January 08, 2004

Israeli-Syrian Track

What's going on re: the Israeli-Syrian track? This article has Iranian arms, under cover of supposed Syrian humanitarian flights related to the earthquake in Iran, arriving in Syria and then being delivered to Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon.

But scroll down further, and there are follow on articles about the Turkish offer (Bashar Assad was in Turkey this week) to mediate between Israel and Syria, and reports that Sharon is coming under domestic pressure (from, yep, even people like Netanyahu) to respond to Syrian diplomatic overtures:

"The upper echelon of the army believes Israel should not appear to be saying no to a peace proposal and should respond positively, putting Assad to the test even if it appears that the Syrian proposal is for tactical reasons, as Damascus tries to mitigate heavy U.S. pressure.

According to defense sources, the view is supported by IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon along with his deputy, Major General Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of Military Intelligence Major General Aharon Ze'evi, and the outgoing director of the army's Plans and Policy Directorate, Major General Giora Eiland, who will be taking up the chairmanship of the National Security Council in the Prime Minister's Office at the end of this month. The political leadership has been made aware of their stance.

A senior defense source told Haaretz that Assad's declarations were "an opportunity that Israel does not know how to exploit."

"Even if it is a tactical move by the Syrian president, Israel must corner him with positive signals," the source said. "A positive response by Israel would force Assad to take steps such as restricting Iranian and Hezbollah activity in the north."

Assad doesn't want to look impotent and so wants to signal to the Israelis that he is, despite being pretty boxed in regionally, willing to allow the spigot of rocket attacks into northern Israel to be ratcheted up should the regional situation detiorate.

That said, it appears, he would be willing to clamp down on such activity if the Israelis start talking about the Golan a bit.

More important signs that the IDF is taking it all seriously here:

"Ze'evi-Farkash believes that Assad has made a strategic change, and he bases this assessment on analyses conducted by Military Intelligence researchers who have reviewed the latest Syrian statements, as well as other messages that have been passed on to Israel through back channels.

The researchers point to the fact that Syrian officials are not mentioning the demand that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967, lines. Kupperwasser believes the Syrian moves are instrumental, and are designed only to reduce American pressure.

Sharon and Mofaz do not accept the army's position and are sticking to their rejection of negotiations with Assad, believing that Israel cannot hold up under the burden of "two fronts" - conducting negotiations with Syria while dealing with the confrontation with the Palestinians."

Developing.

Note: A Likud MK if off to Damascus.

Posted by Gregory at January 8, 2004 11:04 PM
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