Balata violence 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
2007 will be the year of war, both in Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip, and possibly even against Syria. It could happen this spring, or perhaps in the summer.
According to Military Intelligence's (MI) assessment for the coming year, there is a high probability that Israel will find itself fighting at least two wars on two fronts, one against the Hamas army being created in the Gaza Strip and the other against Hizbullah, working hard to regain its strength after the war this past summer.
Despite a cease-fire on the Gaza front, Hamas has spent the last week smuggling weapons into the Strip through the tunnels running from Sinai.
Hizbullah, despite Security Council Resolution 1701 and UNIFIL's presence in southern Lebanon, has received shipments of antitank missiles, short-range rockets and long-range missiles from Syria since the war ended.
The Syrian military is on high alert and has the IDF concerned that without political "engagement," war could erupt there.
According to MI's assessment, if Israel offered Syria a renewal of dialogue, President Bashar Assad would accept. However, if Israel does not make any diplomatic overtures toward Syria, in line with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declared policy, the chance of war will only increase.
While the defense establishment is genuinely concerned with the ongoing Hizbullah protest in Beirut and the effect it will have on the fragile situation in the North, MI is not surprised by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's attempt to topple Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's US-backed government.
The massive demonstration in Lebanon is more than just a standard anti-government gathering. It is a clash of cultures - one led by Saniora interested in an independent and westernized Lebanon and the other led by Nasrallah and powered by Iran, interested in a radical and religious regime, or as MI sees it, an extension of Iran and the axis of evil.
Syria is also contributing to the tension and, according to MI, is the leading suspect in the assassination two weeks ago of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. The Saniora government's decision to establish an international tribunal to try those responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 was a major blow for Assad and the ongoing protest in Beirut is partially his way of payback.
The IDF does not anticipate long life for the cease-fire in Gaza, obtained November 25 in a phone call between Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. In addition to the daily Kassam rocket attacks since the cease-fire went into effect, the Palestinians have continued smuggling weapons into the Strip from Egypt.
Hamas's "army" in Gaza already numbers several thousand troops, believed to be armed with advanced antitank missiles, Grad-type Katyusha rockets as well as anti-aircraft projectiles, possibly Soviet-made SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles.
The assumption in the IDF is that the cease-fire will not last long, maybe another couple of weeks at the most. The major problem is that unlike the cease-fire in 2005 before Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, this time the Palestinians do not have any incentives to enforce or uphold the truce.
It is also important to differentiate between the Strip and the West Bank. While Hamas is building an army, Gaza is self-contained, cut off from the rest of Israel. The West Bank is different. With the security fence incomplete, a decision to remove roadblocks and permit free passage for Palestinians could enable terrorists to enter Israeli cities. The only way to prevent terror there is to maintain an IDF presence in the West Bank.
But not everyone in the defense establishment agrees that the way to prevent terror in the West Bank is by retaining a stifling military presence.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav has been recommending the removal of roadblocks and free passage between West Bank cities for some months now, claiming the move would stimulate positive economic developments within the PA. If Israel fails to do so, Mishlav has warned, war could also erupt in the West Bank.