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Leaked US cables: New administrations discuss military cooperation

Nov. 29, 2010 10:34 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 5, 2010 4:28 P.M.)
20 July 2009, 10:10

S E C R E T TEL AVIV 001688

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/30/2019

TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS PTER EG CH IR SA LE IS

SUBJECT: PM A/S SHAPIRO'S JULY 22-23 VISIT TO ISRAEL

REF: GRUBB-MILLER 07/22/09 E-MAIL

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

1. (S) Summary: Assistant Secretary for Political-Military

Affairs Andrew Shapiro met with a number of GOI officials on

July 22-23 to stress the importance of the U.S.-Israeli

political-military relationship, and to discuss among other

issues Israel's Qualitative Military Edge (QME). GOI

interlocutors continued to press for the opportunity to

review the QME report prior to its submission to Congress,

and presented an official response to a U.S. non-paper on

potential arms transfers to Arab countries. In that respect,

the MOD proposed technical discussions in Washington on

August 3 to further discuss GOI concerns over the potential

F-15SA transfer to Saudi Arabia. GOI officials continued to

express reservations regarding U.S. arms transfers to

Lebanon, and requested the opportunity to further discuss

U.S. strategy and intentions with respect to the Lebanese

Armed Forces. GOI interlocutors raised continued concerns

over the Iranian nuclear weapons program, noting that any

policy of engagement be done in conjunction with tougher

sanctions and for a finite period of time before turning to

other "options on the table." Other issues raised by GOI

officials included the Peace Process, Israel's export control

system, and potential Israeli exports to China. Both sides

agreed in principle to the next session of the Joint

Political Military Group (JPMG) in October or early November

in Israel. End summary.

2. (SBU) On July 22, A/S Shapiro met with MOD Director

General Pinchas Buchris, MOD Political-Military Director Amos

Gilad, Defense Export Control Directorate Chief Eli Pincu,

and participated in a roundtable discussion led by J5

Strategic Division Chief Brigadier General Yossi Heymann. At

the MFA on July 23, A/S Shapiro met with Director General

Yossi Gal and participated in a roundtable discussion led by

Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs Alon Bar and

Export Control Director Roey Gilad. A/S Shapiro also

participated in a strategic tour of Israel, and visited

Israeli defense company Plasan-Sasa.

U.S.-Israeli Relationship

-------------------------

3. (SBU) A/S Shapiro stressed the importance of the

U.S-Israeli political-military relationship, noting the

significance of visiting Israel on his first overseas trip in

his capacity as Assistant Secretary for the

Political-Military Affairs Bureau. GOI interlocutors

appreciated the opportunity to resume dialogue on this

important aspect of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. MOD DG

Buchris noted the two still relatively new administrations in

the United States and Israel, and the importance of limiting

the number of misunderstandings in the future.

Qualitative Military Edge

-------------------------

4. (S) GOI officials reiterated the importance of maintaining

Israel's Qualitative Military Edge (QME). They said that

Israel understands U.S. policy intentions to arm moderate

Arab states in the region to counter the Iranian threat, and

prefers such sales originate from the United States instead

of other countries like Russia or China. However, Israel

continues to stress the importance of identifying potential

risks that may become future threats or adversaries, and for

this reason maintains several objections as indicated in the

official GOI response to the QME non-paper on potential U.S.

arms sales to the region (ref e-mail to PM/RSAT separately).

5. (S) GOI officials also expressed continued interest in

reviewing the QME report prior to its submission to Congress.

A/S Shapiro reiterated that the report was based on an

assessment from the intelligence community, and therefore not

releasable to the GOI. He referenced previous points made to

the Israeli embassy in Washington regarding the report, and

welcomed any comments the GOI might have -- although such

comments should be delivered as soon as possible as the

report is already overdue. Israeli interlocutors appreciated

the classified nature of the report, but also made clear it

was difficult to comment on the report's results without

reviewing its content or intelligence assessment. In that

respect, Buchris and other GOI officials requested that the

QME process be reviewed in light of future QME reports.

