Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Syrian President Bashar Assad went in different directions with their statements on Sunday, with Netanyahu making conciliatory comments, and Assad responding by talking again about war.
Assad, according to the Syrian SANA news agency, held talks with the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, in Damascus and stressed “Syria’s commitment to stand by Lebanon’s government and people against any Israeli aggression.”
According to SANA, “Talks during the meeting dealt with the Israeli repeated threats against countries of the region and Israeli extremism, which is poised for burying any chance for reaching peace by inflaming wars in the region and taking it into the unknown.”
By stressing that Damascus would stand by Lebanon “against Israeli aggression,” Assad seemed to be echoing Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Muallem’s warning last week that Syria would not stand to the side if the IDF took action against Hizbullah.
Israel, meanwhile, has been saying consistently for months that it would hold the Lebanese government responsible for any aggression from Hizbullah, since Hizbullah is a member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government.
Assad’s comments followed equally bellicose comments made earlier in the day by Syrian Minister of Information Mohsen Bilal, who said Israel was harming peace in the region and the world, and that its leaders should be tried in an international court.
Speaking at Kuneitra, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, Bilal lashed into Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said on Thursday in response to Muallem’s threats that if Syria waged a war with Israel it would not only lose the war, but Assad would also lose his power.
Bilal called Lieberman’s words “barbaric and aggressive,” and said the foreign minister was ostracized by the entire world. “These are barbaric and aggressive declarations that show the bankruptcy of that government, and the bankruptcy and barbarism of that man [Lieberman],” he said.
Netanyahu, who since the war of words with Syria began last week has been issuing statements trying to calm the situation, did the same on Sunday, saying at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel hoped to complete peace agreements with all its neighbors, including the Palestinians and Syrians, just as it reached an agreement with Egypt and Jordan.
But, he said, Israel would be guided in those efforts by two principles. “First, we will conduct negotiations without preconditions. We do not accept the idea that Israel must always make extraordinary concessions in advance while the other side is exempt from making its own concessions. It is negotiations that will bring about an agreement and we will not enter into negotiations when everything is known in advance.”
Second, he added, “at the end of the negotiations we need to maintain Israel’s vital national interests, especially security. It is doubtful whether any peace agreement that is unaccompanied by solid security arrangements on the ground can last. We want peace that will last for years, decades and generations and to this end, these components, especially security, are essential.”
Although Netanyahu asked his ministers last week not to comment on the Syrian issue so as not to exacerbate a sensitive situation, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) told reporters before the cabinet meeting that while he wanted peace with Syria, it would have to be a peace with the Golan Heights in Israel’s hands.
“The Golan will not be given to Syria,” Landau said. “The Golan is in our hands, the Golan is part of Israel, the Golan is vital for Israel’s security, and those who want peace cannot give up the Golan. We want peace, but those who attack us will pay a very heavy price.”
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor), meanwhile,
called on members of the government to speak in more moderate tones.
“Israel has always known how to navigate in the world of diplomacy with
responsibly, moderation and reasonableness, standing firm by its
principles and positions,” said Herzog, whose father, Chaim, was an
ambassador to the UN, and later the president of the state.
“I come from a family that understands a little bit about diplomacy,
and I say that the diplomacy is measured first by restraint, cultured
behavior and standing by our principles,” Herzog said.