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MARCH DEADLINE FOR IRAN

IDF Gen. Zeevi-Farkash:'Diplomacy Has Until March To Halt Iran's Drive For Nuclear Weapons'

'U.S. Failure In Iraq Would Be Critical For Entire Region'

'Hezbollah Will Launch More Attacks From Lebanon Before U.N. Report On Hariri Assassination Is Released On December 15th'

Gen. Maj. Zeevi-Farkash

Appearing at a closed-door session of the Kneset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Maj.Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, the chief of IDF Intelligence Branch, has presented a detailed briefing. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash updated the committee on how IDF intelligence assesses latest developments in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and along the Lebanese border.

'The international diplomatic effort has only four months to halt Iran's drive to produce nuclear weapons'. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash painted a grim picture when he presented his latest intelligence assessment.

Iranian missiles

International diplomacy is failing to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash says Tehran is thumbing its nose at the international threats of sanctions that have not materialized. Iran has produced 45 tons of UF-6 gas that is used in the centrifuge process for producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency has backed off and refrained from transferring the issue to the U.N. Security Council. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash concluded that if there is no decisive diplomatic action by the end of March, the diplomatic effort will have come to the end of the road.

Although Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently spoke about wiping Israel of the map, the Arab states were also showing signs of concern. The result could be the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East. As for the Ayatollahs they see the international effort as weakening, the U.S. is embroiled in its internal problems and the sharp rise in oil prices has lent them more leverage.

Hezbollah terrorists

Hezbollah: Last week's massive attack along the Lebanese border ended in failure for Hezbollah. They fired a total of some 330 mortars and shells at 25 IDF position the entire length of the frontier. But IDF intelligence was on the ball and beat back the dozens of Hezbollah gunmen who carried out a combined operation. Again Iran and Syria had encouraged the guerrillas to heat up the border area. The goal was to reduce international pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue and to deflect attention from Syria's involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash warned more Hezbollah attacks, of less intensity, can be expected until the U.N. report on Hariri's assassination is released on Dec. 15th. One possibility was to send a pilot-less drone packed with explosives at a target inside Israel. Hezbollah may also try to abduct Israelis abroad. In the territories, Hezbollah has hired Palestinian agents to organize terror attacks.For the first time, the Beirut government has shown some responsibility in south Lebanon. Lebanese officials contacted Israel requesting that the bodies of three Hezbollah gunmen be returned to Lebanon. Seeking to bolster this link, Israel agreed. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash described a controlled IDF response to the massive Hezbollah offensive. The guerrillas did not shell Israeli towns or villages believing the IDF would hit back hard to the attacks on its military positions. Hezbollah then planned on igniting the entire border region by shelling Israeli civilians. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash said the IDF had responded 'appropriately' and not given Hezbollah a pretext to escalate.

American soldiers in Iraq

Syria-Iraq: Syria is only going through the motions and is still enabling terrorists to infiltrate from Syrian territory into Iraq. Syrian President Bashar Assad hopes for an American failure in Iraq and wants to see the U.S. forces out of the region. On this score, Gen. Zeevi-Farkash warned: 'A U.S. failure in Iraq would be critical. Moreover, the Americans would not have the military or political capacity for another military operation in the region'. The intelligence chief did not elaborate but he was apparently alluding to Iran and Syria. A possible deal between the U.S. and Syria could be in the making. Syria would really close off its Iraqi border to the terrorists and in return Assad would be let off the hook for involvement in the Hariri assassination. (Gen. Zeevi-Farkash compared the phony Syrian effort to stop terrorist infiltration into Iraq with the similar Egyptian approach to Palestinian arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip). In any case, there was no serious danger to the Syrian regime being overthrown. Assad's biggest internal worries came from the Kurdish liberation movement, the Islamic Brothers and the intellectual and wealthy classes. Gen. Zeevi-Farkash ruled out the possibility that Assad would follow the example of Libya's Qaddafi and shift strategically against terrorism.

Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak has reacted to the surge by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections by easing out his son Gamal. The Muslim Brothers are banned from running and are doing so under the label of independents. They have soared from 17 in the previous election and are expected to wind up with 100 of the 454-member assembly. The Israeli assessment is that there is no immediate threat to the Mubarak regime although the Muslim Brothers are making 'significant' gains.

Palestinians: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas views the Palestinian elections on January 25th as a referendum on his policies. Abbas is hoping for a strong show of support for his 'one gun, one authority' approach against terrorism. His main rival Hamas expects to boost its strength - Hamas will see 30% of the vote as a success. Abbas would see that as a failure for his approach. Hamas wants to win a role in the Palestinian decision making process. Although the military wing of Hamas wants to continue attacks, Hamas is expected to preserve the quiet until the January 25th election. As for the Islamic Jihad, which is not running, it can be expected to mount more terror attacks from the West Bank.

David Essing

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