Kerry: No imminent flashpoint between Syria and Israel

Senator spoke to Assad from Jordan before coming to Israel.

john kerry 311 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
john kerry 311 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Visiting US Sen. John Kerry tried to put the recent escalation of rhetoric and tensions between Israel and Syria into context Monday, telling a Jerusalem press conference that he did not believe there was a “flashpoint imminent” between Syria and Israel.
Kerry’s comments came shortly after his arrival and meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
On Sunday, Kerry was in Amman and, along with meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, he spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“I had a conversation last night with President Assad on a number of different topics, and – needless to say – I raised the issue of the visit of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and some comments made there,” said Kerry, who heads the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
“I don’t believe that there is somehow some flashpoint imminent between Syria and Israel, though I am obviously very cognizant of the increased arming of Hizbullah and the types of weapons they have, and I recognize there is an inherent threat to Israel in that,” he said.
Israeli defense officials said that Israel’s primary concern was that Syria would supply Hizbullah with advanced air-defense missile systems such as the SA-8. Israel has in the past warned that it would be prepared to take preemptive action to stop the delivery of these systems to Lebanon.
This concern was reinforced by last week’s terror summit between Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Assad and Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
“Our assumption is that these three sit together and come up with ways to hit Israel,” one official explained.
In an apparent reference to Assad’s disparaging comments last week during Ahmadinejad’s visit about US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s efforts to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, Kerry said “no one should be surprised, given the relationship of the last years, that discussions are continuing between Syria and Iran.”
The two countries are neighbors, he said, “and they have obviously been pushed somewhat together by the events of the last years. My hope is that we can offer a better alternative, a better set of choices.”
He said that the meetings held in Damascus between Ahmadinejad, Assad, Nasrallah and Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal, “say more of President Ahmadinejad than the intentions of President Assad. We need to keep the door open.”
In a related development, Clinton reportedly passed on a message toLebanon saying that Washington would not be able to restrain Israelfrom taking military action if arms smuggling from Syria to Hizbullahwas not stopped.
According to the pan-Arabic Al-Hayat published in London, Clinton passed on a letter making this clear to the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri.
According to the paper, Berri – who received the letter via the USAmbassador to Lebanon Michele Sison – replied that while Lebanon has“no problem” finding a solution to the arms issue, “the US should stopsupplying weapons to Israel.”
Likewise, the Qatari newspaper Al-Watanreported on Monday that Clinton has told European colleagues recentlythat she planned to visit Syria in the near future, a move that shesaid would come following recent developments in the US-Syrianrelationship, specifically the appointment of a new US ambassador toDamascus.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.