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Cablegate: Codel Skelton's Meeting with Idf Chief of General

DE RUEHTV #2778/01 3571035
O 231035Z DEC 09

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 002778


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

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

1. (S) Summary. CODEL Skelton met with Lt General Gabi
Ashkenazi at the MFA November 15. Their discussion covered
U.S.-Israeli cooperation on missile defense and cyber
warfare, the Iranian threat, Syria and Lebanon,
Israeli-Palestinian relations, the Goldstone Report, and IDF
training and readiness. Lt General Ashkenazi expressed
appreciation for the House Committee on Armed Services'
support for Israel over the years. On Iran, he stressed that
the regime is radical but not irrational, and may change
course if faced with a united international community. While
there is a need to be ready for "other options," Ashkenazi
said there is still time to put the emphasis on sanctions.
On Syria, Ashkenazi said President Asad is enjoying the best
of both worlds now and must be forced to choose between Iran
and an opening to the West. Hizballah has been deterred by
the 2006 Lebanon War, but it now has 40,000 rockets, some of
which can cover most of Israel's territory. Ashkenazi said
he did not know how long the current relative calm in Gaza
will last and cautioned that Israel is "on a collision
course" with Hamas. He contrasted Gaza with the good
situation in the West Bank, but warned that if negotiations
with the PA do not start soon, the situation on the West Bank
may deteriorate. Regarding the Goldstone Report, Ashkenazi
said the IDF cannot allow a situation in which it is
restricted from operating in urban areas. He admitted the
IDF had made mistakes in Gaza but insisted that they did not
deliberately attack civilians. The IDF is checking how to
correct errors, but Ashkenazi said the "next battle will be
in the same places," i.e. Gaza and southern Lebanon.
Ashkenazi praised the readiness of the IDF, noting that
soldiers need to know their mission, while commanders need to
trust soldiers in the field to make decisions without
checking up the line of command. He called for using
Israel's technological and intelligence advantages to
"reverse the asymmetry" of fighting terrorist organizations.
Despite the threats, Ashkenazi expressed confidence in the
future, noting that Israel is here to stay. End Summary.

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2. (U) CODEL Skelton, consisting of House Armed Services
Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D, MO), 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 Major
Bill Denham and PolCouns met with IDF Chief of General Staff
Lt General Gabi Ashkenazi at the MFA November 15. Ashkenazi
began the meeting by expressing his appreciation for the
Committee's support for Israel over the years.

Missile Defense and Cyber Warfare

3. (S) Ashkenazi noted that the threat to Israel from
missiles and rockets is more serious than ever, hence the
increasing importance of missile defense. Israel's layered
approach to missile defense is unique. The Juniper Cobra
joint exercise tested various aspects of the system, with
about 1400 U.S. troops participating in real time scenarios
with Israeli counterparts. Israel now has about ten to
twelve minutes' warning of a missile attack from Iran.
Chairman Skelton noted the U.S. military is standing up a
separate cyber command and asked about the IDF's approach.
Ashkenazi responded that he sees cyber warfare as an
opportunity as well as a risk. He praised the IDF's "very
good relations" with NSA, noting that they are working on
solving mutual challenges. Ashkenazi said cyber warfare has
great potential in the war against terrorism. The IDF has
not established a separate cyber command, but is making a
major investment of people and resources in this area,
especially since the Iranians are also quite good at it.

Still Time for Diplomacy on Iran

4. (S) Turning to Iran, Ashkenazi commented that the world
cannot allow this regime to obtain nuclear weapons. There is
still time for diplomacy, but we should not forget that
Iran's centrifuges are working day and night. Ashkenazi
described Iran as "radical but not irrational;" they will
change course if they see they are facing a united
international community. The problem is that the Iranians do
not face a united front since Russia's is not fully on board.
Since it is unclear whether Iran will face severe sanctions,
Israel needs to be ready for "other options," but Ashkenazi
noted that "we are not there yet." He urged the U.S. to

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focus on sanctions now.

5. (S) Ashkenazi commented that Iran does not only pose a
nuclear threat but also supports the radical forces in the
region. Chairman Skelton asked about the position of Saudi
Arabia. Ashkenazi responded that the Saudis are opposed to
Iranian hegemony in the Gulf, but added that private Saudis,
not the government, are major funders of terrorist groups,
especially Hamas. Egypt and Jordan are also concerned about
Iran, he said, adding that President Mubarak says that Iran
is promoting regime change in Egypt.

Syria Enjoying Both Sides

6. (S) Ashkenazi described Syrian President Asad as enjoying
the best of both worlds, smiling to the West while supporting
Hizballah and Hamas. Syria is not only trans-shipping
weapons to Hizballah from Iran but is also supplying
Hizballah directly from Syrian depots. Asad needs to be
forced to choose, Ashkenazi said. Syria is vulnerable to
pressure since it has a minority regime with a bad economy
and its oil is running out. If Syria can be removed from the
Iranian axis, it would greatly reduce the threat to Israel
from Hizballah and Hamas. At the same time, Ashkenazi
admitted that the Golan is Israel's quietest border since the
Syrians are very careful not to provoke Israel directly.

