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2007 - A Time Of War Or A Time Of Peace?

Will Israel Be Embroiled In Yet Another Time of War or Celebrating a Diplomatic Breakthrough Toward Peace?

By Guest Contributor, C. Hart | January 14, 2007

Israel is taking the global lead to put international pressure on Iran with shuttle diplomacy to countries like China, Japan, and South Korea, hoping the end result will be a stronger consensus in the UN Security Council for tougher sanctions against Iran's nuclear ambitions. Israeli leaders also seem to have another agenda in mind. It's likely they are garnering support for future military action against Iran if greater diplomatic sanctions fail.

Looking at other potential hot spots on Israel's borders, military leaders of Israel's Defense Forces (the IDF) are setting their budgets and improving troop preparedness for 2007. Since the Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, Israeli leaders have been re-evaluating, improving, and learning from mistakes made during the 33 day clash with Hezbollah's terrorist army. Additional training of combat units and equipping emergency storehouses is part of defense planning as troops get ready for the next confrontation.

Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert and others in his government are convinced that diplomacy will win over military action. However, there is limited optimism within the general public, with many citizens feeling Olmert's government has let them down, and 85% believing that Israel's current leadership is corrupt. World leaders also recognize Israel's weakness in political power, wondering how the Jewish state can further Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations when Olmert, himself, is under criminal investigation.

War on Israel's northern front with Hezbollah and possibly Syria is expected by the spring or summer of 2007. Clashes on the southern front with Hamas and Palestinian terrorist groups may come even sooner. Looming on the horizon is the grave possibility of conflict with Iran.

According to former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, ever since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel's military intelligence wants to show that it is taking into account worse case scenarios.

"I think the main factor in deciding whether there will be war or peace, unfortunately, is Iran. If it suits Iran's interest to heat up the Syrian front, it might heat up, and Syria is now re-equipping itself with lots of Iranian money, and it certainly is setting the stage for an enhanced Syrian military capability," said Gold.

One of the problems for Israel has been deterrence. Before the recent Lebanon war, Israel was able to deter Syria and Hezbollah from taking action against Israeli troops on the border. However, Meir Degan, the head of the Mossad, made a rare appearance at Israel's Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in December, indicating that the Syrians are not as deterred by Israel as they were before. This stems from the fact that Syria, along with other Arab nations, thinks Israel lost the war in Lebanon. This so-called defeat has boosted support for Syria's President Bashir Assad who has ordered his military to expand its forces along the border with Israel.

Syria continues to re-supply Hezbollah with Iranian missiles, shipping truckloads of long-range and anti-tank missiles into Lebanon, in direct violation of UN resolutions, while the global community looks on and does nothing. Learning from Israel's setbacks during the summer war, Syria knows that antitank missiles can penetrate the IDF's Merkava tanks, forcing soldiers to abandon their positions and run for cover. Syria is reportedly building death houses along the border, hoping that it can trap Israeli soldiers in any future confrontation.
Hezbollah is already threatening UN troops in southern Lebanon, determined to re-gain control of the south. The Iranian-backed terrorist army has re-supplied itself with enough rockets to hit deep into Israeli territory. Additional assessments indicate that Hezbollah may be preparing to fire missiles at Israeli military intelligence aircraft. The aircraft fly daily sorties over Lebanon in order to secure data on Hezbollah's cease-fire violations. If Hezbollah does try to strike at these low flying planes this would start a new war with Israel. Some Israeli officials claim that the "address" for an IDF military response would be Syria, not Hezbollah.

Assad is continuing to fortify his military and diplomatic ties with Iran and Iraq. By allowing terrorist leader Khaled Mashaal to control Hamas actions in Gaza directly from Damascus, Assad has further solidified Syria's terror alliances, worrying Israeli officials. Moreover, if Assad cannot get Israel to give up the Golan Heights peacefully, it's predicted he will look to do so through military action. Some Israel officials are critical of Olmert's current policy not to deal diplomatically with Syria, which is also the current policy of America's Bush Administration.

According to Gold, who is current president of the Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs, "In the case of Bashir Assad, I think he simply wants a certificate from the state of Israel that he's O.K., and use that to improve his relations with the west. But, he wants to also obtain his option of using force against Israel, and against American troops in Iraq; and, I don't see why we should give him the Good Housekeeping seal by meeting him in Geneva for some kind of negotiations."

