If ever anything was misnamed, WikiLeaks is it. WikiLeaks? Forget it. This is WikiFlood. WikiCascade. WikiDeluge. In the old days, pre-WikiLeaks, laying one’s hands on a classified diplomatic cable was considered a grand journalistic achievement, a scoop.

Yet here we have pouring out each day thousands upon thousands of diplomatic cables, laying bare much of what goes on behind closed doors, where there are no camera lights, no microphones, no domestic audiences to play to.

The sheer volume of the stuff is astounding; wading through it is fascinating, dizzying and at times mindnumbing.

On a normal day a cable saying that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is arguing to engage Hamas, or that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu admits there is trade with Iraq, would be major headlines spawning numerous follow-up articles and analyses. Now, as the cables flow forth daily, these are but small stars in the WikiLeak Milky Way.

Despite an Israeli penchant to think we are the center of the universe – a sentiment seemingly borne out by the disproportionate attention we get in the international media – the trove of diplomatic cables uncovered shows that we are not, that the world is preoccupied with other issues as well, such as North Korea, Pakistan, China and Russia.

Even in the Middle East, we are not necessarily the first thing on everyone’s mind – that distinction goes to Iran. But, make no mistake, we and our issues do “star” in many of the cables. In an attempt to put some order into the overload of information that the WikiLeaks document dump has caused, what follows are some of the more interesting and juicy tidbits related to issues that impact heavily on us:

Hamas

March 20, 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Paris preparing President Barack Obama for his first meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy sees no credible alternative to Palestinian reconciliation. He agrees with the ideals expressed in the Quartet principles (not to engage Hamas until it forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements), but assesses that the status quo hurts Fatah and the Palestinian Authority more than Hamas.

He would welcome any initiative to repackage the Quartet principles – indeed, he allowed Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to propose that the EU take a less dogmatic approach on engaging Hamas – in a way that allows the international community to work with the next Palestinian Authority government (even if Hamas is a member).

Cable from Tel Aviv embassy of meeting between Netanyahu and a congressional delegation headed by Sen. Jon Kyle on April 6, 2009.

If Hamas forces a confrontation, Israel will have to initiate further military action in Gaza. Israel did not want to go back into Gaza, but it will do what is necessary to protect its people.

Cable of meeting on April 21, 2009 between Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Suleiman said Egypt must “confront” Iranian attempts to smuggle arms to Gaza and stop arms smuggling through Egyptian territory.

“We do not want incidents like Gaza to inflame public anger,” Suleiman said, adding that the Gaza conflict put “moderate [Arab] regimes” in a corner.

Iranian financial support to Hamas amounted to $25 million a month, but he said Egypt was “succeeding” in preventing financial support from entering Gaza through Egypt. Iran has tried several times to pay the salaries for the Kassam Battalions, but Egypt had succeeded in preventing the money from reaching Gaza.

Suleiman said Egypt had sent a clear message to Iran that if they interfere in Egypt, Egypt will interfere in Iran, adding that EGIS [Egyptian intelligence] had already begun recruiting agents in Iraq and Syria.

On George Mitchell

From the March 20, 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Paris preparing Obama for meeting with Sarkozy.

Sarkozy respects special enjoy Mitchell but may tell you, as he told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that Mitchell is “too wise.”

Cable on February 16, 2009, meeting between Netanyahu and congressional delegation headed by Sen. Benjamin Cardin.

[Netanyahu] added that Mitchell was both “nice and tough.”

Turkey

Cable of a February 18, 2009 meeting in Ankara, Turkey, between US Undersecretary of State William Burns and Turkish Undersecretary of the Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu, a former ambassador to Israel.

This meeting took place well before the Mavi Marmara incident in May. Burns focused on Turkey’s strained relationship with Israel.

Sinirlioglu argued “the problem is not bilateral, but general.” He attributed increasing regional country frustration with Israel to the stalled peace process, especially on the Palestinian track. He blamed the lack of progress on Israeli intransigence, which caused regional stakeholders to question Netanyahu’s goals.

