Syria is technically at war with Israel. They have talked peace - at the 1991 Madrid summit, at Wye River, Maryland, in 1995 and in Shepherdstown in 2000 - but after initial optimism negotiations have always ended in stagnation and recrimination.
Syria says it is willing to embark on a new era of full peace with Israel, if the Jewish state withdraws from all of the Golan Heights - which it occupied in 1967. But this has proved an impossible move for successive Israeli governments.
Ehud Barak's negotiators have balked at handing over the last slither of the Golan, on the shores of Israel's main fresh water resource, the Sea of Galilee.
Syria needs peace because it could not hope to beat Israel on the battlefield. Washington has ensured Israel's "qualitative military advantage" in all spheres for many years. In particular Israel has a formidable arsenal of chemical and nuclear weapons.
The risk of instability always remains while there is no peace between Syria and Israel. That risk was not lessened by the death of Syria'a President Assad in June 2000 although many Israelis hoped his successor would be less intractable.