Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday reiterated his view that Jerusalem must enter peace talks with Damascus in the near future, prefacing his message with a warning to Syria not to make a military gamble against Israel.
“I’ve heard some statements about Syria. I do not recommend to any neighboring country, including Syria, to put us to the test. Having said that, I do believe a genuine negotiation with Syria is one of Israel interests. I keep on calling on [Syrian President Bashar] Assad – we all understand what’s on the table and the time is now,” Barak said during the Jerusalem Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We don’t need to wait another ten or 20 years or for another round or two of war,” Barak said.
The defense minister’s comments were made after Tishrin, a Syrian daily and regime mouthpiece, said Syria was preparing for both the consequences of war as well as of peace. The piece said statements by Israeli officials express the position of the government, making a reference to statements made last week by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who warned Assad that in a future war, not only will Syria lose but Assad and his family will lose their seats.
Barak was speaking just hours after Assad met with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns
Burns, the highest-ranking American official to visit Syria in five years held "candid" talks with the Syrian president as Washington was trying to mend ties with a country it sees as key to peace in the region.
Burns released a statement saying his meeting with President Bashar Assad was open and productive. "We talked candidly about the areas in which we disagree, but also identify the areas of common ground on which we can build."
The visit comes a day after President Barack Obama said he would nominate career diplomat Robert Ford to become the United States' first ambassador to Damascus since 2005.
Washington withdrew its last ambassador following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many blamed on Syria. Syria has denied involvement.
Burns described Washington's decision to nominate Ford as a "clear sign of America's readiness to improve relations and to collaborate in the pursuit of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between the Arabs and the Israelis."
Turkey mediated several rounds of indirect talks between Syria and
Israel in 2008 before they came to a halt following the IDF's Operation
Cast Lead in Gaza.
The tense relations between Syria and the US started to improve after
Obama took office last year. Obama made changing America's image in the
Middle East a priority of his first year.
Washington had criticized Syria and its strong ally Iran for supporting terror groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah.