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Cablegate: Israel Media Reaction

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 11 TEL AVIV 006778

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA, NEA/IPA, NEA/PPD

WHITE HOUSE FOR PRESS OFFICE, SIT ROOM
NSC FOR NEA STAFF

SECDEF WASHDC FOR USDP/ASD-PA/ASD-ISA
HQ USAF FOR XOXX
DA WASHDC FOR SASA
JOINT STAFF WASHDC FOR PA
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL FOR POLAD/USIA ADVISOR
COMSOCEUR VAIHINGEN GE FOR PAO/POLAD
COMSIXTHFLT FOR 019

JERUSALEM ALSO FOR ICD
LONDON ALSO FOR HKANONA AND POL
PARIS ALSO FOR POL
ROME FOR MFO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: IS KMDR MEDIA REACTION REPORT
SUBJECT: ISRAEL MEDIA REACTION

--------------------------------
SUBJECTS COVERED IN THIS REPORT:
--------------------------------

1. Israeli Elections
2. Iranian Nuclear Race
3. The Syrian Threat

-------------------------
Key stories in the media:
-------------------------

Ha'aretz online and Israel Radio reported that a blast
occurred at around 11:30 am Monday at the entrance to
the Hasharon shopping mall in Netanya. Rescue
personnel said at least four people were killed in the
explosion and more than 30 people were wounded.
According to media reports, police believe the blast
was caused by a suicide bomber. According to a
Palestinian radio station in Gaza, the Fatah-linked Al-
Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the
attack. Abu Qusai, an Al-Aqsa field commander in the
Gaza Strip, said the name of the bomber would be
released shortly. Senior Palestinian Authority
official Saeb Erekat condemned the attack, saying it
was detrimental to the Palestinian cause.

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The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that Israel and the
US are at odds over the future of Syria in a post-
Bashar Assad era. In a strategic dialogue held last
week in Washington between the two countries, Israeli
representatives warned that a future regime in Syria,
should Assad lose power, might be just as problematic
as the old one. The Israelis projected three possible
scenarios if the current regime does fall - all of them
dangerous for the stability of the region. The first
was the possibility that Syria would deteriorate into
total chaos and plunge into some sort of civil war; the
second was that Assad would be succeeded by another
member of the ruling Alawite sect who would be a
hardliner like Assad; or, third, that an extreme
Islamic regime would take over the country. Sources
briefed on the content of the talks said these Israeli
warnings stood in stark contrast to the American view
as it was presented in the dialogue. The two sides
also discussed the wider issue of democratization in
the Arab world and, here too, the Israelis said they
were not as optimistic as the Americans regarding the
prospects of promoting democratic reforms in the
region. The Israeli delegation was headed by Minister
Tzahi Hanegbi and the US group was led by
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas
Burns.

Various sources reported on violent activity in Gaza
over the weekend. Israel Radio reported that an IDF
helicopter fired a missile into the offices of a
Palestinian terror organization in Gaza City overnight.
The Post reported that earlier, IAF jets struck at
Kassam launch sites in three separate bombardments
Saturday night. The Israeli attack came in retaliation
for Kassam rocket attacks, four total, over the
weekend, which targeted the western Negev. Two
Palestinians were killed by the IDF in separate
incidents, including one off the Gaza coast.

On Monday, the Post reported that Defense Minister
Mofaz instructed the army to "intensify its response"
to the Kassam rocket attacks and resume the targeted
killings of terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Israel Radio reports Sunday cited an Iranian news
agency that announced that Iran would begin
construction on two nuclear reactors beginning in
March. The report added that an Iranian
parliamentarian confirmed that one of the reactors
would be funded by Russia, at a cost of $1 billion.
Israeli officials strongly condemned the reported sale
of Russian weapons to Iran, calling it a "very
dangerous move."

On Monday, the Post carried an "exclusive" report
saying that the US is exploring the possibility of
enlisting allies in imposing trade sanctions on Iran if
Washington has to deal with Teheran's nuclear program
without the assistance of the UN Security Council.
Referring to this issue, the Post cited Likud's
Netanyahu as saying he "would take the steps necessary
to prevent a nuclear Iran" if elected prime minister.

A related report in Ha'aretz Monday cites Chief of
Staff Dan Halutz as saying that Iran is determined to
attain nuclear capability, "which for Israel is
intolerable, and Israel must prepare for the worst."
Speaking to foreign reporters Sunday, Halutz added
that, believing diplomatic efforts to thwart the
Iranian program will fail, "the alternative is physical
pressure," but he would not elaborate. Halutz said it
will take 3 to 6 years before Iran attains nuclear
power, unless it obtains a warhead first.

