about the prospects for a separate peace. Hof himself concedes that it was “an American-facilitated beating of Iran and Hezbollah,” Syria’s principal allies, that motivated his “interest in mediating peace.” In the event, no party got what it hoped for. The U.S. administration came away looking indecisive and ineffectual, and Hof was disappointed and chastened. Refreshingly self-critical, Hof faults himself for not understanding the ways of Washington, torn between its self-appointed roles as honest broker and global hegemon.