Barak to Assad: We'll escalate fight against Hizbullah
London-based al-Hayat newspaper reports defense minister conveyed message to Syrian president through Turkish president, calling on Damascus not to intervene in military battle against Lebanese, Palestinian groups if it seeks future peace negotiations
According to the report, Barak stressed that Jerusalem expected Damascus to take a different stance against Hizbullah, as a goodwill gesture for future peace negotiations between the two countries.
The defense minister warned Syria to refrain from supporting Hizbullah should a conflict erupt between Israel and the Shiite militia, if Damascus is interested in future peace negotiations with Israel.
These messages were conveyed by Barak to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who was asked to deliver them to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The defense minister conveyed the message days before Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel with an "open war" worldwide, in response to the assassination of the organization's senior commander Imad Mugniyah in a car explosion in Damascus.
"I tell them, you killed Imad outside the war's natural territory. Our war with you was on Lebanese soil. You fought us here, and we faced you. But you crossed the line. I won't say more than this," Nasrallah threatened.
According to the report, during his meetings in Ankara, Barak tried to learn of the Turkish response should Israel launch a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.
He also sought to found an international force in the Gaza Strip which would include Turksy, Qatar, Malaysia and Jordan, in order to guarantee the cessation of rocket attacks from that area and in order to supervise the border.
During his talks with the Turks, the defense minister was informed by his hosts that Ankara ruled out an Israeli military operation in the Strip and strongly objected to such a campaign.
The Turks added, however, that they were interested in "feeling the pulse" among the Palestinians, and particularly among Hamas, in terms of the establishment of an international force in Gaza.
800 laborers in exchange for tank upgrade
During the visit, Barak's hosts asked him toe extend by three years the work permits of 800 Turkish construction workers in Israel as part of the security deals between the two countries.
The government will be asked to approve the request on Sunday. Barak is expected to make it clear that Israel has no choice but to implement its commitment to the Turks, and officials at his office expected the proposal to be approved without objections.
The agreement is a continuation of the "Turkish Tank" deal, which includes an upgrade of Turkish tanks by the Israeli Military Industry in exchange for $700 million. In addition, the Military Industry's purchases in Turkey are valued at $200 million. The deal includes the workers' wages – about $6 million in six years.
The defense minister's office seeks to stress the strategic importance in the diplomatic and security relations with Turkey, as seen by the Israeli government. "These strategic relations are extremely important," an official said.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report