While chances for all-out war with Syria in 2007 are deemed low by Israel's top intelligence officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed the defense establishment on Sunday to prepare for the possibility. The cabinet heard intelligence assessments from the Mossad, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Military Intelligence, the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry. Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin opened the briefing and told the ministers that "Israel is surrounded by negative processes... that create more instability in the Middle East than in the past."
Analysis: What the annual intelligence assessment doesn't say
Yadlin and Mossad head Meir Dagan agreed that the chances for war with Syria are low, but they differed concerning the sincerity of Damascus's calls for peace talks.
Yadlin said the chances that Syria would initiate an all-out conventional war "like the Yom Kippur and Six Day Wars" was low, although it was likely that President Bashar Assad would respond aggressively to any Israeli action along the border.
In June, IAF warplanes buzzed Assad's summer home to convey a message to Syria to use its influence with Hamas to release captive IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit. The overflight prompted no reaction from Syria, but intelligence officials told the cabinet Sunday that if such a flight was made now, it would be met with an aggressive Syrian response.
"The chances for a full-scale Syrian-initiated war are low," Yadlin told the ministers. "The chances are high, however, that Syria would respond militarily to Israeli acts."
Dagan agreed, saying in his briefing he did not believe Israel would go to war in 2007. He supported the IDF's forecast that while Syria would not initiate a war, it would respond to Israel operations. He refrained from elaborating, but officials said that war could erupt in response to a renewed conflict with Hizbullah or to IDF action in Syria.
"I want us to be ready, even in the areas where the probability for a conflict are low," Olmert told the ministers, adding that in the next few weeks, he plans to begin a series of security consultations on practical conclusions drawn from the annual intelligence assessment.
Military Intelligence warned the global Jihad movement saw Israel as a target, and that Sunni-Shi'ite tensions could spread throughout the region.
While discounting chances of an all-out Middle East war, Mossad officials warned that a premature US pullout from Iraq could trigger chaos there and throughout the region.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said a Palestinian unity government would not end the friction between the Hamas and Fatah. The agency said there was also no chance that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would rein in terrorist organizations like Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
The Foreign Ministry representatives warned that Islamic radicals were trying to inflame the Arab world, and this could trigger violence in the region. The US was trying to correct an image of weakness, brought about by its failure in Iraq, by promoting Arab moderates, while Russia was trying to re-establish its influence in the region, they said.
Military Intelligence and the Mossad accused Iran of leading an axis of evil in the Middle East and of aiding anti-Israel terrorist groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah.
Olmert said the Islamic Republic was further than it claimed from crossing the nuclear technological threshold but "closer to it than Israel would prefer."
AP contributed to the report.