Fears over war with Syria subsiding

Defense official: "We are past the peak in the tension"; says neither side interested in war.

September 9, 2007 09:11
3 minute read.
Fears over war with Syria subsiding

plane 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

The mounting tension between Israel and Syria as a result of the alleged infiltration has started to subside, a senior defense official said Sunday. The defense establishment's assessment is that the incident will not lead to war, he added. "We are past the peak in the tension," the defense official told The Jerusalem Post. "Israel has no interest in going to war against Syria and the Syrians also know they have nothing to gain by going to war with us." While the tension was lessening, the defense establishment was still closely watching the military buildup along Syria's side of the Golan Heights. IDF units, deployed along the border, were still maintaining a high level of alert. The official said the IDF was concerned about reports in the Lebanese media on Sunday that the Syrians had begun mobilizing their reserves in response to last week's alleged flyover. The defense official said he interpreted the move as of a defensive and not offensive nature. While the chances of war are deemed slim, the defense establishment is concerned that Syria might decide to respond to the IAF flyover with terrorist attacks - possibly along the Golan Heights - or by operating terror cells abroad and in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The alleged incident is expected to be the focus of talks in Ankara on Monday between Moallem and Turkish leaders. The Turkish press has reported that two jettisoned fuel tanks, allegedly from IAF planes, were found Thursday near its border with Syria. Al-Hayyat reported Sunday that Moallem will present proof that Israel violated its airspace. There is also some speculation that he will raise the issue of IAF training exercises in Turkish airspace. One Turkish official said these flights generally take place in south-central Turkey, far from the Syrian border. Turkish officials said the Moallem visit was planned well in advance and was not the result of Thursday's alleged incident or the tensions it has caused. Nevertheless, there is speculation that Turkey - which has in the past made clear its interest in serving as a middleman between Syria and Israel - may demand this role more aggressively now, since it is clear Turkey may inadvertently become involved in tensions between Israel and Syria. Moallem is scheduled to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and new Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. In response to the alleged incident, Babacan said over the weekend Turkey was concerned that "such developments may lead to additional tensions at a time when our region is passing through a critical period." He said Turkey expected "the sides to act with restraint." The Turkish press reported that Erdogan would not confirm claims that the IAF planes took off from Turkish territory. Foreign Minister spokesman Mark Regev, when asked whether Turkey had asked for clarification or filed a complaint with Israel over the incident, replied, "We are not commenting on that issue." Israel's official spokesmen have maintained a complete blackout on any news relating to this matter. Olmert continued to maintain a firm silence on the issue. "I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the IDF's soldiers and its commanders, for their exceptional bravery and incessant work," he said Sunday at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The nature of this work is such that its details cannot always be disclosed to the public." "The IDF has carried out numerous operations against terrorist leaders in the Gaza Strip," Olmert said, adding that "whoever sponsors terrorists will be harmed; we will reach them anywhere." It was not clear whether or not these comments were in reference to the alleged incident in Syria. To prevent journalists from asking cabinet ministers about the matter, and risking the likelihood that someone would offer information, journalists were not given the opportunity to ask questions of ministers on the way into Sunday's cabinet meeting, and were only allowed in to cover Olmert's opening comments after everyone was already seated. AP contributed to this report. •

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