Israel wants to start talks that would culminate with a permanent peace agreement with Syria, a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said On Thursday, adding, however, that Jerusalem would continue to react against any threats to its safety.
Speaking after a meeting between Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Nir Hefetz, head of the National Information Directorate in the prime minister's bureau, said the two wished to emphasize their commitment to peace with Israel's neighbor to the north.
Hefetz said that Lieberman and Netanyahu wished to clarify that the "government's policy is clear, that Israel desires peace and to engage in unconditional talks with Syria."
"At the same time," Hefetz added, "Israel would continue to assertively and decisively react against any threat made against it."
Shortly after the PM's message, Defense Minister Ehud Barak relayed a message to Syria from the Labor party headquarters in an attempt to calm tensions between the two countries.
According to a Defense Ministry source, Barak's statements during the last week were meant for Israeli ears alone in order to emphasize the importance of peace talks, and in no way did he insinuate that Israel intended to attack Syria.
Earlier this week, Barak said that the stalled peace process with Syria could bode ill for the future of the Middle East.
Speaking to the Israel Defense Forces top brass, Barak said: "Just like the familiar reality in the Middle East, we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues we have been discussing with them for the past 15 years."
The source said that Israel was operating on several levels to make sure that misunderstandings between the two countries do not deteriorate into diplomatic tension.
The comments by Netanyahu's top aide came after Army Radio reported earlier Thursday that FM Lieberman warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that if his country entered a conflict with Israel, it would not only lose, but his regime would also disintegrate.
"Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power," Lieberman told the audience during a business conference at Bar-Ilan University.
Following the incident, the Prime Minister's Bureau said that Netanyahu requested cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to phone all the ministers and request that they refrain from commenting on Syria in the media.
The foreign minister's remarks come after Assad on Wednesday told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that Israel was pushing the Middle East toward a new war.
"Our message should be that if Assad's father lost a war but remained in power, the son should know that an attack would cost him his regime," Lieberman continued. "This is the message that must be conveyed to the Syrian leader by Israel."
Lieberman said that Assad's comments "crossed a line" by directly threatening Israel and implying that any future conflict between Israel and Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah would draw Syria into war.
"Whoever thinks territorial concessions will disconnect Syria from the axis of evil is mistaken," Lieberman said. "Syria must be made to understand that it has to relinquish its demand for the Golan Heights."
Lieberman's comments drew harsh criticism on Thursday from a range of Knesset members, some of whom urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rein him in or dismiss him.
"Netanyahu must stop war instigator Lieberman," said Labor MK Eitan Cabel.
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