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An Israeli decision not to attend next week's summit in Annapolis or the summit's failure could lead to a further decline of the security situation in the Gaza Strip, military representatives said at yesterday's meeting of the security cabinet.

"If we don't go to Annapolis and the status quo is maintained, there will be chaos in the territories," one of them said.

According to intelligence assessments presented in the session, the position of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is weak, and he will have a hard time meeting his security obligations.

"Abu Mazen and [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad will disappear and Iran and Hamas will fill the vacuum," the officials said.

The head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, warned that preserving the status quo could give more encouragement to the "one state for two peoples" idea that is gaining popularity in Europe. He said that this is part of a process of delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Major General Ido Nachoshtan, head of the Plans and Policy Directorate of the Israel Defense Forces, presented a mapping of Israel's security interests. He noted that "it's important to go to Annapolis now because the American administration is 'invested' in the process and [President George W.] Bush sees these things through a military prism. It's hard to know what will be important to the next administration so it's important to do it now."

"If after the summit there is no positive development and Abu Mazen doesn't get stronger, Hamas could 'leak' from Gaza into the West Bank and fortify existing terror cells there," an intelligence official said.

IDF officers and Shin Bet officials presented day-after scenarios at the meeting, provoking criticism from some ministers.

"You can't say that if the status quo is maintained that would be bad, and if there is a [peace] process it will also be bad," Vice Premier Haim Ramon said. "You can't have it both ways. The political leaders must make a decision, and in every decision there are risks, but also opportunities."

Other minister criticized the military representatives, telling them, "You need to execute policy, not set it. According to what criterion do you decide that it's a failure?"

A confrontation broke out during the meeting between Ramon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "We mustn't allow ourselves to be accused of failure at Annapolis because we didn't make enough concessions to the Palestinians," said Barak.

In an implicit reference to Ramon's support for discussing at the summit the future of Jerusalem, the state's borders and the refugee issue, Barak said, "Even around this table there are those who are contributing to our being blamed for stubbornness."

Ramon responded, "If we had offered the Palestinians half the things presented at Camp David, but with serious consideration and responsibility, we could go to Annapolis with a document with an agreement on the core issues. Every time we fail to offer what was offered in Camp David, we appear stubborn."

Close coordination

"I am in much greater coordination with the prime minister and the foreign minister than it would seem from the newspapers, and no less than the best periods of work in the cabinet," Barak told Haaretz last night.

"Some are attacking me from the left, others on the right. The real difference is that I am responsible for security, and it carries obligations. I don't think the prime minister and the foreign minister are unaware of this, and there are meetings and updates on everything, and an attempt to reach a common goal through understanding.

"I think Annapolis is the right thing," Barak said. "The dialogue is desirable for examining the possibility of going toward an agreement. It is also the cabinet's moral duty to the country's fighters and citizens." But he added, "There is a similar duty to do it in a reasoned manner, out of responsibility for security."

Regarding the freezing of construction on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Barak said the cabinet's position is known: No new settlements or large developments should be built, but construction in the large blocs will continue.

The cabinet is committed to evacuating illegal outposts, he added. "We are a law-abiding state, and we will do it, there is no doubt of that."

Armored vehicles for the PA

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved last week the transfer of 25 Russian-made armored vehicles to the PA security forces, despite overwhelming opposition from military officials.

A senior official in Jerusalem said that for now the armored vehicles will be used by the forces that were deployed recently in Nablus and are responsible for the city's security during the day.

The transfer was approved about three years ago by then prime minister Ariel Sharon and his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, and again by Mofaz's successor, Amir Peretz. Russian President Vladimir Putin had requested permission to deliver 50 armored vehicles to the PA, but they were never delivered. A few weeks ago Abbas repeated the request to Israel and Russia. Olmert approved the request as a gesture before the Annapolis summit.

Shin Bet and IDF sources described the transfer as "dangerous," mainly because of the possibility that the vehicles will fall into the hands of terror organizations, as happened after the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that no strategic threat is involved.

"We're not building the Palestinians a nuclear reactor," a senior aide said. "These are armored vehicles for protection against light arms fire, and to help the Palestinians impose order. If there's a need, as there was in the past, Israel will have no problem destroying the vehicles within a short period of time." Additional gestures to the PA ahead of Annapolis include the scheduled release on Sunday of 441 Palestinian prisoners and the renewal of some agricultural exports from the Gaza Strip to Europe.