There's a debate in Israel about whether Assad is serious about making peace with Israel. Those who want to give up the Golan Heights feel that Israel has become a banana republic simply accepting Washington's positions. Those who want to retain the Golan Heights, because they think it is strategic for Israel's security concerns, are satisfied with current Israeli and U.S. policies.

While the debate goes on, Members of the European Parliament (MEP's) have held meetings on EU-Syrian relations, hoping to break the Iranian-Syrian axis by luring Syria into economic incentives. Looking at past situations, Gold doesn't think that trying to help Syria out of its current isolation will be effective.

"You can try, but what will get Syria to change its behavior, carrots or sticks? When I say sticks, I'm not saying military sticks. I'm saying, pressure of sanctions; threats of sanctions; diplomatic isolation. I believe that sanctions and threats work. During the 1990's, Syria received carrots every day, and we didn't get Syrian behavior to change....Syria has a lot to lose if it jettisons its relationship with Iran."

While many eyes are watching for Bashir Assad's next move, more eyes are focused on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not only is Ahmadinejad repeatedly calling for Israel's destruction, he is also in defiance of UN sanctions, as he belligerently continues to expand his uranium enrichment program. His attempts to "go nuclear" could be achieved by mid-2009, according to Israeli military intelligence.

Israeli officials have gathered data on Iran's nuclear program which they continue to share with global leaders. Recently, NATO defense officials expressed an interest in seeing this information, a sign that NATO may be quietly strengthening its forces to help Israel in any future war with Iran.

If UN sanctions don't work, and global efforts to put effective pressure on Iran are limited because of intervention by certain nations within the UN Security Council, Israel may proceed with military action, or wait for the U.S. Administration to form a unified coalition outside the realm of UN approval.

Gold's assessment is, "Don't depend on the UN Security Council when it comes to vital national security interests, because you are just giving a veto power to the Russians, the French, or anybody else who has a problem with American interests." Gold feels that the U.S. should put together a sanctions regime based on NATO countries and Japan, hoping that whoever ends up outside the umbrella of sanctions will not have sufficient strength to collapse the entire effort.

One of the risks involving Iran going nuclear is the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons and bombs throughout other states in the Middle East region. Already, moderate Arab countries are trying to unite in their efforts to obtain nuclear capability... more as a response to Iran's threat than in regard to their own interests. In light of the global community's appeasement and current unwillingness to confront Iran, militarily, these Arab nations are implementing what they believe are necessary precautions against a Persian take-over of the Middle East.

British MEP, Charles Tannock, believes that Iran clearly poses a formidable challenge to western powers. "Ahmadinejad Is trying to maneuver himself to become the leader of the Moslem world, and bridge the Sunni and Shiite divide. This is causing huge anxieties in the moderate Gulf Arab states. It's a very worrying trend. Everybody recognizes it. It's probably the biggest threat to international security right now."

Paulo Casaca, another member of the European Parliament, believes it is a clear mistake to think of the Iranian bomb in isolation. He explains that it is only part of the global threat that the Islamic regime is posing to the civilized world. "The bomb is being prepared in tandem with the expansionist agenda of the regime. The terrorist moves promoted by the regime and its proxies, both in Lebanon and in Iraq, have two immediate objectives: (1) to make a direct threat to Israel's territory, and, (2) to put the entire Gulf region under its command, therefore, being able to impose prices on oil and gas in concert with others."

Should Iran obtain nuclear weapons, it will have the capability of providing a nuclear umbrella to terrorist organizations in the future. As Iran seeks to dominate the Middle East, persistent in its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, as well as long-range missiles that have the capacity of reaching Europe and eventually the U.S., the issue is increasingly taking front and center stage within the global community.

Right now, many Israelis are hoping for a change in their government leadership as they go through a time of healing after the Lebanon War of 2006. The question remains, will 2007 find citizens of this nation embroiled in yet another time of war, or celebrating a diplomatic breakthrough toward a time of peace? Signs are pointing toward the former scenario.

C. Hart is a 25-year veteran journalist in print and broadcast media, living in Israel since 1995, reporting on political, military and diplomatic issues in the Middle East.