Cablegate: Codel Skelton's Meeting with Prime Minister

DE RUEHTV #2777/01 3571034
P 231034Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 002777


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/23/2019

Classified By: DCM Luis G. Moreno, Reason 1.4 (b) (d)

1. (C) Summary. CODEL Skelton met with Prime Minister
Netanyahu November 16 at the Prime Minister's office in
Jerusalem. Their discussion covered Netanyahu's meeting with
President Obama the previous week, Netanyahu's interest in
resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, the Iranian
nuclear program and options for tougher sanctions, possible
negotiations with Syria, U.S.-Israeli cooperation on missile
defense, and Israel's objections to the Goldstone Report.
Netanyahu said his meeting with the President was the best
meeting that they have had. He stressed that he had told the
President that he is ready to negotiate with Abu Mazen now,
and contrasted Israel's position with the PA's setting of
preconditions for negotiations. Netanyahu listed steps the
GOI has taken to support Abu Mazen, noting that the PA is
"doing a good job" on security. A nuclear Iran, however,
would "wash away" all progress as well as undermining
Israel's peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Netanyahu
said that Iran is vulnerable to sanctions and urged the U.S.
to increase the pressure on Iran, with likeminded countries
if Russia and China will not support new sanctions in the
Security Council. Netanyahu commented that there is broader
Arab and European support for tough sanctions than in the
past, although the Arabs may not say so publicly. Netanyahu
praised President Obama's commitment to missile defense, and
commented that U.S.-Israeli cooperation on missile defense
sends a strong signal to Israel's enemies. He thanked the
CODEL for the Congress' support. Netanyahu said Israel faces
three main threats: Iran's nuclear program, the build-up of
rockets and missiles in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, and the
Goldstone Report, which condemned Israel for defending its
civilian population from years of rocket attacks. Netanyahu
said Israel will need to ensure that a future Palestinian
state cannot launch rockets at Israel's international airport
or critical facilities. End Summary.

Let's Get on with Negotiations

2. (U) CODEL Skelton, consisting of House Armed Services
Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D, MO) and Mrs. Skelton,
Representative Steve Israel (D-NY), Representative Tim Murphy
(R, PA), Congressional Staff members Phil McNaughton, Michael
Casey, and John Wason, Military aides Colonel Jeff Koch and
PolCouns met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu November
16. Netanyahu was joined by Deputy National Security Adviser
Rear Admiral (reserve) Avriel Bar Josef, media adviser Mark
Regev, policy adviser Ari Harrow, and a Congressional liaison
officer from the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

3. (C) Netanyahu began the meeting by noting his
appreciation for his meeting with President Obama at the
White House the previous week. Netanyahu described his
conversation with the President as "the best we've had so
far." He said that regarding negotiations with the
Palestinians, he told the President, "let's get on with it."
Netanyahu stated that his government had removed hundreds of
obstacles and roadblocks in the West Bank, helping the West
Bank economy achieve a seven percent growth rate, adding "and
we can kick it up to ten percent growth." Netanyahu said his
Bar Ilan address last June had been difficult for him, but it
had united Israelis in support of accepting a demilitarized
Palestinian state. The current GOI had also restrainted
construction in settlements more than its past several

4. (C) Netanyahu then contrasted his efforts with the PA,
which he said is maintaining a "political and economic
boycott" of Israel, setting preconditions for negotiations,
supporting the Goldstone Report in the UN, and is now talking
about a unilateral declaration of independence. Israel wants
to engage, but the Palestinians do not. Netanyahu quoted a
Palestinian official as saying that the PA had "exhausted the
negotiating process," then noted that the Palestinians have
not even started to talk to his government. The real
difference, he pointed out, is that Abu Mazen is facing
elections, while Israel has already conducted its elections.
Netanyahu also commented that the Palestinians had initially
expected the U.S. to "deliver Israel" on all of their
demands, but are now realizing that this will not happen.
President Obama understands, he stated, that Israel is ready
to move forward. The alternatives to negotiations are bad
for everyone. Netanyahu said that if Abu Mazen would engage,
they would confront all the issues. The process would not be
easy, but it has to get started.

5. (C) Netanyahu said the West Bank had remained quiet
during Operation Cast Lead because the Palestinians do not

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want to live under Hamas' rule. He asserted that according
to recent polls, Abu Mazen and Fatah would easily win an
election, even in Gaza. Netanyahu stressed that he was not
pushing for the Palestinians to hold elections, but was
instead focused on promoting the expansion of the West Bank
economy by removing both physical and bureaucratic obstacles.
He acknowledged that the PA is "doing a good job" on
security, though he added that PA leaders are not aware of
everything Israel is doing to support the PA's security. If
we could add a political process to the cooperation that
currently exists, we could get security, economic
development, and peace. Netanyahu warned, however, that if
Iran gets a nuclear bomb, the peace process would be "washed
away." Even Israel's peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan
would come under enormous pressure.

