The assessment in the Israeli defense establishment is that the first United States strike in retaliation for the attacks in New York and on the Pentagon last week, will take place within a few days. According to this assessment, the second strike wave - after attacks have been conducted against individuals and installations connected to Osama bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan - will likely include actions taken against Saddam Hussein's regime. If this happens, Iraq is likely to fire ground-to-ground missiles at Israel. At present, according to Western security estimates, Iraq has four missile-launchers and fewer than 20 missiles that have the capability of reaching Israel.

In Israel, sources believe it is less likely that Iranian targets will also be included in the first American strikes, and at the outset of what is to be a combined military, intelligence and economic campaign that will last for many months. Nevertheless, Israel is taking this possibility into account.

The security establishment is also looking at two other scenarios that could lead Iran to issue an order to Hezbollah to launch ground-to-ground missiles at Israel. One is an American decision to ignore Iranian sovereignty and to fly through its airspace - with planes taking off from aircraft carriers and army bases in the U.S., Turkey and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, en route to Afghanistan. Flights via alternative air routes would require permission from Pakistan or Russia, and almost half-a-dozen states in Central Asia.

The second scenario is an Iranian attempt to introduce an "Israeli dimension" into the conflict between America and the Islamic countries, in an effort to make it difficult for Arab and Muslim states to join the pro-American alliance.

Officers in the Israel Defense Forces estimate that if Iran does issue an order to Hezbollah to launch missiles at Israel, it will encounter Syrian opposition, since Damascus does not want to be portrayed at present as a sponsor of terror. What's more, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is under the impression, at present, that it does not serve the interests of his organization to undertake any actions.

Nevertheless, the IDF began refreshing its operational defense and retaliatory plans over the weekend. These plans include the air force, northern and home commands, as well as other forces. On the official level, defense establishment spokespeople would only say that they were following developments closely.

Early-warning signals

Israel expects to receive warning from the U.S. before the start of the military campaign, so that it will be able to take the necessary steps to confront any hostile reaction. The expected early-warning signal will be given by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and will also be passed along military and intelligence channels.

At the outset, defense establishment officials believe that the U.S. administration plans to focus on the more "distant" terror - Afghanistan and Iraq - and is prepared, therefore, to turn a blind eye to closer-to-home Palestinian terror, in an effort to win broad Arab backing.

In the upper echelons of the IDF, there has been harsh criticism in recent days of Ariel Sharon's government for not issuing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat with an ultimatum to relinquish violence and terror. There has also been criticism of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' willingness to meet with Arafat, even before the Palestinian leader has proved that he has any intention of ending terror attacks, or that he is making any effort to do so.

The view of the IDF's General Staff is that Arafat is likely to succumb to coordinated U.S.-Israel pressure if he reaches the conclusion that ending terror is the essential price of belonging to the "good" side - and a condition for meeting with Peres. Instead, he has been confronted by American and Israeli weakness, which has left him believing that he can get what he wants without paying any price, and that he has regained his bargaining power and now has room in which to maneuver.

IDF officers emphasized over the weekend that Arafat has still not ordered those groups directly under his authority, like the Tanzim and Force 17, to cease the violence, and has also refrained from demanding that Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop carrying out mass terror attacks in Israeli cities. These organization may well decide, on their own volition, not to carry out attacks that could precipitate a harsh reaction and would not advance their interests.

Arafat, however, has not lifted a finger to ensure these attacks do not take place, even though an attack in Tel Aviv would be disastrous for him, IDF sources said. The assessment in the Israeli intelligence establishment is that, despite the fact that circumstances now mitigate against suicide attacks, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will continue to try and carry out attacks of this nature in the near future.

Regarding Syria, the assessment in the defense establishment is that somewhere down the line, as part of the ongoing U.S. assault on terror, Syria will face demands to shut down the headquarters, and expel the forces, of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. The IDF has warned that accepting the U.S. position that Israel will have to come to terms with a "tolerable and acceptable" level of Palestinian violence, will encourage Hezbollah to believe that, in the eyes of Washington, this is a legitimate battle.

Broadened terror list

Contrary to the position held by the Foreign Ministry, the defense establishment is happy with the efforts to have the PLO, Tanzim and Force 17 included on the U.S. terror list. Defense officials believe that Bush's need for the support of U.S. legislators will serve as a counter-balance to his need to win the backing of the Arab nations.

During talks in Washington two weeks ago, the head of the National Security Council, Uzi Dayan, suggested establishing a world center for coordinating the battle against terror and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Dayan spoke to senior officials and military personnel in the Bush administration, who are now involved in preparations for the campaign against terror. Among them were deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, undersecretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, and deputy national security advisor, Steve Hadley.

According to Dayan's proposal, the Americans will head the center, which will include the permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as India, Canada, Israel and Germany, who will all coordinate action taken against terror, including passing legislation that will help stem the flow of funds supporting terrorism. Dayan warned his U.S. counterparts that any group - whatever its motives or goals - which believed that the end justified the means, could well move from acts of terror to the use of highly destructive weapons.

As a result of the talks, two channels have been set up between the U.S. and Israel - one for coordinating the battle against terror, between the foreign ministries in each country, and a second channel for coordinating defensive measures against the use of nonconventional weapons. On the Israeli side, this channel will be the responsibility of the defense adviser, Brig. Gen. (res.) Shaul Horev.

Dayan returned over the weekend from a visit to India, where senior officials expressed intense interest in a world anti-terror center. Dayan also spoke to his colleague, the commander of NATO forces, General Joseph Ralston, who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon when Dayan was deputy chief of staff.

Senior IDF officers who have spoken in recent days with their American colleagues encountered a deep sense of pain and insult, and a determination to strike at the terror organizations and those states that sponsor them. One of the victims of the Pentagon attack was General Timothy J. Maude, the head of the Manpower Branch of the U.S. ground forces.