Reprinted from "Yediot Ahronot", July 10, 1998
MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE:
THE CHANCE OF WAR NEXT
IS GREATER THAN IN THE PAST
By Ron Ben-Yishai
Military Intelligence is currently preparing a situation analysis for next year. At this stage, before it is officially reported to the political echelon, a worrying picture is emerging. Military Intelligence's opinion is that if the political deadlock continues, the chance of war in the coming year is very high. The Palestinians are training special units to attack settlements. The Syrians are arming themselves with protected ground-to-ground missiles and very accurate long-range anti- tank missiles. It should be remembered that last year Military Intelligence estimated that the chance of war in 1998 was low.
On the Golan Heights, the season's colors are changing from green to brown and black and the IDF Intelligence Branch, as in every year, is beginning to work on the national situation analysis for the coming year. According to all signs, this one will be far more worrying than the situation analysis prepared for the current year. Last summer, the officers at Military Intelligence's Research Department estimated that the chance for war during 1998 was low: No large-scale military clash with Syria, and neither Iraq nor Iran presented a serious danger.
Since this prognosis has so far been met in full, it is worthwhile for the government to listen carefully to the intelligence community's evaluation for 1999: Military Intelligence's main message is that the chance for war in 1999 has risen dramatically. If the political deadlock continues, there could be a large-scale eruption with the Palestinians and maybe the Syrians as well. Both of them are making very concrete military preparations for this confrontation. The Palestinians are ready for action now.
The GSS and Military Intelligence are convinced that Arafat will avoid violence as long as there is a chance to make progress towards a Palestinian state more or less along the lines of June 1967. He will initiate violence only if he is convinced that an unsurmountable obstacle is blocking his path to the objective. This could happen, for example, if the Americans throw up their hands. This, by the way, is the reason that the Americans, despite their threats, have not pulled out of the negotiations. They know well that if they let the parties stew in their own juice -- this juice will become very bloody very fast. In effect, the only channel of discussion open between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the channel of commanders in the field.
But even if the peace process totally collapses, the IDF and GSS do not expect immediate violence in the territories. The evaluation is that Arafat will first find an opportunity to isolate Israel in the international arena and only then, when Israel is on the defensive and at a low point in international opinion, will he give a green light to violence. Thus he will also guarantee, in effect, that the IDF will not dare to enter territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
D-Day, as has been written in many places, is May 1999, when Arafat is expected to declare the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The violence, if it comes, will be operated by three arms. The first arm is the Palestinian street, in which PLO activists -- mainly under the command of Jibril Rajoub in the West Bank and by Mohammed Dahalan in Gaza -- are expected to operate. Reliable sources in Israel say that the "al-Naqba" (the Palestinian catastrophe) events 1.5 months ago were "a model exercise" for activating the street by Rajoub and Dahalan's networks.
The second arm that the Palestinian Authority will activate in the event of a "low intensity war" are the armed units: the police and security personnel -- 36,000 men in all. It is known that a number of Palestinian security units have already held planning sessions and even practiced attacking settlements in the territories. The Palestinian Authority has anti-terrorist special units, which receive training from Austria and other European countries. These units are apparently intended to attack settlements. Force 17, Arafat's personal guard, too, could be called to carry out these operations.
The third arm, Hamas, is not under Arafat's control, but is trying to coordinate with him, rather than confront him and his people. In the event of the collapse of the peace process, Arafat could give them the green light, as he has done in the past.
A professional argument recently broke out among the GSS and Military Intelligence experts: the GSS claims that Hamas has no terrorist policy, while the men of its military arm carry out attacks whenever they can gather the necessary means. Military Intelligence believes that there is a clear policy behind the attacks and that decisions are taken by the "Shura" (the Religious and Political Leadership Council). The military arm carries out the policies according to the instructions given it, although it has the authority to determine location, means and timing. The argument has not been settled, but it is now known, for example, that there are orders by the Shura (most of whose members sit abroad) to the activists in the field to carry out suicide bombings in revenge for the assassination attempt on Khaled Masha'al.
The accident that happened to Mohi a-Din Sharif foiled the plan, and now there is a new attempt to carry it out, in order to avenge Mohi's own death as well. Hamas activists in the West Bank are currently facing difficulties, and it is possible that the mission will fall on the operatives in Gaza.
Syrian President Hafez Assad has not yet finished off the peace process, but his army is energetically planning three possible military scenarios:
1. A surprise Syrian attack on the Golan heights in order to shake up the peace process (Syria initiates).
2. A military confrontation in southern Lebanon similar to Operations "Accountability" and "Grapes of Wrath", in which the Syrian Army will intervene (Syria does not initiate, and even pressures Hizballah to avoid a confrontation, but its army will react if attacked).
3. An Israeli military attack on Syria, either directly on the Golan Heights or in southern Lebanon (Syria fears an Israeli scheme to seize back the cards in the Middle East and deploys to repel it).
Since Syria's economy is in trouble, the Syrian military is now investing most of its resources in two long-range arms -- ballistic missiles and anti-tank missiles. Ballistic missiles proved their worth, in Syria's opinion, in the Gulf War. The Saggers' success in southern Lebanon convinced them of the importance of anti-tank missiles.
