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ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE & NORTHERN THREATS

IDF Intelligence & Mossad Differ Over Syria's Intentions

Syria & Hezbollah Biding Their Time While Building Military Power

Iran Continues Nuclear Weapons Drive While U.N. Dithers Over Harsher Sanctions

Israeli F-16's

The Israeli intelligence establishment has presented its annual intelligence assessment to the cabinet for the coming year. While the Palestinians go through the motions of forming a national unity to halt the bloody internal feud between Hamas and Fatah and to con the international community into renewing financial aid, the gravest threats to Israel come from the north and north east.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

'Out of the north an evil shall break forth'... so declared the biblical prophet Jeremiah. His prophecy of dire dangers to Israel appears to be as apt today as it was in biblical times.

Syrian President Assad

Despite its offer to renew peace talks with Israel, Israel's northern neighbor Syria has embarked on a massive arms build-up, serves as the supply route for the flow of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, has strengthened its own alliance with Tehran and hosts Palestinian terror groups like Hamas in Damascus. But the Israeli intelligence establishment is split about whether Syrian President Bashar Assad is sincere in his declarations about peace talks with Israel. IDF intelligence says Assad may be on the level and should be put to the test; the Mossad intelligence agency says it's a Syrian sham to get off the hook. The Lebanese government charges that Assad is responsible for the assassination of anti- Syrian Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.  To date, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sides with the Mossad view that Assad wants peace talks with Israel in order to ease international pressure that forced him to withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon after the killing of Hariri.

Supporters of renewed talks with Syria argue that it could reduce the threat of a new round of hostilities, weaken the Syrian- Iranian alliance , cut off both arms supplies to Hezbollah and support of Palestinian terror groups. But these are all moot points.  Previously, the IsraCast assessment was that the U.S. would categorically oppose any such Israeli move in light of the Syrian support for the insurgents who are killing and wounding American soldiers in Iraq. Haaretz newspaper has now reported that on her recent visit to Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear to Olmert:' Don't even think about negotiating with the Syrians'.  There is no way that an Israeli Prime minister would dare rock the boat with the U.S. administration in light of the looming confrontation over Iran's  determined drive to acquire nuclear weapons with which to threaten Israel with annihilation. So, Syria will remain on the back burner unless Assad decides to fore-go what he calls his 'strategic option ' of negotiating the return of the Golan Heights and opts for a military solution. One other possibility is that Assad has no idea where he is headed and is simply trying to buy time.

Iranian Nuclear Reactor

Iran: Therefore the Syrian front to the north is likely to be overshadowed by the Iranian nuclear threat. While the international community dithers over stiffer sanctions on Tehran, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the Gulf obviously to reinforce its position that Iran must be stopped from getting the bomb. The British paper the Daily Telegraph highlights Israel's need for coordination with the U.S. If Jerusalem decides it has no choice but to preempt, as it did in bombing Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in 1981, Israeli aircraft would have to overfly U.S. controlled Iraq. The press report quoted a ' senior Israeli defense source ' as saying that Israel  requested an air corridor over Iraq to be used by Israeli warplanes on their way to Iran's nuclear installations. Otherwise, Israeli and American jets could wind up shooting at one another.

Iranian Missile range

How authentic is this report? Officially, Israel's deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh denied the story saying: 'It has no basis'. There are several other possibilities. If the senior Israeli source divulged classified information it would be an act of high treason. Highly unlikely. If the  leak  was deliberate to what purpose?  The Daily Telegraph reports that the Israeli military establishment has accelerated contingency plans in light of the Mossad assessment that Iran could produce enriched uranium for a nuclear warhead early in 2009.   Last year, the government appointed Israel Air Commander Eliezer Shkedi to take charge of the operation. Last week, Prime Minister Olmert requested that Mossad Chief Meir Dagan postpone his retirement for another year, apparently in light of the Iranian crisis.  Recently, Prime Minister Olmert said there is still time for diplomacy to dissuade Tehran from continuing its nuclear weapons program. However, if the U.N. continues to waffle over imposing harsher sanctions, the Daily Telegraph report could lend credence to a previous Olmert declaration that the Jewish state will not tolerate the threat of another Holocaust posed by Iranian nuclear weapons.  Some European voices have been heard saying that  Iran is bound to acquire its nuclear weapons so forget about sanctions.  Israel has served notice that appeasement of Iran is not an option.

Hezbollah: This northern threat may have abated after last summer's war, but only for the time being. Senior IDF intelligence officer Brig. Gen. Yossi Bidatz sparked a controversy when he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee that Hezbollah is potentially as strong today as it was before the war. Although suffering severe casualties, the  guerrillas bombarded northern Israel with some 4,000 rockets and killed some 168 Israeli solders and civilians. Iran and Syria have been busy resupplying Hezbollah's supply of rockets and weapons and Israeli cabinet minister Ben Eliezer warns the guerrillas could launch another round as early as this summer. In any case, the new IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi has not wasted any time in correcting the lack of training that plagued operations in last summer's war. General Ashkenazi held the first big IDF maneuvers in six years on the Golan Heights signaling a new approach to facing the mounting dangers from the north.

David Essing

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