Syria and Hezbollah are likely to start a war against Israel next summer, according to General Staff assessments that have been gathered during a series of meetings in recent weeks.
While there is no specific estimate concerning the timing of a potential attack, all preparations are being made to ensure maximum preparedness in advance of summer 2007.
Since the lessons of the war in Lebanon have not yet been finalized in reports, it was decided to consider 2007 as an interim period, and to make decisions concerning a multiple-year force build-up only at the end of that year.
Meanwhile, two important interim decisions were made during the recent deliberations: The development, within three years, of a system capable of intercepting 220 mm. and 302 mm. surface-to-surface rockets, of the sort that Hezbollah used to target Haifa and other towns during the recent war; and to wait to make a final decision with respect to cancellation of the Merkava tank production line.
The rocket interceptor system will be developed on the basis of existing missiles, and according to future developments of these platforms.
Regarding the Merkava, an analysis of the use of tanks during the fighting in Lebanon in the July-August campaign, and particularly the performance of the Merkava Mark-4, suggests that if properly deployed, the tank can provide its crew with better protection than in the past.
The conclusion is that the Israel Defense Forces still requires an annual supply of dozens of advanced tanks in order to replace the older, more vulnerable versions that are still in service.
Also, it was decided to postpone for a year the decision made by the previous defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, on shortening the duration of military service for conscripts by four to eight months, which was to go into effect in March 2007.
Retaining the current terms of service will allow the necessary training to enable divisions to be prepared for combat and to heighten their effectiveness in battle.
The IDF would also like to relinquish control of the Home Front Command and pass on responsibility for coordinating the police and other relevant authorities to a civilian entity.
This view has been presented by the IDF to the National Security Council, which is expected to oversee this coordination.
In its evaluation of Israel's strategic capabilities for the interim and long-term, the General Staff relies on the assessments of Military Intelligence and the work of the Planning Directorate.
At the end of a series of General Staff meetings, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz designated five main areas, or scenarios, that the IDF must seriously consider:
Preparation for conflagration in the north: A war initiated by Syria or Hezbollah, separately or together, with backing from Iran. The likelihood is that such a conflagration will erupt in the next two years, peaking in the spring-summer months of 2007.
Among the reasons for tension: a growing sense of "success" among forces in the region that oppose Israel and the West.
A decision in Washington to withdraw the majority of its forces from Iraq will contribute to this atmosphere and will necessitate concentrating on the possibility that Iraq may become part of an eastern front comprising Iran and Syria. Military Intelligence estimate that there are 5,000 Katyushas in southern Lebanon, even after IDF mop-up operations there.
Asymmetric fighting: Hostile Arab states, with Syria at the lead, and paramilitary organizations, prominent among them Hezbollah, have relinquished − even before the fighting in Lebanon and as a consequence of it − the possibility of a direct confrontation with Israel.
In their view, Israel's superiority in both air and armored forces negates the chances of a major ground offensive succeeding.
Instead they have opted for a war of continuous attrition, with the deployment of infantry forces heavily equipped with anti-tank weapons, commando units, ballistic weapons and tunnel access.
In countering them, the IDF would like to develop necessary preparedness, partly overt, in an effort to deter them, or in case of failure, to achieve a significant military gain quickly, along parameters determined by the political leadership.
Terror: Continuous effort on the Palestinian front to carry out terrorist attacks, with increasingly overt direction by the Hamas government. This places a question mark over the IDF's intention, following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, to develop a working relationship with the Hamas government, aimed at achieving a long-term cease-fire.
The arming of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in recent months, and the ongoing refusal to accept the terms put forth by the Quartet (recognition of Israel, relinquishing violence, acceptance of previous PLO accords with Israel), lend weight to the adoption of an offensive strategy.
The final say on this matter belongs to the political leadership.
The expected escalation in terrorism also includes the gradual but increasing role of the global Jihadist element, and a regional movement operating in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other states affiliated with Al Qaida.
Long-range challenges: The focus here is mainly on Iran, which is considered to be a growing threat, even though it does not pose an immediate threat in the coming year. Its place on the list of priorities is relatively low, and stems from the fact that there has been no need to immediately alter the preparations of air, sea and intelligence units in dealing with it.
Advanced Western equipment in armies of the region: Aircraft, naval vessels, missiles, armored vehicles in armies whose governments have peace treaties with, or do not have immediate hostile policies toward Israel, but who could become immediate threats upon the collapse of their regime, or in-fighting over succession, and the rise of hostile regimes.
The United States will try to preserve the principle of "quality advantage" in favor of the IDF, by making available the most advanced systems to Israel, while delivering to (currently) moderate states systems lacking the more sophisticated upgrades.
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