assad in uniform 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF has unequivocal proof that the Syrian government is involved in smuggling arms to Hizbullah in violation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1701, the head of the IDF intelligence directorate's research department told the cabinet on Sunday.
Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz's comments were the first time that an official at that level has acknowledged Syrian involvement in smuggling in violation of a UN backed arms embargo on Hizbullah. One senior government source said that the smuggling did not, however, include missiles. Nevertheless, Baidatz said that Hizbullah retained thousands of short-range missiles.
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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that this proof was important for him in his discussions with world leaders to ensure that the arms embargo to Hizbullah called for under UNSC 1701 was implemented.
He also said that all those impressed by Syrian President Bashar Assad's recent statements regarding a peace accord with Israel should remember that this is the same man who let Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal operate freely in Damascus, and who - along with Hizbullah - was trying to undermine the government in Lebanon of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
"Is this the person we are supposed to hold imaginary peace talks with," Olmert said.
Baidatz also said that the Syrian army had not returned to its normal deployment pattern since the war in Lebanon, but rather had its missiles in a defensive posture, apparently concerned about an Israeli attack.
He also said that Assad was continuing to send out mixed messages. "He talks about a strategic commitment to peace and in the same breath talks about conflict," he said.
Baidatz said that Assad continued to provide backing to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah and was trying to sabotage implementation of UNSC 1701. Baidatz said that Hizbullah continued to take a low profile in Lebanon, and had called off - "for technical reasons" - a "Jerusalem Day" military parade Hizbullah usually holds on the last Friday of Ramadan.
During the cabinet meeting, Olmert got into another sharp exchange with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who said that Israel should not overlook the recent visit to Teheran of Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Said Siam. Olmert and Mofaz have held these sharp exchanges in the cabinet almost weekly since the war in Lebanon and Mofaz's public criticism about how it was carried out.
Olmert said that Siam's was not the first visit of a Hamas minister to Teheran, and that contacts between Teheran and Hamas took place as well when Mofaz served as Defense Minister. He said that during that period there was even a cabinet discussion on the matter, and it was decided that the cost of taking severe action against the Hamas ministers outweighed the benefit.
Olmert reminded Mofaz that a number of Hamas ministers have been in Israeli jails for months, and that the government takes action when necessary.
"There is no immunity for anyone from Hamas," he said.
Regarding Iran, Olmert said that while Israel was concerned about Hamas, the situation in Lebanon and Syria, Iran was the most serious threat it faced. He reiterated Israel's position, however, that a nuclear Iran was a threat not only to Israel, but also to the whole world. He said no one had any illusions that nuclear weapons in Iran's hands would not spill over to terrorist groups such as Hizbullah and al-Qaida.
Before the cabinet meeting, Olmert met ministers from Kadima and Gil and said that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas was not interested in a meeting. Olmert told the ministers that Abbas had conditioned a meeting on Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners, something Olmert said he would not do until Crpl. Gilad Shalit was released.
Earlier this month Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and foreign policy advisor Shalom Turgeman met with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to prepare for the long-awaited Olmert-Abbas summit.
Olmert said that just because there was a need for a diplomatic initiative did not necessarily mean that it was possible to initiate one at this time. He reiterated that Israel had no intention of holding negotiations with Hamas.