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Leaked Cables on Israel: U.S. Envoy Discusses Security Concerns with Israel

(December 20, 2007)

Classified U.S. diplomatic cables, leaked by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, contained details of a December 18, 2007, meeting between U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Security retired General James L. Jones and an Israeli delegation including Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff Ashkenazi and members of the General Staff, Foreign Minister Livni, and Israel Security Agency Head Diskin. Discussed during the meeting were Israel's concerns about the security impact of a two-state solution and the range of regional threats Israel faces.

20 December 2007, 16:21:00
S E C R E T TEL AVIV 003586
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/19/2017
Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones, Reason 1.4 (b) (d)

1. (S) Summary. Special Envoy for Middle East Security, retired General James L. Jones, met with Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff Ashkenazi and members of the General Staff, Foreign Minister Livni, and Israel Security Agency head Diskin December 18. In all of his meetings, General Jones described his mandate as developing a security plan to address the needs that will arise from the establishment of a Palestinian state, factoring in the equities of Israel and other regional partners. He made clear that he will not be involved in monitoring the implementation of Phase One of the Roadmap, as has been reported repeatedly in the Israeli press. Barak and PM Olmert set the tone, offering full cooperation and support for Jones' work. In each meeting, the Israelis described their concerns about the security impact of a two-state solution on Israel due to Israel's small size and population, the heavy concentration of Israel's population and economic centers along the narrow coastal plain, their lack of confidence in the Palestinians' security capabilities, and the range of regional threats Israel faces. At the same time, most of them reiterated their support for an agreement with the Palestinians and progress toward a two-state solution. FM Livni emphasized that she did not look at security issues with a view to finding an excuse not to move forward. Rather, she felt it essential to look at security issues so that implementation of the two state vision could be done "the right way." General Jones indicated that this was an introductory visit and that he plans to return to discuss the issues in greater detail following the January visit of President Bush. Olmert indicated that he and Barak planned to assign a senior IDF defense expert, probably MG Ido Nechushtan, to serve as a liaison to General Jones. DAO will report in detail in their channels the strategic threats briefing provided by MG Nechushtan to General Jones. End Summary.



2. (S) General Jones' GOI meetings began with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was joined by IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and most of the MOD and IDF senior staff. General Jones was accompanied by the Ambassador, Army Attache, and PolCouns. After introducing the MOD and IDF senior staff and explaining their responsibilities, Barak observed that seen from a narrow focus on Israel and the Palestinians, Israel appears to be much the stronger party, but once the focus is expanded to cover the array of regional threats to Israel, Israel is the party that is threatened with extinction. The role of the IDF, he said, is to prevent that from happening. The triad of nuclear proliferation, Islamist terrorism, and rogue states poses a gathering threat. The IDF is engaged in daily clashes with Palestinian terror organizations, some of which are guided from Syria and supported by Iran. Hezbollah and Syria have growing ground-to-ground missile capabilities directed against Israel, but Israel had just dealt with an even more serious threat from Syria. On Iran, Barak said Israel differs with the latest National Intelligence Estimate, but he did not elaborate.

3. (S) Turning to the negotiations with the Palestinians, Barak said there would only be minor modifications of the 1967 borders. Israel would need to retain the settlement blocs around Jerusalem and in the northern West Bank, but give up the other settlements. Since the Palestinian border would only be nine miles from the sea, Israel's security margin would require that the Palestinian state be demilitarized. Israel would retain control of the air space, as well as military access to the Jordan Valley for years to come. Gaza would have to be part of any solution, he noted, it could not be left as a separate entity for which the Palestinian government was not responsible.

4. (C) General Jones reviewed his military career, including a number of visits to Israel and interactions with the IDF. He noted that since retiring as NATO Supreme Commander and USEUCOM Commander in February, he had worked on a project involving the national security implications of energy issues for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as writing a report for the Congress on the Iraqi security services. Secretary Rice had then asked him to come back part-time to develop a security plan for a Palestinian state that would take account of regional equities. He stressed that monitoring the Roadmap is not in his mandate. Barak offered the MOD's full support, noting that he would be clear about Israel's security needs.



