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Thread: Israel Predicts New War In 2007

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    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Israel Predicts New War In 2007

    North and south

    By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

    1.The third Lebanon war
    There will be a war next summer. Only the sector has not been chosen yet. The atmosphere in the Israel Defense Forces in the past month has been very pessimistic. The latest rounds in the campaigns on both fronts, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, have left too many issues undecided, too many potential detonators that could cause a new conflagration. The army's conclusion from this is that a war in the new future is a reasonable possibility. As Amir Oren reported in Haaretz several weeks ago, the IDF's operative assumption is that during the coming summer months, a war will break out against Hezbollah and perhaps against Syria as well.

    At the same time, the IDF does not anticipate a long life for the cease-fire achieved last Saturday night with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. When the present tahdiya (lull) joins its predecessors that fell apart - the hudna (cease-fire) of summer 2003 (which lasted for a month and a half) and the tahdiya of winter 2005 (which was in its death throes for months until its final burial at the end of the disengagement) - there is a danger that the big bang will take place in Gaza. At its conclusion, like a self- fulfilling prophecy, IDF soldiers will return to the heart of Rafah for the first time in 13 years.

    Of the two worrisome scenarios, the IDF speaks more in public about a conflagration in Gaza, but is also genuinely worried about a war in the North, mainly in light of the army's dubious achievements in the previous round there. Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky has recently spoken about a war in the North in the summer, in several closed military forums. The army is already undergoing an intensive process of preparation, which is based in part on lessons already learned from the second Lebanon war. The announcement this week of a renewal of reservist training at the Tze'elim training base is a signal to neighboring countries that the IDF is reinforcing and rehabilitating itself, but it was also meant for internal consumption: It broadcasts to the public and to the army that the process of post-war rehabilitation is being conducted with the requisite seriousness.

    Do all signs lead to war? One senior defense official says the answer to this question is no. He says that what we are dealing with is more a question of image than of substance. The extremist assessment of the good chances of a conflict in the North is designed to present the army with a target (and more important, with a target date). By summer preparations will be completed, and the IDF will brush itself off and restore the professional capability that it mistakenly thought it had when Israel so hastily went to war last summer.

    The process of rehabilitating the army's preparedness is combined with efforts by Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to present the investigation of the recent war (which is supposed to end in about two weeks) as his crowning achievement. In spite of his denials, Halutz is seriously considering resigning, but is looking for the proper context. The conclusion of the inquest, which Halutz describes as the most thorough and honest that the IDF has ever conducted, is likely to provide such a context. The chief of staff can say that he is leaving his successor with a clean desk and that after comprehensive rehabilitation, the army is once again on the right path.

    In view of the risk of war against Syria, chief of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin is talking about Israel's obligation to examine the possibility of renewing peace negotiations with Damascus. In this, Yadlin is joining his predecessor, Major General Aharon Ze'evi Farkash. And like his own predecessor, Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also reacting with displeasure to this talk, and wondering aloud whether the head of MI is not exceeding the bounds of his authority. Nevertheless, at least in the Lebanese arena, Olmert recently reexamined the possibility of compromising with the Siniora government on the question of the Shaba Farms (Har Dov). With or without any connection, a UN team has begun a project to map the area in order to decide on the size of the controversial region. The mapping work is being done at UN headquarters in New York, on the basis of maps and satellite photos.

    Olmert has been told that there is little chance that Syria would agree to an arrangement in which Israel would transfer this area to Lebanon. According to this assessment, Syrian President Bashar Assad is not enthusiastic about the possibility. When proposals for a remapping of the Syrian-Lebanese border were made to Assad, he replied that he would agree to that only if it began in the area of Tripoli in the north. In other words: as far as possible from the Shaba farms.

    2. Palestinian freeze
    In the Palestinian arena, the sides are returning to square one at the end of this week. Although the firing of Qassams has lessened in recent days, the Hamas government of Ismail Haniyeh refuses to give up its place. Haniyeh has embarked on a visit to Arab countries that will last for about two weeks. Until his return, no practical negotiations are taking place between Fatah and Hamas over the establishment of the national unity government.

    At the beginning of the week, in the wake of the cease-fire, the Israeli side drew up complex, multi-stage scenarios regarding an overall deal that also involves the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and the establishment of a new Palestinian government. However, as usual, the internal Palestinians arena is even more chaotic than Israel realizes. Apparently nothing has been decided yet in the Shalit affair. And the fate of the government of technocrats, which Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) have been discussing for months, is still unclear.

    In the office of the chairman they were angry this week, but not only at Hamas. Abbas vented his frustration at a meeting that he held with Haniyeh on Monday. The chairman told the prime minister that he would no longer discuss a national unity government with him. If you think you'll succeed in removing the siege on your government without my help, he told him - tfadal (be my guest). The frustration in Abbas' circle is directed to a great extent against the Egyptians, who went out of their way this week to flatter Khaled Meshal, head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus. It began with a press conference convened by Meshal in the Cairo press club, continued with an interview he gave to Egyptian television, and ended with a visit by Haniyeh and his entourage in Cairo, the first stop on the prime minister's journey. One of Abbas' men mentioned in disappointment that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman himself had promised the chairman that Egypt would not allow Haniyeh to travel abroad via the Rafah crossing for the purpose of raising money for the Hamas government.

