I received a report on Jan. 15, 2008, from an Israeli source with close ties to Olmert inner circles. I pass it along, with interest in any thoughts or feedback.
Following the Bush visit to Israel, the Israeli security cabinet met and approved, in principle, major military strikes into Gaza to uproot Hamas. A number of factors will determine whether or not this actually happens. First, the Winograd Commission, investigating the July 2006 Lebanon war, issues its final report and recommendations on Jan. 30. The Commission has already said it will not call for Olmert's resignation, but a harsh finding, pointing to his failures, above all others, could precipitate a government crisis. If Avigdor Lieberman pulls out of the government, and one other party, like Shas, also leaves, then this will force early elections.
Barak would prefer that the Olmert government remain in power through November. He is pushing the Gaza incursions, and more. The plan would be for Israeli forces to move in to Gaza in force, but also be alert for action from Hezbollah. In that case, the IDF has prepared for a new Lebanon war, this time extending into Syria. Barak needs a big military success, to take back the Prime Minister post. Bibi, for his own reasons, would prefer to see the Olmert government fall in the immediate wake of the Winograd findings, because right now, he is polling well ahead of every other candidate to be the next Prime Minister. Then he could have the war option on his watch.
The Gaza plan also considers the possibility of Iran taking some kind of action in support of Hamas, which would serve as a possible 'Plan C' trigger for combined Israeli-American military actions against Iran; actions that have been otherwise stalled due to strong Pentagon and CIA opposition. This was reflected in the National Intelligence Estimate, and more recent efforts by Admirals Mullen and Fallon to get some kind of rules of engagement agreement with Iran, to assure that no new incidents in the Straits of Hormuz lead to a direct confrontation "by accident."
While Bush was promoting a "final two-state solution" in his talks in Israel and Palestine, it may be the case that the one-year timetable involves these planned Israeli strikes against Gaza. So in Bush's jaded logic, shared by some in Israel, the path to peace is along the road of war. At least it is more consistent than pushing peace between Israel and Palestine and a war alliance of Israel and the Sunni Arabs against Iran. It's all war.
I must add, in fairness, that apart from this Israeli source, some of my Washington intelligence contacts are putting a much more positive light on the Bush trip, including his talks with Olmert and Abbas. I remain skeptical.