Israel is keeping a wary eye on the spreading unrest in the Middle East. But, a senior Israeli official is cautiously optimistic that the region is heading in a positive direction.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says the uprisings sweeping the Middle East pose dangers for Israel, but also opportunities for peace.
Interviewed on Israel Radio, Barak said Syria is signaling that it might be willing to resume peace talks, and if so, he said it will find a ready partner on the Israeli side.
Negotiations between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria during the war of 1967.
Barak also played down statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has warned that Islamic militants could use the changing situation in Egypt to take control. Some in Israel are concerned If that happens, Egypt might annul the 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel.
Barak said while that is a danger, the revolt that ousted Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak does not pose an immediate threat to Israel.
"I see no Khomeini-style movement in Egypt," he said, referring to the Ayatollah Khomeini, who led Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979. Barak said Egypt appears to be heading on the path of democratic reforms, and the army, which has the respect of the people, wants to preserve the peace treaty with Israel.
At the same time, the defense minister said Israel is in what he calls "a bad neighborhood."
Barak said the Middle East is a violent, unstable region where there is no mercy on the weak.
He said Israel must remain the strongest nation in the Middle East militarily because, as he put it, "Those who are unable to defend themselves will not be given a second chance."
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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