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Leaked Cables on Israel: IDF: U.S. and Egyptian Assistance Critical to Slow Hamas Weapons Smuggling

(February 19, 2009)

Classified U.S. diplomatic cables, leaked by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, contained details of Israel Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff MG Dan Harel's meeting with Ambassador James B. Cunnigham and senior U.S. officials, during which he said that U.S. and Egyptian assistance were critical to slowing weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

19 February 2009, 14:53
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/19/2019
Classified By: Ambassador James B. Cunningham; reasons 1.4 b/d

1. (S) SUMMARY: Israel Defense Force (IDF) Deputy Chief of Staff MG Dan Harel in a meeting with Ambassador Cunningham and senior U.S. officials said Egyptian and U.S. assistance is critical to slowing the flow of weapons and munitions into Gaza. Cooperation against smuggling is better with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman than it is with Egyptian Military Commander Field Marshall Tantawi, according to Harel. He added that the focus should not only be on the area immediately surrounding the border, but also on the smuggling routes that begin in the Sudan. He advised that solving the problem would not just a technical issue, but would be one of political will. Harel suggested that the U.S. could use its leverage against Egypt in order to prod Cairo to do more. It was important to do so soon, as HAMAS was getting more sophisticated weaponry from Iran, to include longer-range missiles. Harel assessed Operation Cast Lead's achievements and speculated about any future operations in Gaza. He noted in closing that Israel had several demands that HAMAS would have to agree to in order to have the crossings opened. End Summary.

2. (SBU) U.S. State Department officials participating in the meeting included Ambassador Cunningham, Ambassador Stephen Mull from the Office of the Under Secretary for International Security Affairs, NEA/ORA Director Michael Adler, and PM officer Constantinos Nicolaidis. Mike Dumont, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, also participated, and USDAO officer served as notetaker.

-------------------------------- TUNNELING AND SMUGGLING CONTINUE --------------------------------

3. (S) In an office call with a visiting U.S. senior official, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff MG Dan Harel said he appreciates the role of the U.S. in leading the recent effort in Copenhagen to address the Gaza smuggling problem with the international community, and reminded all that smuggling into Gaza has been a long-standing issue. Harel also stated that while Israel conducted over 500 air sorties over the tunnel complexes along the Philadelphia corridor during Operation Cast Lead, they were not so nave as to think that the tunnels were all destroyed, and indicated that since the ceasefire up to 100 tunnels have been rebuilt. Harel also pointed out that the focus on Gaza was part of a bigger campaign to address the main issue of Iranian support to HAMAS, along with Tehran,s aid to smuggling and terrorist operations across the region.

------------- ROLE OF EGYPT -------------

4. (S) In response to a query on Egyptian seriousness in stopping smuggling, Harel stated that Egyptian support was split. On the Intelligence side under Suleiman cooperation was good. On the military side, however, Field Marshall Tantawi was dragging his feet. Harel also explained that the issue was more than just a technical issue, or an ideal number of Egyptians troops along the Philadelphi; it was more about willpower. 5. (S) Harel said that fighting the problem from the last 1000 meters before the Philadelphi border is useless and we should instead address the source of weapons, which come from well-known routes beginning along the Sudanese-Egyptian border. The majority of weapons smuggling comes from the Sudan border and makes its way by land across Egypt and into the Sinai, according to Harel. A small portion comes through Yemen, and some from Lebanon, but the Israeli sea blockade forces vessels to off-load in Egypt before goods can move towards Gaza. Once in the Sinai, according to Harel, there are only four major paved roads, and Egypt could easily interdict these routes with road blocks. Harel reiterated Egypt must close the border with Sudan, control the four roads in the Sinai, and change its Bedouin Policy.

-------------- U.S. INFLUENCE --------------

4. (S) Harel said that the only real leverage on Egypt can come from the U.S. and opined it is the only country that Egypt will heed. Additionally, Harel assessed that the U.S. is the only country that can effectively lead the international community in any serious anti-smuggling efforts. Harel expressed understanding that there were legal mechanisms and protocols that must be worked out before commencing operations that include stopping ships on the high seas, but told the group that tunnels were being repaired and Iran was in the process of building a HAMAS-specific, longer-range missile that could be introduced into Gaza.

------------------------------------------- MORE SOPHISTICATED IRANIAN WEAPONS TO HAMAS -------------------------------------------

5. (S) In response to a query on the sophistication of HAMAS weapons, Harel stated that HAMAS had Chinese and Iranian made 122mm rockets with a range out to 30 kilometers. The Iranian version of the 122mm was designed specifically for HAMAS, as it came in four pieces that could fit through narrow tunnels and be reassembled in Gaza. Harel also stated that sophisticated anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) were found in Gaza, to include the Russian made KONKOURS system. HAMAS also had SA-7 surface-to-air missiles and sophisticated improvised explosive devices of all varieties. Lastly, Harel said that Israel has sensitive intelligence that Iran is constructing an additional HAMAS-specific missile, based on the Fajr, that will have a range beyond 40 kilometers.

------------------- OPERATION CAST LEAD -------------------

6. (C) Harel explained that Cast Lead actually proceeded better than expected, and there was pressure during the campaign to widen the initial objectives of the operation. Harel stated there were three options briefed to the national leadership: 1) a limited operation to achieve a better cease fire agreement, 2) the seizure of Rafah and the Philadelphi Strip, and 3) retaking Gaza and destroying HAMAS. Harel said that while the decision was made to go with the first option, there was pressure to finish off HAMAS while the IDF had the chance. He added that Israel would not have any options the next time. Harel also said that the IDF and Shin Bet (ISA) are confident that around 800 Palestinians died in the operation, with the status of approximately 200 unknown. "We have 673 names of HAMAS operatives that were killed, and the names of 288 innocents," he explained.

------------------------------------------ OPENING THE CROSSINGS AND HUMANITARIAN AID ------------------------------------------

7. (C) Harel admitted that whether the IDF wanted to be in the humanitarian business or not, the IDF was obliged by law to continue to provide humanitarian support to Gaza, and the delivery of humanitarian supplies were a daily part of Cast Lead. It was HAMAS, Harel stated, that decided to continue to shoot even during the humanitarian pauses, and the recent seizure of humanitarian supplies from UNRWA by HAMAS further proves who cares more about civilians in Gaza. In response to a question on how the international community can get Gaza,s borders open, Harel said there were several conditions -- Gilad Shalit is released; there is a cease fire agreement in place; HAMAS stops all rocket fire into Israel; HAMAS slows its force build up; and mechanisms are in place to slow the smuggling into Gaza from the Sinai. Harel further stated that Israel must control who the aid is assisting, and that Israel is not ready for the free flow of goods into Gaza.

8. (U) Ambassador Mull has cleared this cable.

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Sources: Wikileaks