Even so, bilateral cooperation with Israel is continuing. Turkey is acquiring Israeli military equipment, notably Heron UAVs. Direct flights between the two countries are routine. Two-way trade is healthy, he said, tourism has dropped recently, but “will recover.”

October 29, 2009 cable from Paris reporting on a French-Israeli strategic dialogue.

French participants in the strategic dialogue noted profound disquiet among the Israelis about Turkey, [senior French Foreign Ministry official Frederic] Bereyziat said. He reported that the Israelis claimed the Turks have allowed weapons-related material for Iran’s nuclear program to transit Turkey, with Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s full knowledge.

The Israelis blamed the Europeans, and especially France, for this shift in Turkey’s policy. They said that if Europe had more warmly embraced Turkey, then the Turks would not be taking steps to earn approval in the Arab and Muslim world at the expense of Israel. The French, in response to this accusation, “begged to differ,” Bereyziat said.

October 27, 2009 cable from Ankara on meeting with Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy.

Levy dismissed [domestic] political calculation as a motivator for Erdogan’s hostility, arguing the prime minister’s party had not gained a single point in the polls from his bashing of Israel. Instead, Levy attributed Erdogan’s harshness to deep-seated emotion: “He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously” and his hatred is spreading.

Comment: Our discussions with contacts both inside and outside of the Turkish government on Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Israel tend to confirm Levy’s thesis that Erdogan simply hates Israel. [Name omitted] discusses contributing reasons for Erdogan’s tilt on Iran/Middle East issues, but antipathy toward Israel is a factor.

Arabs on Iran

Cable of meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan in Saudi Arabia on March 15, 2009.

The king noted that Iranian Foreign Minister [Manouchehr] Mottaki had been “sitting in that same seat [as Brennan] a few moments ago.” The king described his conversation with Mottaki as “a heated exchange, frankly discussing Iran’s interference in Arab affairs.” When challenged by the king on Iranian meddling in Hamas affairs, Mottaki apparently protested that “these are Muslims.” “No, Arabs,” countered the king. “You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.” Abdullah asserted that Iran is trying to set up Hizbullah-like organizations in African countries, observing that the Iranians don’t think they are doing anything wrong and don’t recognize their mistakes.

A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the king said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble.

“Iran’s goal is to cause problems,” he continued, “There is no doubt something unstable about them.” He described Iran as “adventurous in the negative sense,” and declared “May God prevent us from falling victim to their evil.” Mottaki had tendered an invitation to visit Iran, but Abdullah said he replied, “All I want is for you to spare us your evil.”

Background cable from Amman on April 2, 2009.

The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates. Iran’s tentacles include its allies Qatar and Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi government sometimes seen as supplicant to Teheran,and Shi’ite communities throughout the region.

Cable from Cairo on July 31, 2008 meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and congressional delegation led by Sen. John Kerry.

[Mubarak] urged the US to be wary of what Iran says. “They are big, fat liars and justify their lies because they believe it is for a higher purpose.” He said he believes this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region.

Nonetheless, he opined that no Arab state will join the US in a defense relationship visa- vis Iran out of fear of “sabotage and Iranian terrorism.” He said Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.”

Mubarak said that sanctions are the best hope for containing Iran, but Arab states won’t dare to endorse them.

Cable from Cairo on February 9, 2009, preparing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for first meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

As for Iran, Mubarak has a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic, referring repeatedly to Iranians as “liars,” and denouncing them for seeking to destabilize Egypt and the region. He sees the Syrians and Qataris as sycophants to Teheran and liars themselves.

There is no doubt that Egypt sees Iran as its greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its “Shi’ite revolution.”

Cable of meeting on April 21, 2009 between Mullen and Suleiman.

Iran must “pay the price” for its actions and not be allowed to interfere in regional affairs.

“If you want Egypt to cooperate with you on Iran, we will,” Suleiman added. “It would take a big burden off our shoulders.”