The Syrians are now arming themselves with two brigades of mobile SCUD missiles (based on the Russian standard): a brigade of SCUD-B whose maximum range is 280 kms. and can reach Tel Aviv, and a brigade of SCUD-C whose range is 550 kms. and can reach targets in Israel as far south as Dimona. Each brigade has 18 launchers. Syria assembles the more accurate SCUD-C itself from parts sold by North Korea. When the armament program is completed, the Syrians will have the ability to launch 36 SCUD missiles (of both types) in one blow. They have no lack of missiles: according to foreign sources, the Syrians already have some 200 SCUD-B and 100 SCUD-C missiles. In addition, the Syrians also have short-range missiles such as the FROG and SS-21 (60-120 kms. range). These are old and inaccurate missiles, but taken together, the Syrians will very soon have a real capability of hitting all parts of the State of Israel with nearly 50 missiles at a time.
The Syrians are aware of the Israel Air Force's enhanced capabilities to damage their missile arrays, and of the Americans new bunker-penetrating bombs. Therefore, their really big dollars have been recently invested in protecting their missile launchers. According to foreign sources, they have recently begun putting their SCUDs into deep and sophisticated underground hangars and bunkers, dug into the hills and mountains east and south of Damascus.
The intent now, it appears, is that even the newest and most modern weapons cannot penetrate the new shelters. In contrast, Syrian missile brigade personnel can bring out the launchers quickly, fire the missile and return inside without being exposed to detection and attack from the air.
Another effort being made is to strengthen the missiles' attack capability. As of yet, the Syrians do not have missile warheads containing VX gas, but soon they will be able to drop bombs from the air with this lethal agent. This, according to foreign reports.
Alongside ballistic missiles, the Syrians, as stated above, are developing anti-tank missiles. The Syrians are aware of the technological superiority of Israel's tank fleet, which can fire and accurately hit a target while moving and at long ranges. Though Syria possesses a large tank fleet (about 4,000 tanks of all types), it is outdated. Therefore, the Syrians searched for a solution that would both enable them to overcome the technological inferiority and be cheap and available. Russia and Ukraine offered them nearly perfect solutions.
The first deal in this sphere was the upgrading of 300 outdated T-55 tanks in Ukraine. In the tanks sent to Ukraine (and which have already been returned), the old gun barrel was replaced with a new -- smooth -- one, to enable firing both shells and AT-10 anti-tank guided missiles, which have a range of about 4 kms. This is a change which greatly improves the range and does not require a gunner with a high professional level. Another change that the Ukrainians made in the Syrian tanks was the installation of "reactive armor" plating: this armor contains a small amount of explosive which detonates on impact and destroys the shell or device striking it.
When Israel protested to Ukraine over the aid to the Syrians, the Ukrainians promised that after this deal there would be no additional upgrade deal. Recently, though, according to Russian professional journals, Syria has been trying to make a deal with a Russian plant to upgrade its T-72 tanks.
The most worrisome procurement move now for the IDF, though, is the Cornet missile deal signed recently between Russia and Syria, and which is already in the implementation stage. The Cornet is an anti-tank guided missile whose range -- 5.5 kms. -- is greater than that of any American surface anti-tank missile.
When this missile becomes operational in Syria in several months, Syrian soldiers will -- for the first time in many years -- have a good capability of contending with Israeli tanks at long firing ranges. Israel will lose an important advantage. This missile also has unconventional penetration ability. Its double warhead also enables it to penetrate reactive armor, with which Merkava tanks are equipped.
The picture of the Syrian deployment would not be complete without mentioning the fact that the Syrians have recently tightened cooperation with the Lebanese army.
The changes that Assad made in the top echelons of his army last week do not necessarily indicate that he is making preparations for a military confrontation with Israel. However, the retirement of general-politician Hikmat Shihabi and appointment of Ali Aslan, a field commander, to replace him as chief-of-staff, could certainly signal that, from Assad's standpoint, the political window is closing.
The Egyptian army will next year complete the process of becoming a modern, western military. If it joins a coalition against Israel, it is capable of causing the IDF a pile of trouble. Even today, the Egyptian navy is larger, better equipped and more modern than the Israeli navy. Recently, the U.S. administration approved the sale to Egypt of Harpoon long-range sea-to-sea missiles, which are meant to be fired from F-16 aircraft and from submarines. These missiles, which in Israel are stationed only on missile boats, pose a considerable danger to the Israeli navy's freedom of action. The Egyptian army employs modern, American Abrams A-1 tanks, which are manufactured in Egypt as well, and the Egyptian air force flies F-16 planes and is already dreaming of the F- 15.
The supervision and sanctions regime on Iraq is liable to be considerably relaxed beginning next October, when UNSCOM decides whether it is closing several outstanding "files" against Saddam's regime. The atomic weapons file, for example. If UNSCOM decides to close a file or two, the Security Council will ease the sanctions and the supervision regime on Iraq, and then it would be almost certain that Saddam would immediately begin (if secretly) the process of procurement and production that would restore to Iraq the non- conventional capability it lost during and after the Gulf War. The assessment is that it would take Iraq between 2-5 years to restore its capability.
In 1999, Iran will, according to forecasts, achieve a breakthrough in developing ballistic missiles of its own manufacture. Iranian and Russian scientists will complete development of the 1,500 km. Shihab-3 missile, and will begin test firing it. At the same time, they are developing chemical and biological warheads for this missile. The only consolation is that the experts do not foresee a breakthrough for Iran in the nuclear sphere next year.