5. (S) IDF J-5 MG Ido Nechushtan, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff MG Dan Harel, and Israel Defense Intelligence head Amos Yadlin escorted General Jones, the Ambassador, Defense Attache, and PolCouns to the helopad on the roof of the Ministry of Defense tower in downtown Tel Aviv. Nechushtan pointed out the topographical vulnerabilities of greater Tel Aviv and Israel's coastal plain vis a vis the nearby ridges of the West Bank. At a follow-on briefing, Nechushtan stressed the security challenges posed by a Palestinian state. Unlike the Olso process, a peace agreement would not replace security, but security arrangements would ensure peace. Israel's security requirements would need to be addressed from the beginning of the process since Israel had no response time or strategic depth. Israel's coastal strip includes seventy percent of Israel's population and eighty percent of its GDP, and a Palestinian state would be immediately adjacent. In order to compensate for this increased risk, a Palestinian state would have to be completely demilitarized, with Israel in control of Palestine's air space and land borders. There would need to be special security arrangements to protect Jerusalem and Ben Gurion Airport. Israel would also retain security control of the Jordan Valley, while maintaining early warning and intelligence gathering sites on the tops of the West Bank hills. The land link between the West Bank and Gaza would have to be under Israeli control as well.

6. (S) IDI Chief Yadlin dismissed the PA's security capabilities, saying it would take a minimum of three to five years before the Palestinians could assume security responsibility for the West Bank. Terror organizations in the West Bank are highly motivated but their capabilities are limited due to the daily actions of the IDF and Shin Bet. Chief of General Staff Ashkenazi stressed that the Annapolis process must put security first. Most Israelis now believe in a two-state solution, he said, it was not even particularly controversial. The problem was security, he said, citing statistics that suicide bombers from the West Bank had killed 220 Israelis and wounded 1320 in 2002, but had not killed or wounded any Israelis in 2007 due to IDF action in 2002-03 to clean out the West Bank and build the fence. If Israel handed over security responsibility to the PA today, it would all start again. The burden must be on the PA to prove that it can take over.

7. (C) Noting the Marine Corps' counter-insurgency doctrine of not making more enemies and not harming the civilian population, General Jones asked whether the IDF's concept included economic development, reconstruction, and education and training. Nechushtan said these elements were linked to security. Tony Blair understood that and coordinated the security element for his projects. The MOD had reviewed Blair's projects and approved them. The problem here was to prepare for what will be needed once the PA is independent. Yadlin pointed out that if Qassam rockets were put in the West Bank, they could do much more damage than those fired from Gaza. MG Harel recalled that he had commanded the September 2005 evacuation of Gaza. At the time he had expected there would be peace, but instead terrorists had fired about 3,000 rockets at Israel since the withdrawal.

OLMERT: A LONG WAY TO GO ON THE GROUND ---------------------------------------

8. (C) The Ambassador and PolCouns accompanied General Jones to his meeting with Prime Minister Olmert in the PM's private office. The Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Yoram Turbowicz and Foreign Policy Adviser Shalom Tourgeman joined Olmert. General Jones reviewed his official visits and professional contacts with Israel since 1981 to Olmert's evident satisfaction. Olmert commented that he understood that Jones would not be the one to judge Roadmap performance, but rather he would be looking at security issues in light of the emergence of a Palestinian state, factoring in Jordanian and Israeli equities. Olmert called this an important mission due to the dominant influence of the U.S. It would be demanding and time consuming.

9. (C) The Prime Minister commented he was less pessimistic than most Israelis, but even so that he did not think a solution with the Palestinians was as close as Secretary Rice would like. There was still a "long way to go" on the ground, he said. During a visit to the IDF Central Command on the West Bank ten days prior, the commanders had told Olmert that cooperation with the PA security forces was improving, as was the West Bank economy and quality of life. But responsibility for counter-terrorism operations remained fully in Israeli hands, PA security forces were only performing civil law enforcement. If the IDF withdrew, Hamas would take over.