France and the Middle East

Cable from Paris on May 19, 2008, preparing president George W. Bush for a meeting with Sarkozy.

Under Sarkozy, the French needling of the US and Israel has largely disappeared from the government’s daily script. The French hope that Sarkozy’s warm embrace of Israel (unprecedented over the past 50 years), and his strategic rapprochement with the US, have increased its credibility as a partner in peace-making...

Sarkozy... is an unabashed admirer of Israel but keen that Palestinians are treated justly...

Blaming Israel

Cable from Damascus on March 10, 2010, following congressional delegation meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Regarding human rights, Assad stated Syria was making progress, but the congressional delegation needed to understand this issue in the larger context of Israel’s aggression in Gaza, the suffering of Palestinian refugees and terrorist attacks on Syria.

Cable from Cairo on February 9, 2009, preparing Clinton for first meeting with Gheit.

The Egyptians do not want to be stuck holding the Gaza bag, and must be able to point the finger of blame at Israel for the plight of the Palestinians.

At the same time, Egypt has withstood scathing and widespread criticism in the Arab world for refusing to open the Rafah border crossing to supply Gaza.

Syria on Iran

Cable from Damascus on March 10, 2009, following congressional delegation meeting with Assad.

Assad swiftly responded, “We’re not convinced Iran is developing nuclear weapons.”

He argued Iran could not use a nuclear weapon as a deterrent because nobody believed Iran would actually use it against Israel. Assad noted an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would result in massive Palestinian casualties, which Iran would never risk.

Fallout from Operation Cast Lead

October 29, 2009 cable from Paris reporting on a French-Israeli strategic dialogue held in Paris.

France has not, however, taken any “punitive” measures following the Gaza conflict, Bereyziat explained. He said that whereas other European countries stopped selling unmanned aerial vehicle parts to Israel after the conflict, the French have continued to do so.

Israel intentions on Iran

March 17, 2005 cable from Tel Aviv embassy on meeting between Mossad head Meir Dagan and US Sen. Jon Corzine.

In weighing the military options, the government of Israel is aware of significant differences from its successful strike against Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981, including an uncertain and dispersed target set, the presence of coalition forces in Iraq and the Gulf, Iranian capabilities to retaliate through Hizbullah and terrorism, and the changed strategic environment.

Nevertheless, the GOI has shown time and again that it will act militarily if it believes that its security is threatened, and the IDF is most certainly keeping contingency plans up to date.

Netanyahu on Iran

April 18, 2007 cable reporting on meeting between then opposition had Binyamin Netanyahu and a congressional delegation led by Rep. Gary Ackerman.

Netanyahu asserted that Israel’s mishandling of the Lebanon war had strengthened Israel’s enemies.

In a meeting the day before with Egyptian President Mubarak, he [Ackerman] had asked Mubarak if military action were necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, should the strike be carried out by the US or Israel?

Mubarak had responded that if it came to that, the US should do it and Israel should stay out. Netanyahu said he took Mubarak’s point, but commented that he thought the Iranian regime, or at least President Ahmadinejad, could be toppled by economic pressure, including a divestment campaign... The goal should be to encourage Ahmadinejad’s political rivals to remove him from power.

If Iran was not stopped, there would be no agreement with the Palestinians, and the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt would come under tremendous pressure. There could be no deterrence against “crazies” such as Ahmadinejad.

Cable on February 16, 2009, meeting between Netanyahu and congressional delegation headed by Benjamin Cardin. Meeting took place six days after elections that brought Netanyahu back to power.

Netanyahu described five threats that he saw emanating from Iranian nuclear development: a direct threat to Israel; a direct threat to other regional states; increased terrorist power under an Iranian nuclear umbrella; a Middle East nuclear arms race; and a destabilized Middle East, with Arab regimes“terrified” of Iran in his view.

Netanyahu said these would not be a substitute for Palestinian negotiations, but that any result from such negotiations would be “washed away” by Iran’s attaining a nuclear bomb.

Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as crazy, retrograde and fanatical, with a messianic desire to speed up a violent “end of days.” That was not the whole country, however, in his view, as he said that “75 percent of the Iranian people” oppose the regime, but that it governed with terror and would be hard to overthrow.

Netanyahu on Palestinian issues

April 18, 2007, cable on meeting between then opposition had Netanyahu and a congressional delegation.

Congressman Ackerman asked Netanyahu for his views on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu said Abbas was a “nice man who means well,” but he added that Israel and the US should focus on “bringing down Hamas” through an “economic squeeze.” Netanyahu stated that a return to the 1967 borders and dividing Jerusalem was not a solution since further withdrawals would only whet the appetite of radical Islam.

Ackerman asked if the Palestinians would accept peace based on the 1967 lines.

Netanyahu said he would not agree to such a withdrawal since the 1967 lines were indefensible, but he added that the “right of return” was the real acid test of Arab intentions.

Instead of Israel making more step-by-step concessions, Israel should insist that further concessions be linked to reciprocal steps toward peace. The Palestinians must drop the right of return and accept Israel’s right to exist. The Arab initiative did not meet this standard since it keeps the right of return open. Israel will only have a peace partner when the Palestinians drop the right of return.

Asked whether Israel could accept case by case exceptions, Netanyahu insisted not one refugee could ever return.

The root of the conflict was an Arab desire to destroy Israel, which had now become part of the larger ambitions of radical Islam.

Palestinian issues

Cable from Tel Aviv embassy on meeting between Frances Fragos Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and the Mossad’s Dagan on July 12, 2007.

In Dagan’s personal opinion, present attempts to prop up the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will fail, and “an entirely new approach” with the Palestinians is required.

Dagan expressed his personal opinion that after more than a decade of trying to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians, “nothing will be achieved.” Only Israeli military operations against Hamas in the West Bank prevent them from expanding control beyond Gaza, lamented Dagan, without which Fatah would fall within one month and Abbas would join his “mysteriously wealthy” son in Qatar.

Offering what he believed to be a conservative estimate, Dagan said that $6 billion had been invested in the Palestinian Authority since 1994. “What did it accomplish, other than adding a few more people to the Fortune 500?” asked Dagan. Although he expressed his personal faith in Salam Fayyad, Dagan said that the Palestinian prime minister had no power base.

Cable from Cairo on February 1, 2009, reporting on meeting between congressional delegation headed by Sen. George Voinovich and Egyptian intelligence head Suleiman.

At one point in the discussion, Suleiman seemed to imply Hamas may remain in control of Gaza for more than a year; at another juncture, he told Senator Voinovich that if negotiations proceeded briskly, Hamas may be forced to cede power in Gaza in three-four months. The bottom line for Hamas, according to Suleiman, is that they must be forced to choose between remaining a resistance movement or joining the political process.

They cannot have it both ways, he said.

Egypt, he said, wants Hamas isolated.

Background cable from Amman on April 2, 2009.

While Jordanian officials doubt dialogue with the US will convince Iran to withdraw its “tentacles,” they believe they can be severed if Iran is deprived of hot-button issues that make it a hero to many on the Arab street, such as its championing of the Palestinian cause.

According to the government of Jordan analysis, Iran’s influence derives from the perception that Teheran is able to “deliver” while moderates are not.

The main failure of moderates as cited by radicals is ongoing Palestinian suffering and dispossession despite an international consensus favoring a viable, independent Palestinian state living peacefully next to Israel.

The Foreign Ministry’s deputy director of the Arab and Middle East Affairs Department, Muwaffaq Ajlouni, put it this way:“Iran is not welcomed in the Arab world, but it is taking advantage of helpless people.”

From Jordan’s perspective, the US would benefit from pressing Israel to proceed to final status negotiations, which would garner Arab support to deal with shared security concerns about Iran.

Cable on February 16, 2009 meeting between Netanyahu and Cardin.

