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IDF Intelligence Update

IDF Gen. Aviv Kochavi: 'Iran Could Produce Nuclear Device Within One To Two Years'

'Syrian President Bashar Assad Believes His Regime Is Stable As Long As Rioting Does Not Reach Damascus'

'Palestinian Authority Continues To Arrest Hamas Terrorists On West Bank Despite Recent Reconciliation Agreement'

Aviv Kochavi

How does Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the new IDF intelligence chief, view the current turmoil sweeping the Middle East. At a closed door session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Gen. Kochavi reported on Iran's nuclear weapons project, the popular uprising in Syria, Egypt after Mubarak and what's happening inside the Palestinian camp. Analyst David Essing has some of the details that have been released for publication.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad

Iran: Tehran has recovered from the recent set of economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and is proceeding with its nuclear weapons program. At present, 5,000 centrifuges have produced some 4,300 kilograms of enriched uranium of 3.5% grade. Gen. Kochavi said the Iranians were planning to rev up another 3,000 centrifuges. (DE- Israeli experts have previously disclosed the Iranians have the technological capability to enrich uranium to 93% weapons grade uranium, if they decide to 'break out' and dash for the bomb.) Gen. Kochavi did disclose the Iranians could produce a 'primitive nuclear device' within one to two years. A committee official later clarified that this did not imply Tehran would have an operational nuclear bomb or the required delivery system within that time frame.

Iran and its surrogate Hizbullah in Lebanon were 'very worried' about the possible fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Therefore, Tehran was 'up to its neck' in trying to help Assad suppress the rioting by providing advice and other means. However, the IDF intelligence chief found no evidence that Iranian forces were now deployed in the streets of Syria. For its part, Hizbullah has been transferring weapons from Syria to its bases in Lebanon, apparently for fear the Syrian regime might be toppled. Gen. Kochavi expressed concern that Syria's 'strategic weapons could fall into the hands of Hizbullah or other elements inside Syria'. (DE - Syria is known to possess an arsenal of chemical weapons).

In addition to its nuclear weapons program, Iran was busy elsewhere in the Middle East arena. In Egypt, Tehran was trying to boost its influence by funding the Muslim Brothers. As for the Egyptian forces they were losing control in eastern Sinai. (DE- for the third time in recent months, terrorists have sabotaged the Egyptian pipeline that supplies propane gas to Israel and Jordan.) The Muslim Brotherhood is best prepared to go to a general election and opposes any postponement. It is for that reason that the international community would prefer a delay in order to enable the other political parties to get ready for the historic ballot after the ousting of the Mubarak regime. Aware of the apprehension over its possible rise to power, the Muslim Brothers have decided not to run a candidate for president. They will only be vying for seats in the Egyptian parliament, (as such they might acquire the key to power and act as 'kingmaker' in the new elected government).

Iran was also fishing in troubled waters by being very active in the recent Palestinian rioting along the Israeli -Syrian frontier on the Golan Heights, as well as in East Jerusalem and Gaza during the 'nakba' and 'naksa' days. Tehran had supplied logistical support to the disturbances that were contained by the IDF that left Iran disappointed over not achieving a greater success. In another direction, Iran was bolstering relations with Turkey, not only in commerce but also in military cooperation. The bottom line was that Iran was proceeding along a two-track course of action - developing a military nuclear capability while deepening its radical penetration in various parts of the region.

Syrian President Bashar Assad

Syria: In spite of the rioting sweeping most of the state, President Bashar Assad still believed his regime was stable as long as the disturbances did not rock the capital of Damascus. Assad apparently views the upheaval as still being under control in spite of the fact that commercial life has been paralyzed and tourists have long fled the country. On the other hand, Assad now realizes that he must seek solutions other than military force in order to quell the popular uprising. On this score, his recent attempts at reforms should not be underrated. These reforms were aimed at raising salaries, boosting subsidies for basic commodities and creating more jobs. The Syrian ruler depends more on the Syrian army than he does on his police force and with good reason. At this stage, senior military officers believe they have a 'legitimate mission in preventing the overthrow of the Alewite regime'. For example, only some twenty to thirty officers have deserted the army.
(DE- hundreds of Syrian soldiers are known to have deserted while others have been executed for refusing to gun down civilian protestors.)

IDF Intelligence estimates that changes in the Syrian leadership will seriously weaken the radical Islamic axis headed by Iran. Even if Assad succeeds in staying in power, his position will be greatly weakened. And why was Russia trying so hard to preserve the Assad regime? Gen. Kochavi said Moscow was concerned that Assad's s fall would result in greater U.S. and European influence in Syria at Russia's expense.

President Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinians: Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are at loggerheads over how to implement their ostensible rapprochment; in fact they cannot agree on how to move forward. The much heralded hugging and handshakes were more for foreign consumption than a sincere meeting of minds. For example, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists that Salam Fayyad maintain his position as prime minister in the new administration. Abbas believes that Fayyad, (who has lead the PA's crackdown on Hamas terror in the West Bank) is a valuable asset in the international community. However, Hamas views Fayyad as a 'red flag' and categorically opposes Fayyad staying on as PM. Moreover, Gen. Kochavi revealed that despite their recent conciliatory meeting, the PA still continues to arrest Hamas members on the West Bank.

As for Abbas, his first preference was to renew negotiations with Israel but on condition that Jerusalem first agree to withdraw to the lines of 1967 and impose a total settlement freeze. Otherwise, the Palestinian leader would seek Palestinian recognition in the UN General Assembly this fall.

And what could the IDF's intelligence chief say about the overall impact of the uprisings sweeping the Arab world demanding democracy and an end to dictators? an end to dictators? Gen. Kochavi said this development might provide peace opportunities for Israel in a number of years. But if there were a trend to democratic regimes this would not transpire in the immediate future: the best that could be hoped for is what he termed 'lite democracy' eventually taking root in the Arab states.

David Essing

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