Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Israel news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reiterated that he is willing to meet with Syrian leaders for peace talks without preconditions, following threats by Syria to wage war with Israel “inside your cities.”

Netanyahu expressed disappointment Wednesday night with the claim by Syrian President Bashar Assad that Israel is pushing the region towards a war. “Unfortunately, Syria is the one that is setting obstacles [to peace],” he countered in a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office.

The sabre-rattling began earlier in the week with an exchange apparently triggered by a remark made Tuesday at the Herzliya Conference during a speech by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Barak told participants that Israel might be dragged into a “forceful confrontation that may deteriorate into an all-out war... Given the reality of the Middle East, we will end up concluding such a war and then sitting and negotiating, talking about the exact [same] issues we have been debating with the Syrians for the past 15 years.”

Syrian Threats

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem issued a sharp response to Barak's statement, charging, “Israel is planting the atmosphere of war in the region. Syria calls on Israel to halt launching threats - once against Gaza, another against South Lebanon, then Iran and now Syria.”

The Syrian foreign minister warned the Jewish State not to “test Syria's determination... Israel knows that war will move to the Israeli cities.” He said that IDF military drills in the area may be aimed at firing up the atmosphere of war in the region, but predicted that if another war were to break out, “then I say that war will be all-out, whether it hits south Lebanon or Syria."

He left the door open for intervention by the U.S. and the European Union, and said the either or both could be helpful in “preparation for the resumption of negotiations, or during them.”

EU and Syrian Leaders Meet

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos  whose country is the current president of the European Union, met Wednesday with Syrian leaders in Damascus. He arrived in Syria following a visit to Israel, where he, too, addressed the Herzliya Conference.

Moratinos told reporters following his meetings with Assad and Moallem, “I just came from Israel, and I didn't hear the drums of war there. I heard drums of peace.”

He added that Spain “supports Turkish mediation in the indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel,” and said Spanish leaders would discuss the matter with Turkish officials during a Spanish-Turkish summit slated for February 22.