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Shamir Cautions Against Celebration of Syria’s Rapprochement with Egypt

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir urged Israelis on Thursday not “to rejoice too soon” over Syria’s rapprochement this week with Egypt.

He said there were no signs whatever of Syrian moderation or flexibility with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict, even though Damascus may be reconciling itself with the “Egypt of Camp David.”

Syria is still preparing for the day it can go to war, Shamir warned in a speech at Beit Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

His comments highlighted the division within the Israeli political community over Syria’s decision Wednesday to resume diplomatic ties with Egypt after a 12-year rupture.

Professor Itamar Rabinovitch, a highly regarded academician who heads the Dayan Center, a Tel Aviv University think tank, offered several cogent reasons for considering the possibility of a peace process that includes Syria.

According to Rabinovitch, President Hafez Assad and other Syrian leaders recently have projected an uncharacteristically moderate attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, in conversations with ranking American visitors.

Rabinovitch attributed the apparent softening in Damascus to recent developments, notably the Soviet Union’s cooling of its relationship with Syria.

BELLICOSE SYRIAN POLICY

Mikhail Gorbachev is no longer encouraging or supporting a bellicose Syrian policy politically or militarily, Rabinovitch said.

Soviet arms still flow into Syria, but at a slower rate and in smaller quantities, according to Rabinovitch.

Soviet officials have spoken openly of the need to pursue a political solution of the Middle East conflict, which is a far cry from Syrian rhetoric about attaining strategic parity with Israel.

In addition, Assad faces pressing domestic problems that have worsened in recent months.

His involvement in Lebanon has become a thankless burden, and tension between Syria and Iraq, far from abating, has become a permanent threat to Assad.

Syria was the only Arab state to back Iran during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

Rabinovitch believes that all of those converging elements have prompted Assad to attempt to end his country’s relative isolation in the Arab world.

That could also mean a softening of his attitude toward Israel, and at any rate, it should be looked into, the professor said.

A spokesman for Shamir was quoted as saying that the restoration of ties with Syria ought to strengthen Egypt in its pursuit of the peace process with Israel.

That is close to the Labor Party’s position, which tends to welcome Egyptian-Syrian ties as a tacit acknowledgment by Syria that Egyptian policy was correct in seeking political solutions.

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