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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TELAVIV2482 2009-11-16 08:08 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Tel Aviv

DE RUEHTV #2482/01 3200855
O 160855Z NOV 09
S E C R E T TEL AVIV 002482 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2019 
Classified By: DCM Luis G. Moreno, reasons 1.4 (b),(d) 
This is a re-transmission of USDAO TEL AVIV 3188. 
1. (C) SUMMARY: On November 1 and 2, Assistant Secretary of 
Defense (ASD) for International Security Affairs, Ambassador 
Alexander Vershbow, met with a number of senior Israeli 
defense officials in Israel including: Ministry of Defense 
(MOD) Director General (DG) Pinchas Buchris; Head of MOD 
Political Military Bureau Amos Gilad; Assistant Chief of 
Defense Major General (MG) Benny Gantz; and Head of MOD 
Intelligence Analysis Production Brigadier General Yossi 
Baidatz.  The Israelis expressed positive views on continued 
U.S.-Israel cooperation particularly on Israel's Qualitative 
Military Edge (QME) and the ongoing Juniper Cobra missile 
defense exercise.  Israeli officials explained that they were 
going through an unprecedented period of calm due to the 
deterrent effect of Operation CAST LEAD, but that below the 
surface were a number of significant dangers.  They continued 
to emphasize that Iran represents the greatest strategic 
threat to the region, both its nuclear program and its "axis" 
with Syria, Hezbollah, and HAMAS.  They also expressed 
skepticism about Palestinian President Abbas's future, given 
his weakened position as a result of his handling of the 
Goldstone Report and his inability to get the full settlement 
freeze he had pushed for; they questioned his ability to 
restart peace negotiations.  Israeli officials were concerned 
about the deteriorating Turkey-Israel relationship and 
discussed threats emanating from both Syria and Lebanon. END 
Bilateral Relations 
2. (S) ASD Vershbow's trip to Israel came as a number of 
high-level Israeli and American officials were meeting on key 
issues.  On October 31, Secretary of State Clinton arrived in 
Jerusalem for talks on the peace process with Prime Minister 
Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and Foreign Minster 
Lieberman.  In addition, EUCOM Commander Admiral Stavridis 
arrived in Israel on November 1 to observe the Juniper 
Cobra-10 ballistic missile defense exercise.  The ASD's visit 
also came in the wake of recent high-level discussions on 
Israel's QME in Washington, and the October 21 meeting of the 
Joint Politico-Military Group in Tel Aviv. 
3. (S) On QME, ASD Vershbow asked for Israel's assessment of 
recent discussions, and across the board, Israeli officials 
expressed gratitude for U.S. efforts on this front and voiced 
optimism on the steps moving forward.  Amos Gilad 
acknowledged the sometimes difficult position the U.S. finds 
itself in given its global interests, and conceded that 
Israel's security focus is so narrow that its QME concerns 
often clash with broader American security interests in the 
region.  Israeli officials acknowledged the impressive nature 
of the QME dialogue mechanisms recently established, but 
stated that the results of the process are what truly matter. 
 MG Benny Gantz defined successful QME relations as "the 
effective process plus the right mitigations."  While not 
explicitly saying it, Gantz seemed to acknowledge that Israel 
does not expect that all QME decisions will break in its 
favor, but that Israel only expects a fair and equitable 
process that incorporates "intimate dialogue."  DG Buchris 
thanked Versbhow for the recent success of the JPMG and said 
he looks forward to convening the first meeting of the agreed 
upon working groups by the end of November.  Vershbow stated 
that the technical working group discussions would be 
launched soon, and that he was looking forward to future 
Israeli participation on this issue. 
Iran Remains Top of Mind 
4. (S) Israeli officials continue to uniformly emphasize that 
Iran's nuclear program and regional hegemonic ambitions are 
the greatest strategic threats to Israel.  They view Iran as 
the center of a radical axis that includes Syria, Hezbollah 
and HAMAS. 