The lead Ma'ariv headline on Monday says the Iranian
nuclear issue features first in the 2006 elections
campaign. Labor's Peretz associates claimed this is an
attempt to divert the elections agenda from the social
to the security issue. The report cites Defense
Minister Mofaz's associates as saying he was upset by
Netanyahu's remarks in which he demonstrated
"irresponsibility." The report adds that Meretz-Yahad
Chairman Yossi Beilin warned that the Sharon-Netanyahu
verbal exchanges might lead to supporting a military
operation against Iran, saying that Israel must promote
the political option.

On Sunday, the Post and other media reported that the
IAF held the 14th test of the Israeli-designed Arrow 2
anti-ballistic missile on Friday, successfully
intercepting an incoming rocket at a higher altitude
than ever before. A day after Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon declared that Israel would not tolerate Iranian
efforts to get nuclear arms, "the test demonstrated
Israel's robust interception capability against
incoming missiles that may be armed with nuclear or
chemical warheads" the Post said.

In a related report, Yedi'ot Aharonot reported Sunday
that Israeli experts who have been monitoring military
developments in Israel and Iran said we are witnessing
an "unprecedented defensive arms race."

Ha'aretz added Sunday that Israeli defense
establishment experts were surprised to realize that
Syria has introduced significant changes in the
advanced model of the Scud D missile that give it
greater guidance capability and accuracy, according to
Western missile experts. The evaluations were based on
an examination of pieces of a Scud D missile that went
off course after a test launch and landed in southern
Turkey. The launch took place a few months ago, but it
took some time until all the pieces were analyzed.

On December 4, the Jerusalem Post reported that a
decision was made Sunday to take further steps in the
ongoing policy to ease restrictions on Palestinians not
involved in terror activity. Israel has permitted 4000
Palestinian neighbors from the West Bank to enter
Israel for work, bringing the total number of those
given entry to 16,000. In addition, 500 West Bank
merchants were granted access to Israel, bringing the
total number of merchants to 12,500. For the upcoming
Christmas celebrations, 500 worshippers from the Gaza
Strip will be permitted to enter Jerusalem today and on
December 8. Some 2000 Palestinian workers from Gaza
are permitted to enter Israel. Israel also granted
permits to 1000 merchants, bringing the total number of
merchants permitted to enter Israel from Gaza to 2000.

The Post reported on Sunday that Palestinian Authority
Finance Minister Salam Fayyad is planning to form a new
party that will run in next January's parliamentary
elections, sources in Ramallah said on Saturday.
Fayyad, who recently announced his intention to resign,
apparently in protest against the way PA chairman
Mahmud Abbas was handling the PA finances, will head
the new party, which will be independent and serve as
an alternative for those who don't want to vote for the
ruling Fatah party or Hamas. The sources said
legislator Hanan Ashrawi and former Information
Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the heads of the
Geneva Initiative group, are expected to join Fayyad's
party. Other Palestinians whose names have been
mentioned in connection with the new party are Dr. Iyad
Sarraj and Khaled Abdel Shafi of the Gaza Strip and
Abdel Kader Husseini of Jerusalem.

Yedi'ot Aharonot reported Sunday that there is tension
between Israel and Turkey in the wake of the paper's
expos on Israelis training Kurds in northern Iraq.
Aware of this, the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent
calming messages to Turkey, stating that the parties
involved were private companies. The ministry also
lashed at the Israeli companies, saying what they did
was "outrageous and irresponsible."

Ha'aretz reported Monday that Israel is trying to
prevent the development of a diplomatic crisis with
Ethiopia after eight of its military men who were in
Israel for training sought refuge with the ambassador
of Eritrea, who later flew them to his country. Israel
claims the Ethiopians defected on their own accord and
that no official Israeli body was involved.
Yediot also reported Monday that Indonesian foreign
minister said over the weekend that his government
supports initiating "non-diplomatic" contacts with
Israel, focusing on economic ties. The report adds
that the two countries have been in secret contacts for
the past several months in which Foreign Minister
Shalom and his ministry's director general were
involved.

Yediot Ahronot reported Monday that due to an American
demand, Israel had to cancel a security deal for
maintenance of the Venezuela Air Force's F-16's.
Israel was later "surprised" to realize that several
American companies submitted bids on the same tender,
with the US Administration's approval. Political
sources are cited as saying that "in the worst case,
the Americans played a trick on Israel to help their
own security industries." The affair caused great
embarrassment in the Israeli political and security
establishment, which "made efforts to conceal the
report so as not to reveal more alleged tensions
between Israel and the US."

