Jerusalem, 11 June 2000

PM Barak: Assad’s Death – End of an Era
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 11.6.2000, Prime Minister and Defense Ehud Barak said that the death of Syrian President Assad marked the end of an era. He pointed out that we are facing a new Middle East which we shall have to study closely. The Prime Minister added that it is difficult to predict how things will develop but said that it is reasonable to assume that that which has prevailed in the past will not necessarily hold in the future and that changes may be expected in several areas.

Prime Minister Barak expressed understanding for the sorrow of the Syrian people, emphasized that Israel has always striven to reach a peace agreement with Syria and held contacts with it to this effect over the past decade, and added that Israel will continue working towards this goal while adhering to its vital interests vis-a-vis the new leadership in Syria.

Prime Minister Barak added that Israel attaches great importance to stability and quiet in Lebanon and along its border with Syria and added that he expects Syria to take a similar approach. He added that in the immediate term, it appears that the situation will be stable.

Prime Minister Barak said that timing of the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon may now be seen as especially propitious and added that had it been postponed, it would have been more difficult to achieve stability in southern Lebanon following the withdrawal. He vigorously rejected claims to the effect that Assad’s death proves that it was not necessary to try to reach a peace agreement with him and cited Egypt as an example of a country where peaceful relations with it continued after the death of the president with whom we had achieved peace.

Prime Minister Barak added that if we had not tried to reach a settlement, we would never have escaped the feeling that we had missed an historic opportunity and we would not have even been able to implement UN Security Council Resolution #425 with world support. He added that if we had not genuinely tried to conclude an agreement with Syria, today we would be liable to find ourselves in a situation in which the risk of a deterioration was greater. Prime Minister Barak also noted that some benefit may yet be derived from the fact that discussions were held.