    The price of Haniyeh's trip is clear to Abbas. Only last week two Hamas senior officials brought $25 million into the Gaza Strip in suitcases via the Rafah crossing. That is a huge sum in terms of the present Gazan economy, and not a single dollar of it will reach the coffers of the PA. The entire sum is earmarked for the Hamas charity apparatus and for the organization's military arm. At present, the return of Haniyeh's entourage from abroad means additional millions of dollars for Hamas, whereas Fatah is suffering from mounting budgetary distress.

    Abbas' people are afraid that if the Shalit deal is finally completed, only Hamas will benefit from it. The release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons will be attributed to the force of Hamas' arms, rather than to the conciliatory approach of Abbas - in spite of Olmert's promises to release the prisoners into his arms. Abbas' men made a last, almost desperate attempt this week to get things to work for their benefit. They secretly turned to the two splinter groups that helped Hamas to kidnap Shalit - the Popular Resistance Committees and Jish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) - and suggested that they hand the soldier over to the chairman. The chances of success for such a move are slight.

    As things look at the moment, Hamas is emerging strengthened from the cease-fire, and its position will continue to improve after the Shalit deal. The surprising support from Egypt will further solidify the position of Haniyeh and Meshal in the unity government contacts.

    Fatah is nevertheless likely to register one achievement from the completion of a prisoner-release deal - if senior Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti is among those freed. The release of Barghouti, who was sentenced in Israel to five cumulative life sentences, will ease the sting of the Hamas achievement and will restore Fatah's men in the field to public awareness. Israel has been discussing the possibility of his release for several years, in the hope of igniting a political move together with the Fatah leadership. A number of IDF generals have even expressed their support of this. On the other hand, the idea was sharply opposed by former Shin Bet security services chief Avi Dichter and his successor Yuval Diskin. This week someone in Jerusalem made sure to brief the political correspondents about Barghouti's substantial contribution, from his prison cell, to bringing about the cease-fire agreement.

    Dichter and Diskin have a convincing argument: Barghouti was involved in the murder of Israelis. The leading gang of the Fatah military wing in the West Bank gathered around him and were inspired by him in their operations at the start of the intifada. The courts were convinced by the materials collected by the Shin Bet and MI, and convicted Barghouti of acts of murder. On the other hand, Barghouti has been actively involved for years in steps to achieve a cessation of the fighting. Yet this time it was urgent for political bodies in Israel to give credit to the senior prisoner. Perhaps this can be seen as preparing the ground for his release in a future deal.

    While Olmert, in taking the dual steps of agreeing to the cease-fire and making the hopeful speech at the grave of David Ben-Gurion, created the appearance of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians, security elements are skeptical about the chances of survival of the agreement with the PA. Halutz hinted at that in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, when he said that the political leadership had "consulted partially" with the IDF about the agreement.

    The army and the Shin Bet see eye to eye concerning the processes taking place in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is building in Gaza a southern version of Hezbollah-land, and the cease-fire will enable it to increase its strength without interference, by carrying on with the arms-smuggling industry. The calm will collapse at the time most convenient for the enemy, not for Israel. For the present, in order to defend itself from claims that it caused the cease-fire to fail, the IDF is awaiting precise instructions from the political leadership. These have not been forthcoming, and the army has to guess the intentions of the politicians and, based on them, to determine its instructions for opening fire.

    3. Ofra is expanding
    A Peace Now report about the settlements, which merited only limited coverage in the Israeli media, made considerable waves abroad. The New York Times thought that the revelations by Dror Etkes - the head of the organization's Settlements Watch program, who said that 40 percent of the settlement areas in the West Bank are located on private Palestinian land - was a front-page story. The detailed data gathered by Peace Now, which are backed by aerial photos and information about the legal status of each plot of land, indicate that no fewer than 130 settlements were built on private Palestinian property.

    Senior officials in the Israeli Civil Administration confirm the reliability of the data and the conclusion to be drawn from them: The most significant violation of the law in the territories is not related so much to the outposts, but rather to the large and well-established settlements, which in Israeli discourse are considered legitimate. (The Judea and Samaria Regional Council denies this, and claims that all the construction in the settlements is done on state land.)

    The settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah, is a good example. Seen as the flagship of Gush Emunim (the original settlers' movement), this community sits on Palestinian land, according to the report. Not all of it, it's true. Only 93 percent. In light of this, the debate about last February's demolition of nine houses in its satellite outpost, Amona, seems somewhat marginal.

    Etkes' team obtained aerial photos that document the development of Ofra in four stages, from its establishment in 1969 until today. Almost all the construction has been carried out on land belonging to Palestinians from the neighboring villages. Peace Now relies on a databank similar to the one coordinated by deputy defense minister Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel, whose main principles were published in Haaretz about two months ago. The U.S. administration, which keeps close track of any information about the settlements, has since asked for clarifications from the defense establishment. But Big Brother's surveillance does not really affect what happens on the ground. On the contrary: The present days of the shaky Olmert government are good for the settlers. The tractors are once again working energetically on the hills of Samaria, while Defense Minister Amir Peretz continues to issue weekly notices about his intention of dealing soon and with utmost seriousness with the construction in the outposts.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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