10. (S) Olmert said he was impressed by the extent of international support for the PA, as demonstrated by over USD 7 billion in pledges at the Paris donors' conference. Nonetheless, the question of how it would be transferred remained. Olmert said he had heard that the Saudi assistance would only go to projects, which he said he would be happy to see. The problem was that he did not see the PA developing the "iron fist" they would need to kick the terrorist organizations out of the West Bank. Gaza was lost to Hamas and Abbas had no plans for taking it back. The PA says the Palestinian state must include Gaza but they do not want to take responsibility for it.

11. (S) Olmert cautioned Jones that he must understand many layers of language in the Arab world. For example, in their one-on-one meetings, President Abbas always asks Olmert to take tougher actions against Hamas and its Gaza leadership. But when the IDF carries out operations in Gaza that kill terrorists, Saeb Erekat writes a letter to the UN complaining about it. Olmert said that the Palestinians say one thing to Secretary Rice and then ask him to do the opposite.


12. (S) After expressing satisfaction at IDF operations in Gaza the previous day that had killed ten members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including the head of the PIJ military wing in Gaza, Olmert asked Jones how he expected to work with the MOD and IDF. Jones replied that he would work openly with them. This was only an introductory visit, but he would return after the President's visit and return regularly, working with a small staff. Olmert said he would ask Barak to assign a senior "defense intellectual" to liaise with Jones, most likely MG Nechushtan. Turbowicz commented that they were there to help Jones in every way. Olmert reiterated that point, saying he wanted Jones to succeed. The GOI wanted to move forward with the Palestinians, and both sides were in need of General Jones' advice.

ISA DISKIN: READY TO PROVIDE FOCUSED SECURITY BRIEFS --------------------------------------------- -------

13. (S) General Jones discussed his security mission with ISA Director Yuval Diskin, and emphasized that while he was not a stranger to Israel, he had worked principally with the IDF. Diskin described Shin Bet's mandate and activities in Israel and the territories, and the complicated reality of Israel's security environment. He underscored the problems posed by smuggling of weaponry across the Philadelphi corridor (between Egypt and Gaza) and stressed it was only part of a larger smuggling network: "Explosives come from Africa via the Sudan-Egypt-Suez-Sinai route, or via the Red Sea." Bedouin tribes provide the "Arab conductivity" between Egypt and Jordan (via Israel). People, too, are smuggled across the Sinai, from Eritrea, Somalia and Darfur (Sudan), Diskin added. He contrasted the laxity of Egyptian security control at Suez, which he said could easily be a chokepoint for GOE efforts to control smuggling, and in the Sinai with the seriousness of the Jordanians. Diskin stressed the strategic importance of Jordan, and the need for Israel to take account Jordanian interests.

14. (S) Diskin said Israel's main threat came from the West Bank, and that the security zone, especially in the northern West Bank, had been critical to Israel's success in countering that threat. Diskin underscored how Israel's "opportunity to control movement" in the West Bank contributed to Israel's security. He described how the number of Israeli victims had peaked in 2002, and had tapered off since the construction of the separation barrier and Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Diskin reported that while 1100 Israelis had been killed since 2000, yet only ten Israeli civilians and soldiers had been killed by Palestinians in 2007 (in Israel or the territories). Israeli control of passages and the movement of persons between the West Bank and Jordan or between Israel and Gaza provides security.

15. (S) In response to Gen. Jones' question about the extent of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, Diskin, who said he has been closely involved with Palestinian affairs since 1993, noted that even in the worst of times, Shin Bet had maintained contacts with Palestinian security services. He singled out the new Palestinian military intelligence chief in the West Bank as one of the only new faces, and one who was somewhat more serious than the others had been. (Diskin cited the Palestinian response to terrorism in 1996 as the only time when PA security forces proved to be serious and effective.) Diskin assessed that the Palestinian security establishment is "broken, not professional, reactive rather than proactive." Their establishment lacks a "circle of enforcement" (intelligence gathering, investigation, arrest and interrogation, and trial in a court of law). Instead, during the 1997-2000 period, the Palestinian Preventive Security Organization and the General Intelligence typically "completed Israeli operations in areas where they were 'sovereign.'"