6. (S) GOI interlocutors attempted to make the argument that

moderate Arab countries could in the future become

adversaries -- and that this should be taken into account in

the QME process. During a roundtable discussion led by the

MFA's Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs Alon Bar,

the MFA's Center for Policy Research gave intelligence briefs

on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon to further support the

argument that these countries could become future foes.

Policy Research Center interlocutors reviewed succession

concerns in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Bar argued that a

perceived closure in the capability gap between Israel and

Arab states, coupled with a nuclear-armed Iran, could compel

moderate Arab states to reassess the notion that Israel was a

fixture in the region.

7. (S) Typically frank, MOD Political-Military Chief Amos

Gilad was not certain how much longer Egyptian President

Mubarak would live, and questioned whether his son Gamal was

ready to assume command. Gilad said the Egyptian military

led by Defense Minister Tantawi continues to train and

exercise as if "Israel was its only enemy." He added that

there were disturbing signs on the Egyptian streets, as women

are dressed more conservatively, and that peace with Israel

"is too thin, too superficial." On Saudi Arabia, Gilad said

that King Abdullah does not hate Israel, but his chief

priority is the survival of the regime.

8. (S) The GOI official response to the arms transfer

non-paper includes several objections, such as the potential

transfer of systems for the F-15SA to Saudi Arabia, including

the Enhanced Paveway II, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System,

and AESA radar. Buchris said the GOI is ready to establish a

working group to discuss the F-15SA transfer, and proposed an

Israeli technical team accompany BG Heymann to Washington (in

town for a missile defense meeting) on August 3 to discuss

the issue further. Buchris said the sale of the F-15SA was

not the problem, but rather the weapons systems included on

the planes and the location of the planes in Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon

-------

9. (S) The GOI remains concerned about U.S. arms transfers to

the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and has requested the

opportunity to discuss further U.S. intentions regarding the

LAF. A/S Shapiro said the results of the Lebanese elections

represented a turning point, and rejection of Hizballah and

its Iranian sponsors. The need to build up Lebanese

institutions, including the army, was now more important than

ever, he argued. A/S Shapiro said the LAF has thus far

demonstrated a solid record of accounting for U.S. systems

transferred to Lebanon.

10. (S) Buchris acknowledged that the elections in Lebanon

were positive, but countered that Hizballah's influence

remains strong. He argued that items such as the Cessna

Caravan and the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) lack

sufficient mitigation measures, which creates the potential

for an incident along the Israel-Lebanese border. Amos Gilad

said the GOI does not believe the LAF will attack Israel.

However, given the ties between Hizballah and the LAF, he was

certain the IDF would eventually face the LAF in any conflict

with Hizballah.

11. (S) Analysts from the MFA's Center for Policy Research

argued there has been no dramatic change in the political

arena despite the March 14 coalition's significant victory in

the elections. They said the fragile political situation in

Lebanon is currently stable, but Hizballah still possesses an

unofficial veto over policy. Long term prospects will be

tested by the Hariri Tribunal and Hizballah's desire for a

reprisal to the 2008 Mughniyeh assassination. MFA Policy

Research analysts further argued that the LAF faces

tremendous pressure following the recent explosion of a

Hizballah arms cache near the Lebanese-Israeli border. MFA

DG Yossi Gal noted that UNIFIL had been prevented from

investigating the explosion, and raised the recent crossing

by Lebanese citizens into Israeli territory to plant Lebanese

and Hizballah flags. He said French and Italian delegations

had praised the GOI's restraint in these cases.

12. (S) A/S Shapiro asked if the election results might be

the result in part of a backlash in the Christian community

against Hizballah; the Policy Research analysts countered

that the results were indicative of several factors,

including the influx of Saudi money and an unstable

opposition camp. They agreed that Hizballah leader Nasrallah

might be a bit chastened following the elections, as

suggested by A/S Shapiro, but that Hizballah continues to try

and undermine the March 14 coalition.

13. (S) During the MOD roundtable discussion, BG Heymann also

acknowledged the positive results of the elections. However,

he feared the outcome did not represent the real power of the

Shi'ites in Lebanon. He agreed that moderates and the LAF

must be strengthened, but expressed deep concerns about

ongoing cooperation between Hizballah and the LAF. He also

said that such aid to Lebanon be paired with efforts to halt

smuggling and directly weaken Hizballah.

