Jerusalem – The IDF Intelligence Branch assesses that the Annapolis conference – which is scheduled to take place at the end of the month – will fail.
In the opinion of a number of security officials, the pessimistic forecast for the summit’s chances has greatly increased following the latest visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The discussions that are being conducted with U.S. mediation between Israeli and Palestinian teams in advance of the Annapolis conference already began a month ago, but from their earliest stages, the IDF Intelligence Branch’s assessment was that the chances of bridging the gaps between the parties’ positions were low. In the opinion of IDF Intelligence, Ms. Rice’s visit to Israel at the beginning of the week, which was intended to significantly bridge the gaps and lead to a breakthrough, did lead to slight progress in the negotiations. On the other hand, assessments were reinforced that the chances were low that the Annapolis conference would produce a political arrangement.
This is due to the short period of time remaining until the conference’s starting date, and in light of the fact that the Palestinians are demonstrating complete inflexibility in the negotiations.
Furthermore, as the positions of the parties are revealed in an increasingly clear manner, there are also growing assessments that the conference will not succeed in bridging the immense gaps.
In addition, according to updated assessments submitted in recent days to political decision makers following Ms. Rice’s visit, the IDF Intelligence Branch notes that the Palestinian leadership has made no effort to prepare public opinion for painful concessions (similar to the possibility of concessions in Jerusalem that was raised lately by Israeli leaders, in preparation for the conference).
According to the Israeli Military Intelligence assessments, the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians remain very wide on the core issues of the Israeli-Arab conflict, such as the demands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to villages from 1948 which no longer exist, along with the status of Jerusalem.
On other issues as well, such as the nature of the Palestinian security forces’ activity after the conference, there are serious gaps. The Palestinians demand the transfer of cities in Judea and Samaria under their full security responsibility. The IDF and GSS say that in light of past experience, this should not be agreed to by any means, on the grounds that every time Israel has transferred full security responsibility to PA policemen, this has led to terror attacks emanating from the area where the Israeli forces stopped operating.
Beyond this, the pessimism in the IDF Intelligence Branch also stems from the fact that Fatah, which only controls Judea and Samaria after losing the Gaza Strip to Hamas, is finding it difficult to garner the support of the Palestinian population.
Syria Expected To Attend Conference
Syria will be invited to the international conference in Annapolis, and political sources in Washington predict that it will send a representative.
In recent days, there have been intensive talks behind the scenes between the U.S. and several Arab countries about their participation in the conference, including Syria.
Representatives of the Bush Administration are not answering questions about the appropriateness of inviting a nation defined by President Bush as part of the “axis of evil,” especially in light of the fact that Syria hosts 10 groups that are listed on the U.S. government watch list of illegal and subversive terrorist organizations.
Concern Of Crisis
In Nuclear Pakistan
The internal clashes in Pakistan are worrying security officials in the U.S. and Israel, in light of the fact that Pakistan holds nuclear weapons.
A top official in the U.S. intelligence establishment in recent years visited Israel this week, and voiced concern to his counterparts at the possibility that Islamic elements would seize power in Pakistan and grant Islamic terrorist groups, headed by al-Qaida, access to the bomb.
“If I were in the U.S. administration today,” said the source, “the first question I would ask is where Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf holds the radioactive materials with which the bombs are armed.
“We know where his arms depots are and where the missiles are, but we are not sure that we know where the fissionable material is,” he said.
This week, Bruce Riedel also visited Israel. Mr. Riedel served as a Middle East affairs adviser to Presidents Clinton and Bush and served in senior positions in the National Security Council. Mr. Riedel currently works as a senior researcher in the Saban Center in Washington, where he is writing a comprehensive book about al-Qaida. He came to Israel as a participant of the Saban Forum.
Mr. Riedel assesses that if there should be an Islamic revolution in Pakistan, and a terror organization such as al-Qaida gains access to nuclear weapons, the first target for an attack will not be the U.S., it will be Israel.
“From the standpoint of al-Qaida, an attack on Israel will be no less effective, and perhaps more, than an attack against the U.S.,” said Mr. Riedel.
Iranian Bomb Predictions Debated
The director of the IDF Intelligence Research Department assessed on Tuesday in the Israel Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that if the Iranians do not encounter any particular difficulties, they will have a bomb within two years.
However, veteran members of that committee are already rather confused by the inconsistency regarding the date that the Iranians will have a bomb. In the past years, these assessments have changed many times: In 1991, various experts assessed that Iran would have a bomb by 1998. A year afterward, the director of Israel Military Intelligence assessed that within a decade – by 2002 – Iran would reach nuclear capability. The dates subsequently changed again and again, until last year the director of Military Intelligence assessed that the target date would be the beginning of 2010.
In comparison, the director of the German intelligence service predicted last year that Iran would only go nuclear after 2015.
“These are only assessments, which do not include unexpected scenarios,” said sources in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “It is important to understand that every year events happen that accelerate or slow down the process, and therefore the assessments change.”
On Friday, Israel and the U.S. will hold a special meeting-the third this year which will address a series of sensitive issues, headed by the Iranian threat.
The Israeli delegation will be headed by Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former Israel Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff, who is a member of the Israeli government security cabinet.
©The Bulletin 2007