Deep pessimism alongside cautious optimism- those are the two key principles that emerge from this year's Annual Israeli Intelligence Estimate. The report will be presented to the security cabinet in several days time by IDF Intelligence Chief Major-General Amos Yadlin, but the highlights are here for you now in a Ynet exclusive report.
The aforementioned pessimism concerns Iran's nuclear ambitions. The American National Intelligence Estimate "dropped quite a bomb" on Israel's struggle against Iran's nuclear program, said officials within Israel's defense establishment. The US report only diminishes the likelihood that the international community will impose harsh, effective sanctions on Iran and also that the US itself will strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
"It is clear to us now that no one will do the work for us," one of the report's authors told Ynet, Israel can now rely solely on its own military capabilities, if and when the Iranian nuclear program achieves its aims.
The differences of opinion among the Israeli and American intelligence communities stem from different methodologies for analyzing raw data. Washington and Jerusalem are in almost total agreement regarding the known facts, as the two supply each other with whatever information they posses.
The difference therefore lies in the interpretation of that data: Israeli intelligence does not know for certain that Iran renewed its attempt to develop a weapon, i.e. the bomb itself, after it froze the program in 2003. But sources are saying that if Iran restarted its efforts in the winter of 2005/2006 to convert uranium into gas (for enrichment purposes) as well as its uranium enrichment purposes – then it is reasonable to assume that the weapons development program was also reactivated.
The fact that we do not know for certain that this was done, say sources within the defense establishment, indicates only that we do not know enough – and that Iran's attempts at concealment are effective; we must, therefore, work harder. On the contrary, the American intelligence community, after learning a bitter lesson from its experience with Iraq, is taking a stance marked by meticulousness and caution: we posses information that the Iranians did not renew attempts to develop a bomb, therefore – given the absence of solid material proving the opposite – we believe what the information we have.
The only ray of light Israeli intelligence has to offer on this issue is information that Tehran has thus far encountered multiple technical difficulties in the process of obtaining fissile weapons-grade uranium through enrichment. The time for difficult decisions will arrive, however, when Iran crosses the "technological threshold" in the enrichment process – an event which may soon come to fruition. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran may have acquired enough fissile material (5 Kg) for one nuclear bomb by 2009.
The second central conclusion reached by the Israeli intelligence community is one marked by relative optimism: Israel's strategic standing has improved over the course of the previous year. But even here, there are reservations, pointing to the also-improved military capabilities of Israel's.
In short: the threat of rockets and missiles attacks on the home front has only increased in 2007 – but the probability of a potential comprehensive assault on Israel in the next year or two has diminished.
According to military intelligence, the reasons for this are Israel's deterrent capability - which grew substantially in the last year - and positive developments in the region.
The Annapolis Conference, for example, improved the regional standing of Israel and the United States. The intelligence community expresses grave doubts regarding the ability of the peace process to bring about a Palestinian-Israeli agreement, but the conference's very existence demonstrates that regional states are willing to cooperate with Washington and Jerusalem in their efforts to neutralize the threat of extremist Islam.
Annapolis improved Israel, America's standing in region (Photo: AFP)
The political crisis in Lebanon constitutes a regional development which keeps Syria and Hizbullah occupied while complicating their position vis-à-vis the international community - decreasing the chances for war in the coming year.
According to the intelligence community's estimate, the threat from Lebanon and Syria is second only to the Iranian threat, as any armed confrontation with these nations could lead to a full-scale war. Intelligence sources say they have concrete evidence that Syria has amassed tens of thousands of missiles, heavy rockets, and Katyushas and has positioned them in sites from which they will be able to sow destruction across all of Israel, including the southern city of Beersheba. Hizbullah has also replenished its heavy rocket arsenal, which has increased quantitatively and qualitatively from what it had before the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Sanctions on Nasrallah
The good news is that Syria and Hizbullah, according to military intelligence, will not initiate an all-out attack in the coming year, as Israeli deterrent capacity has increased dramatically in the previous year for two reasons. Events in the northern arena have proven not only Israel's long range capabilities in airpower and intelligence, but also, and more importantly, they have demonstrated Israeli determination to thwart all threats and ability to make difficult and risky decisions when it comes to its defense.
The second reason for Israel's improved capacity for deterrence: Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah have analyzed the results of the Lebanon war and agreed that launching a projectile offensive against the Israeli home front will harm them and their interests more than they will harm Israel.
Iran, for example was surprised by Israel's ability to wipe out Hizbullah's entire long-range rocket arsenal in less than an hour, long before the organization could launch even a single 'Zilzal.' Furthermore - in a development published here for the first time - the Israeli Air Force was able, with the support of ground forces, to destroy all of Hizbullah's medium-range rocket launchers (220mm and 306mm) after they were used once or twice.
Tehran had, in the past, provided Hizbullah with an array of heavy rockets, to be used against Israel should Iran's nuclear facilities be struck. The near-total destruction of this launching system in the wake of the "local provocation" which Nasrallah initiated in July 2006, stirred a great anger in Iran as well as a reevaluation of its relations with Hizbullah.
Nasrallah addressing supporters (Photo: AP)
In the end Iran, along with Syria, agreed to replenish and expand the rocket array in Lebanon – but Hizbullah would henceforth have to receive explicit permission from Iran before firing a single rocket. Representatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon have now been charged with supervising the execution of these orders.
Tehran, it is believed in Israel, will only grant this permission if they believe it will serve Iran's strategic interests - highly unlikely in the next year or two.
During the last week, however, a caveat has cropped up in Israel's perception of the strategic situation: according to Israeli intelligence officials, the American National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has removed the looming threat of a possible American attack from over Iran.
Therefore, from Tehran's perspective, this deterrent rocket system in Lebanon is less essential, which means that Iran is now more likely to permit Hizbullah to initiate rocket attacks on Israel even in a situation that will serve local, Hizbullah interests rather than only the larger, regional interests of Iran.
Meanwhile, the Syrians have registered the extent of damage Israel sowed in the Shiite Dahiyeh neighborhood of Beirut and on the Lebanese road system during the war and have come to the conclusion that their national infrastructure would likely suffer irreversible damage should they instigate a war with Israel before obtaining a more reliable anti-aircraft defense system.
This, Israeli officials said, has also dampened Syrian President Bashar Assad's keenness for war. However, they said, it has prompted the Syrians to double their efforts at procuring anti-aircraft systems and new aircraft from Russia.
But even here, sources point to a serious reservation: any substantial damage caused to Syria will be considered a blow to the nation's honor by the Syrian regime.
"From their perspective, this is an account that they must settle with us," a senior security source told Ynet. "The Syrians are patient and have a very long memory; it is entirely possible that they will attempt to carry out limited revenge attacks to settle the score with us." Such a move could manifest itself in a terror attack against a Jewish target abroad, an Israeli target such as the reactor in Dimona or Damascus may order an attack through one of its proxies – Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Pressure on Gaza working
The third most serious threat, the report says, is Hamas in Gaza. It is the least critical from a strategic point of view and does not necessarily pose an existential threat. However, the intelligence ranks urged Israel to deal with it as soon as possible as – opposed to the other, hypothetical, threats – it is already wreaking havoc on the lives of Israelis in the south.
The rocket threat from Gaza will only grow next year, the officals say, as terror groups work to improve the
range and shelf-life of their arsenal.
But there are positive signs in the southern region: the military pressure and economic embargo on Gaza has led to Hamas rarely using its long-range rockets and leaving most of the missile attacks to extremist groups. Its leaders are also publicly looking for a truce with Israel and political reconciliation with Mahmoud Abbas.