HAIFA, Israel, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Will Israel's inconclusive month-long war against Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah clear the way for the revival of the deadlocked Middle East peace process?
While Israel appeared to extend a hand towards the Palestinians and Lebanon, Syria's has been left out in the cold.
Tel Aviv and Damascus may have exchanged hints about a veiled wish to restart peace talks during the war on Lebanon, but adamant opposition by the United States and France put an end to such a possibility.
"Negotiations with Syria are not on the agenda of the Israeli government at the moment," a Foreign Ministry source told United Press International in a telephone interview.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed out that even if Israel wanted to resume contact with Syria, "the United States and France oppose such endeavor for the time being."
He noted that following the cessation of hostilities with Hezbollah in line with Security Council Resolution 1701, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke several times about possible negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and called on Lebanon to open channels of communication, but made no mention of Syria.
The source, however, acknowledged that at the beginning of the war on July 12 "Israel was thinking" of asking Syria to play a "positive role" in Lebanon in exchange for a return to peace negotiations.
"But the Syrians did not send any positive signals in that regard and kept on backing Hezbollah, and thus the idea of opening a political track with Syria was dropped from the government's agenda," the source said.
He played down statements made after the war by Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter in support of negotiations with Syria.
"The matter is clear for us now, and that is Syria has no intention to hold negotiations with Israel and is not seeking such talks," the source said.
He argued that Syrian President Bashar Assad's hints about his wish to renew negotiations with Israel are due to the fact that he has been under tremendous pressure since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. Syria, which is accused of being the route for the channeling of Iranian arms to Hezbollah, was largely blamed for Hariri's assassination.
The source strongly denied a report by daily Haaretz that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed the ministry's diplomatic desk chief, Yaki Dayan, as "special project manager" for possible talks with Syria.
"In fact, Dayan has become the political advisor of Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik," the source said.
The Foreign Ministry source explained that the Israeli government has many reasons "to drop the possibility of negotiations with Syria, some of which are domestic and others linked to external considerations."
A major reason is that the Israeli government is "weak" after its inconclusive war in Lebanon, and is facing criticism over its mismanagement of the war.
"Consequently, the government will not be able to engage in a major political process such as negotiations with Syria and prefers at the moment to focus on internal matters arising from the war," the source said.
He stressed that there is an inner understanding between key cabinet members, notably Olmert, Livni and Peretz, as well as First Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Perez, "to give priority to peace talks with the Palestinians."
The source argued that even if Israel wanted "theoretically" to consider negotiations with Syria, the price it would have to pay for a peace deal is known -- withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Israel could not pay that price "because there is no large internal support for such a move." A poll by the Academic Peace Register published by Haaretz this week indicated that 71 percent of Israelis oppose withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
The source emphasized that the Syrian president has given his full support to anti-Israel movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which the government source asserted puts Syria firmly in the "axis of evil."
"On top of that, there is the international investigation on Hariri's assassination that adds to Assad's international isolation ... so why should we give him a rescue rope now?" the source asked.
Noting that the United States and France oppose such a move at present, the source said "Israel will not get international backing for a step towards Syria, but U.S. President George Bush and French President Jacques Chirac will stop Israel from even making any contacts with Damascus."
"For President Chirac, the matter has become a personal issue and a personal stance on Syria and Assad," the source said.
Chirac, a close friend of Hariri, strongly suspects Syria and Assad of being behind Hariri's assassination, which occurred when Damascus was still in control of security in Lebanon. Syria pulled its troops from Lebanon two months after Hariri's slaying, ending almost three decades of controversial military presence.
Strategic and political analyses and studies recommend that Israel should now focus on the Palestinian peace process, and not on Syria.
Commenting on Assad's recent declarations about copying Hezbollah's model for liberating the Golan Heights through popular armed resistance, the source said the Jewish state "takes the matter seriously, although there is no absolute evidence yet it is forthcoming."
"There are some worrying field indications about attempts to organize such a resistance, but we are not doing anything about it at present, except being alert and contacting other countries because the situation is still not very clear," the source said.
He stressed that "if Assad wants to achieve peace with Israel and end his isolation, he should make certain moves, especially towards the United States and the international community, and he has to act wisely."