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(photo credit: AP)
The US will unveil its plan for peace in the Middle East in the coming weeks, according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, stressing his opinion that Israel should back the proposal.
"In the coming weeks," Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, "the Americans will conclude their meetings with the various sides in the region and will formulate their position. Afterwards, they will present their plan for a regional peace. I believe that Israel must join in on the up-swing."
He expressed hope for a breakthrough in diplomatic negotiations across the board in the coming months, as a result of the US plan, to which the establishment of a Palestinian state would be central.
Speaking at the FADC a day before the scheduled Labor Party conference, Barak appeared visibly tired after a long night of party negotiations and talking tough on Iran, Syria and especially Lebanon. Before Barak addressed the powerful committee, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of MI's research division, warned that by the end of 2009, an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a matter of a decision on Teheran's part, rather than a matter of technological ability.
Baidatz said that while Iran's behavior had been cautious, it was continuing to enhance its nuclear power, and that the atmosphere in the international community was that of accepting that the Islamic republic would eventually have nuclear weapons, citing the examples of Pakistan and North Korea. He noted that the United States had indicated that it would view September as the deadline for determining policy on Iran, adding that even if Iran agreed to talks, it was likely to only do so on large, general topics and not on anything that would question its "right to a civilian nuclear project".
The intelligence chief offered a note of regional optimism when he said that it was MI's assessment that Syria would be willing to "cool down" its ties with Iran, Hizbullah, and the Palestinian terror groups for the sake of a peace agreement with Israel.
However, he stressed that Syria would only be willing to strike a peace deal if Israel agrees to pull back to the pre-1967 borders. The MI chief said that in the unexpected event of Israel agreeing to such a withdrawal, Syria would prefer a peace deal with Israel than maintaining ties with Iran, Hizbullah and other terror organizations.
Barak was more cautious, putting forward some tough talk when it came to the Syrian-supported Hizbullah terror organization and its role in Lebanon. Barak stressed that a situation in which a neighbor state, which is a member of the Arab League and the UN, has a militia with over 40,000 rockets as part of the ruling system, was unacceptable.
"We don't see any separation between the responsibility of Hizbullah for its action and the responsibility of the Lebanese government," he added.
If there is any decline in the situation along the northern border, Barak said, Israel sees Lebanon as being responsible and "we see ourselves as being able to act in accordance with that."
Baidatz said earlier in the meeting that Hizbullah the was engaging in systematic violations south of the Litani River of UN Resolution 1701 and that the recent explosion of a weapons cache in southern Lebanon had embarrassed the terror group.
Barak also dismissed a recent Ha'aretz report that all 23 West Bank outposts erected since 2001 would be taken down in one day. The defense minister said such a move would be an impossibility and that the outposts would be removed over "an extended period of time."
Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu paid his first visit since forming the government on March 31 to the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, praising the employees there for "strengthening Israel's security."
Netanyahu was accompanied by Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor, and by his military attachÃ© Meir Kalifi. According to the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu was invited to the facility by the head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and by the director-general of the Dimona center.
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