16. (S) On training (of Palestinian security forces), Diskin said he preferred that there be one trainer, not several. DCM Moreno noted that all of the next 700 Palestinian trainees would be trained in Jordan. On Gaza, Diskin said the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives killed on December 17-18 "were only part of the problem," Diskin did not think Israel could stand the status quo for many months, or risk importing the Gaza reality to the West Bank. A Gaza-like rocket threat in the West Bank would endanger Israeli industry and population centers. "That's why the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are not connected," Diskin concluded.

LIVNI: EAGER TO DISCUSS SECURITY WITH U.S., THEN PA --------------------------------------------- -------

17. (C) Gen. Jones recalled his familiarity with Israel and the IDF, his frequent training missions in Israel, and his encouragement of military-military contacts between NATO and Israel in the framework of the NATO Mediterranean dialogue. He discussed his mission with FM Livni, highlighting that the paper he envisioned as the outcome would apply more to future realities rather than the present situation on the ground. He stressed that he did not have Road map or referee in his job description, and asked Livni for her perspective.

18. (S) FM Livni characterized security as the most important core issue, one that has yet to be addressed: "Two states living side by side in peace in security has not been translated into an understanding." She traced the path that she had taken from ideological attachment (to the idea of Greater Israel) to the need for two states so as to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Livni stressed the importance of Israel and the U.S. (and eventually Israel and the Palestinians) coming to such an understanding as to the meaning of living side by side with a Palestinian state in peace and security. "The word security is just too vague; it is not a real plan. We need you (Gen. Jones): your mandate and mission is crucial to the process." She said that Israel has its own ideas regarding the region, alliances, and, like Diskin, acknowledged the importance of strategic allies such as Jordan. Livni felt it critical that security issues needed to be addressed soon, as the political negotiations with the Palestinians are now getting under way. "I would like to be in a position, as Israel's negotiator, to share many of our security concerns (with the U.S.)." As negotiator, she said she would need to represent Israel's security needs in negotiations with the Palestinians and underscored her close collaboration with the Ministry of Defense.

19. (S) Livni outlined a number of the strategic challenges and questions Israel faced, and said Israel was looking for answers to "strategic questions" with a view to finding ways to implement policy. She hoped to turn first to Gen. Jones, as "it will not be easy on the bilateral (Israeli-Palestinian track) to get to understandings." -- Where does Gaza lead us? Is it a strategic threat? Is the Gaza Strip part of a Palestinian state?

-- The Philadelphi corridor is a Palestinian and Israeli security concern, and, while there are mutual interests, there will be areas of difference between the current PA and the GOI.

-- Should Israel support a seaport or airport for the Palestinians, now, or even in the future? (No, in her view).

-- Will the formation of a Palestinian state resolve some security challenges, or create new problems for Israel?

-- Would the Palestinian state be demilitarized? How would connections between a Palestinian state and other states, particularly the Jordan Valley be controlled? Would there be a passage between Gaza and the West Bank?

-- Abbas embraced the French idea of an international force in the region in his remarks in Paris. Are such forces willing to fight Hamas house-to-house? She doubted it.

-- Does it make sense for Israel to support economic projects in the West Bank when some joint ventures actually create security problems for Israel? Is there an organized plan? What does Palestinian capacity-building mean?

-- Will Palestinians chose Fatah in the future?

-- Iran poses a traditional "20th century" type of threat to Israel, but other, non-state actors, in places such as Lebanon are posing new threats.

20. (S) Livni emphasized that she did not look at security issues with a view to finding an excuse not to move forward. Rather, she felt it essential to look at security issues so that implementation of the two state vision could be done "the right way." She underscored that when it comes to security, the idea is not to bridge gaps but to clarify what needs to be done to achieve security. Gen. Jones concurred, adding that "I'm not a negotiator or a mediator." He told Livni that he would return by the end of January with a small team, and "won't be silent" in the meantime. Gen. Jones also clarified that his job description would require him to look at the "equities of the region with regard to security issues, primarily vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan."

21. (U) General Jones did not clear this cable.


Sources: Wikileaks