(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While the Syrian calls for negotiations must be carefully examined, the IDF cannot afford to lower its defenses along the northern border, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday.
"We must not think that the voices of peace from Syria are a substitute for preparedness and readiness. The IDF must be ready in any event and the voices must be examined carefully," Peretz said.
Peretz said Israel should "take advantage of every possible opportunity for dialogue with Syria," but he reminded MKs that Syria was a strategic partner in the "fundamentalist axis" led by Iran that supplies and funds Hamas.
"The Syrian-Lebanese border serves as the axis from which Hamas's armament and strengthening is set in motion. Syria also serves as an umbrella for Hamas' political leadership," he said.
Peretz also made it clear the he had directed the IDF to prepare for a possible conflict with Syria.
"The IDF is ready and prepared for any change in the situation in the region," said Peretz.
The head of Military Intelligence's research division, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, told the lawmakers that Hizbullah's weaponry was being restored by Syria, which was rapidly rebuilding it forces south of the Litani River.
Despite the presence of UNIFIL peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, Hizbullah had largely rebuilt its military presence, he said.
"Hizbullah continues to rehabilitate itself, from a military and a social perspective," Baidatz said. "It is preparing itself for possible conflict in the summer, but is not interested in this as it wants a period of calm in which to rehabilitate [its forces]."
Turning to the Gaza Strip, Baidatz said Hamas was "satisfied" with the results of the current wave of attacks against Israel, since it had resulted in a number of Israeli communities being deserted.
"Hamas understands that Israel will not launch a deep ground incursion [into Gaza]. They feel they have accomplished a great deal against Israel," he said.
Baidatz also said Hamas was continuing preparations for a major attack, which could include an attempt to kidnap Israelis.
Peretz said the IDF was acting "aggressively" to stop the Kassam rockets coming from the Gaza Strip, and that Israel, "not Hamas, will decide when the operation is over."