The source for the story was an unnamed “senior Israeli minister”, who told Haaretz that Olmert’s purpose was “to better assess
However, the “senior Israeli Minister” told Haaretz that the Syrian responses “did not meet Israeli expectations”, and were not satisfactory, and so as a result “Olmert believes that at this time it is not possible to initiate negotiations with
During the time of these newly-revealed messages, Israel also apparently made a military strike in early September against a target in eastern Syria which may or may not have had something to do with a nuclear program, a missile program, or weapons being funneled from Iran, according to various speculative reports in the media.
At least one of the messages Olmert sent to
Indeed, after months of growing tension and speculation that there might be a re-play of Israel’s 2006 “Second Lebanon War”, Israel signaled that it decided that war with Syria was unlikely, in part apparently because Syria’s military had reduced its war readiness — and Israel rotated forces out of the contested Golan Heights, just before the strike.
Syrian leaders reportedly complained bitterly that Olmert’s message was a diversion meant to get
The “senior Israeli minister” who told Haaretz about Olmert’s messages to
The messages concerned the possible agenda for the talks between the two countries — including “whether Assad was willing to include in the talks his country’s ties with
The latest flurry of speculation about Israel-Syria talks started with remarks made by Olmert last Wednesday evening to a press conference with the international press corps
Olmert replied: “I said indeed that I am prepared to make peace with
Last spring, news was leaked of semi-official contacts with a Syrian-American go-between, Dr. Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman, described as “a Syrian Allawite who has been living in the
According to Eldar, Suleiman’s contact in
At least one of the European go-betweens was a ranking Ambassador in the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Nicholas Lang, who also tried a little shuttle diplomacy on behalf of Swiss Foreign Minister (and Swiss President in 2007) Micheline Calmy-Ray. Suleiman was, according to Haaretz’s Eldar, apparently also “a secret and partially official envoy of
Eldar wrote in Haaretz in October that the Syrian leadership had an ambivalent attitude toward these contacts with Israel: “On the one hand, in one of his recent speeches, Assad bragged about the indirect contacts Syria has made with Israel through Syrian expatriates living in the West in an attempt to reach a diplomatic arrangement…On the other hand, since his visit to Jerusalem, Suleiman has become a persona non grata in Damascus. His Swiss colleagues are also not very welcome there. At the end of May, Suleiman visited
But, Israeli sources complained at the time these efforts were revealed, the
A sort of rivalry has existed – and been manipulated – for years between the Syrian negotiaion track with
So, the not-too-subtle, even rather provocative, hint contained in that last phrase of Olmert’s answer, suggesting more recent secret contacts, sent reporters rushing out to check with sources.
It is interesting that Olmert declined to seize an opportunity, in last week’s press conference, to pile on complaints about
Other Israeli ministers then added their views.
Haaretz reported that on Friday evening, in a briefing for foreign diplomats at the Labor Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel’s Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak said that “in the end, Israel will meet Syria either in the field of battle or in the negotiating table … Syria is a weak country with many problems, but under certain conditions Israel will be willing to open the door to it … Israel considers negotiations with Syria and removing Syria from the circle of extremists as central to its policy.”
Barak also said, according to Haaretz, that “It would not be a good idea for someone to try something against us at this time … We are following what is going on in the North, the growing strength of Hezbollah with Syrian backing and the developments over the border in Syria.
Haaretz reported in a second article on Sunday that “A week earlier, [during the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel] Olmert told a joint meeting of the Israeli and German Cabinets that he was ready to restart negotiations with Syria if Damascus would end its support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian militant groups”.
During Ehud Barak’s tenure as Israeli Prime Minister, attempts by U.S. President Bill Clinton to restart Israeli-Syria negotiations at talks with Syria’s President Hafez al-Assad at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva failed in May 2000 — over the issue of the extent of Israel’s proposed withdrawal from the Golan Heights which Israel captured in 1967 and then annexed de facto in 1981 by proclaiming that Israeli law applied to the Golan. This is generally regarded as null and void by most United Nations member states on the basis of international law. Most of the remaining Arab inhabitants of the Golan are Druse who continue to define themselves as Syrian citizens. Tens of thousands of other Syrians fled the
In any case,
Israeli officials argue that
Then, as part of the UN-negotiated armistice agreement between
A letter from UN mediator Ralph Bunch to Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett which is appended to the armistice agreement says that “in the Israeli-Transjordan Armistice Agreement…the armistice demarcation lines agreed upon involved changes in the then existing truce lines, and that this was done in both cases without any question being raised as to the sovereignty over or the final disposition of the territory involved. It was taken for granted by all concerned that this was a matter for final peace settlement. The same applies to the provision for the al-‘Auja zone in the Egyptian-Israeli Agreement. From the beginning of these negotiations our greatest difficulty has been to meet
Israelis moved into many of the demilitarized zones in subsequent years, and then captured them militarily in the 1967 war.
Syria wants the whole lot back.