JERUSALEM (AFP) — Any peace deal between Israel and Syria would dramatically change the face of the Middle East, in particular by isolating Iran, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Tuesday.
“Peace with Syria would break up the current strategic situation because it would isolate Iran and silence (Lebanese Shiite militant group) Hezbollah,” said Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.
“We are talking about a true peace, an end to hostilities, an opening of the borders, and Israel is ready to pay the price for such a peace and coexistence with Syria,” he told public radio.
Israel and Syria confirmed last week that they have launched indirect peace talks through Turkish mediation, a process that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said began in February 2007.
The last round of peace talks broke down in 2000 over the fate of the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau which Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognised by the international community.
Ben Eliezer said he would visit the Golan on Tuesday to discuss with the local population its electricity and development needs.
Opinion polls show that two thirds of Israelis are opposed to withdrawing from the Golan, which is now home to some 20,000 Jewish settlers.
Ben Eliezer was also questioned about an eventual prisoner swap with Hezbollah.
“I pray that Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are still alive,” he said, referring to two Israeli soldiers captured in July 2006 by Hezbollah guerrillas in a deadly cross-border raid.
The violence triggered a devastating Israeli war against Hezbollah in Lebanon that lasted for 34 days until a UN-brokered ceasefire in August.
“For two years, we have doing everything possible to bring them home, and we are ready to pay the price for that,” Ben Eliezer said.
Military radio has reported that Israel is prepared to free five Lebanese prisoners and return the remains of 10 Hezbollah fighters in exchange for Regev and Goldwasser.
Among the prisoners who could be freed is Samir Kantar who was sentenced in 1980 to 542 years in prison for killing an Israeli civilian and his daughter as well as a police officer in an attack that shocked Israel, the radio said.