(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Iran will likely reach the nuclear tipping point in late 2009 or early 2010, the heads of the Mossad and Military Intelligence told the cabinet on Sunday, during an in-depth briefing on the strategic situation facing the country in 2008.
Assessments were given by representatives from the Mossad, Military Intelligence, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the intelligence arm of the Foreign Ministry and the Israel Police.
As expected, both the Mossad and Military Intelligence pointed to Iran as Israel's most menacing threat - both because of the progress it was making in its nuclear program, and due to its leadership of a radical axis in the Islamic world.
However, it was not the only problem, with Syria, Hizbullah, Gaza and Palestinian terrorism, and global jihad named as the other threats Israel would face in 2008.
The intelligence community warned that a major flare-up on any front could lead to other fronts opening as well. For instance, an escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip could lead to a Hizbullah attack in the North.
At the same time, the Mossad and Military Intelligence concurred that there was a low probability of a major attack on Israel in 2008, although there was a growing likelihood of violence by Hizbullah.
The assessment was that the threat from Teheran was growing due to the weakening of the international front against it, the fact that its nuclear program was moving forward, and since it was establishing itself as the leader of the radical camp in Islamic world.
While the intelligence officials said Iran was likely to reach a "point of no return" in its nuclear program by the end of 2009, they added that Syria was also engaged in an intense armament program and was deploying long-range missiles.
Both the Syrian and the Iranian strategic doctrines were now based on the assumption that Israel could not be beaten in conventional war, due to its superiority on land and in the air, but rather by missiles aimed at the home front.
The representatives from the Mossad and Military Intelligence said the region was in the midst of a struggle between a radical axis led by Iran, and a pragmatic camp that included Saudi Arabia, Persian Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt. They said that the pragmatic states did not face any immediate danger to their regimes.
The officials said that while Syria was a member of the radical axis, some in the intelligence community believed that "under certain circumstances and if there were certain developments," there was a possibility of pushing Syria out of that axis.
The price for this would be a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and American rapprochement with Damascus. They said Syria believed the chances of this happening in 2008 were low, but not zero.
Foreign Ministry representatives said the US was suffering from a declining status in the Middle East, and this was causing an increase in the maneuverability of other players in the region, including radical ones. However, they said, these radical forces were deterred by Israel, worried by its strength and concerned it would use it. This, the officials said, prevented them from acting with all their might.
On the Palestinian front, the intelligence officials said there was a certain drop in support for Hamas and a boost for Fatah, but this change was not considered significant. As long as the diplomatic process between Israel and Fatah continued, they said, the chances of an agreement between Hamas and Fatah were low.
Shin Bet representatives said there was an increasing separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was making an effort to show an appearance of building up Fatah security forces, although in practice this was not being done, they said.
In Gaza, meanwhile, they said Hamas had made a significant military leap and was now very close to having an organized army, with training coming from Iran.
They also pointed to growing tensions between the Hamas leadership inside Gaza, and Hamas outside the Strip. Hamas inside Gaza had the upper hand, the Shin Bet representatives maintained.
According to the Shin Bet briefing, Hamas has increased its operations in the West Bank, especially in Kalkilya and Nablus.
The Shin Bet briefing also included an assessment that the level of terrorism in 2008 was likely to remain at about the same level as in 2007, and that the probability of a widespread popular uprising, a so-called third intifada, was low.
At the same time, the Shin Bet warned that there was the constant potential for such an outbreak and that certain events could trigger it, such as harming Islamic holy places, especially on the Temple Mount, and a large number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.
Regarding Israeli Arabs, the cabinet was told that 25 Israeli Arabs were involved in terrorism in 2007, most of them activated by terrorists in the West Bank.
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