Should the U.N. report on the investigation of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination implicate Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, Israel can expect escalation along its northern border, IDF Intelligence Chief Aharon Ze'evi Farkash said Sunday.
“We may witness escalation throughout the entire area,” Ze'evi Farkash said during a security briefing, adding that Israel has evidence linking Iran and Syria to last week’s violent incidents in the north.
Five senior Syrian officials are scheduled to leave for Vienna, where they will be interrogated by U.N. officials on their involvement in the Hariri murder. The final report on the matter is set to be submitted towards mid-December.
Recently Detlev Mehlis, head of the U.N. investigative committee, submitted an initial report claiming Syria has not cooperated with the committee in full; the investigation was resumed in light of international pressure.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said regarding the recent events in the north, “Hizbullah is serious when it threatens to kidnap soldiers.” The prime minister instructed Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to put the army on high alert, and warned of possible attempts to kidnap Israelis along the border and overseas.
Ze'evi Farkash said the escalation along the northern border is part of a strategic move by Hizbullah aimed at obstructing international pressure applied on Iran and Syria.
“Iran and Hizbullah are saying ‘we are still here, acting on the military and terrorist front against Israel’. Last week’s failure only motivates them to carry out acts in order to restore their dignity; acts that may include kidnappings abroad.”
Minister Meir Sheetrit inquired with the chief of staff what price the Hizbullah paid for the attacks on Israel last week.
Halutz said that the Hizbullah launched 300 rockets, and that the IDF responded with 600 artillery shots and aerial attacks, as well as strikes on infrastructure targets.
"This is the third time Hizbullah has failed, but it will definitely not stop them from continuing to attempt and abduct soldiers. They will not give up," the chief of staff stressed.
'PA beginning to deal with Gaza chaos'
In his security briefing, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz pointed to the presence of initial signs of increased security activity in the Palestinian Authority.
"This is not an all-encompassing systematic move, but there have been some arrests made, and we do identify a will by the PA to put a stop to the anarchy," Mofaz said.
"The PA and Egypt work in coordination to prevent smuggling from Sinai, including infiltrations by way of sea. Our agreements with the Egyptians are starting to show signs on the ground," he added.
Members of the security administration who participated at the cabinet meeting voiced concerns that the smuggling of weapons and the infiltration of suicide bombers from Gaza to Sinai, and then to southern Israel may continue.
The Shin Bet deputy chief reported of severe terror attack alerts, mostly in the West Bank, but in Gaza as well. He also noted that an average of 40 terror attacks continue to take place every week, most of which are "popular attacks," which include the hurling of Molotov cocktails and stabbing attempts.
However, the senior official said that the Shin Bet "has registered a decrease in the number of rocket launchings and shooting attacks."
The heads of the security establishment also reported on the current situation regarding Hamas.
The chief of IDF intelligence stated that "there is a certain economic improvement in Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority has begun addressing the chaos in the strip. These developments, together with the opening of the Rafah border crossing, may prevent Hamas from gaining power in the upcoming elections."
Referring to the al-Qaeda terror organization, Ze’evi Farkash said that while the group continues to advocate terror attacks against Western governments, "it may also operate against Arab countries such as Jordan, Syria and Egypt."