Following the fiery exchange of words between Jerusalem and Damascus, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to"return to the negotiatingtable, instead of trading harsh words." "I am part of the minority who is not impressed withthe sentiments expressed over the last two days," said Barak at a Labor faction meeting Thursday evening, referring to Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman's threat against the Syrian leadership.Lieberman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had a reassuring message for Syria late Thursday afternoon as the war of words between the two countries threatened to escalate. "We pursue peace and negotiations with Syria, without preconditions, while Israel will continue to act with force and determination against any threats," Netanyahu and Lieberman said in a joint statement.After speaking to Lieberman, the prime minister also instructed all his ministers to refrain from making remarks about the Syrian track to the press. Moments before the statement, Syrian Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Suleiman Hadad said that Damascus was totally convinced that Israel was not interested in peace."Israel is the only loser from this situation," he told Radio Monte Carlo, warning that a future war between Israel and Syria would be all-encompassing and destructive, and that it would not be followed by peace negotiations.Lieberman had blasted the Syrian President for saying on Wednesday that Israel was "leading the region towards war," and warned the leadership in Damascus that in the next war, Syria would be defeated by Israel. Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, "not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power."The leaders in Syria care only about their power, Lieberman had claimed, and therefore it is important that Damascus understands a war with Israel will drive Bashar Assad and the Assad family out of power."I tell Assad and [Syrian Foreign Minister Walid] al-Moallem clearly - what was said yesterday marked a dramatic change of game, a direct threat on the State of Israel. I think that a line was crossed, and this cannot be tolerated," the foreign minister said.
"Weheard Defense Minister [Ehud] Barak's sincere call for peace withSyria, and we have now received Syria's answer. Whoever thinksterritorial concessions will disconnect Damascus from the Axis ofEvil is wrong," Lieberman asserted.The foreign minister went on to stress that he supports peace with Syria as long as the Golan Heights remain in Israel's hands."Syria must understand that it has to let go of the demand for the Golan, in the same way that it gave up on the Greater Syria dream," said Lieberman.Lieberman also warned the Palestinian Authority, and called on the Palestinian leadership to resume peace talks with Israel."I want to tell [PA Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad and Abu-Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas]: Without immediate, direct negotiations, not only will you not have a state in two years, you will also lose control over Judea and Samaria as you did in Gaza. Negotiations are not only an Israeli interest, nor a favor that anyone does for Israel." Lieberman's remarks came hours after Netanyahu expressed disappointment with Assad’s claim that Israel was pushing the region towards war, saying instead that the reality was quite the opposite."Netanyahu has said many times that he would be prepared to meet and negotiate with Syria, as long as [Damascus] does not set any preconditions. Unfortunately, Syria is the one that is setting obstacles [to peace]," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement overnight Wednesday.Vice Premier Silvan Shalom made similar remarks to Army Radio on Thursday morning, saying that he supports and has always supported holding peace talks with Syria. "The peace process with Damascus is much more ripe than the Palestinian process," Shalom told the radio station.On Wednesday, in a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Assad had said that “Israel is not serious about achieving peace since all facts point out that Israel is pushing the region towards war, not peace."