Reflecting Israel's quandary regarding Iran, OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash) told the cabinet Sunday that while he doesn't think diplomatic efforts will stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb, he believes these diplomatic efforts must continue. Ze'evi, in his final cabinet briefing before his term of duty ends in January, said Iran has turned into a regional power and that by next September it could have the independent know-how to create a nuclear bomb. He said that having the know-how was more important than building the bomb itself, and predicted that this could come some six months after Iran begins enriching uranium, something he said could begin as early as March. It may take Iran another five or six years after it reaches this stage to actually build a bomb, he noted. "I don't see any real possibility of diplomatic efforts stopping Iran," Ze'evi said. He added, however, that the international community should not give up its diplomatic efforts, and that it should develop a common front in doing so. Although Iran is one of the major threats looming for Israel in 2006, it is not the only one, Ze'evi said. He listed a number of other major concerns for Israel, including:
A buildup of missiles in the Arab world that could strike at "the heart of Israel." This includes everything from the relatively primitive Kassam rockets from Gaza to the Iranian Shihab-3.
The rise of Islamic radicalism in the Arab world through the ballot box, from Hamas in the PA to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which recently went from 17 to 88 seats in the Egyptian parliament.
A change in the agenda of world terrorism, with a focus - in addition to Western targets - on carrying out attacks in "the heart of the Levant," i.e. Israel, Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is facing the most difficult challenge of his political life as international pressure on Syria continues to mount. The US and France are interested in creating a new reality in Lebanon, and there is concern that Assad could use Hizbullah to significantly heat up the situation on the northern border in an attempt to relieve the pressure.
The Palestinian Authority has lost effective control of Gaza, which Ze'evi said is turning into "Hamastan," while retaining control in the West Bank, which he referred to as "Fatahstan." As the PA loses control over the situation in Gaza, Israel will lose any leverage it has over events there.
On the positive side, Ze'evi said that radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad were losing some of their legitimacy, as Arab leaders such as Jordan's King Abdullah come out against terrorism.
Ze'evi also said that at present there did not appear to be any coalition of Arab states interested in waging a conventional war against Israel. He also said that Israel's ability to fight terrorism had improved significantly, and said there was a marked decrease in both terrorist attacks and casualties this year.
Ze'evi also said that Israel's position in the world has improved as a result of disengagement and that there was greater understanding and legitimacy, even in some corners of the Arab world, for Israel's actions against terrorism.
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin also provided a security briefing, and said that the PA was not a significant factor in Gaza, where "everybody does what they see fit." He said that the Palestinians were trying to carry out attacks on the security road that runs parallel to the border with Gaza. In addition, he said, they were trying to smuggle terrorists through Rafah into the Sinai, and from there into Israel through the Negev.
When asked by Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra whether the release of Marwan Barghouti from prison would strengthen Fatah's position, Diskin said that it was "not worth" talking about his release since "he is a troublemaker who causes problems." Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cut off any debate on the matter, saying that "no one is talking" about releasing Barghouti.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, meanwhile, told the cabinet that because of the security situation and continued terrorist threats Israel would not at this time start operating convoys for Palestinians from Gaza to the West Bank. According to an agreement worked out last month by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, these convoys were to begin on December 15.