Iran, Syria and Hizbullah are preparing their defenses for a war in the summer, and they are more worried about an attack by the US than from Israel, OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin told the cabinet on Sunday. Israel was following these moves very carefully, Yadlin said, and needed to be careful its actions were not misinterpreted, leading to a miscalculation by the other side.
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He stressed that the enemy preparations were of a defensive nature. The IDF has noticed, however, "an increase in the potential for instability" in the Middle East due to a number of processes, including the American "failure" in Iraq.
The army has begun drawing up plans for the day after the US withdraws from Iraq, he said, adding that a premature US withdrawal would be "dangerous" and a major source of concern for the Israeli defense establishment. The consensus is that following such a withdrawal, anarchy would break out in Iraq and spread across the Shi'ite-Sunni world.
Yadlin also discussed last week's Arab League summit during the wide-ranging briefing he gave the ministers. He said the Riyadh summit showed that Saudi Arabia had moved from a passive to an active role in the region, and was now taking the diplomatic lead in the Arab world.
This was the first Arab League summit in years where the leaders left feeling that there were positive results, Yadlin said. The overall feeling, he said, was that the Arabs had thrown the ball into "Israel's court," and that it was now Israel's turn to respond.
The most important player at the summit, he said, was Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal. Everything done at the summit that had anything to do with the Palestinians was coordinated with him, Yadlin said.
This was in marked contrast to the last Arab League summit in Khartoum, when Hamas was absent, and the Palestinians were represented by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Yadlin said this was a good indication of Hamas's changed status.
Yadlin pointed out that both Mashaal and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh have taken a very strident stance since the summit, saying that if the isolation of Hamas did not end, there would be a "third intifada."
Hamas has recently stepped up its terrorist attacks and, according to the IDF, was behind last week's shooting attack along the Gaza security fence in which an Israeli was moderately wounded. Due to the increased arms smuggling from Sinai to the Gaza Strip by Hamas, the IDF has drawn up plans for an broad incursion there.
Hamas's presence in Riyadh presented it with a "complex situation," Yadlin said. On the one hand, Hamas does not want to place itself outside the Arab consensus, and therefore did not attack the resolution accepting the Arab peace initiative, but neither did it support the proposal.
The initiative calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, in exchange for normal relations with Israel.
Yadlin also said Syria was satisfied with the results of the summit, believing that its isolation within the Arab world had ended, and that its international isolation was weakening, as well.
The IDF believes, however, that the "greatest danger" to northern Israel currently comes from Syria, which has raised its level of alert, although forces on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights have not been beefed up. Despite the increase in the threat, the army does not have intelligence indicating that Syria plans to attack Israel, he said.
Yadlin also said there were indications of a split inside Hamas, with some within the organization believing Mashaal's positions have become too "moderate" of late. Among those taking this position were Hamas' military wing in Gaza and the former PA foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar, Yadlin said.
Hamas's military wing recently renewed its activities "very carefully," Yadlin said, adding that last week there were around 20 Kassam rockets fired from Gaza, compared to about five each week for the last few months. He attributed this increase partly to the Riyadh conference.
Regarding Iran, Yadlin said the UN's recent decision to impose additional sanctions caused concern in Teheran, but did not create the "critical mass" needed to get Iran to stop its nuclear program. The economic sanctions being pushed ahead by the US outside of the UN framework were of greater concern for the Iranians than the relatively "soft" UN sanctions, he said.