Israel is prepared to go "very far" in the upcoming Annapolis peace summit, but it expects the Palestinian leadership to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday.
"Israel is going to seek important agreements that would require the Palestinians to implement the first stage of the road map," he said. "This includes dismantling all terrorist organizations."
Barak hinted that the Palestinian leadership might need to go into the Gaza Strip to confront Hamas head-on.
Regarding a possible large-scale operation in Gaza, he said although the time had not yet come for such a mission, "at some point, sooner or later, we will have to engage in such an operation if Kassam rocket fire and weapons smuggling continue as they have of late."
"What happens in Gaza brings us closer to a broader operation every day," Barak told reporters after the meeting. "But we should get to that point only after we consider and examine and exhaust all the other types of operational possibilities."
Barak did not elaborate, but MK Limor Livnat (Likud) said he had indicated that he did not want to derail peace efforts with the Palestinians.
While Israel has the ability to enter the Gaza Strip and operate there extensively, Barak said, the government would continue to hope that limiting the gas and electrical supply to Gaza would bring about the "desired results."
The Gaza Strip relies on Israel for all of its fuel and more than half of its electricity.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, who spoke to the committee before Barak, said the IDF might implement a new plan to stop the flow of gas to Gaza and to lower the voltage of the electricity provided instead of cutting off electricity altogether.
Regarding the Annapolis summit, Barak said he hoped to find a way to have Syria take part.
Including Syria in the discussion could bring Syria and Israel closer to discussing peace with each other, he said.
In recent weeks, military tension between Israel and Syria had been at its lowest since the Second Lebanon War, Barak said.
Later in the day, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari said Syria would not budge on its insistence that its participation in the Annapolis conference depended on the opportunity to discuss the return of the Golan Heights.
In Damascus, meanwhile, an envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks Tuesday with Syrian President Bashar Assad and delivered a message from the Russian president, according to the state SANA news agency.
Former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov and Assad discussed the Middle East and the Annapolis conference.
Primakov handed over a note to Assad from Putin on the "the situation in the region and bilateral relations," SANA said.
Primakov briefed Assad on the aims of his tour in the Middle East and the "Russian view of the international meeting in Annapolis," SANA said.
The visit came two weeks after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Russia and held talks with Putin. Middle East media have said the purpose of Olmert's visit was to convince Moscow not to sell Syria advanced antiaircraft defense systems.
AP contributed to this report.