JERUSALEM (Nov. 4)
Israel’s trade and industry minister, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, has called on the government to begin preparing the nation for war with Syria.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Sharansky said that recent Syrian threats should be taken seriously by the government.
His comments came in the wake of recent Syrian troop movements near the Golan Heights that raised concern in Israel about a pending military confrontation with Damascus.
Syria has maintained that the movements were purely defensive, but Israeli intelligence assessments have said that President Hafez Assad might consider a military option to break the political impasse in the peace negotiations with Israel.
Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons before winning his freedom in 1986, said he was not an expert on Middle East affairs. But, he added, his familiarity with the Soviet system helped him understand Syria.
“I do not know the Arab mentality. But I know the totalitarian regime well,” he said. “Its stability is conditioned on the existence of enemies. Therefore they have to threaten, and if someone is weak they go further.”
Sharansky said he opposed making any concessions to Syria before the regime there becomes more democratic.
“There has to be a process of internal opening in Syria, which can begin with the ability of different voices to be heard,” he said.
“A democracy which hates us is much less dangerous than a dictatorship that loves us.”
On Monday, Assad rejected Israeli claims that Syria was preparing for a military confrontation.
Speaking after talks in Damascus with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Assad said recent Syrian army maneuvers were routine.
Assad called for a resumption of peace talks with Israel, saying they had become stalemated because of “Israeli intransigence.”
The talks were suspended March 4 after Assad failed to condemn a series of Hamas suicide attacks launched at the time in Israel.