PM sources: Warning to Assad sparked tension

Israel reportedly warned Syria it would be held responsible for any retaliation for Mughniyeh's death.

Assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed a Channel 2 report Sunday that the reason for the tension with Syria was a message Israel sent Damascus warning that Bashar Assad's regime would be held responsible if Jews around the world were harmed in retaliation for the killing of Hizbullah arch-terrorist Imad Mugniyeh. Israel has not claimed credit for the killing, but Syria and Hizbullah hold Israel responsible for Mugniyeh's death. Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to take revenge against Jews abroad, and Syria drafted reserve soldiers last week as tensions escalated. In a move likely to further enhance the tension with Syria, Olmert reportedly approved an American request to allow congressional hearings to reveal details of the strike on an alleged Syrian nuclear installation that foreign sources have attributed to Israel. Officials in US President George W. Bush's administration asked to reveal the information in order to use it against North Korea. Olmert agreed to the request, despite opposition from Israeli intelligence officials. His advisers, Yoram Turbowitz and Shalom Turgeman, went to Washington last week to speak about the issue with US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and other top American officials. Olmert downplayed the tension with Syria at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting and stressed that there was no connection between the current security situation with Syria and Monday's drill in the Home Front Command. "I want to emphasize that this is only a drill, with nothing hiding behind it," Olmert told the cabinet. "All the reports about heightened tension in the North are exaggerated. We have no secret plans. This drill is not part of anything else. It seems to me that the Syrians know this as well and they have no reason to analyze this drill differently. "I would like to make it unequivocally clear that this is a routine drill. The State of Israel is not intent on any violent confrontation in the North. On the contrary, we have said more than once that we have an interest in holding peace negotiations with Syria." Deputy Hizbullah leader Sheikh Naim Kassem said Sunday that the Israeli exercise was intended to prepare for a new war with Lebanon. He warned that Hizbullah was fully prepared to defend Lebanon if Israel attacked again. Kassem said the Israeli drills were also intended "to raise the collapsing morale of the people inside Israel following the defeat in the 2006 war." AP contributed to this report.