7. (S) Ashkenazi said Hizballah has behaved in a restrained
manner for the past three years. Despite "some problems" in
Israel's management of the 2006 Lebanon War, it did deter
Hizballah. Hassan Nasrallah does not seek another round with
Israel, though Ashkenazi admitted that he did not know for
how long that would remain the case. Responding to a
question about Hizballah's stockpile of rockets and missiles,
Ashkenazi said Hizballah is actually a small army, but 40,000
rockets and missiles in its arsenal, including Iranian
missiles capable of hitting Beer Sheva from Lebanon. UNSC
Resolution 1701 had proved to be effective in blocking the
transfer of arms to Lebanon by sea and air, but it had failed
on the ground. Iran sends weapons by sea and air to Syria
which then ships them by land to Lebanon. Ashkenazi asserted
that Hizballah now has dispersed its stockpiles of rockets
and missiles all over Lebanon. Since Hizballah is part of
the Lebanese Government again, in the event of hostilities
Ashkenazi warned that the GOL and not just Hizballah could be
Israel's target.

Gaza and the West Bank

8. (S) Ashkenazi said that Hamas is in firm control of Gaza.
Hamas has largely stopped the rocket fire at Israel, but it
is unclear how long the relative calm will last. He
commented that Hamas may continue to restrain the fire as
long as they anticipate a prisoner exchange with Israel as
part of a deal for the release of Corporal Shalit, but he
stressed that Israel is "on a collision course" with Hamas.
In the West Bank, by contrast, the situation is improving, as
even Abu Mazen and PM Fayyad admit. Ashkenazi praised Lt
General Dayton for doing a "very good job" training PA
security forces. He said that Israel has reduced checkpoints
in order to improve Palestinian access and movement, while
the PASF are improving in terms of providing law and order.
The problem is with the uncertainty over Abu Mazen's
political future. If there are no Israeli-PA negotiations,
it may change the situation on the ground in the West Bank as
the Palestinian population loses patience with the deadlock.

Relative Missile Threats

9. (S) Representative Murphy noted that the U.S. could be
drawn in if Israel attacked Iran. Ashkenazi did not reply
directly but said that the rocket/missile threat to Israel is
principally from Hizballah and Syria, not Iran. Iran has
about 300 Shihab missiles capable of hitting Israel. These
do not pose a big threat compared to the threats from
Hizballah and Syria, which are closer and have increasingly
accurate systems. Hamas now also has the capability to hit
Tel Aviv with rockets from Gaza.

10. (S) Ashkenazi noted that despite progress on missile
defense, Israel does not have the capability to cover the
country with a shield. One million Israelis now live within
range of small rocket fire that cannot be fought from the

TEL AVIV 00002778 003 OF 003

air. The IDF is continuing to send drones over Lebanon in
order to refine their identification of potential targets,
and they are making good progress. The next war will be a
combination of fire, stand-off capability and ground maneuver.

Goldstone Report

11. (C) In response to a question about whether the
Goldstone Report made it more likely that Hizballah would
hide its rockets within populated civilian areas, Ashkenazi
responded that Hamas and Hizballah were choosing their
battlefields in order to limit Israel's military capability.
He said he could not allow a situation in which the IDF would
be restricted from operating as necessary. No one had forced
Hamas to operate from heavily populated areas. During the
Gaza ground operation, the IDF had tried innovative means of
warning civilians, including taking over Palestinian radio
and television broadcasts. Ashkenazi admitted that there
were mistakes made, but there was no deliberate targeting of
Palestinian civilians. He noted that Israeli soldiers were
also hit by mistake. The same tank battalion that hit the
house of Dr. Abul Eish and killed his two daughters also hit
an IDF infantry unit. The IDF is checking how it conducted
operations, but so far they had not discovered a single case
of intentionally killing civilians. The Army had even
stopped operations in Gaza every day to allow humanitarian
supplies to be brought in. Israel needs to explain to the
world what it did and why since the "next battle will be
conducted in the same places," i.e. Gaza and South Lebanon.

Training to Deal with a Changing Environment

12. (C) Representative Israel asked how the IDF is changing
its training to deal with the new threat environment.
Ashkenazi said he is preparing the IDF for a big war, since
it is easier to scale back to small operations than the
reverse. Ashkenazi stressed the importance of soldiers
knowing and understanding their mission. Given the short
time in which decisions must be made on the battlefield,
commanders need to trust soldiers to make decisions even
though there will be mistakes. In this environment, real
time intelligence is more important than ever. The IDF under
his command is working very hard to prepare for war before it
starts. Ashkenazi said he was focused on finding ways to use
Israel's strengths in intelligence and technology to its
advantage in order to "reverse the asymmetry."

13. (C) Ending on an optimistic note, Ashkenazi urged the
CODEL not to heed gloomy assessments of Israel's strategic
situation. Israel is strong and is here to stay, he
stressed, adding that his parents had not come to Israel from
Bulgaria and Morocco only to see their children and
grandchildren give up on defending a Jewish state.

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

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