Cablegate: Ambassador's Meeting with Shin Bet Chief Focuses
DE RUEHTV #1080/01 1430757
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 220757Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6778
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
"S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 TEL AVIV 001080
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2018
TAGS: PREL PTER PINR KPAL KWBG EG IS
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S MEETING WITH SHIN BET CHIEF FOCUSES
ON ISRAEL'S ARABS, THE GAZA STRIP, AND OMAR SOLIMAN'S VISIT
Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones. Reasons: 1.4 (b, d).
1. (S) In a May 13 meeting covering a range of subjects,
Israeli Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) Chief Yuval Diskin
told Ambassador Jones the following:
-- Israel's Arabs are materially better off than many Arabs
in neighboring countries, but increasingly feel disconnected
from the State, and tend to identify themselves first as
Arabs, and sometimes Muslims, rather than as Israelis.
Arab-Israeli Knesset Members are not helping by flirting with
enemy regimes in Syria and elsewhere, exploiting their
parliamentary immunity. Diskin and the ISA have been
advocates within the GOI for doing more to reconnect
Israeli-Arabs with Israel. The many ideas Diskin and others
have come up with to do this cost money, which the GOI does
-- The ISA understands the USG rationale for providing
certain types of equipment to the Palestinian Authority
Security Forces (PASF), but will approve transfer requests on
a case-by-case basis, depending on the capabilities of the
equipment, and how the PASF intend to use them. The ISA
cannot approve direct transfers of equipment to the PA
Presidential Guard (PG) as the PG is now a GOI-designated
terrorist organization as a result of activities by many of
its officers during the Second Intifada. If necessary,
equipment could be transferred to the PG via a third party.
-- Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Soliman's visit opened up
a very sensitive period. Israel presented its conditions for
a ""cooling down"", or cease-fire/tahdiya with Hamas, and now
it is Hamas' turn to respond once Soliman conveys those
conditions. They include a complete cessation of terrorist
activity in the Gaza Strip. In addition, Israel will not
tolerate any direction from the Gaza Strip of terrorist
activities in the West Bank. Passages between Israel and the
Gaza Strip will be opened gradually as Hamas and the other
terrorist groups cease their attacks. Rafah Crossing can be
opened, but PA President Abu Mazen must get credit for the
opening. Diskin and many in the GOI are skeptical that Hamas
will agree to the tahdiya, or that it would last long. Many
in the GOI and IDF, including Diskin, believe Israel must
re-enter Gaza in force sooner rather than later, to cut back
the terrorists' growing capabilities there.
2. (S) The Ambassador asked Diskin's assistance in ensuring
the ISA's prompt approval of hundreds of entry permits for
participants in the upcoming Bethlehem Conference. Diskin
promised ISA would work as quickly as possible and approve as
many permits as possible. At the Ambassador's request,
Diskin also promised to help a Palestinian student in the
Gaza Strip receive an entry permit so that he could attend
his visa interview for college study in the U.S. Diskin also
said ISA would issue Palestinian Sheikh Tamimi entry permits
for Jerusalem events one day at a time, ""as long as he
behaves himself."" END SUMMARY.
DISKIN ON ISRAEL'S ARABS -- COMPLICATED, GROWING PROBLEM
3. (S) Responding to the Ambassador's question about Diskin's
current assessment of the Arab-Israeli population --
especially in light of an incident May 8 during which an
Arab-Israeli MK claimed he had been attacked by an undercover
police officer -- Diskin initially expressed reluctance and
discomfort in answering the question, explaining that how
Israel treats its Arab citizens is its own internal affair.
Then, opening up, Diskin proceeded to spend the next ten
minutes describing his concerns about Israel's Arab-Israeli
population. According to the ISA chief, many of them ""take
their rights too far,"" and the community itself is suffering
from an identity crisis. Most, he claimed, want to live in
Israel. At the same time, they see themselves first as
Arabs, and then as Muslims. (He acknowledged that a small
percentage are Christians.) He assessed that the
Israeli-Arab political leadership is trying to take the
Israel-Palestinian conflict in a new direction and give it a
new ""national color."" Thankfully, he observed, they are not
succeeding, and their efforts are not filtering down to the
general public, which is more concerned with daily life.
