All of which means that unless there's a miracle and a full and stable cease-fire is in place, the government, whether eagerly or out of a lack of any alternative, will have to order the army to carry out a major operation to clean up the Strip, along the lines of the dazzingly successful Operation Defensive Wall in the West Bank in 2002. It will probably be harder and cost more casualties. The army is already preparing for the campaign and Hamas is working feverishly on its defense plans, based mainly on heavy rocket fire into Israel - dozens a day - and fortifications and trenches around the launch sites.
The West Bank: The Palestinian security apparatuses are not in control of the whole area. If it were not for Israel's regular preemptive counterterror raids, Hamas could, if it so wished and even without the use of armed force, paralyze the functioning of the Palestinian Authority. There's no chance that things will change in the foreseeable future. The Fatah movement has in fact ceased to exist, although there are still tens of thousands of card-carrying members. There is no meaningful process of resuscitation or reform under way in either the PA, or its ruling party, Fatah. In private conversations, associates of the PA chairman, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), call him "a pensioner still going to the office." For example, the Al-Amari refugee camp in the heart of Ramallah, the "capital" of the PA, has openly declared itself beyond the jurisdiction of the Palestinian police.
When British intelligence operatives asked leading members of the Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades in Nablus who their enemies were, they replied: Hamas, corruption, collaborators with Israel, and Israel itself, in that order. The militiamen, in other words, see the rotten government of Abu Mazen as more of a target than the settlers. Instead of gaining strength after the debacle in Gaza, Fatah on the West Bank is growing weaker.
The Annapolis Conference: Abu Mazen has been heard joking with his bureau staff that "after 20 years, I've gone back to being a teacher." What he means is that he finds himself engaged in long hours of explaining to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the land mines on the way to a permanent settlement. The Egyptians have already advised finding a suitable pretext to postpone the parley indefinitely. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear to all parties to the negotiations that there is no chance of agreement on a declaration that will herald even a hint of a breakthrough. If Abu Mazen compromises, he will be assailed by both Hamas and much of Fatah. If a vague statement is issued, everyone will say yet again that he has nothing to offer to his people.
The Palestinians are fuming at Rice for having trapped them in a corner and have begun to try and get out of it by renewing the talk about a "third step" in the Oslo process that was never implemented. What this means is an attempt to get more territory on the West Bank from Israel without having to reach any substantive
Lebanon: Without knowing how the grave internal crisis in this country will end, these facts are already clear: Hizballah is building a large quasi-divisional formation north of the Litani River, as part of an effort to link the Shi'ites of South Lebanon to the Shi'ite heartland in the Beka Valley, through a corridor across the Christian and Druse villages that separate the two. Syria and Iran are supplying the militia with long-range rockets, anti-tank missiles and other advanced materiel that it never had in the July 2006 war. In the area controlled by UNIFIL south of the Litani, Hizballah is also building its "nature reserves" or rocket-launching bases and underground bunkers in the mountains, quietly but unhindered, and reorganizing, on a larger scale, its deployment in the Shi'ite villages near the Israeli border. The U.N. force is simply not effective in preventing this.
Syria: Following the successful Israeli air strike at the "reactor" that they had begun building in their eastern desert, the Syrians have adopted a new "blocking" doctrine (murnana'a in Arabic). It entails avoiding war with Israel in the new future but deepening involvement in Hizballah and Hamas, creating threats and provocations by using these proxies on other fronts. In the event that Israel's patience runs out, the Syrian military is preparing an "offensive defense" - a capability of attacking the Israeli hinterland with hundreds of heavy missiles, while blocking an Israeli armored attack on the Golan Heights.
Iran: According to the evaluations of most Western intelligence services, the Iranian nuclear program will reach its "point of no return" (the production of sufficient weeapons grade uranium to make a nuclear weapon) in 2010/11, with some even putting the date as early as 2009. And there is already no doubt that in parallel to the overt program that is open to inspection there is a covert, military plan to actually make nuclear weapons, and not only to cross the technological threshhold. The time for drawing conclusions is running out.