14. (S) BG Heymann also cited concerns regarding mitigation

measures for the Caravan and Raven in order to prevent an

"accidental engagement" by the IAF. Overall, he was

skeptical that these systems would benefit the LAF, and said

the GOI would appreciate a more in-depth conversation

regarding U.S. intentions and overarching strategy with

respect to the LAF. Heymann suggested further talks to

coincide with the August 3rd F-15 technical discussion in

Washington; MFA DDG Bar echoed this request. A/S Shapiro

offered to take that back to Washington for review. If it

proved too difficult on short notice to bring together

interagency experts to discuss US intentions with the LAF,

A/S Shapiro suggested it be included in the Joint Political

Military Group talks later in the fall.

Iran

----

15. (S) Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons remains the GOI's

primary focus. Buchris stated bluntly that it was not clear

to him where U.S. policy was heading with regard to Iran. In

separate meetings, Buchris and Amos Gilad said that Israel's

preeminent priority is to prevent Iran's nuclear weapons

program, which if realized would cause a nuclear arms race

across the Middle East as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt

pursue similar programs in response. Gilad was skeptical

that engagement would work, noting Iranian desires to

"establish a new empire" and pointing to Iranian support for

Hizballah and "Hamastan." Buchris added that the United

States' desire to engage with Iran should be accompanied by

tough sanctions, and only pursued for a finite period of

time; MFA DG Gal concurred. Alluding to a potential military

strike, Buchris said "all options must remain on the table,"

and acknowledged that part of his job was insuring Israel was

ready to employ such an option, no matter how undesirable it

may be.

16. (S) A/S Shapiro made clear that a nuclear armed Iran was

unacceptable to the United States. He referenced Secretary

Clinton's July 15 foreign policy address at the Council on

Foreign Relations, noting the offer of engagement with Iran

-- but reinforcing that such an offer is not indefinite. A/S

Shapiro argued that an Iranian rejection of our offer to

engage will only help bolster international support for

increased sanctions. He also pointed to the uncertain

situation following the Iranian elections -- it was unclear

at this point how the regime in Tehran will react to our

offer of engagement. That said, he repeated that the

engagement offer was not unlimited, noting that the United

States will reassess its engagement strategy with Iran later

this fall.

17. (S) A/S Shapiro cited a commonality of interests with the

Gulf States, which also view Iran as the preeminent threat --

we should take advantage of this commonality, he said.

During the J5 roundtable discussion, IDF interlocutors

expressed skepticism that proposed military assistance to the

Gulf would help against Iran, as some of the systems slated

for delivery are not designed to counter the threats, nuclear

and asymmetrical, posed by Iran. A/S Shapiro agreed that

assistance to Gulf states should not diminish Israel's QME,

but argued that it sends a signal to those countries (as well

as Iran) that they have strong allies in the West. It also

helps convince these regimes that their best interests lie

with the moderate camp rather than with Iran.

18. (S) Buchris said the lack of an appointed U.S. special

envoy focusing on Iran suggested the United States did not

believe Iran was a priority. A/S Shapiro reassured Buchris

that Iran was a top priority as President Obama and Secretary

Clinton are intensely focused on Iran. The fact that Tehran

has not responded to our offer of engagement makes a special

envoy responsible for negotiations not as important, A/S

Shapiro said -- in any case, much of the discussion will be

behind the scenes.

19. (S) Buchris referenced a press report from Secretary

Clinton's trip to Jakarta in which she said the United States

would consider providing a defense umbrella for moderate Arab

countries in the Middle East should Iran acquire a nuclear

weapon. Buchris argued that such a statement already

conceded the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran. MFA Deputy

Director General for Strategic Affairs Alon Bar also raised

the Secretary's Jakarta statement; A/S Shapiro stated that

the Secretary's comments did not indicate a new policy

approach, but were meant as a deterrent factor toward Iran's

nuclear weapons ambitions -- not as a concession -- and that

journalists covering the trip attempted to make more out of

the statement than was intended.