Still, the ISA Chief said his agency is rightly concerned
with this. He added that the ISA is also monitoring other
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forms of extremism within Israel's population, including
Jewish extremists. He added that the ISA is also aware that
there are problems among Israel's Bedouin and Druze.
4. (S) Diskin said that the main challenge for the GOI is to
figure out how to ""connect"" these people with the State of
Israel. It is complex as it requires them to live their
daily lives in contradiction. Most of the time, he allowed,
they have been loyal to the State over the previous sixty
years -- even during the 1967 and 1973 wars and ""waves of
terror"" that followed. The percentage of families that have
connections with ""bad people on the other side doing bad
things"" is very low, he said. He claimed that most of the
Israeli-Arabs who have caused problems were refugees who were
given permits to re-enter Israel in order to reunify with
family members already living in Israel. ""In these cases,""
he said, ""they brought their bad ideas with them, and then
acted on them."" He continued: ""Allowing Palestinians to
return over the past few years was foolish. The Bedouin have
brought women with them from the Gaza Strip and Jenin and now
have many children. We need to manage this immigration in a
controlled way. It is hard for us to absorb large quantities
of people the way we have been doing these last few years.""
5. (S) Diskin noted that one of the main problems the GOI is
facing now is that Arab-Israeli Knesset members are visiting
enemy states, exploiting their parliamentary immunity in
order to visit countries like Syria and mix with groups like
Hizballah. ""These people,"" he said, ""are not spreading the
democratic values of Israel. Instead, they are being
co-opted by people like Bashar Assad."" Diskin lamented that
the ISA has to ""deal with them now,"" as -- in his words --
the Israeli National Police have failed to do what they were
supposed to do. Pointing to the high-profile case of MK Azmi
Bishara, Diskin said, tongue in cheek, that Israel would
""welcome his return"" from Syria, and that he would likely
spend many years in an Israeli prison if he returns.
6. (S) Diskin suggested that the ISA has been a voice for
assisting Arab-Israelis constructively over the last several
years. He claimed that the ISA has been ""constantly pushing
and prodding"" the GOI to ""prevent their issues from falling
through the cracks."" While the GOI has come up with many
good ideas, Diskin observed, it nevertheless lacks funding to
follow through on them. He claimed he and President Peres
had recently discussed the need for more high-tech employment
opportunities for Arab-Israelis, as well as colleges and
training centers. He added that Prime Minister Olmert is
""deeply involved,"" and noted that Olmert will chair a
government-run conference in June on the situation of the
Arab-Israeli population. ""It will,"" he said, ""be a good
start to making better policy on this issue.""
7. (S) The Ambassador replied that the USG offers a small
number of scholarships every year for Arab-Israelis to help
them with graduate-level studies in the U.S. He indicated
that the embassy would be willing to consider candidates that
the ISA brought to its attention. The Ambassador observed
that Israel's Arab and Druze minorities should be viewed as
potential ""bridges"" to Israel's neighbors. In the future,
they could help to change thinking and promote reform in the
ISA CONSIDERING EQUIPMENT APPROVALS FOR PASF
8. (S) The Ambassador raised the issue of GOI approvals for
equipment the USG is providing to the Palestinian Authority
Security Forces (PASF) for their training and use. He noted
that to date, the GOI has approved some of the equipment, and
denied the provision of other pieces of equipment, including
protective equipment like kevlar helmets, and vests. The
Ambassador observed that it is likely the USG will be
submitting more equipment requests to the GOI in the future.
He noted that many equipment requests form packages that are
designed to provide specific capabilities that cannot be
achieved if the equipment packages are only partially
approved. This was also the case with investment proposals.
He urged Diskin to look at any investment proposals stemming
from the Bethlehem Investment Conference sympathetically, and
to take the benefits they would provide into account when
deciding whether to approve them.
