Yitzhak Rabin was about to agree a peace treaty with Syria when he was assassinated, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy said.

Writing in the magazine Foreign Affairs, Halevy, who played a central role on Rabin’s behalf in forging the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, said that Rabin telephoned Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak two weeks before he was assassinated to tell him about the breakthrough. “In October 1995,” Halevy wrote, Rabin called Mubarak “to inform him that peace was at hand between Israel and Syria. Two weeks later, Rabin was dead, killed by a reactionary Jewish Israeli fanatic; the peace agreement that Rabin referenced died not long thereafter.”

In the wake of the murder, CNN reported at the time, Syria’s president Hafez Assad told then US secretary of state Warren Christopher that Rabin’s assassination was “a tragic event.”

Halevy’s remarks reopen the question of whether Rabin had agreed with Assad to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines in the case of an agreement.

A year after Rabin’s death, Assad claimed in an interview to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, that, not long before the assassination, “the Americans informed us that Rabin had finally been persuaded of the necessity of withdrawal from the whole Golan. This was a fact…”

By contrast, the former Israeli peace negotiator with Syria, Itamar Rabinovich, in his book “The Brink of Peace: The Israeli-Syrian negotiations,” wrote that “Rabin remained skeptical of Assad’s willingness to offer or agree to a settlement that would also meet with his own criteria, but he continued to offer him opportunities to prove him wrong throughout 1994 and 1995.”

In his article, Halevy said there had been “four subsequent attempts by Israeli prime ministers — one by Ehud Barak, one by Ehud Olmert, and two by Benjamin Netanyahu — to forge a peace with Syria,” a shared history with the Assad regime that “is relevant when considering Israel’s strategy toward the ongoing civil war in Syria.

“Israel’s most significant strategic goal with respect to Syria has always been a stable peace, and that is not something that the current civil war has changed,” he noted. “Israel will intervene in Syria when it deems it necessary; last week’s attacks testify to that resolve. But it is no accident that those strikes were focused solely on the destruction of weapons depots, and that Israel has given no indication of wanting to intervene any further. Jerusalem, ultimately, has little interest in actively hastening the fall of Bashar al-Assad.”

Efraim Halevy (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Efraim Halevy (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Halevy noted that Israel recognizes that the Assads — father and son — “have managed to preserve some form of calm along the border” for the past 40 years… Israel does not feel as confident, though, about the parties to the current conflict, and with good reason. On the one hand, there are the rebel forces, some of whom are increasingly under the sway of al Qaeda. On the other, there are the Syrian government’s military forces, which are still under Assad’s command, but are ever more dependent on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, which is also Iranian-sponsored.”

Israel, Halevy went on, does not wish to become “a kingmaker” in Syria. “Instead, it would prefer to maintain neutrality in Syria’s civil war. Israel does not want to tempt Assad to target Israel with his missile stockpile — nor does it want to alienate the Alawite community that will remain on Israel’s border regardless of the outcome of Syria’s war.” He stressed, however, “That is not to say that Israel will make efforts to actively support Assad.”

As “brutal” as the Syrian civil war has become, Halevy added, “Israel believes that another international crisis is even more urgent: Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear program. Jerusalem has long believed that mid-2013 would be an hour of decision in its dealings with Iran. In the interim, Israel wants to focus its own finite resources on that crisis — and it would prefer that the rest of the world does the same.”