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Cablegate: A Proliferation of Messages As Israel and Hamas Approach

VZCZCXRO6709
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #2809/01 3501715
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151715Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9611
RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002809

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINS PTER KWBG KPAL MOPS IS EG
SUBJECT: A PROLIFERATION OF MESSAGES AS ISRAEL AND HAMAS APPROACH
THE SIX-MONTH "TAHDIYAH" ANNIVERSARY

-------
SUMMARY
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1. In the absence of any published policy directive on Gaza from the
December 10 trilateral meeting of Olmert, Barak and Livni, the
Israeli media is focused on perceived policy differences within the
GOI. The media reports that Minister of Defense Barak favors
renewal of the truce between Israel and Hamas while Foreign Minister
Livni and others are portrayed as advocates of military action. In
fact, Barak has stated publicly that Israel will determine how and
when it responds to Hamas, and his advisor and envoy, (ret.) MG Amos
Gilad, who visited Cairo on December 14, reportedly threatened that
Israel would "change the rules" if a cease-fire is not restored.
Meanwhile, Israeli dailies reported on conflicting Hamas
perspectives on future of the truce after its first six-month
anniversary on December 19.

--------------------------------------------- -
BARAK AND GILAD: WAITING TIL THE TIME IS RIGHT
--------------------------------------------- -

2. Israel's position on the "tahdiyah" (loosely translated as
"truce") was clarified by the action of Defense Minister Barak, who
dispatched his top aide Amos Gilad to Cairo December 14 to discuss
the possible extension of the truce with Hamas. According to a
report in the mass circulation Yediot Aharonot on December 14, Gilad
carried a message for Hamas to the effect that if the rocket fire
continues, Israel will "change the rules." In an earlier December 8
radio interview, Gilad elaborated: "we are dealing with an enemy
... that will get what is coming to it. ...The right timing is of
great importance, because striking without preparing for the results
that follow, is not enough. ... At the moment, we are taking such
steps as the closing of crossings to convince them that it is of no
benefit to commit murderous attacks on Israeli civilians. ...The IDF
is prepared and is preparing for the right time to strike."

3. Barak's diplomacy in sending Gilad to Cairo was criticized in
the December 14 cabinet meeting by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who said
the issue should have been brought up for discussion in the cabinet.
Barak reportedly responded that Gilad was in Cairo for routine
discussions and no extension of the truce would be agreed on without
the government's approval.

---------------------------
... VERSUS LIVNI'S RHETORIC
---------------------------

4. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made several statements during the
past week on Gaza policy. On each occasion the tone of her
statements appeared progressively more hawkish. On a visit to
Ashkelon, Livni said she was embarrassed by the use of the term
"calm" to describe the situation in which rockets were being fired
at Israeli towns. In the December 14 cabinet meeting, Livni said
"every rocket from Gaza will obligate us to respond to protect our
citizens ... There is no calm that means rocket fire in our
direction." Livni then developed her remarks in a more blanket
policy statement regarding Hamas and Gaza: "The state can and needs
to provide an answer to terrorism against it through the military
means at its disposal. We cannot continue to leave Gaza under Hamas
control."

---------------------------
BUT OLMERT DUCKS THE DEBATE
---------------------------

5. PM Olmert, who chaired the cabinet meeting at which Livni spoke,
refused to spar publicly on the subject of Hamas or authorize a
substantive cabinet debate - leaving Livni and Barak to attack one
another's policy positions in the press. When it came to a
statement from the Prime Minister's office, Olmert's media
spokesperson would only say that "Israel has been ready and
continues to be ready to abide by our understandings with the
Egyptians but that it is clear that this cannot be unilateral..."

---------------------------------------
DECIPHERING THE MULTIPLE HAMAS MESSAGES
---------------------------------------

6. Israeli military affairs correspondents, such as Ha'aretz
reporters Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, assessed that the
confusing and sometimes contradictory Hamas signals are a
consequence of Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin
in 2004. For example, they noted that at the December 14 Gaza rally
marking the 21st anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Ayman Taha, a
Hamas leader based in Gaza, challenged the Meshal assessment from
Damascus that the truce should not be renewed, saying Mehshal's
statement did not obligate Hamas in Gaza. Israeli journalists
commented that the Hamas celebratory rally was "particularly
repulsive" and took the form of a man dressed in IDF uniform
performing the role of Gilad Shalit missing his mother and father -
in Hebrew. In so doing, Hamas officials deliberately touched an

TEL AVIV 00002809 002 OF 002


exposed nerve in Israel when they mocked Shalit, which is one of the
most sensitive political questions of the day in Israel.

------------------------------------------
227 SECURITY DETAINEES RELEASED; NO SHALIT
------------------------------------------

7. Israel's release of 227 Palestinian detainees got underway on 15
December after the Eid al Adha holiday had concluded but still in
time to coincide with efforts to extend the truce. Efforts to free
Gilad Shalit may also be linked to the release, according to the
Israeli press. Defense Minister Barak has repeatedly stated that
officials in the Ministry of Defense are "working day and night" to
this end. He made the remarks in response to a controversial
statement by Livni to the effect that "not every soldier could be
returned to Israel." Barak countered that while "not any price"
could always be paid, "every effort" must be made to bring IDF
soldiers back. Barak's remarks indicate his awareness that when it
comes to Gaza policy, the Israeli public would view progress in
regard to Shalit's captive status as more significant than nearly
any other achievement. But some pundits, such as Ben Caspit of
Ma'ariv, pounced on Barak's handling of Gaza and the ongoing
captivity of Shalit: "Last June, when he (Barak) persuaded (the
GOI) to agree to the truce, he said that it was the only way to
bring Gilad Shalit back home. So there was a truce, and it blew up,
and what does he say now? The exact same thing."

CUNNINGHAM

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