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Cablegate: Assistant Secretary of Defense Vershbow Meets With

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DE RUEHTV #2482/01 3200855
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 160855Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4213
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WSHDC PRIORITY
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S E C R E T TEL AVIV 002482

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SIPDIS

NEA FOR A/S FELTMAN; NSC FO DAN SHAPIRO; OSD FOR USD-P
FLOURNOY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS PTER KWBG EG SY IR SA LE TU
IS
SUBJECT: ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE VERSHBOW MEETS WITH
SENIOR ISRAELI DEFENSE OFFICIALS

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
SUMMARY

-------------------
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
junctures.

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
importance.

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
strike."

-----------------
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.

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

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.
CUNNINGHAM

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