Cablegate: Das Danin and Dasd Kimmitt Discuss Gaza Smuggling

DE RUEHTV #3258/01 3131244
O 091244Z NOV 07

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 003258



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/08/2017

Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones for reasons 1.4 (b/d)

1. (S) SUMMARY: Deputy Assistant Secretary Rob Danin and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mark Kimmitt met November 6 with Israel Security Agency (ISA) Director Yuval Diskin to discuss relations with Egypt regarding the Gaza border. Diskin said the ISA had provided detailed information on smuggling networks, but the Egyptians had failed to take action. Concern about Congressional moves to link Egyptian aid to Gaza smuggling has prompted new bilateral discussions, and Diskin indicated some flexibility on Sinai troop levels in return for serious cooperation on this issue. Diskin contended that Egypt generally seeks to avoid conflict with Hamas and Bedouin tribes, and tolerates their activities outside Egyptian borders. He also suggested that the central government has weakened in recent years, and has less control over security officials in Sinai. The ISA asked for U.S. support in efforts to establish direct ties with security services within the Egyptian Ministry of Interior. Diskin provided specific details on smuggling from Egypt, and warned that trained personnel returning from Syria and Iran were of even greater concern. END SUMMARY.

----------------------------------- Many Egyptian Promises, Few Results -----------------------------------

2.(S) On November 6, DAS Danin and DASD Kimmit discussed a growing crisis in Israeli-Egyptian relations over smuggling across the Gaza border, accompanied by Deputy Chief of Mission and OSD/ISA Alan Davidson. Diskin told Danin and Kimmit that the ISA had, on several occasions, provided Omar Suleiman, Chief of Egyptian Intelligence Services, with detailed intelligence on the names of smugglers. In 2005, Diskin said he met personally with Suleiman in Egypt, at which time Suleiman promised personally to take responsibility for "cleansing the Sinai." Despite these promises, and Israeli offers to initiate joint operations, Diskin said Egypt has not acted to eliminate the smuggling networks. In Diskin's view, there is a core policy problem, in that the Egyptians view themselves as the primary mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians, and are careful not to alienate either side. "This is not possible with Hamas in Gaza," insisted Diskin.

3.(S) Diskin noted that the Egyptians do act promptly when they receive tangible information on imminent terrorist attacks and seek out tunnel openings in the Philedelphi corridor. In Diskin's view, however, the tunnels are only a symptom of the more systemic smuggling problem. Goods are also transferred by sea and above ground by bribing Egyptian soldiers and officers, said Diskin. The tunnels themselves are designed with multiple openings, he continued, and remain operational even after the Egyptians seal up one or another. The deeper problem, said the ISA chief, is that the Egyptians have done nothing to shut down extensive smuggling operations that bring explosives from Sudan, and perhaps Yemen and Libya. Diskin suggested that Egypt has much more extensive intelligence sources in Sudan than does the GOI, and could act to cut off much of the smuggling near the source.

4.(S) Diskin shared that sources among the smugglers have told the ISA that Egypt permits their activities as long as they do not result in terror attacks within Egyptian territory. This shows that they can crack down on the smugglers if they have the will, said Diskin, but the fact is that they prefer to use Gaza and Israel as a safety valve for extremists in Egypt. The ISA Chief said the GOI sent a delegation to Egypt one month ago to inquire about the release of a smuggler who supplied an Eilat suicide bombing in February. After initial denials, Diskin said the Egyptians admitted that he had been released for fear of causing problems with the Sinai Bedouin tribes. In Diskin's view, the central government in Egypt has grown considerably weaker (as Mubarak has grown older), making it harder for them to control their own security forces in peripheral areas such as Sinai.

--------------------------------------- Smuggling of Explosives, People on Rise ---------------------------------------

5.(S) Diskin said the ISA estimates that thousands of AK 47s TEL AVIV 00003258 002 OF 003 have entered Gaza since the Hamas takeover, as well as sniper rifles, TNT and other explosives, at least 20 "Koncord" anti-tank missiles, 15-20 GRAD rockets, and unspecified anti-aircraft missiles. In addition, explosives from previous military campaigns remain in the Sinai desert, and are collected and sold by the Bedouin in Gaza and Israel. Diskin cautioned that these were conservative estimates that only reflected what the ISA was able to verify. In response to a request for more detailed source information, Diskin promised to share everything possible with the USG.

6.(S) Even more serious, in Diskin's view, is the movement of well-trained personnel entering Gaza from Syria and Iran. Diskin noted that this problem is not new, and was included in negotiations with Egypt prior to the Gaza disengagement. The ISA Chief sympathized with the Egyptians, who he said were eager to rid themselves of thousands of Gaza residents currently in Egypt. There are signs that Hamas is pressuring Egypt to allow these people to cross, said Diskin, and it appears that they have already done so once or twice. According to Diskin, the ISA has intelligence that a number of senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) activists recently returned to Gaza from abroad with specialized knowledge to upgrade fighting and weapons manufacturing capabilities.

-------------------------------- Looking for Relief from Congress --------------------------------

7.(S) Suleiman recently sent a delegation to Israel to ask the ISA for help in blocking Congressional efforts to link aid to Egypt with security measures on the Gaza border. According to Diskin, the ISA told the Egyptians they had already provided them with all available intelligence on smuggling into Gaza -- it was up to them to act. Diskin dismissed Egyptian excuses that the intelligence had not been provided through the right channels, but said he would transmit it again in any case. Diskin accused Egypt of being short-sighted on the issue, as Sinai has now become a "weapons and explosives" warehouse for carrying out operations in Gaza, Israel, and Egypt. There are clear links, said Diskin, between the terrorists who attacked Sharm al-Sheikh in 2006 and PIJ activists in Gaza. Diskin dismissed the suggestion that a move against smugglers could lead to retaliation in Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood. "The smugglers are from Sinai tribes, not PIJ or the Brotherhood," said Diskin. "Money is their religion."

----------------------------------------- ISA Seeks Deeper Ties With Egyptian Intel -----------------------------------------

8.(S) The ISA believes that cooperation would be greatly improved by direct links to Egypt's "Administration for National Security Investigations," the domestic security agency operated within the Ministry of Interior. According to Diskin, Suleiman is blocking such discussions out of a desire to remain the sole point of contact for foreign intelligence. Such a relationship could be established if Mubarak were to support it directly, said Diskin, who suggested that USG assistance in facilitating contact between the agencies might be helpful.

---------------------------- More Troops Not the Solution ----------------------------

9.(S) Diskin said that Egyptian security personnel insist they do not have enough people to patrol the border area properly. The ISA rejects this notion, and asserts that the 700 security personnel currently deployed are enough to patrol the 14 km boarder. Diskin offered his personal view that ultimately the GOI would not object to a small troop increase, but only after Egypt demonstrated a willingness to crack down on smuggling networks. Diskin made clear that the GOI does not want Gaza border problems to serve as a pretense for the Egyptians to deploy thousands of new forces in Sinai, in violation of previous agreements.

10.(S) According to Diskin, the tunnels themselves are virtually uncontrollable no matter how many troops are deployed. The Rafah families and tribes that straddle the TEL AVIV 00003258 003 OF 003 border are experts in tunnel construction, said Diskin, and have extended their construction throughout Gaza in anticipation of an Israeli military operation. Diskin pointed out that Israel has not exercised control over Rafah since the early stages of the Oslo Accords in 1994. The only successful operations in Rafah since that time were taken by the Palestinian Authority in the months ahead of the Gaza disengagement.

11.(U) DAS Danin and DASD Kimmitt cleared this cable.

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