Israel growling at Syria
AFX via News 24 - April 14, 2003:
Jerusalem - A top Israeli official warned Damascus on Monday not to "play
with fire" after Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara made a strong
anti-Israeli statement amid strains between Washington and Damascus.
"Israel is not looking for an escalation with Syria, but Damascus is
playing with fire by threatening us with its terror arsenal," a senior
official close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told AFP.
"We warned Syria against the temptation to attack us during the war in
Iraq. That would be an even greater mistake for them after the victory of
the coalition" in Iraq, said the official, who asked not to be named.
Shara said on Sunday that if the United States decides to attack Syria,
Israel will also be harmed.
The official said that Israel, which seized the Golan Heights from Syria
in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was for now restricting itself to
"supporting US efforts to stop Syrian support for terrorism".
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz also said the Jewish state would
brook no threat from Damascus.
"We must monitor what it happening there. The Americans have taken out a
'yellow card' on them, and were right to do so," he said on army radio,
using the soccer term for a serious warning.
US President George W Bush sent tensions with Syria soaring on Sunday
when he said he believed the country was holding banned chemical weapons.
Washington has also accused Syria of harbouring Iraqi leaders who fled
the US-led invasion, a charge Damascus has denied.
Syria's ambassador to Washington protested on Friday against what he
called a "concerted campaign" by the United States and Israel against
Damascus over its alleged support for Iraq.
Sheltering terrorist headquarters
Mofaz also set out Israeli demands for Syria in an interview with the
Israeli daily Maariv published on Monday.
The main one was the dismantlement of the Syrian- and Iranian-backed
Shi'ite militia Hezbollah in Lebanon and the "end of arms deliveries to
Hezbollah by Iran via Syrian ports."
He also called on the guerrillas, who often fire Katyusha rockets and
mortars across the border into northern Israel, to pull back their
long-range rockets from the frontier.
He also demanded that Syria "stop sheltering the headquarters of
(Palestinian) terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
He did not specify how Israel would back up these demands, saying it
would be "preferable if the demands were presented by the United States.
"At this stage, Washington has shown the Syrians the yellow card and it's
up to the Americans to decide if they should also show the red card," he
In Ankara, visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also bore down
on Syria, accusing it of continuing to support terrorist organistions,
and warning that it was time to end such backing.
"Syria, as you know, is giving a warm hospitality to many terror
organisations ... We know very well what a major role Syria is taking in
letting those terror organisations increase their activities," Shalom
told reporters after talks with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul.
Iran arms for Hezbollah
"Unfortunately, they are not doing anything to prevent it. More than
that, they are encouraging all the time terror organisations to act
within Syria and... it is something that must be stopped," he added.
Shalom charged that Damascus airport was serving as a main hub for Iran
to send shipments of arms to Hezbollah.
"Unfortunately, since we withdrew from Lebanon two and a half years ago,
we have seen that Hezbollah doubled their missiles," he said.
For his part, Israeli Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, a hawkish
member of Sharon's Likud party, said "we can only praise the courageous
attitude of the Americans who, in contrast to some European countries,
has not lowered its guard against terrorism".
The daily Haaretz said Bush's remarks constituted a real "turning-point"
in his attitude to Syria.
Haaretz military analyst Zeev Schiff said Washington had learned of
Syrian plans to "turn Iraq into a new Lebanon", where Israeli forces who
invaded in 1982 to end cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militia
led to an 18-year guerrilla war.