Foreign Ministry: Syria Feels Peace Must Wait for Next U.S. President

Intelligence assessment says Damascus waiting out Bush term for peace talks with Israel to begin.

The Syrian administration is waiting out the Bush presidency, and only intends to enter a serious diplomatic process with Israel when the next United States administration takes over in 2009, according to the Foreign Ministry's intelligence assessment.

"Damascus is interested in an agreement with Israel, but only according to Syria's conditions and with American involvement," Nimrod Barkan, who heads the ministry's political research department, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

"The Syrian surface-to-surface missile threat has increased in the past year," he added. "Israel's deterrence against Syria and Hezbollah still exists and even increased during 2007, but we must watch closely for the possibility that the deterrence could weaken."

Barkan added that the U.S. twice tried to "open a door for Syria" in 2007, but Damascus failed to meet the administration's demands regarding its continued involvement in Lebanon.

According to Barkan, Syria does not believe it can make progress in negotiations with Israel as long as Bush is in the White House, and therefore wants to wait until the end of his term, in hopes that the next administration will be willing to reengage Damascus and give the peace process its blessing.

FM: Egypt doing an 'awful' job of halting arms transfer into Gaza

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Monday that Egypt is doing an "awful" job of blocking arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, thus hampering Israeli efforts at proceeding with the political process.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Livni said the activity of Egyptian forces guarding the border is "awful and problematic."

She added that makes it more difficult for moderate Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip to gain control of their area.

Livni reiterated that Israel would not sign an agreement with the Palestinians until strong and responsible authority took control in Gaza."

During the meeting, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) charged that Israel had caved in to pressure from the U.S. State Department by not giving Congress videotapes that document cooperation between Egyptian soldiers and Hamas operatives. The Israel Defense Forces "have videotaped proof that the Egyptians are helping the smugglers bring arms and terrorist operatives into the Gaza Strip," he said, adding that the tapes "could help convince Congress and the Senate to freeze some aid funds to Egypt."

Livni confirmed that the defense establishment had given the Israeli embassy in Washington an "incriminating" video, and said that it had been shown to Bush Administration officials. However, she added, "the debate in Congress ended before the tape arrived," so "there was no reason to give the material to Congress, and it would have upset the Egyptians for nothing."

Ultimately, Congress decided to freeze $100 million of Egypt's $1.3 billion military aid allocation, she noted.

Meanwhile, the United States is examining the possibility of helping Egypt build a physical barrier to foil the weapons-smuggling tunnels that run from Sinai to Gaza.

The Americans plan to send a delegation of officers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and engineers from the Department of Defense to Sinai in the near future to conduct an initial feasibility study and discuss the issue with the Egyptians.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said in October that Egypt could halt the flow of weapons from the Sinai Peninsula into the Gaza Strip in a single day.