Iran Sanctions

6. (C) Chairman Skelton noted that his Committee is
following Iran closely. Netanyahu said he had advised the
President to stick to the deadline on the TRR offer, adding
that it is also important to ask Iran to stop its enrichment
activities. Netanyahu commented that there is a new mood in
the major European capitals in support of sanctions. The
U.S. does not need to depend on the Security Council, but can
work with likeminded countries. Sanctions should focus on
Iran's importation of gasoline, while also focusing on
opening up the information networks. The U.S. should lead
the world toward tougher sanctions, or more of the Arab
states will start appeasing Iran, as Qatar is doing.
Netanyahu summed up his advice as: "stick to the deadline,
be firm on the terms, and apply sanctions" if Iran does not
comply. He thought Russia may be more inclined than in the
past, but it would be best not to count on the Security
Council. Having set a deadline, the P5 1 should stick to it.
The Western powers at least will go along. We should close
the gap between understanding the problem and acting on it,
he said. Netanyahu said Israel's problems with Iran are not
limited to its nuclear program. Even without a nuclear
umbrella, Iran is sending hundreds of tons of weapons to
Syria, Hamas and Hizballah. The ship seized November 3 by
the Israeli Navy had on board two thirds of the amount of
rockets fired at Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War.

7. (C) Representative Israel asked Netanyahu about the
timetable for Iran to achieve a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu
responded that Iran has the capability now to make one bomb
or they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.
It is important to bear in mind that the Iranian regime was
exposed as a fraud during their presidential elections. The
Iranian people detest the regime and have shown great courage
in the streets. The exposure of the Qom facility also helped
convince doubters in the international community that Iran
has a weapons program. Iran has a weak economy and a
fractured political system, so it is vulnerable to sanctions.
The time to act diplomatically is now, Netanyahu said,
adding that we still have a year or two to stop the Iranian
program. Netanyahu said he thought President Obama
understands Iran perfectly. The Arab leaders hope Iran will
be stopped, there is broad Arab and European support for
"vigorous steps." Chairman Skelton asked whether the Arabs
would state their support publicly. Netanyahu replied they
might not, but it would not make a large difference since the
Arab "street" will not rise up in support of the Iranian

Ready to Talk to Syria

8. (C) Regarding Syria, Netanyahu urged the U.S. to press
Damascus to stop supplying arms to Hizballah. Noting that he
had stopped in Paris to meet President Sarkozy on his way
back to Israel from Washington, Netanyahu confirmed media
reports that Sarkozy had offered to mediate between Israel
and Syria. Netanyahu said he would prefer direct
negotiations with the Syrians, but added that he would accept
France as a mediator. President Asad, however, still wants
Turkey as the mediator. Noting that Turkish PM Erdogan had
recently stated that he would prefer to meet with Sudanese
President Omar Bashir than with Netanyahu, Netanyahu asked
how the Turks could be fair mediators.

Working Together on Missile Defense

9. (C) Netanyahu said that in addition to peace with the
Palestinians and Iran, he and the President had discussed
joint U.S.-Israeli efforts on missile defense. Netanyahu

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commented that he had personally visited the Juniper Cobra
joint military exercise. The program has reached a phase at
which it is possible to monitor incoming missiles with a good
lead-time, but it is still very expensive to intercept "crude
rockets" such as those fired from Gaza. The information
shield is moving ahead nicely, but the physical shield is
lagging behind. Netanyahu observed that it is very important
for the U.S. and its allies to be able to defend themselves
against missile attack. Chairman Skelton noted that U.S.
personnel who briefed the CODEL were very optimistic about
the program. Netanyahu said only the U.S. and Israel are
currently working on missile defense. This cooperation sends
a powerful message to Israel's enemies he noted, and thanked
the CODEL and the Congress for their support.

Goldstone Report a Key Threat

10. (C) Netanyahu commented that Israel currently faces
three principal threats: Iran's nuclear program, missile
proliferation and the Goldstone Report. Goldstone gave
terrorists immunity to attack Israel if they fire from
populated areas. During Cast Lead the IDF send thousands and
flyers, text messages and phone calls to civilians, warning
them to get out of the way, yet Israel was accused of war
crimes. Hamas and other terrorists fired 12.000 rockets into
Israel from Gaza, Netanyahu said, noting that Israel is the
only country in the world faced with threats to annihilate
it. Netanyahu asked the CODEL to imagine a situation in
which Israeli Air Force pilots must consult with lawyers
before they can travel abroad. Former PM Olmert, former
FonMin Livni and DefMin Barak could be hauled before the
International Criminal Court. Netanyahu said he could not
accept that IDF soldiers could be charged with war crimes for
protecting their country from constant attack. The deaths of
several hundred civilians in Gaza was "tragic," Netanyahu
said, but there was no deliberate targeting of civilians by
Israel. Deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime,
but what should Israel do when terrorists deliberately target
Israeli civilians and then hide within their civilian

11. (U) CODEL Skelton did not clear this cable.

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