id: 218775
date: 7/30/2009 10:23
refid: 09TELAVIV1688
origin: Embassy Tel Aviv
classification: SECRET

DE RUEHTV #1688/01 2111023
O 301023Z JUL 09

----------------- header ends ----------------

S E C R E T TEL AVIV 001688


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


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.


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.


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

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


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.


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.

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