20. (S) Amos Gilad referenced Russia's potential sale of the

S-300 missile system to Iran, noting that Russian

interlocutors initially denied the S-300 contract with Iran,

and then later admitted it had been signed but added that the

system would not be delivered for political reasons.

However, Gilad said the Russians would reassess this

political calculation should the United States continue to

pursue missile defense plans in Poland and the Czech

Republic. He speculated that the Iranians would continue to

put pressure on Russia to sell the system rather than pursue

alternative Chinese systems. He said the Russians appear

committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,

but he personally had doubts about their intelligence

capabilities following their lack of knowledge regarding the

Syrian nuclear project.

Peace Process

-------------

21. (S) Buchris acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority

was doing a "good job" in the West Bank, noting respect for

Palestinian Security Forces (PASF) as they take more control

of security -- giving them the chance to succeed was

important, Buchris said. He also commended the work of

United States Security Coordinator Gen. Dayton in training

the PASF. That said, Buchris argued the way ahead would be

difficult, given the divide between Hamas and Fatah.

Reconciliation talks between the two have stalled -- Amos

Gilad said both sides are "more interested in swallowing one

another" than negotiating. Behind the scenes discussions

with Hamas by European countries and even U.S. visitors have

not helped the situation, Buchris said. A/S Shapiro deferred

to Special Envoy Sen. George Mitchell's efforts, but noted

Secretary Clinton's point that a stronger PA will offer an

alternative to Hamas. He also stressed Secretary Clinton's

remarks during her July 15 speech that the United States will

not engage with Hamas unless it has accepted the Quartet

principles.

Export Control

--------------

22. (C) MOD Defense Export Control Directorate (DECD) Chief

Eli Pincu reviewed the export control system, emphasizing an

improved process, but also acknowledging the potential for

improvement. He gave a brief presentation regarding Israeli

export controls, including enhanced legislation,

cross-ministry coordination, enhanced enforcement, and

increased industry outreach and training. He noted 780

registered exporters in Israel; for 2009, 31,373 marketing

licenses had thus far been issued, with 1,198 denials and 219

returned without action. MFA Export Control Director Roey

Gilad stressed the partnership between the MOD and MFA on

export licenses, and explained the system's dispute

resolution mechanism in the event the MFA and MOD disagree on

a particular case.

23. (C) Both Pincu and Roey Gilad noted that the GOI

continues to seek assistance in closing export control

loopholes, including brokering. Pincu noted that brokering

had been included in the Defense Export Control Act, but that

accompanying implementation legislation had not yet entered

in to force. Pincu said the GOI had consulted with Germany,

the United Kingdom, France, and Japan on its brokering laws,

and planned to raise it during the annual defense export

control working group to be held in Washington in October.

Roey Gilad and other DECD officials also hope to travel to

Washington in the near future to further discuss brokering

issues.

China

-----

24. (C) MFA Export Control Director Roey Gilad reiterated

that the GOI in no way desires to compromise U.S. national

interests with respect to exports to China. He noted,

however, that the U.S. Department of Commerce created in 2007

a list of exemptions for certain items if sent to validated

end users in China. Gilad questioned whether the same

exemptions might be possible for Israel. As it currently

stands, the GOI must pursue any export to China through the

bilateral statement of understanding with the United States.

While the statement calls for expeditious resolution of any

requests to export to China, it often takes up to 80 days to

obtain approval. By that time, Gilad said, China has often

found the item through another supplier. Moreover, the

Israeli export control system requires a 20-working day

turn-around on all export license requests -- which is not

possible, given the length of time required to obtain an

answer from the United States. A/S Shapiro offered to raise

the issue in Washington.

JPMG

----

25. (SBU) A/S Shapiro suggested the next session of the Joint

Political Military Group (JPMG) convene shortly after the

Jewish holidays, most likely in October or early November.

GOI officials agreed in principle, and will look at the

calendar and propose dates.

26. (U) A/S Shapiro has cleared this cable.

********************************************* ********************

Visit Embassy Tel Aviv's Classified Website:

http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/telaviv

********************************************* ********************

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