5. (S//NF) Israel continues to offer a worst-case assessment 
of the Iranian nuclear program, emphasizing that the window 
for stopping the program (by military means if necessary) is 
rapidly closing.  General Baidatz argued that it would take 
Iran one year to obtain a nuclear weapon and two and a half 
years to build an arsenal of three weapons.  By 2012 Iran 
would be able to build one weapon within weeks and an arsenal 
within six months.  (COMMENT:  It is unclear if the Israelis 
firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to 
raise greater urgency from the United States).  Amos Gilad 
explained his view of the repercussions of an Iranian nuclear 
capability stating that it would give Iran a free hand in 
supporting "HAMAStan" in Gaza and "Hezbollahstan" in Lebanon. 
 Gilad also argued that Saudi Arabia would definitely react 
to a nuclear Iran by obtaining a weapon (with Pakistani 
assistance) and Egypt would almost certainly follow.  He was 
less sure about whether Turkey would respond by pursuing a 
nuclear weapon. Regardless, the security situation in the 
region surrounding Israel would be dramatically altered 
should Iran acquire a nuclear weapons capability. 
6. (S//NF) ASD Vershbow queried various Israeli officials 
about their view of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) 
proposal and Iran's recent equivocation on the agreement. 
Israeli officials uniformly expressed support for the 
agreement but made clear that by itself it was not 
sufficient.  They stated that it was only one stop on the way 
to containing the Iranian nuclear program and that it must be 
followed by a freeze-for-freeze agreement and eventually the 
full suspension of uranium enrichment, as well as the end of 
work on the newly disclosed site at Qom.  They warned that 
the TRR agreement by itself could serve as a major victory 
for Iran if it legitimized in the world's eyes Iran's right 
to enrich uranium on its own soil.  None of the Israeli 
officials expressed surprise about Iran's apparent reversal 
on the TRR agreement, as they viewed this as typical Iranian 
negotiating style and part of an Iranian strategy of delay. 
Amos Gilad stated that Iran would never agree to anything 
that contradicted its overall strategic goal of achieving a 
nuclear weapons capability. 
7. (S) When queried about how the U.S. views the Iranian 
response, ASD Vershbow explained that the United States was 
still seeking greater clarity on what was the real Iranian 
bottom line.  We may need time to ascertain whether Iran's 
response was in fact a serious walk-back or whether it would 
be willing to abide by the initial TRR agreement that had 
been agreed to in principle in Geneva on October 1.  However, 
he also emphasized that American patience is not unlimited 
and that if the TRR agreement did collapse, the U.S. would 
likely begin pursuing the pressure track. 
8. (S//NF) Israel was also highly concerned about Iran's 
support for proxies, with General Baidatz emphasizing that 
there are multiple bases in Iran where IRGC, Quds Force, 
Hezbollah, HAMAS, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives 
all train together and share knowledge.  MG Gantz also 
emphasized Iran's role as a weapons supplier to Syria and 
that Syria actively facilitated arms transfers to Hezbollah. 
He expressed concern about Iranian shipments of weapons via 
Sudan to Egypt and into Gaza.  On the Russian delay in 
delivery of the S-300 (SA-20) to Iran, Gilad voiced 
satisfaction with the train of events, acknowledging Prime 
Minister Netanyahu's "secret" visit to Moscow and President 
Obama's engagement with Medvedev had both played a role. 
Gilad was worried about Russian readiness to support tough 
sanctions on Iran.  ASD Vershbow said the Russians' signals 
on sanctions were mixed, but they seemed genuinely concerned 
about recent Iranian missile tests and the revelation of the 
Qom facility. 
West Bank and Gaza 
9. (S) Of particular interest throughout the meetings was the 
subject of the Palestinian political situation.  It was 
widely agreed that President Abbas is currently in a weakened 
political state, and Israeli officials generally cast a dour 
assessment of Abbas's future.  In one exchange, Amos Gilad 
stated his opinion that Abbas will not survive politically 
past the year 2011.  Gilad further stated that Abbas is 
facing unprecedented criticism within the Palestinian 
Authority over his handling of the Goldstone report, and that 
this, coupled with a stubborn HAMAS, has weakened Abbas 
considerably.  The Israelis said the perception in the Arab 
world was that the U.S. had encouraged Abbas to take 
difficult positions on Goldstone and settlements only to walk 
away from him.  ASD Vershbow queried Gilad over measures that 
could be taken to bolster Abbas.  Gilad responded by stating 
that Israeli-Palestinian peace discussions need to be resumed 
immediately, but without preconditions, and that both parties 
need to seek further cooperation on a range of issues -- 
specifically on the security sector front.  Gilad expressed 
optimism over the current atmosphere in the West Bank, citing 
improvements in the security and economic spheres, and 
further stated that the reduced Israeli Defense Force (IDF) 
footprint in the West Bank has made conditions ripe for 
advancing the relationship.  Gilad closed, however, on a 
sourer note by stating that the Government of Israel has 
little faith in the Palestinian negotiating team. 
