Responding to a report in a pan-Arab daily newspaper that Israel presented Damascus with an ultimatum, an Israel Defense Forces officer said Saturday that targeting Syria is currently not on Israel's agenda.
"We're not a gang that shoots in every direction," the officer said. "It won't be right to bring Syria into the campaign."
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported Saturday that Israel issued an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to which a regional war would erupt within 72 hours if Damascus does not prevent Hezbollah attacks.
According to the report, a Pentagon source said that if Syria does not try to influence Hezbollah, Israel could bomb essential installations in Syria. The source neither confirmed nor denied rumors that Israel had given Damascus 72 hours to comply with international demands.
The IDF officer emphasized that the Golan Heights frontier has been quiet since 1974, a factor which Israeli views as a vital security asset. The officer said that the Syrian air force as well as additional units are on high alert, a fact which hasn't escaped Israel's attention.
The source added that even though Syria is playing a negative role in the latest crisis, he believes that it had no direct role in the outbreak of fighting.
"Syria is a negative factor, but it is not strong enough in order to instigate all these events," the source said.
U.S. President George W. Bush called on Syria on Saturday to exert its influence to persuade Hezbollah to stop attacks against Israel.
At a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush laid the blame for the upsurge in Middle East violence on Hezbollah.
"The best way to stop the violence is for Hezbollah to lay down its arms and to stop attacking. And therefore I call upon Syria to exert influence over Hezbollah."
In recent days, senior U.S. administration officials, led Bush blamed Syria for the escalation of violence in the region. Syria's ambassador to the U.S. regarded U.S. policy in the region as favoring Israel, which he said was not helping the situation.
According to analysts and senior officials in Syria, Damascus is aware of the threat of an Israeli strike. In recent days, senior officials warned Israel against attacking. Lawmaker Muhammad Habash stated that if Damascus is attacked, another front would open on the Golan Heights. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned Israel against attacking Syria.
Syria's ambassador to London said Friday that Damascus wants to remain outside the conflict in Lebanon. He went on to say that Syria demanded that Hezbollah stop launching Katyusha rockets at Israel.
On Friday, the ruling Baath Party said Syria will support Hezbollah and Lebanon against Israel's attacks on the country.
"The Syrian people are ready to extend full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance to remain steadfast and confront the barbaric Israeli aggression and its crimes," said a communique from the party's national command issued after a meeting.
It said Israel and the U.S. "are trying to wipe out Arab resistance in every land under occupation" and that Assad was aware of the seriousness of the situation in the region.
The national command is the highest echelon of the Baath Party, which has been in power since 1963.
Assad, who has resisted Israeli and American pressure to abandon support for Hezbollah, was not at the meeting.
Hezbollah's capture of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers and barrage of rocket attacks incited major Israeli military action against Lebanese targets for the first time since it withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.
Ahmadinejad: Israel would not dare to move against IranIran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday that Israel would not dare to move against the Islamic republic, state television reported.
Iran has denied Israeli suggestions that Hezbollah guerrillas could take the captured soldiers to Iran.
"The Zionist regime does not dare to cast a look with bad intentions at Iran," the president was quoted as saying by state television.
On Thursday, Ahmadinejad said an Israeli strike on Syria would be considered an attack on the whole Islamic world that would bring a "fierce response", state television reported.
"If the Zionist regime commits another stupid move and attacks Syria, this will be considered like attacking the whole Islamic world and this regime will receive a very fierce response," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a telephone conversation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The president made the comments after Israel struck Beirut airport and military airbases and blockaded Lebanese ports in reprisals that have killed 55 civilians in Lebanon since Hezbollah gunmen captured two Israeli soldiers a day earlier.
"He (Ahmadinejad) also said it was a must for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to become more active regarding the new crisis created by the Zionist regime," state television reported.
Arab governments have agreed to send their foreign ministers to Cairo for an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
But the 22-member League has not yet seen specific proposals for a joint Arab response to the Israeli attacks.
Major Arab governments other than Syria are not expected to give unqualified backing Hezbollah, or the Palestinian militant group Hamas which is holding an Israeli soldier hostage.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now