9. (S) Diskin replied that the ISA also hopes that the
Bethlehem Conference will succeed, and that the PA will
progress on the economic front, as it would help to secure
progress on the political front. Diskin said he is worried
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that we may be asking for too much too quickly on the
political front, and that it may lead to disaster in the West
Bank. While he agreed that creating better living conditions
in the West Bank is a good idea, he stressed that we have to
be very careful. He pointed to incidents in the past to
explain that arms, ammunition and vests given to the PASF can
eventually make their way into Hamas' hands. In the past,
such equipment has included rifles and heavy machines guns
that he claimed have been used against IDF helicopters and
soldiers. ""I do not think that we need more arms in the West
Bank,"" he stressed, adding, ""We have given them too much
ammunition already."" As for vests, Diskin said that whether
the GOI approves them depends on how the PASF will use them,
and the capabilities of the vests themselves. Admitting he
did not know the MOD's position on the vests, Diskin said
that the ISA did not object to their provision to the PASF.
He noted, however, that the ISA strongly opposes bringing
armored vehicles into the West Bank.
10. (S) Diskin stressed that the ISA opposes providing
equipment to the Presidential Guard (PG), as the PG is a
designated terrorist organization as a result of its
officers' activities during the Second Intifada. Diskin
recounted that he told PM Olmert that ""it would not be good""
for Israel to transfer arms and weapons to the PG directly.
He said he told PM Olmert that such items could be given to a
third party, and that they could then turn the items over to
the PG. Diskin added, ""We can find ways to give it to a
11. (S) Reiterating the importance of equipping the PASF, the
Ambassador stressed that the USG is requesting permission to
turn over almost 3,000 vests and helmets for the graduates of
U.S. training programs. Diskin responded that the final
answer is with the MOD: ""ISA has no veto on this. Sometimes
the MOD opposes us."" Reviewing USSC Dayton's request, Diskin
said that the ISA agreed with the USSC, although it pointed
out the problem of directly transferring equipment to the PG.
Diskin said that other pieces of equipment, including water
trucks and ladders, are still being reviewed by the ISA, but
indicated that he would approve most of them. He added that
he will oppose the provision of AK-47 rifles and ammunition
to the PASF: ""There are too many guns and ammunition in the
West Bank already.""
DISKIN ON GAZA AND OMAR SOLIMAN'S VISIT
12. (S) Asked about Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar
Soliman's visit, Diskin noted that he had met with Soliman
the day before (May 12). Diskin characterized it as an
""interesting meeting -- a good atmosphere swirling with many
lies -- exactly what is to be expected in the Middle East.""
The situation now, in the wake of Soliman's visit, is a
sensitive one. Soliman was surprised to hear that Israel was
ready for a tahdiya, but only under certain conditions.
According to Diskin, ISA played a key role in formulating the
conditions. Israel cannot accept a tahdiya without a
commitment to stop weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
This requires Egypt's commitment, as it is a sovereign state.
While weapons entering the Gaza Strip are coming from Sudan,
Eritrea, Yemen and other countries, Egypt is the last place
they pass through before they enter the Strip. Diskin
cautioned: ""We have been too patient about this. We cannot
tolerate this anymore.""
13. (S) Diskin added that terrorist attacks from the Gaza
Strip and in the West Bank must stop. This includes, he
stressed, the directing of terror attacks within the West
Bank from the Gaza Strip. Diskin said that the ISA knows
that terrorist organizations in the West Bank have contacts
with organizations in the Gaza Strip including Hamas, the
Popular Resistance Committees, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and
especially the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He claimed that
Israeli security services have often found that terrorist
infrastructure in the Gaza Strip provides funding and
direction to operatives in the West Bank. Diskin said that
he told Soliman that if, under a tahdiya, there is an attack
in the West Bank and Israel determines that there was no
connection with the Gaza Strip, then Israel will not
retaliate against targets in the Gaza Strip. If, however,
Israel determines that there is a Gaza Strip connection, then
attacks will be carried out against Gaza Strip targets.
Without elaborating, Diskin pointed out that, if the tahdiya
is to start, Hamas will have to make commitments to Egypt.
