Hizbullah's preparations reinforce the intelligence estimate that a conflict in northern Israel is closer than a wide-scale conflict in the Gaza Strip. This may be one of the reasons why the IDF is not rushing into a comprehensive operation in Gaza.
Senior defense establishment officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, admitted several months ago that in terms of Hizbullah's missile arsenal, the group has closed the gaps created after the Second Lebanon War.
The annual intelligence review, presented to cabinet ministers Sunday by officials from the Shin Bet internal security service, Miltary Intelligence and the Mossad, said that the likelihood for a wide-scale Hamas attack in 2008 was slim.
However, the likelihood that Hizbullah will resume its violent acts against Israel is higher than the likelihood for an escalation on other fronts. An escalation on one front may lead to a similar situation on additional fronts.
Hizbullah monitoring IDF's movementsHizbullah fighters are closely monitoring the IDF's movements on the northern border, and have even come up with dozens of scenarios for the moment Israel acts against the organization.
According to the defense establishment, Hizbullah's plans focus both on the activity in southern Lebanon and in the Bekaa Valley.
Another estimate is that Hizbullah has decided to carry out a terror attack in response to the assassination of the group's senior official Imad Mugniyah in Damascus. Although there is no evidence that Israel was involved in the killing, the organization will seek to respond at the first opportunity it gets.
These estimates illustrate the risk in an escalation on the northern front this year, as expressed in the intelligence briefing presented to the cabinet ministers on Sunday. The IDF is preparing for such a possibility, holding a large number of exercises both among soldiers in compulsory service and among reserve forces.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that "the intelligence assessment presidents a wide picture of threats on Israel's security, from Jerusalem to Iran. We must look at reality as it is, without any illusions, and prepare for the real threats we are facing."
Barak spoke during a visit to the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, where eight students were shot to death by an Israeli Arab terrorist Thursday.
In south: Lull, with or without agreement
Barak said earlier Monday that the operational activity in Gaza would continue. According to Barak, "Whoever thinks that this is the end of the story and that there's already a truce is wrong… We haven't finished anything and the important trials are still ahead."
The minister noted that the defense establishment's goal was to stop the rocket fire at Israel and the terror emanating from Gaza, while dramatically reducing weapon smuggling into the Strip.
A ceasefire can only be considered once these things materialize, he said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also addressed the issue Monday, saying that "We don't believe in (arriving to) a situation whereby Hamas can choose when it attacks and when it doesn't in order to strengthen itself."
According to Livni, "in the Middle East, every hesitation is taken as weakness. The states in the region are testing the leadership in the international community.
She added that the problem of weapons smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip cannot be neglected.
Despite the Israeli denials, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed the existence of a truce between Israel and Hamas. "There is an agreement in principle," he told reporters following a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman.
Neta Sela contributed to this report