JERUSALEM ø Israeli efforts to forge relations with its Arab
neighbors keep running into a significant obstacle.
Israeli politicians can't keep a secret.
Over the last week, Israeli initiatives with Libya and Syria fell apart
after they were reported in the Israeli media. Officials said Foreign
Minister Silvan Shalom has pressed for lie detector tests to be given to
senior members of his ministry.
On Sunday, Shalom acknowledged that Israel and Syria held secret
contacts in late 2003. After two meetings, the effort was torpedoed by leaks
in the media.
Officials said leaks from Israel's Cabinet and Knesset have become so
frequent that secret contacts with Arab states are often disclosed in the
media. The result has damaged the prospect that other
Arab states would agree to a dialogue with the Jewish state.
Even the United States, regarded as Jerusalem's closest ally, has become
cautious in what it tells Israel, officials said.
They said the Bush
administration refused to relay details of the joint British-U.S.
inspections of Libyan missile and nuclear
facilities in late 2003 out of concern that they would appear in the Israeli
"Unfortunately, after two meetings that the Israeli partners had with
their Syrian colleagues, it leaked out," Shalom said. "And while it was
exposed, of course the Syrians didn't continue to negotiate through this
track. I don't see how we can continue to deal or to contact or to negotiate
with our Arab neighbors while they are not sure that these contacts won't
remain in secret."
Shalom said Israel has been in "contacts and negotiations" with other
Arab countries. He said these "contacts are still unknown and I hope
won't be discovered in the near future."
Foreign Ministry sources said the leaks have come from the office of
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The sources said Sharon staffers have dismissed
the importance of Israeli contacts with such countries as Libya and Syria as
an effort by those Arab countries to gain support from Washington.
"[Syrian President Bashar] Assad wants us to give him a life raft,"
Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committe, said. "We must not allow ourselves to play into the hands of our
enemies who don't seek real peace, rather a way to avoid U.S. pressure."
On Monday, Israeli President Moshe Katsav invited Assad to visit
Jerusalem for peace talks. Katsav said his invitation to Assad, who the
Israeli president said transferred weapons from Iran to Hizbullah under the
guise of humanitarian aid, did not contain any conditions.