Syria's president, Hafez al-Assad, died Saturday at age 69. Although he never achieved his goal of a humbled Israel behind a united Arab front, he wouldn't admit defeat. 

 

A case in point were the on-again, off-again negotiations with archenemy Israel. Analysts had said the 1999 election of moderate Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was Assad's last chance at a deal with the Jewish state to return the strategic Golan Heights, captured in 1967 when Assad was defense minister. 

When his army regained a slice of the Golan in 1973 fighting, Assad went himself to raise the Syrian flag there, demonstrating the area's political importance. But Assad was not to be hurried or pressured in talks that resumed in December after a hiatus of nearly four years. 

The negotiations were suspended in January when Syria insisted Israel commit to returning to prewar 1967 borders. Israel sought lines closer to the 1923 colonial border and insisted on retaining sovereignty over a strip of land also claimed by Syria along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a key water source. 

Syria put aside enmity with the United States to join the U.S.-led coalition against his longtime rival Iraq during the 1990-1 Gulf crisis. Assad sent troops to help drive Iraq out of Kuwait, and later reaped diplomatic and financial benefits that included $2 billion from Saudi Arabia.