In his first appearance on a major Arabic news station in over six years, Olmert, speaking in an office adorned with the blue and white Israeli flag, told his Hebrew-speaking interviewer: “Bashar Assad, you know … You know I am ready to hold direct negotiations with you and you also know that it’s you who insists on speaking to the Americans. The American president says: ‘I don’t want to stand between Bashar Assad and Ehud Olmert. If you want to talk, sit down and talk.”
Olmert’s move to make this offer in such a public fashion suggests that either Israel is breaking from Washington’s policy with regard to Syria, or more likely, that the Bush administration gave the green light to this strategy during Olmert’s last visit to Washington.
The fly in the ointment is that Israel has been planning for military confrontations with Syria, Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran. After the unhappy experience Israel had in Lebanon last year, it’s likely that Olmert is opting to pick his battles and wants to avoid fighting in Syria during the inevitable rematch.