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(photo credit: AP [file])
Military Intelligence Research Division head Yossi Baidatz surprised the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday when he told them he believes Syrian President Bashar Assad's peace overtures are sincere.
Baidatz's comments were the exact opposite of what Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the same body last week. Dagan said Syrian peace overtures should not be taken seriously because the country was preparing for war with Israel preparing for war with Israel.
Baidatz said Syria was genuinely interested in making peace. "Syria's intentions are serious and sincere," he said. "Syria is interested in negotiations and it has an interest in restarting contact. The peace signals that Bashar Assad sent are real. This is Syria's way of delivering messages."
Reflecting views somewhere in between those of Dagan and Baidatz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Kadima faction he wanted to begin negotiations with Assad, but not without preconditions. He accused Assad of being hypocritical for calling for peace while conspiring with Israel's enemies.
"If they stop the violence, stop supporting Hamas and Hizbullah and break the horrible bond they have with Iran, I have no doubt we can start a diplomatic process and I have no doubt that we want this," Olmert said. "I would advise Assad to refrain from making bombastic statements without a plan behind them, and instead to take the real steps we all want that could lead to a diplomatic process."
Baidatz said he doubted that Assad would take any of those measures because he did not see any Israeli or American willingness to move toward his interests. He said Assad believes the international community only takes Syria into account when it is seen as strong.
"The Syrians want to present themselves as favoring diplomatic progress, while maintaining ties with the axis of evil and preparing for war with Israel," Baidatz said. "They don't want war with Israel but they're preparing for it by getting ground-to-ground armaments and antitank missiles."
Baidatz said Hizbullah had not returned to the Lebanese border but that it was active south of the Litani River. He told a story about Spanish UNIFIL peacekeepers who discovered a cache of ammunition. When they returned to retrieve the ammunition, they found it had been surrounded by explosives.
Regarding Iran, Baidatz said the UN sanctions imposed on Saturday would be ineffective because they give Iran 60 more days to respond.
As for the fighting between Hamas and Fatah, Baidatz said Hamas was winning in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.
He said 25 Palestinians had been killed in the fighting since the November 26 cease-fire with Israel. During that same time period, nearly 60 rockets have been fired at Israel.
Asked by Likud MK Limor Livnat about the IDF's rules for opening fire on terrorists firing rockets, Baidatz said they did not have permission to open fire in order to stop terrorist attacks.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset committee he disagreed with the policy and would try to change it in the next meeting of the security cabinet. Peretz also told the MKs he did not believe there would be a war between Israel and Hizbullah next summer.
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