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Israel satisfied as WikiLeaks shows 'consistency' on Iran

Nov. 29, 2010 3:54 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 29, 2010 10:44 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel expressed satisfaction on Monday after the mass release of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, saying it proved Israel's position on Iran was consistent -- in public and in private.

The trove of documents released via the whistleblower website late on Sunday expose remarks made behind closed doors touching on everything from the Gaza blockade to Israeli views on the Hamas-Fatah divide, to US attempts to collect information on Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

"I don't think Israel was harmed at all," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv.

"Israel is a free society and largely open society. Its assessments of the problems in the area are supported by the assessments of many others even if they are not said openly," he said, as politicians and media commentators crowed over Israel's vindication over the Iranian issue.

"We come out looking very good," a senior government official told AFP, while cautioning that his assessment was only preliminary and came before the full set of leaked documents were released.

The cables "demonstrate that Israel doesn't speak a double language and that we say in private what we say in public" about the threat of Iran's nuclear program, he added.

The documents posted online by WikiLeaks and a select group of international media outlets show widespread concern about Iran's nuclear program and reveal Saudi Arabia "repeatedly" urged a US military strike on the country.

"They confirm that the whole Middle East is terrified by the prospect of a nuclear Iran," the Israeli official added. "The Arab countries are pushing the United States towards military action more forcefully than Israel."

The cables also show that Israel discussed its planned war on Gaza with the Palestinian leadership and Egypt ahead of time, offering to hand them control there if Hamas was overthrown.

The attempt to coordinate its offensive against Gaza's Islamist rulers was revealed by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in talks with a congressional delegation in May 2009.

"He explained that the GOI (government of Israel) had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas," the cable said, referring to the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Not surprisingly, Barak said, the GOI received negative answers from both," it said.

Israel launched "Operation Cast Lead" on 27 December 2008 with the stated aim of halting rocket attacks from Gaza. During the 22-day war, some 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed as well as 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.

Several of the telegrams quote conversations with Netanyahu when he was leader of the opposition. In one, dated April 2007, he says there would be no peace with the Palestinians until they drop demands for the refugees' right of return.

"Netanyahu noted that he thought dropping the 'right of return' was the acid test of Arab intentions and insisted that he would never allow a single Palestinian refugee to return to Israel," it said.

And a withdrawal by Israeli forces to the pre-1967 borders would only encourage radical Islamic elements, Netanyahu was quoted as saying.

The issue of refugees is one of the thorniest elements of the conflict, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel recognize the right of return of refugees who, with their descendants, now number 4.7 million people.

In the same 2007 meeting, Netanyahu also revealed Israel's preoccupation with the bitter rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.

Asked his opinion of Abbas, Netanyahu described the Palestinian leader as a "nice man who means well" whom he would have no problem supporting, but he said "Israel and the US should first focus more on 'strangling' Hamas."

It would be easier, he said, "to weaken Hamas than to strengthen Abbas."
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