The Post reported Monday that after the Supreme Court
rejected the appeal of suspected drug dealer Ze'ev
Rosenstein's extradition to the United States, Justice
Minister Tzipi Livni said she is willing to sign the
extradition order against Rosenstein, unless his
lawyers present her with convincing arguments against
doing so.

All the media reported Monday on the joint news
conference in which Prime Minister Ari'el Sharon and
Shimon Peres outlined their Kadima partnership.
Ha'aretz reported that Sharon said he will let Peres
choose any position he wants, where he will be "a full
and central partner to the political process." Peres
said he joined Sharon because he saw the great
opportunity created after the Gaza withdrawal, and
would not say whether he quit Labor because he lost to
Peretz.

The Post, citing AP, reported on Sunday that the UN
approved six resolutions criticizing Israeli policies.
"Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman said that the
resolutions were not only `absolutely useless' but
`very worrisome' because they signified Palestinian
concern only with the past, not with finding
constructive ways to improve the lives of both
Palestinians and Israelis."

1. Israeli Elections
Summary
-------------

Media and politics Professor Yoram Peri writes in
pluralist, mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot: "That
Sharon is leading in the polls way ahead of Labor and
the Likud." is due to "his understanding of the deep
change of the Israeli political map, where a new
consensus was created over the past three years.. It
is important to realize that this consensus is broadly
supported by the Israeli public opinion and thus, he
who represents it will score the most votes in the
March 2006 elections."

Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized:
"Peretz tends to play solo, as he was used to in the
Histadrut, but he must lose that habit.. He must
realize that even those who will be convinced by his
social and economic arguments will rightfully demand
that he prove himself worthy of being a prime
minister."

Veteran columnist Akiva Eldar writes in independent,
left-leaning Ha'aretz: "Why does a party named Kadima
[Forward] need a serial loser? . Peres is the prime
minister's most important acquisition.. The Nobel
laureate will travel the world's capitals and show that
his boss is a man of peace. There was a time that
Peres preached for a new Middle East, when he told
people like Sharon that making the peace process
conditional on ending terror is a gift for the
terrorists. Now he will tell the world that
eliminating the infrastructure of terror is what is
needed to promote the infrastructure of peace."

Bloc quotes
--------------

I. "What Sharon Realized"

Media and politics Professor Yoram Peri writes in
pluralist, mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot: "The fact
that Sharon is leading in the polls way ahead of Labor
and the Likud follows from his appeal as a leader, but
not less from his understanding of the deep change of
the Israeli political map, where a new consensus was
created over the past three years.. The consensus is
based on three principles: First, the belief that we
have no Palestinian partner for negotiations at this
time and that the Palestinian society is not ripe to
make peace, which is why the violent conflict will
continue for many years to come, even if the flames are
lower. Second, Oslo's failure must make Israel throw
the left-wing belief that peace can be attained in
exchange for territories into the dustbin of history;
at the same time, the right-wing view that peace can be
attained while keeping the territories is now extinct.
The new consensus is that the territories are a burden
and we must rid ourselves of most of them, even if this
does not bring peace any closer. Third, because there
will be no partner in this generation, and since we
must get used to living with ongoing terror, it is time
for us to take our future into our hands and determine
our fate unilaterally. Each of these three principles
can naturally be refuted, but this is not the issue.
It is important to realize that this consensus is
broadly supported by the Israeli public opinion and
thus, he who represents it will score the most votes in
the March 2006 elections."

II. "Peretz' First Test"

Independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz editorialized:
"Criticism of the way Amir Peretz conducts the Labor
Party affairs and his relations with the people around
him came too soon. When he was elected party chairman,
there was hope that his drive would help change the
political system, but some of the moves he made already
threaten to kill that hope.. Peretz tends to play
solo, as he was used to in the Histadrut, but he must
lose that habit.. It seems, however, that Peretz'
greatest mistake was his appreciation of the nature of
the campaign for Israel's leadership. The political
views he presented after his victory. were flexible
enough for Labor to present the voters with realistic
and practical suggestions for bilateral negotiations
with the Palestinians, a unilateral move in the West
Bank, and taking an active and effective part in
Sharon's coalition. But ever since he made his initial
declarations, he was not heard on the political
conflict, as if he has captivated himself in his social
agenda campaign, believing it will win him the
election. He must realize that even those who will be
convinced by his social and economic arguments will
rightfully demand that he prove himself worthy of being
a prime minister."

