'2006: A year of escalation'
According to Military Intelligence forecasts for 2006, Assad's regime in Damascus could collapse by end of year, international jihad coming closer to Israel, Hizbullah Chief Nasrallah's tendency to take risks increasing, and Iran making progress to obtaining nuclear weapons; on the bright side: Calm expected to continue, strategic situation reasonably good
A senior official in Military Intelligence has warned that 2006 will see a number of escalations on all of the fronts, and has delivered a pessimistic forecast.
"The coming period won't be stable, and escalation is expected in the north, due to Hizbullah operations, from mistaken judgments of Bashar Assad, or maybe from the global Islamic Jihad operations; on the Iranian front, we could be heading for a crisis in March after Iran will renew its enrichment program; and on the Palestinian front – formally at least, the calm in the territories ended yesterday. From this point, some of the restraints are being lifted, and others may be lifted after the (Palestinian) elections," the source said.
"In the short term, Military Intelligence's main message is that 2006 may take the form of escalation and deterioration. However, the important question is whether Israel's strategic environment is comfortable, and our general approach is that it indeed is. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, and Libya's disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, and another, long series of steps, a better strategic situation has been created for Israel in the long term," said the official.
'Assad could fall this year'
According to Military Intelligence, Assad's 'chair' is not very stable.
"Bashar Assad's regime is in danger. The earthquake he is going through is very strong, and he lost some of his regime's power sources, including the interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, who I believe really did commit suicide, and Vice President Halim Khadam. The end of the regime could be near, and we can't rule out the possibility that it will happen this year. If we wake up tomorrow morning and hear that someone is offering to replace Bashar in Damascus, we won't be struck by shock," said the senior officer.
"On the other hand," he added, "the situation is not so simple. Bashar doesn't have any real alternative, and there are no potential powerful elements who intend, or are able, to take over from him, and therefore this situation helps him guard his authority. All of the elements in Syria, due to this lack of alternative, fear the chaos that would reign in Syria with Bashar's departure, and therefore the international community sees Bashar's remaining in power as a certain type of solution, while it keeps up measured pressure on him. The question is, what will Bashar do during the moment of truth – will he sacrifice one of his associates, thereby allowing his regime to survive, or will he make another foolish mistake which will cause everything to collapse, like another dramatic assassination, or something of this type. Because he doesn't have any real alternatives, it’s not clear that his regime will collapse in the end."
International Jihad is coming closer to Israel
The Intelligence source said that "Nasrallah is under heavy pressure over the identity of the Hizbullah as a fighting organization. His tendency to take risks is increasing, but in his view these are calculated risks. Nasrallah wants a 'controlled escalation,' and he sees the northern front as a controlled front in which Israel will not 'go mad.'"
The recent Katyusha attack on northern Israel, which was claimed by a jihad group identifying itself with al-Qaeda, presents another gloomy picture.
"We are in the midst of a fundamental change, as the international jihad heads in the direction of the countries of the Levant, and especially Israel," said the source.
He added: "If, in the first four years of the intifada, the same global jihad was not supposed to deal with Israel, because of the massive involvement of local terrorism, the calm has created a vacuum, being filled by the global jihad itself. Israel has turned into a target for the international jihad, and threats take a number of forms – the firing of rockets or other weapons, or a mega-terrorist attack such as a strike on Jewish and Israeli centers around the world. Therefore, Israel must prepare intensively for the new threat created during this period."
The Iranian front does not draw positive forecasts either: "Iran's ambition to reach military nuclear capabilities in order to increase the regime's survival outlook and influence on the area is clearer than ever," said the officer. Iran's mischief has been most successful, the breaking of the Paris protocol from 2003, and the conversion of uranium to the UF6 gas. From here, Iran has a few tons of material which have yet to be enriched but which can be used in the future to create bombs. We fear that Iran is going to repeat the same during the enrichment process," said the officer, who added that Iran is "not currently feeling the pressure" at the prospect of facing heavy sanctions.
'Calm expected to continue'
The coming Palestinian elections have raised the temperature to a boiling point, with many Fatah officials calling for a delay.
"I tend to think that the elections will take place, and (PA Chairman Mahmoud) Abbas is committed to this," said the official.
"The calm is over from a formal perspective, but the interest of most of the elements is to keep the status quo. Hamas' interest will not change, especially if it wins the elections. Therefore, in our view, in the next half a year, we will see a lot stamping and waiting. There will be elections in the territories, afterwards they will wait for a new government to be formed in Israel, and that will be six months gone," said the officer.
He added: "Abbas, even more than Bashar, has fewer alternatives. His agenda, which is opposed to Hamas, has widespread popular support. He may face problems if he can't function in the Palestinian political system, which would then be paralyzed.
The officer concluded by saying that "2006 will not be a decisive year, but there will be many small and important events."