Intelligence paints grim picture for Israel
JERUSALEM (AFP) â€” Intelligence agencies were to paint a bleak picture of threats facing Israel in an annual assessment on Sunday that comes on the heels of the deadliest Palestinian attack in Jerusalem in four years.
"The intelligence will paint a bleak picture of the strategic threats surrounding Israel," a senior Israeli official told AFP ahead of the report to be presented at the weekly cabinet meeting by the Aman military intelligence, domestic security service Shin Beth and the Mossad spy agency.
A defence ministry official said the report will say that arch foe Iran is operating through the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group in Lebanon and the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
"Iran's presence and threat is felt both in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank" through its proxies, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"We'll also hear about Hezbollah's rearmament and the threat it poses along Israel's northern border," he said, referring to Israeli claims that the Shiite militant group has been smuggling in weaponry from Syria since the 34-day war it fought with Israel in 2006.
Olmert said Israel was capable of confronting any menace.
"Israel can respond to all threats and can answer all the dangers and has the knowledge, courage and strength to face anything that might threaten its citizens and security," he told the cabinet.
The assessment comes just days after a Palestinian gunman shot dead eight students, mostly teenagers, at a Jewish theological school on Thursday, the deadliest such attack in the Holy City since February 2004.
Israeli police remained on a state of alert, while the army maintained a closure of the West Bank that it imposed after the shooting.
In the wake of the attack, a hardline minister called for the revocation of the residency permits of the family of the man who carried out the attack, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem with the blue Israeli identity card that allowed him free movement across the country.
"We should pass a resolution or change the law if necessary so that the family of anyone who carries out an attack... should have their residency permit immediately revoked and their homes destroyed," Eli Yishai, trade and industry minister from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said in a statement.
It was feared the attack would derail international efforts to negotiate a truce between the Israeli army and Palestinian militants and to advance faltering peace talks.
But both Israeli and Palestinian officials told AFP on Saturday that the peace negotiations -- relaunched to much fanfare in November but stagnant ever since -- will resume next week despite the violence.
The talks received a new blow on Sunday, however, with Olmert giving his approval to the expansion of the Givat Zeev settlement in the occupied West Bank to the fury of the Palestinians.
"With this decision, Israel wants to demolish the peace process and demolish the international efforts to advance the peace process," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
There has been a sharp upsurge in violence around the Islamist-controlled Gaza Strip since February 27 when an Israeli raid killed five Hamas militants, prompting a barrage of retaliatory rocket fire against southern Israel.
Since then, at least 132 Palestinians have died in Israeli attacks, including several dozen children. Four Israeli soldiers and one civilian have died over the same period.
In the past week, efforts have been underway in Egypt to work out a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants.
Senior Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad was due to travel to Cairo on Sunday to discuss the situation around Gaza.
Last week delegations from Hamas and Islamic Jihad were in Egypt for similar talks and senior US State Department official David Welch also held talks on the issue in Cairo.
AFP: Intelligence paints grim picture for Israel