Viewing cable 09TELAVIV1324, GOI DISCUSSES LEBANON AND SYRIA WITH HOF
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|09TELAVIV1324||2009-06-18 08:08||2010-12-07 21:09||SECRET||Embassy Tel Aviv|
VZCZCXRO1978 OO RUEHROV DE RUEHTV #1324/01 1690849 ZNY SSSSS ZZH O 180849Z JUN 09 FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2237 INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001324 SIPDIS DEPT FOR S/SEMEP EO 12958 DECL: 06/18/2019 TAGS PREL, LE, SY, UN, IS SUBJECT: GOI DISCUSSES LEBANON AND SYRIA WITH HOF Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Luis G. Moreno, reason 1.4 (b) a nd (d) ¶1. (C) SUMMARY. On June 10, Fred Hof, Special Advisor for Regional Affairs in the office of Special Envoy Mitchell, held a series of meetings with GOI officials from the MFA and MOD to discuss the situation in Lebanon and Syria and the possibilities for progress towards opening negotiations with each. The Israeli officials expressed cautious optimism over the election results in Lebanon, but did not believe they would lead to major changes in the power balance in Lebanon, or serious reduction of Hizballah influence. However, both Amos Gilad, Pol-Mil Director in the MOD and Nimrod Barkan, Director of the MFA Political Research Division (INR equivalent), told Hof that the Lebanese election results took Syria by surprise, and were a blow for Syrian President Asad. The officials were split over the prospects for Israeli peace with Syria. Alon Ushpiz, Chief of Staff for the MFA Director General, believes Syria is only interested in a process that gives it international legitimacy. However, in a separate meeting, Gilad called Syrian/Iran ties a “marriage of convenience” which could possibly be broken with a peace agreement with Israel and incentives from the United States. On Ghajar and Sheba’a, there was consensus within the GOI that Ghajar can be resolved, but doing so will not have much utility, while Israeli will only agree to discuss Sheba’a within the context of Syria. End Summary. ---------------------------- Lebanon Elections Hurt Syria ---------------------------- ¶2. (C) The Israeli officials said that it is too soon to tell what the results of the elections in Lebanon will really mean. Nimrod Barkan told Hof that he does not see the elections as damaging for Hizballah, as their popularity among the Shia remained solid. He added that if Hizballah could maintain its blocking third within the GOL as established in the Doha Agreement, the Lebanese government would remain paralyzed. In another meeting, Amos Gilad assessed that the elections results were largely due to huge amounts of Saudi Arabian money and the Maronite Patriarch throwing his support to March 14, and not because of a fundamental shift in Lebanese society. ¶3. (C) On the other hand, both Gilad and Barkan agreed that the elections were a blow to Syria, which was completely caught off-guard by the results. The Syrian presidential advisors on Lebanon, they said, are now in trouble. Barkan explained that the Syrians were so convinced the pro-Syrian March 8 would win the elections that they thought they could minimize their interference and still win. They wanted to appease France and the United States, and not irritate Saudi Arabia, and thought they could do so at no cost. In this way, Barkan said, French and American actions and rhetoric in support of March 14 were productive. --------------------------------------------- ------- Hizballah Still Planning to Avenge Mughniyah’s Death --------------------------------------------- ------- ¶4. (S) Barkan emphasized that Hizballah still plans on avenging the death of Hizballah operations chief Imad Mughniyah, and that Israel has already thwarted two terror attacks in third countries. Barkan said Israel has very sensitive intelligence that Hizballah has completed operational planning for a third attack outside Israel, but so far Nasrallah has not decided whether to give the order to carry it out, despite Iranian pressure to launch the attack. Barkan said he had personally drafted the MFA’s post-Lebanon election statement, which included a warning the GOL that Israel will hold them responsible for any attacks “emanating from Lebanon” and not just attacks from Lebanon. Gilad also told Hof that Hizballah had shown restraint in the face of Iranian pressure due to the elections, especially during the Gaza operation. Barkan and Gilad both emphasized that they did not know if Hizballah’s calculus would change post-election. Gilad warned Hof that the next round of fighting with Hizballah would likely involve rockets falling on Tel Aviv, and if this happens Israel will respond harshly throughout Lebanon. ------------------------------------ Can Syria Separate Itself from Iran? ------------------------------------ ¶5. (C) Hof also held a meeting with senior MFA staff, including Deputy Director General for Coordination (Director General Chief of Staff) Alon Ushpiz, Minister Lieberman’s Chief of Staff Naor Gilon, and Deputy Minister Ayalon’s Chief TEL AVIV 00001324 002 OF 003 of Staff David Siegel. Ushpiz asked Hof if the United States really sought peace with Syria in the near term, or if it saw Israeli engagement with Syria as a way to put pressure on the Palestinian track, create space in the Arab world, and gain influence with Syria. Hof replied that all of those goals could be pursued simultaneously, including peace. During the proximity talks in Turkey conducted