Israel continues to send messages to Damascus, and this time from the mouth of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
He participated in a memorial service for First Sergeant Major Liran Banai, a Givati Brigade soldier who was killed a month ago by an explosive device on the Gaza border. Banai served as his deaf-mute parents' eyes and ears, so his loss was especially painful.
"We are ready, and have our eyes on Syria
Barak comforted the other participants. "There is still some tension; maybe because they blame us for (assassinated Hizbullah commander Imad) Mugniyah's death, but I have made it very clear that Israel is the strongest country in the region."
In addition, Barak reiterated the calming message recently sent to Syria: "We have no interest in fighting, and I believe the Syrians understand this."
Barak was welcomed warmly by the people attending the ceremony, and many commended him on his fight against terrorism in Gaza and the northern border. But as to the continuing threats to Israel, Barak warned: "I don't think anyone can truthfully say it's over. It's not over, but eventually we will bring peace to the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon, and the Gaza border. The fight against terrorism in Gaza is not over yet.
"I ascribe the relative quiet to the heavy blow we dealt Hamas during 'Warm Winter' operation. They received a bigger blow than they first thought. I have no doubt that the closure on Gaza also helped."
When asked whether he thought that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was also responsible for the calm, Barak responded: "There has been a definite improvement in measures taken by the Egyptians to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorist activities at the border."
Barak added that "the Egyptians didn't like what they saw at the Rafah Crossing – thousands of Palestinians bursting through the border. These days they have been working against this. Still, I don't think they carry the bulk of the responsibility for the calm."
Before leaving the service, Barak hugged the bereaved father and prayed with him. As the soldier's family left the synagogue, Barak remarked that he believed Hamas was
responsible for every rocket fired across the border, and for every explosive device, including the one that killed Banai.
"Hamas is sovereign in Gaza, and therefore must pay the price. We will continue to act against them," Barak concluded.