Ha'aretz, October 30, 2002


By Amos Harel

The intelligence branch of the Israel Defense Forces is due to present its annual assessment to the inner cabinet today. Major General Aharon Ze'evi, director of military intelligence, yesterday presented the assessment to the defense establishment headed by Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

The assessment says Israel does not have a partner for diplomatic agreements at this stage - most certainly not in Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. There are no signs of Arafat agreeing to step down in the coming months, nor of a potential successor, the military analysts believe.

In fact, there are no signs of an end to the confrontation with the Palestinians in the coming year.

For these reasons, the IDF thinks Israel must concentrate on managing the conflict in such a way as to avoid it escalating or slipping into a conflict with other Arab countries. On this point, Ben-Eliezer expressed a difference of opinion.

He said that, despite the overall pessimism of the intelligence analysts, he considered it strategically important for Israel to show the Arabs a blueprint for peace.

"The question is not just how to manage the conflict but also how to come out of it," Ben-Eliezer said. "If we provide the Palestinians with a good, serious option, a partner might come out of this on the other side."

Ben-Eliezer thinks Israel's military action in the territories has exhausted itself.

At this point, there is no choice but to continue taking an activist role in the West Bank since this is the only means to prevent terrorists from leaving, but he does not believe the continued pressure will break the Palestinians.

Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon believes, however, that this could be the "decisive year" in which the Palestinians lose the will to continue the violent conflict. For this reason, he would like to see the IDF keeping up pressure on the Palestinians.

The most central issue of the coming year is expected to be an American attack on Iraq and its repercussions on the entire region, the military analysts say.

It is possible the operation will be put off until the beginning of next year.

Ben-Eliezer said he believed the war would have positive regional effects since other countries such as Syria and Iran would restrain their hostile intentions for fear of American action against them.

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