under the Olmert government, Ushpiz said that President Bush gave PM Olmert the approval to hold talks through Turkey, but said the United States would not get involved, so Israel went as far as it could. Israel was also unsure about proceeding because, they said, the GOI remained skeptical regarding Syria’s intentions to withdraw itself from its alliance with Iran in exchange for peace. ¶6. (C) Amos Gilad, on the other hand, told Hof that the GOI defense establishment assesses that Syria may be serious about removing itself from Iran and withdrawing support for Hizballah in exchange for reconciliation with the West, especially the U.S., and the return of the Golan Heights. Gilad asserted that peace with Syria is critical to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace due to Syria’s ability to support spoilers. Therefore, he asserted, it was worth it for Israel to make the attempt. In the talks through Turkish mediation, however, Gilad said that Israel had been too forthcoming about its security requirements, and too enthusiastic, and Syria was not ready. He also noted that Israeli security requirements with Syria had changed radically since the last talks in 2000, as Israel no longer fears a Syrian surprise armor attack across the Golan but rather is concerned about Syrian missile attacks on Israeli cities, so those issues would need to be renegotiated. ¶7. (S) Negotiations with Syria may succeed, Gilad said, because Iran was a marriage of convenience for Syria. He believes Syria would much rather be close to their fellow Arabs and the rest of the international community, if given the chance. Gilad stressed that both the Iranians and the Arab Sunnis despise the ruling Alawite minority in Syria - he recalled that Sadat used to call the Alawites “pagans” - and said the Iranians would like to get rid of the Asad regime at the appropriate time. Gilad noted that Syria did not inform Iran of its nuclear reactor, which was built entirely with North Korean assistance, and did not notify Iran in advance of its proximity talks with Israel. In addition, he said, the Golan Heights have remained Israel’s quietest front, evidence that Syria can uphold its commitments as long its commitments are clear. ¶8. (C) While Syria may want peace, Gilad cautioned that it may be impossible for Syria to extricate itself from Iran and Hizballah, even if it tried. Hizballah is now an integral part of Syria’s defense concept, and is a more effective fighting force than the Syrian army. But in the end, Gilad stated, Israel only has two choices with Syria: war or peace. --------------------------------------------- ----- Hof: Small Steps Needed Towards Talks with Lebanon --------------------------------------------- ----- ¶9. (C) Turning to the prospects for moving toward peace with Lebanon, Barkan and Gilad separately told Hof that the GOI had examined the question of renewing the 1949 armistice commission, at the USG’s suggestion, and there were many questions, including some basic legal questions posed by MFA lawyers. Hof replied that much of the armistice agreement is obsolete, but the armistice allows for mutually agreed modifications, and recognition of its basic legitimacy among the Lebanese, and the fact that it is mentioned in the Taif Agreement, could create cover for talks. ¶10. (C) Hof suggested an incremental strategy for Lebanon, expanding existing, low-level mil-mil trilateral contacts with UNIFIL gradually until they eventually can encompass some political progress. Small steps were needed because the Lebanese people’s attitude toward Israel had hardened over the past 30 years, Hof explained, and we need to get them back to seeing peace with Israel as a realistic prospect. ¶11. (C) Gilad, Barkan, and the senior MFA officials separately told Hof that Israel was ready to move forward with resolving the issue of the northern end of the village of Ghajar, but doubted that resolving the issue would lead to real progress and risked boosting Hizballah. Hof replied that Ghajar can be an important step as long as any Israeli public message is carefully calibrated to emphasize that Israel is fulfilling its 1701 obligations, and that other parties should do the same, and not as a benefit to the Lebanese moderates. It is a small step, Hof said, but the kind of small step needed in this process. TEL AVIV 00001324 003 OF 003 ¶12. (C) On Sheba’a Farms, all the GOI officials separately repeated the long-standing position that Sheba’a must be resolved in the context of Syria and not Lebanon. Sheba’a, they said, was simply a pretext for Hizballah’s claim to represent “resistance to occupation,” and if it were resolved Hizballah would simply find another pretext. Hof agreed that it was a pretext, but thought it would be useful to make Hizballah publicly shift their pretext. Issues like the seven Lebanese villages in northern Israel, Hof explained, are not taken seriously in Lebanese society, but the Lebanese claim to Sheba’a Farms is. Forcing Hizballah to shift its excuse for retaining an armed force could help expose them to Lebanese society as Iranian surrogates willing to fight to the last Lebanese. ¶13. (U) Fred Hof has cleared this message. ********************************************* ******************** Visit Embassy Tel Aviv’s Classified Website: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/telaviv ********************************************* ******************** CUNNINGHAM