Strengthening ties between Syria and Iran pose a serious threat to Israel, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Saturday, calling for a national unity government to protect the Jewish state from the growing "axis of evil." Lieberman's comments came after reports that Iran would fund, to the tune of $1 billion, new Syrian fighter jets, tanks and antiship missiles, and would aid Syria's nuclear and chemical weapons research programs. Assad also reportedly promised Ahmadinejad that he would cease his pursuit of peace talks with Israel if Iran would back Syrian interests in Lebanon.
Eitan: We must not negotiate with Syria
"The strengthening of the relationship between [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and [his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, demands that Israel reorganize its political and military strategies," Lieberman said.
"I call on the prime minister and the head of the opposition to reconsider the option of [forming] an emergency national unity government."
The last national unity government was formed in 1984, when neither Labor nor the Likud garnered enough Knesset seats to create a coalition on its own.
The details from the leaders' meeting in Damascus on Thursday were leaked to the pan-Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat by an anonymous Iranian source and were published on Saturday.
The Prime Minister's Office on Saturday night questioned the accuracy of the report. But the news prompted MKs from across the political spectrum to reevaluate Israel's strategy on Syria and Iran.
"Syria's [overtures] to Iran demonstrate Assad's hasty and hazardous nature. In contrast to his father, Hafez, Bashar is taking exaggerated risks and is placing the very existence of his regime in jeopardy," Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) said.
"Iran is an ever-increasing threat. Not only to Israel, but to the stability of the region, to pragmatic Arab states and to the hegemony of the sane and realistic West," Hanegbi said.
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee member MK Arye Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) said the agreement between Iran and Syria was "reminiscent of the pacts that were signed on the eve of the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars."
"The Iranian decision will lead to attacks on Israel launched from Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Iran," Eldad said.
MK Yisrael Katz (Likud) said the new deal proved that the Arab world perceived Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government as weak and easily deceived.
"How many times will they continue to believe [Assad's] peace overtures. He has proved to us again that he is approaching us as a dove, but that he's really a snake," said Katz.
Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said that while the report was troubling, Israel should respond by engaging in direct talks with Syria.
"The threat from the North is growing right before our eyes, and our government is responding by rejecting [Assad's] statements," said Beilin. "Those who refuse today to enter into direct or indirect talks with Syria instead of acting in Israel's interests may find themselves responsible for another round of unnecessary bloodshed in the region."
An official in the Prime Minister's Office said that both before and after Thursday's meeting in Syria, Israel was ready for any eventuality on the Syrian front. While Israel has made every effort to reach peace with Syria and would continue to do so, the official said, the fact that a meeting took place involving Assad, Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah showed that Assad was still deep in the axis of evil.
The report in Asharq Alawsat included details about the expanding diplomatic and military relationship between the two countries.
As a result of the new agreement, the London-based newspaper reported, Syria will likely become increasingly dependent on Iran due to the large amount of money the Islamic Republic country will provide.
The report went on to say that in addition to economic, cultural and scientific cooperation, Iran will help to fund Syria's purchase of Russian and North Korean weapons. These weapons reportedly will include 400 Russian T-72 tanks and 18 Russian MIG-31s jets, as well as eight M-8 helicopters and other military equipment.
In addition, Iran will reportedly help Syria build factories to manufacture medium-range missiles, and will also supply Syria with Iranian-made tanks and armored personnel carriers. The Syrian navy will also reportedly be rearmed with Chinese-made C-801 and C-802 missiles that are being manufactured in Iran.
Four Israel Navy sailors were killed when the INS Hanit missile ship was struck by a C-802 missile off the Lebanese coast last July during the Second Lebanon War. The projectile was made in China but underwent upgrades in Iran from where it was then delivered to Hizbullah.
On the diplomatic front, Ahmadinejad reportedly promised Assad to help topple Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and to put pressure on the Lebanese Parliament with the aim of restoring Syrian influence there. Assad, for his part, agreed not to enter into peace negotiations with Israel.
On Friday, Olmert called on Assad to begin direct peace negotiations, without American mediation.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.