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Following weeks of reports that Syria was preparing for a confrontation with Israel, Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin announced Tuesday that the Syrian army was lowering its alert level. The current alert level, Yadlin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was now lower than it had been before the war in Lebanon last summer.
Yadlin also said he did not know for certain that Syrian President Bashar Assad was truly interested in peace with Israel. "Assad is clearly interested in the benefits he will be afforded through the negotiations process, namely international recognition," said Yadlin. "It is not as clear if he is interested in achieving an actual peace."
The sincerity of Assad's statement last month, that peace talks with Israel could be completed "in six months" if they were resumed from where they left off, has been questioned by many Israeli officials.
Within Israel's military establishment there have been conflicting reports. Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of the Military Intelligence Research Division, stated that "Syria is genuinely interested in negotiations," while Mossad director Meir Dagan announced that he does not "truly see Syria offering to renew negotiations with Israel."
The issue has been at the source of the debate over whether Israel would find itself in another war with its neighbors by the summer.
"It is clear Syria is deeply committed to the axis of evil, to Iran, to arming Hizbullah in Lebanon and to the attempts to bring down Saniora," said MK Effie Eitam (National Union-National Religious Party).
MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) said, "If the prime minister listened to what we heard today, he should know that it would be national lawlessness not to quickly launch a dialogue with Syria in a bid to reach peace... I believe Syria is very serious regarding negotiations and it's serious not to open negotiations with them."
Turning to Lebanon, Yadlin confirmed reports that Hizbullah was rebuilding itself in the south of Lebanon and that UNIFIL forces were hesitant to directly interfere with disarming the terror group. Yadlin also said that dozens, if not hundreds, of al-Qaeda operatives were working in Lebanon.
"Those who can be harmed by al-Qaeda operatives are UNIFIL and western interests in Lebanon," Yadlin said.
Al-Qaeda forces were also recently discovered in the Gaza Strip, said Yadlin, although they were mostly involved in logistical exercises. Al-Qaeda is seeking to widen its base in the entire Middle East by dispatching operatives to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The terror organization's intentions to launch attacks in Israel are no secret and Ayman al-Zawahiri has made public calls to destroy Israel.
Yadlin also discussed Iran's nuclear weapons program, stating that Iran was using the 60-day ultimatum by the United Nations' Security Council to push forward with uranium enrichment.
"Iran's trying to convey the message that it is too late... the horse is out of the barn and they have the technological know-how to build a nuclear weapon," said Yadlin.
According to Israeli estimates, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb by mid 2009 at the earliest, barring technological obstacles and foreign interventions. If Iran was able to purchase enriched materials from other countries, it could produce a nuclear bomb earlier than 2009, Yadlin said.