10. (S) ASD Vershbow transitioned off the political 
discussion to focus on the Palestinian Authority Security 
Force (PASF).  Specifically, Vershbow highlighted the concern 
that Palestinian forces were seen as lacking real authority, 
and therefore asked for steps that could be taken to give the 
PASF more visible control of security.  Israeli officials 
responded by citing the decreased number of direct- action 
incursions, checkpoints and patrols, and seemingly drew a 
correlation between reduced IDF activity and increased PASF 
authority (COMMENT:  Despite Israeli assurances, U.S. and 
Palestinian officials continue to highlight the corrosive 
effect of regular Israeli incursions).  MG Gantz cited 
Palestinian security sector reform as a major accomplishment, 
stating that on-the-ground coordination between the PASF and 
IDF units has improved dramatically. Despite these positive 
developments though, Israeli officials repeatedly underscored 
the importance of retaining the right to disrupt terrorist 
operations in the West Bank and Gaza.  Additionally, they 
stated that if Israel allowed a weak and untrained security 
force to take over in the West Bank in the short term, the 
result will be deterioration of the Israel-Jordan 
relationship over the long term.  The prospect of poor 
Israeli-Jordanian relations, according to Amos Gilad, is 
unacceptable, and would result in the loss of "strategic 
depth" for Israel. 
11. (S) ASD Vershbow urged his Israeli counterparts not to 
soley focus on the short-term "here and now," but rathr to 
envision the possible benefits that a strongand viable West 
Bank could have for Israel's secrity situation in the 
future.  Vershbow used thi point to springboard to the issue 
of HAMAS and aza, asking whether success in the West Bank 
coud serve as a "magnet" and help solve the Gaza problem. 
He asked if Israel had made any headway in tems of an 
information operations campaign to better communicate with 
the people of Gaza.  Israeli officials offered very little in 
the way of a communications strategy or long-term vision for 
the territories, but reinforced Israel's core belief that 
HAMAS has only sinister motives, and that any attempt Fatah 
might make to improve its standing in Gaza would only be met 
with HAMAS opposition.  General Baidatz articulated Israel's 
concern by highlighting recent intelligence that HAMAS is 
trying to acquire from Iran (and potentially test-fired the 
previous weekend) the 60 km-range Fajr-5 rocket that could 
reach Tel Aviv.  These actions, according to Baidatz and 
other officials, make any discussion of Palestinian 
reconciliation both premature and unrealistic.  Ambassador 
Vershbow sought further clarification on this point, querying 
Israeli officials over the level of public support for HAMAS. 
 Specifically, the ASD asked if there was any way to 
undermine support for HAMAS vis-a-vis the peace process. 
Amos Gilad responded simply by saying that one of Israel's 
biggest concerns is the atmosphere created by disjointed 
peace talks.  Specifically, Gilad stated that political 
promises of peace, unification, and reconciliation -- 
concepts that are never realized -- are only resulting in a 
climate of uncertainty that is unhealthy.  On this matter, 
Gilad mentioned that Egypt's role in pushing reconciliation 
is not helpful and often counterproductive, but that he 
expects Egypt to continue floating the idea at future 
12. (C) In bringing up the Goldstone Report, DG Buchris 
emphasized that the Government of Israel took extraordinary 
steps to mitigate civilian casualties, despite HAMAS's 
deliberate use of civilians as human shields.  He stated that 
the IDF made over 300,000 phone calls to alert civilians 
before bombing legitimate military targets.  He also compared 
Israeli operations in Gaza to U.S. operations in Iraq and 
Afghanistan and stated that Israel would do whatever was 
necessary to protect its population.  In response, ASD 
Vershbow recalled U.S. support for Israel in handling of the 
Goldstone report, and offered to share U.S. experience in 
investigating incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan as the GOI 
considered whether to conduct an additional investigation. 
