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During the past decade, the directors of Military Intelligence in the Israel Defense Forces were in the habit of talking about the "window of opportunity" opened in the Middle East by both the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

These two "formative events" had taken Israel and its neighbors into the peace process under the leadership of the United States, which wanted to buttress its standing in the Middle East through an alliance of friendly nations. Only partial success was achieved - the window became obscured by the impenetrable curtains of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the breakdown of Syrian-Israeli negotiations.

Now the IDF's MI division has invented a new concept, the "strategic opportunities" available to Israel as a result of the new formative event - September 11. Under the leadership of two recently appointed officers - the director of the IDF's MI division, Major General Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash) and the head of research at MI, Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser - MI assessments suggest an escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, the conclusions of those assessments are optimistic. Despite difficult times along the way, the American campaign against terrorism is providing Israel with more opportunities than difficulties.

The first, and most important, opportunity is delegitimizing terrorism itself. After the Yom Kippur War - the last major Middle East conflict - terrorism became the strategic tool of the Arabs against Israel. MI now believes that Israel for a very long time misunderstood the meaning of terrorism, but today terrorism has entered an era of delegitimization, simply because it has been used against Americans.

The link that has emerged in the international community's perception between terrorism and Islam and Arabs has placed the Arab world in a seriously inferior position. This is well understood in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. The West has not accepted the attempt by Syria, Lebanon and the PA to forge a distinction between terrorism and "legitimate resistance to occupation." The Arab world is now trying to deal with this negative image - no easy task since nearly every terrorist in the world is a Muslim. The Arabs chose terrorism and now they must tackle its consequences.

The second opportunity concerns weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terrorism's "partner" in the hands of extremist regimes. The anthrax attacks in the U.S. have sharpened the recognition of the close link between these two "partners" and the international community is slowly absorbing the need for handling WMD threats which, up till now, have generally been overlooked.

America's anti-terrorism war is now in the final phase of the "second phase of the first stage" - replacing Afghanistan's Taliban regime. In the third phase the Americans will deal with al-Qaida pockets in other countries. Meanwhile, the Americans have initiated the second phase - "removing the terrorism option from the quiver of those who have until now advocated terrorism," to cite a senior MI officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is already in America's gunsight, and the Syrians too can expect heavy pressure from the Americans. Iran enjoys relative immunity because the U.S. needs it in the confrontation with Iraq and Afghanistan.

The September 11 terror attacks on the U.S. have generated a fundamental change in America's Middle East policy. The Bush administration initially sought stability as a value in itself. The administration today wants a "root canal job" that will neutralize the option of terrorism, gas or biological weapons.

Then the third stage will begin. In this stage, a thorough study will be made of the Middle East's fundamental problems that were outlined in Secretary of State Colin Powell's November 19 speech. The Arab world will be expected to reexamine its political culture and its attitude toward democracy and the rights of the individual. These are very difficult challenges.

Israel's third opportunity is built into this stage when, said Powell, the Arabs will be called on to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. However, the IDF's MI division is reminding Israel's politicians that Israel will also be expected to carry out its end of the bargain and to recognize the existence of its neighboring state - Palestine.