There were three options, according to Netanyahu – withdrawing to the 1967 borders (that would “get terror, not peace”); doing nothing (“just as bad”); or “rapidly building a pyramid from the ground up.”

Netanyahu suggested a rapid move to develop the West Bank economically, including “unclogging” bureaucratic “bottlenecks.”

Pointing to what he described as strong but unpublicized trade between Haifa port and Iraq via Jordan, he suggested assembly points could be set up in the West Bank for some goods, which would create thousands of jobs. This would not be a substitute for a political settlement, according to Netanyahu, but economic prosperity would make peace possible, as occurred in Northern Ireland.

Netanyahu promised that as prime minister his government would not “go back” to unilateral withdrawals, and would have a clear focus June 2, 2009, cable of meetings Defense Minister Ehud Barak had with two congressional delegations. He explained that the 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.

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

Egypt

Cable from Cairo on February 9, 2009, preparing Clinton for first meeting with Gheit.

Overall, the Egyptians believe they did not receive fair treatment from the previous [Bush] administration and hope to see improvements [from Obama].

Although the Egyptians will react well to overtures of respect and appreciation, Egypt is very often a stubborn and recalcitrant ally.

In addition, Egypt’s self-perception as the “indispensable Arab state” is contingent on Egyptian effectiveness on regional issues, including Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers them the same as Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood, which he sees as his own most dangerous political threat. Egypt views a wellarmed and powerful Hamas as a national security threat.

Cable of meetings Assistant Secretary for Political- Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro had in Israel on July 22-23 2009.

Typically frank, Defense Ministry politicalmilitary 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.

Proposed Russian sale of S-300s to Iran

Cable from Clinton to regional embassies instructing them to get local governments to lobby Russia against selling S-300 batteries to Iran.

Though Russia states that the S-300 is “defensive” in nature, the mobile system could be used to support offensive operations.

S-300s located on Iranian territory would have the range to engage targets well beyond Iran’s borders into Persian Gulf and Iraqi airspace, threatening US and regional partners.

In particular, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have increased their political- military cooperation with Russia.

These countries can legitimately make the point to Moscow that they cannot have a close political-military partnership with Russia, while Russia strengthens the hand of Iran, arguably the greatest threat to each of these nation’s security.

Israel and the Gulf States Cable from Tel Aviv on March 19, 2009, reporting on meeting with Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for the Middle East Ya’acov Hadas.

Hadas described Israel’s relations with the Gulf as a function of the Gulf Arabs’ fear of Iran, but also as due to the Arabs’ belief in Israeli influence in Washington.

Hadas described Qatar’s shift toward the radical camp in the region as a “game” linked to Qatari rivalry with Saudi Arabia. Hadas believes Qatar is feeling pressure from Israel, Egypt and the Saudis, adding that he has been invited to visit Doha for talks about how to resume normal Qatari-Israeli ties.

He added that the Qataris needed to understand that they could not expect to restore cooperative relations with Israel without agreeing to reopen the trade office.

Hadas noted that while the Omanis are generally correct in their dealings with Israel, they appear not to recognize the seriousness of the threat from Iran.

He said that while the UAE is increasingly hostile to Iran, it remains unclear how far they are willing to go in terms of increasing financial pressures on Teheran. Hadas said the Gulf Arabs feel that the US does not listen to them and therefore sometimes try to pass messages through Israel.

It was clear from Hadas’ remarks that Israel’s channel to Saudi Arabia does not run through the Foreign Ministry.

Settlements

Cable of meetings Netanyahu had with two congressional delegations on May 26 and 27, 2009.

Regarding settlements, Netanyahu said he wants to work with the US on the basis of the understandings reached with the Bush administration, i.e. that Israel will not build new settlements or seize more land, but if families grow, they will still have the right to build within existing settlement boundaries.

Now Israel is hearing that the US wants no construction at all. Israelis consider this position to be unfair, he said. The question is whether the US is seeking a geographic or a demographic restriction on settlements.

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