Anxiety Over Turkey 
13. (S) Israeli officials also expressed growing anxiety over 
the Turkey-Israel relationship after the Turkish cancellation 
of Israel's participation in the ANATOLIAN EAGLE joint 
exercise.  They expressed their belief that the strategic 
relationship with Turkey is critical, but that PM Erdogan's 
views have increasingly penetrated into the military and have 
been part of the reason for the deterioration in relations as 
Turkey looks East rather than West.  Gilad believes this is 
understandable as Turkey's EU accession prospects look 
increasingly doubtful, and they must balance their relations 
with both regions to succeed. 
14. (S) Baidatz stated that the Turks have an agenda to 
contain any Kurdish influence in Iraq and that to achieve it 
they need to improve their relations with Iran and Syria.  In 
his view, the worst possible outcome would be a new 
Turkey-Iran-Syria-Iraq axis in the Middle East.  Gilad also 
noted that Turkey wanted to improve its relationships with 
Iran and asserted that it had made some very aggressive plans 
recently to support HAMAS.  However, he had a less 
pessimistic view than Baidatz, stating that Turkey had played 
a positive role in Iraq and that generally the Turks' agenda 
was for a stable Iraq that would be commercially beneficial 
to Turkey.  Gilad stated that he was skeptical of any 
political rapprochement between Israel and Turkey in the near 
term, but that Israel would continue to foster the 
military-to-military relationship because of its strategic 
15. (C) Gilad also queried ASD Vershbow about what Israel 
might do to improve its relationship with Turkey.  Vershbow 
explained that Turkey wants to be influential in the region 
and that if it jeopardizes its relationship with Israel, it 
will undermine its status and its leverage as an evenhanded 
mediator.  He also commented that Erdogan's ideological views 
may lead him to focus on Turkey's Islamic neighbors, but he 
is also a realist who will not want to jeopardize Turkey's 
ties to the U.S. or NATO.  The U.S. and Israel should be 
patient with Turkey and stay engaged, encouraging the Turks 
to play a constructive role in the region.  He stated that at 
the upcoming bilateral defense talks between the U.S. and 
Turkey in December, he and Under Secretary Flournoy would 
emphasize the need to improve Israel-Turkey relations. 
Quiet on the Northern Border 
16. (S) Israeli officials remain pleased with the "quiet" 
nature of its northern border -- something they attribute to 
the deterrent effect Israel has built up following OPERATION 
CAST LEAD and the 2006 war in Lebano.  However, according to 
Israeli officials, it i a foregone conclusion that strong 
cooperation eists between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) 
and ezbollah.  The level of cooperation far exceeds wht 
many assume is simply the day-to-day problem of corruption 
within the ranks.  On the contrary, Israel believes that 
LAF/Hezbollah cooperation is a matter of national policy. 
Amos Gilad attributed this dynamic to elements of 
nationalism, stating that Lebanese government and military 
officials choose not to confront Hezbollah out of patriotic 
zeal.  Moreover, according to Gilad, any information shared 
with the United Nations Interim Force-Lebanon (UNIFIL) goes 
directly to Hezbollah by way of the LAF. 
17. (S) Israeli officials have major concerns over 
developments within Hezbollah -- specifically, its 
relationship with Syria and Iran.  General Baidatz spoke of 
this relationship and drew attention to the existing supply 
of Fateh-110 long-range missile that Iran sent to Syria. 
Israeli officials believe these missiles are destined for 
Hezbollah.  According to Baidatz and others, if the delivery 
were to occur, this would significantly alter Israel's 
calculus.  Under such a scenario, the looming question for 
Israeli policymakers then becomes: "to strike or not to 
Optimism on Syria 
18. (S) General Baidatz offered an Israeli intelligence 
assessment that if Syria were able to achieve peace with 
security and obtain greater U.S. involvement, it may pull 
away from Iran's orbit.  He explained that President Assad 
used his "negative assets," namely Hezbollah and HAMAS, to 
make himself relevant and that ultimately Assad wants it all: 
 the Golan Heights; peace with Israel; better relations with 
the U.S.; a strong relationship with Iran; and a continued 
relationship with Hezbollah.  Ultimately, Gen Baidatz 
asserted that if Assad had to choose one thing, it would 
likely be peace with Israel.  ASD Vershbow asked if Hezbollah 
could be sustained without Syrian support.  Baidatz 
acknowledged the difficulty in answering this question, but 
stated his belief that it would be a gradual process before 
Hezbollah could completely wean itself from the Syrian 
support apparatus and that, ultimately, both Hezbollah's and 
Iran's flexibility would be significantly reduced. 
