zaterdag 6 februari 2010

Dreigende taal tussen Israël en Syrië

Waar komen de plotselinge dreigementen tussen Israel en Syrië vandaan? Het begon met Barak, die voor Israelische oren had gezegd dat als er niet zou worden onderhandeld, er een oorlog zou kunnen komen, waarna men vervolgens zou onderhandelen over precies dezelfde zaken als die nu op tafel liggen. Met andere woorden, laten we nu gaan onderhandelen en ons die oorlog besparen. In zijn woorden:
"just like the familiar reality in the Middle East, we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues we have been discussing with them for the past 15 years."
Barak staat bekend als iemand die met Syrië wil praten en bereid is tot concessies. Hoe kon Syrië deze boodschap dan als een dreigement voor oorlog opvatten? Heeft Syrië Baraks opmerking oprecht verkeerd begrepen of heeft men die bewust aangegrepen om dreigende taal naar Israel uit te slaan en daar een rechtvaardiging voor aan te kunnen voeren? Het doel daarvan zou kunnen zijn om ofwel de aandacht van bondgenoot Iran af te wenden, ofwel Israel te laten buigen om de crisis te bezweren, ofwel om uitspraken aan Israelische leiders te ontlokken die het land in moeilijkheden brengen. Het lijkt er vooralsnog op dat dat alledrie is gelukt. Lieberman is uit de bocht gevlogen, waarna Netanjahoe sussende woorden heeft gesproken. Dat ook Assad met zijn dreigementen Israelische steden met raketten te bestoken en zich te mengen in een eventueel conflict tussen Israel en Hezbollah, een grens overschreed is vergeten. Alleen Liebermans woorden worden nog overal geciteerd en de regering als incapabel afgeschilderd.
Lieberman warns Assad: War will end your regime
By Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies, By Amos Harel, Mazal Mualem and Avi Issacharoff

Israel sought to soothe Syria with assurances yesterday that it does not seek war but rather unconditional peace talks. These comments followed the angry reaction from Damascus to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's unprecedented threats against President Bahar Assad's family and regime.

Defense officials said there was no basis for any new tension despite the friction this week between Jerusalem and Damascus. They said the Israel Defense Forces had not changed its alert state on Israel's border with Syria and Lebanon.

Several hours earlier Lieberman warned Assad that Syria would lose any conflict with Israel, and the current regime would disintegrate.

"Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power," Lieberman said at a business conference at Bar-Ilan University.

The foreign minister's remarks came after Assad told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Wednesday that Israel was pushing the Middle East toward a new war.

"Our message should be that if Assad's father lost a war but remained in power, the son should know that an attack would cost him his regime," Lieberman continued. "This is the message that must be conveyed to the Syrian leader by Israel."

Lieberman said Assad's comments had "crossed a line" by directly threatening Israel and implying that any future conflict between Israel and Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah would draw Syria into the mix.

"Anyone who thinks territorial concessions will disconnect Syria from the axis of evil is mistaken," Lieberman said. "Syria must be made to understand that it has to relinquish its demand for the Golan Heights."

In a bid to calm things down, a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel wants to start talks culminating in a permanent peace agreement with Syria. He added, however, that Jerusalem would continue to react against any threats to its safety.

After a meeting between Netanyahu and Lieberman, Nir Hefetz, head of the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister's Bureau, said the two men were stressing their commitment to peace with Syria.

Lieberman and Netanyahu sought to clarify that the "government's policy is clear, that Israel desires peace and to engage in unconditional talks with Syria," Hefetz said.

Shortly after the PM's message, Defense Minister Ehud Barak also relayed a soothing message to Syria from Labor Party headquarters.

Barak's statements this week on Syria were meant for Israeli ears, to emphasize the importance of peace talks, a defense official said. In no way did Barak insinuate that Israel intended to attack Syria, he said.

Barak said the stalled peace process with Syria could bode ill for the future of the Middle East.

Speaking to the IDF top brass, Barak added that "just like the familiar reality in the Middle East, we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues we have been discussing with them for the past 15 years."

The defense official said Israel was operating on several levels to make sure that misunderstandings between the two countries did not deteriorate into diplomatic tension.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Bureau said Netanyahu had told cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to ask every minister to refrain from discussing Syria in the media.

Barak called on Assad to join him at the negotiating table. "We have all been at this table, we all know what's on it. Instead of exchanging verbal blows through the media, let's sit down via our envoys and talk," Barak said at a meeting of Labor's executive committee.

Barak said he and other top defense officials believe that an agreement with Syria is a key Israeli strategic interest.

Lieberman's comments drew harsh criticism from several Knesset members, some of whom urged Netanyahu to rein in or dismiss him.

The Kadima party said that "Netanyahu's government is playing with fire. Netanyahu must rise above his political problems and show responsibility to the future of the state he's in charge of."

According to Kadima's Shaul Mofaz, "Ranting and raving is not a work plan. A responsible leadership checks and weighs its words." Fellow Kadima MK Roni Bar-On called Lieberman's threats "reckless irresponsibility, almost bordering on meltdown."

As Labor MK Eitan Cabel put it, "Netanyahu must stop war instigator Lieberman."

Assad said in an interview published in The New Yorker this week that if Israel agrees to return the Golan there will be peace.

"If they say you can have the entire Golan back, we will have a peace treaty. But they cannot expect me to give them the peace they expect .... You start with the land; you do not start with peace," he told Seymour Hersh in Damascus.

Assad told Hersh that Israel lacks true leadership as it had under Yitzhak Rabin. "They do not have any of the old generation who used to know what politics means, like Rabin and the others," Assad told Hersh. "That is why I said they are like children fighting each other, messing with the country; they do not know what to do."

Assad said that "I have half a million Palestinians and they have been living here for three generations now. So, if you do not find a solution for them, then what peace are you talking about?"

Hersh reported that a senior Syrian official told him Damascus had renewed intelligence-sharing efforts with the United States and Britain after a special request by U.S. President Barack Obama.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell relayed Obama's request, even though Syria is on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror.

The White House declined to comment on Hersh's report, which also said that Assad agreed to the request but warned Mitchell that cooperation with the CIA and Britain's MI6 would stop "if nothing happens from the other side."

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