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IDF Intelligence Officer: 'Hezbollah Is Potentially Stronger Today Than It was Before Last Summer's War'

Defense Minister Peretz: 'We Expect Hamas & Fatah Will Form National Unity Government But Israel Will Only Talk With President Abbas'

U.S. - Israeli-Palestinian Photo-Op In Jerusalem

Abbas, Rice, Olmert

A senior IDF intelligence officer has revealed that Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon are on their way to being stronger now than before last summer's war. Brig. Gen. Yossi Bidatz revealed some new facts and figures when he briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee. Also appearing at the hearing Defense Minister Amir Peretz Tried to play down the intelligence assessment. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chaired a three way summit with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

'Hezbollah is regrouping and is potentially stronger today than it was before the war last summer along the Israeli - Lebanese frontier - that's the assessment of Brig. Gen. Yossi Bidatz of the IDF intelligence Corps.

Amir Peretz and Tzahi Hanegbi

The intelligence officer revealed that Hezbollah has been smuggling in large quantities of weapons from across the Syrian border. Part of this growing Hezbollah potential was linked to weapons in Syria ready to be transported into Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah makes no bones about the weapons smuggling that violates U.N. resolution 1701 which ended the 33 days of conflict. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Bidatz said that Hezbollah has not rebuilt its bunkers and fortresses along the border nor completed training new recruits after suffering heavy losses during the war. Although Hezbollah was not ready to again heat up the border with Israel, there was no question that it was continually upgrading its military capability. At this point, Defense Minister Peretz interjected that Hezbollah still had a way to go before it fully recovered. The Syrians were meddling in Lebanon in more ways than arms smuggling. They feared the impact of the international court's enquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and were out to topple the current anti- Syria government of Hanah Sinoira. Damascus was tightening its ties with Tehran - other countries in the Middle East have turned a cold shoulder to Syria. On the other hand there were political tensions between Syria and Iran. On this score, Brig. Gen. Bidatz is of the view that Syrian president Bashar Assad means what he says about making peace with Israel. Recently, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Assad was interested in the image of making peace but not ready to pay the price. IDF intelligence reported that Syria is carrying out a significant military buildup and is wary of a military confrontation with Israel. However, there were no signs that Damascus was initiating a clash - the Syrians did not want to be taken by surprise by an Israeli strike if the U.S. decides to launch a military operation against Iran's nuclear facilities . On the other hand there were forces in Syria that could deteriorate regional stability.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz believed the Palestinians will succeed in forming a national unity government between Fatah and Hamas. But Israel will not negotiate with it unless it accepts the Quartet's conditions on halting terrorism, recognizing Israel and implementing prior agreements. The Palestinians must also free abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. But Jerusalem would continue to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after the unity government was formed. And this footnote - Since the Mecca agreement there has actually been an increase in the number of Qassam rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

So, despite the Rice- Olmert - Abbas summit in Jerusalem there is no real sign of meaningful progress on the Israeli- Palestinian track. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did her best to paint a rosy picture of what appears to be no more than a colorful 'photo-op' with President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert.


David Essing

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