Peretz says Israel readying for Syrian war scenario, but advocates diplomacy

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, asked about the possibility of war with Syria, said Wednesday that the military was preparing for any scenario, but added that Israel must not give up on diplomacy with Damascus.

Peretz spoke to Israeli radio stations, a day after Israeli troops simulated an attack on a Syrian village.

The Israeli military "has to be ready on all fronts, irrespective of intelligence reports on what is going to happen," Peretz told Army Radio.

But "we have to relay to the Syrians that our exercises and preparations are a matter of course, and in no way reflect Israeli plans to attack Syria," Peretz added.

Israel must probe any possibility of diplomacy with Syria, he told Israel Radio.

"A diplomatic process with Syria could immediately and dramatically change the balance on three fronts, so picking up the gauntlet, or exploring any chance for sincere negotiations with Syria is, in my opinion, an option that absolutely must not be neglected."

The three fronts he referred to were Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian front.

Asked if Israel might initiate a war in response to limited action by Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas on the Lebanese border, Peretz told Army Radio, "there is no such intention."

Israel's war last year against Hezbollah in Lebanon was touched off by a cross-border guerrilla raid in which three soldiers were killed and two were captured.

Members of Israel's Security Cabinet were meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Syrian situation.