He said that Soliman seemed to understand the Israeli
position. He added that PM Olmert and DefMin Barak also made
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the same points to the Egyptian intelligence chief.
14. (S) Diskin explained how observation of the tahdiya would
correlate with opening of the Rafah crossing and passages
between the Gaza Strip and Israel. As smuggling and
terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip decline, then the
passages can be gradually opened. As for the Rafah crossing,
in Israel's view, it is essential that PA President Abbas be
involved in its opening, so that he receives credit for it.
15. (S) Diskin said that Israel does not like the tahdiya --
seeing it as a means whereby Hamas and other groups can
regroup and re-arm -- but also dislikes the current
situation. The ISA, he said, believes that the best option
now is a large-scale ground incursion into the Gaza Strip
that allows the IDF to take over the southern part of the
Gaza Strip and to stop smuggling and increase pressure on
Hamas. ""If you do this, it will cause big problems for
Hamas' survival in the Gaza Strip,"" he said. ""We can do it,""
he added. He continued: ""None of us like the idea of a
military operation in the Gaza Strip, but we also believe we
cannot avoid it. I do not believe in this 'cooling down'
that the tahdiya would afford. Even if it starts, it will
not last long. The way we are now treating the current
situation is not effective. It is a waste of time, money and
life. A ground invasion may lead to loss of life, but would
be more effective. We need to be ready to take over the
southern Gaza Strip and hold on to it for as long as
necessary. Months and years if need be. Strategically, all
of us understand that we cannot avoid the Gaza Strip if there
is to be a roadmap and a peace process."" Diskin added, ""My
job is to tell the inconvenient truth. I am glad that others
are finally realizing that the situation in the Gaza Strip is
intolerable and getting worse every day. The situation in
Lebanon makes it easier for us to make our case. We need to
be very tough in dealing with the problem of the Gaza Strip.
Egypt will not resolve the problem for us, and Abu Mazen will
not and cannot.""
16. (S) Diskin observed that Soliman looks at the Gaza Strip
the way any Arab and Egyptian would -- with an eye towards
kicking it down the road: ""I believe his policy is to try to
buy more time. It is not to solve a problem, but to see what
will happen down the road."" Diskin lamented that there are
so many problems in the Middle East that it prevents pursuing
and implementing a long-term policy. He concluded, ""It is
hard to anticipate all the factors when formulating a course
of action. Events in other states -- things like the price
of oil -- surprise you. Everyone is surprised all the time.
To survive in the Middle East, you have to be like a shark in
the water. You have to keep moving forward or you will die.""
DISKIN PROMISES TO ASSIST WITH ENTRY PERMITS
17. (C) The Ambassador requested Diskin's assistance in
ensuring that entry permits for Bethlehem Conference invitees
are issued as quickly as possible. While noting our
appreciation that more than 200 had been approved, the
Ambassador pointed out that over 400 had been requested. He
stressed that invitees are anxious and may start canceling
participation if they do not receive their permits by the end
of the week. Diskin said the ISA would do its best, and that
he had told his staff two months ago to treat each request
positively, unless an invitee posed a clear threat. Diskin
said he would work closely with the MOD on the permits, and
asked to be informed if any problems emerged. Diskin
reiterated that he had given clear instructions to his staff
to approve as many permits as possible.
18. (C) The Ambassador also requested Diskin's assistance in
obtaining an entry permit for Palestinian Sheikh Tamimi so
that he could attend a May 27 interfaith meeting in
Jerusalem. The Ambassador noted that FM Livni is also
invited to attend the meeting. Diskin said Tamimi will
receive a permit, but for that day only. The Ambassador
undertook to have a U.S. security officer accompany Tamimi
while he is in Jerusalem, as had been done during his
previous interfaith meeting in Jerusalem.
19. (C) The Ambassador also requested Diskin's assistance in
obtaining an entry permit for a Palestinian student in the
Gaza Strip who needs to travel to Jerusalem in order to
undergo a May 22 visa interview in connection with his
acceptance to MIT. Diskin promised to assist and requested
all the information on the student.
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