PM Calls for Direct Talks With Syria

The Syrian Army is capable of redeploying from its defensive formation and attacking Israel with relative speed, Military Intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin yesterday told the security cabinet. Yadlin added, however, he did not believe the Syrians wished to engage Israel militarily. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he supported direct peace talks with Damascus.

The Israel Defense Forces officers who participated in the military briefing before the security cabinet's ministers yesterday said the principal concern was that the Syrians might react to an Israeli move as a result of miscalculation. In such an event, the military believes that Hezbollah will strike at Israel from Lebanon.

Senior IDF commanders presented to the cabinet the preparations the army has taken for a possible conflagration on the northern border.

The security establishment has become increasingly concerned in recent months with the possibility of hostilities breaking out on the northern border following reports that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah were coordinating their actions in case of a confrontation with Israel. According to the reports, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both based in Damascus, are not included in the coordination efforts.

The deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service informed the ministers about current trends among the Druze population on the Golan. The Shin Bet did not anticipate that the Druze would engage in terrorist activity under Syrian auspices, he said.

The briefing did not pertain to political issues such as the chances of renewing peace negotiations with the Syrians, but several of the ministers present - including Meir Sheetrit and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - called for a renewal of peace talks.

Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, by contrast, rejected the notion of land-for-peace, suggesting that the territories which Israel pulled out of had turned into bases for terror organizations.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concluded the subject by saying that Israel was interested in reaching a peace agreement with Syria. Olmert called for the renewal of direct negotiations with the Syrian regime.

"Israel does not wish to engage in war with Syria, and the scenario of miscalculation must be avoided, as it will bring about a deterioration in security," the concluding statement of the briefing read.