III. "What Does He Need Him For?"

Veteran columnist Akiva Eldar writes in independent,
left-leaning Ha'aretz: "Why does a party named Kadima
[Forward] need a serial loser? Did Sharon's strategic
advisers not warn him that Netanyahu would tag him
'Shimon (Oslo) Peres'?. It is hard to believe that
Sharon did not consider this when he chose to adopt the
political orphan. Nevertheless, Peres is the prime
minister's most important acquisition.. The Nobel
laureate will travel the world's capitals and show that
his boss is a man of peace. and who will then doubt
Sharon's commitment to peace? Even if the outposts are
flourishing and the peace process is withering, have no
fear: when Shimon is in the kitchen, rest assured --
something is cooking with Abu-Ala. Even if defense
minister Avi Dichter should spoil the soup with a bunch
of pinpointed assassinations, worry not, for Peres will
take "the peace team" to Europe and show the world that
everything is fine.. No one knows better than Peres
that a peace arrangement with the Palestinians, even an
interim one, can only be attained by way of
negotiations with a Palestinian partner; but Sharon has
already announced that the terms of joining his
partners' club remain: eliminating the infrastructure
of terror.. The prime minister maintains that HAMAS
should not only be disarmed, but also outlawed and its
offices closed. First the Israeli Government proved to
the Palestinians that only HAMAS can drive the Israelis
out and next, when HAMAS is at the peak of its
popularity, Israel wants the Palestinians to turn their
backs on it. According to security officials,
including those Peres sometimes listens to, this means
one thing - a [Palestinian] civil war.. There was a
time that Peres preached for a new Middle East, when he
told people like Sharon that making the peace process
conditional on ending terror is a gift for the
terrorists. Now he will tell the world that
eliminating the infrastructure of terror is what is
needed to promote the infrastructure of peace."


2. Iranian Nuclear Race

Summary
-----------

Military correspondent Alex Fishman writes in mass-
circulation, pluralist Yediot Ahronot: "Though no one
will declare this openly, we have entered the court of
the balance of terror and have already spent a long
time in the opening chapter of this malignant disease.
The Iranians do not yet have nuclear weapons, but we
are already in the foreplay stage -- conducting a
defensive arms race against them, trying to understand
where they are headed and to be there a few steps ahead
of them.. This will go on and on unless some kind of
political miracle should happen to stop this madness,
that sucks billions of dollars from both sides."

Bloc quotes
--------------

"It Costs Billions"

Military correspondent Alex Fishman writes in mass-
circulation, pluralist Yediot Ahronot: "Though no one
will declare this openly, we have entered the court of
the balance of terror and have already spent a long
time in the opening chapter of this malignant disease.
The Iranians do not yet have nuclear weapons, but we
are already in the foreplay stage -- conducting a
defensive arms race against them, trying to understand
where they are headed and to be there a few steps ahead
of them. Israel views the Iranian nuclear threat as a
given fact. Diplomatic efforts to thwart it have so
far failed. In view of this, all the remarks about
introducing a new national, social order of priorities
are merely election talk. Once Iran obtains nuclear
weapons, the huge sums and resources that Israel has
been investing in developing an appropriate response
will be doubled and tripled, and it already costs us
billions.. We will have to get used to this: The
Iranians make a move; we find an answer that is
supposed to anticipate their future technology; they
learn the Israeli response and with time develop a
counter technology. This will go on and on unless some
kind of political miracle should happen to stop this
madness, that sucks billions of dollars from both
sides."

3. The Syrian Threat

Summary
-----------

Liberal commentator Ofer Shelah writes in pluralist,
mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot: "Reports said that
Syria improved the guidance and maneuverability of its
Scud D missiles.. It is the old Israeli complex in
which we are dealing in detail, with an almost
masochistic pleasure, with the enemy's capabilities,
ignoring their meanings or the chances they would ever
materialize.."

Bloc quotes
--------------

"The Accountants of Fear"

Liberal commentator Ofer Shelah writes in pluralist,
mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot: "Cynics tend to
attribute reports of the kind that leaked to the media
from the defense establishment to the high budget
season. The reports said that Syria improved the
guidance and maneuverability of its Scud D missiles..
Only this time, even if there is smoke and fire,
there's nothing to burn because the limping Sharon
cabinet is holding no budgetary debates at all.. It
thus seems that this affair is older than any
conspiracy. It is the old Israeli complex in which we
are dealing in detail, with an almost masochistic
pleasure, with the enemy's capabilities, ignoring their
meanings or the chances they would ever materialize..
In this respect, the precision of the missiles, that
were not meant to pinpoint targets, is meaningless,
just as the number of rockets in the hands of Hizballah
is insignificant, though precisely counted (and
published) by the intelligence, acting zealotry as
accountants of fear.. The way we see things, our enemy
has no interests, intentions, or pressure levers; it
only wants to destroy us and has no rationale of its
own."
Jones

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