Mil-to-Mil Relations with Egypt 
19. (C) Amos Gilad commented that he would like to see a 
complete peace with Egypt, but noted there was very little in 
the way of Egyptian-Israeli military relations and that Egypt 
continued to train its military for war with Israel.  Gilad 
stated that Egypt was not likely to attack Israel and did not 
represent a short-term threat, but that at the very least it 
was necessary to have modest contact between Egyptian and 
Israeli officers.  He expressed frustration by describing 
Egypt and Israel's "frozen peace" and that neither side knows 
anything about the other.  He noted that the last high-level 
military visit for Egypt was in 1991. 
20. (S//NF) Israeli officials agreed that Egypt's 
counter-smuggling efforts have improved, particularly since 
Operation CAST LEAD in January.  However, they stated that 
gaps still exist and that Egypt needs to focus its efforts on 
stopping Bedouin smuggling in the Sinai.  Gilad said he was 
disillusioned with the technical monitoring solution; tunnels 
continue and smuggling is increasing even with U.S. 
assistance along borders with Egypt. 
--------------------------------------------- --------------- 
Iron Dome and Juniper Cobra - Strengthening the Relationship 
--------------------------------------------- --------------- 
21. (S) On Iron Dome, DG Buchris (Assisted by retired General 
Nagel) briefed ASD Vershbow on the latest developments, 
stating that Iron Dome is planned to have an initial 
operating capability by the spring of 2010, and that 
technological advancements have made the system much more 
viable defending against short range rocket attacks from Gaza 
or Southern Lebanon.  Buchris also emphasized the need for 
additional USG support to help fund additional production of 
Iron Dome to protect the civilian population in both the 
North and the South.  Buchris also noted progress on the 
upper- and medium-tier ballistic missile defense systems 
(Arrow-3 and David's Sling, respectively).  In an earlier 
meeting, MG Gantz quantified the importance of fielding 
adequate missile defense systems by citing critical Israeli 
infrastructure such as Ben Gurion Airport and the Ashkelon 
electricity plant.  Suffering the loss or damage of places 
such as these, according to Gantz, would be a major blow to 
Israel and, therefore, every effort to 
stand up a capable missile and rocket defense shield should 
be taken. 
22. (S) After Gantz highlighted three areas of focus for the 
IDF (deterring conventional threats, responding nimbly to 
asymmetric threats, and developing an integrated missile 
defense system), ASD Vershbow asked for Gantz's initial 
impression of the Juniper Cobra-10 exercise.  Gantz stressed 
the importance of this exercise, and stated that so far it 
had been a success.  ASD Vershbow stated that the timing of 
Juniper Cobra was somewhat fortuitous, given the recent 
developments with Iran.  On the larger issue of missile 
defense, ASD Vershbow stressed U.S. efforts to try and 
persuade Russia to become more involved in missile defense 
cooperation, but stated that Russia's realization that the 
new U.S. missile defense approach in Europe is more effective 
than the previous one is causing the Russian leadership to 
ask many questions about the system. 
23. (S) All of ASD Vershbow's interlocutors carried a 
consistent message emphasizing that:  Iran remains Israel's 
greatest threat; recent events have weakened President Abbas; 
the PASF have performed well in the West Bank; and the 
relative calm on all Israel's borders does not obscure the 
fact that Israeli intelligence is seeing significant activity 
and planning by Iranian surrogates, namely HAMAS and 
Hezbollah, with facilitation from Syria.  These threats 
suggest that Israel must remain vigilant and prepared for the 
calm to end one day. 
24. (U) ASD Vershbow has cleared this message.