2011-04-13 The Israel Cables: Gaza is 'Hopeless for Now'

ImageViolence has escalated significantly in the past month between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Itamar attack, which involved the stabbing of five members of a Jewish family by two individuals whom were believed to be Palestinians, and arms found, which Israel believed were being smuggled from Iran, inflamed tensions further. As some suggest Operation Cast Lead II has begun, Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth and Al Akhbar have begun to release US State Embassy cables on Israel from WikiLeaks.

Haaretz reports on Hamas and the Gaza Strip. According to a November 2009 cable, Israel has no clear or consistent policy and Israel has refused US requests to “allow more goods into Gaza to assist the population.” Also, months after Operation Cast Lead, Embassy Tel Aviv reported, “Israelis are enjoying the best security situation since the outbreak of the second intifada [in 2000], the result of Israeli intelligence successes in destroying the suicide bombing network in the West Bank as well as good security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.”

This cable [09TELAVIV2473] features Major General Yoav Galant, the Israel Defense Forces general responsible for Gaza and southern Israel, commenting:

Israel's political leadership has not yet made the necessary policy choices among competing priorities: a short-term priority of wanting Hamas to be strong enough to enforce the de facto ceasefire and prevent the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel; a medium-priority of preventing Hamas from consolidating its hold on Gaza; and a longer-term priority of avoiding a return of Israeli control of Gaza and full responsibility for the well-being of Gaza's civilian population. Israel appears determined to maintain its current policy of allowing only humanitarian supplies and limited commercial goods into Gaza, while sealing the borders into Israel. There are indications of progress in the indirect negotiations with Hamas over the release of Gilad Shalit in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, many of them hardened terrorists,but it is difficult to predict the timing of such a deal. Shalit's release would likely result in a more lenient Israeli policy toward the Gaza crossings, but a large prisoner exchange would be played by Hamas as a major political achievement and thus further damage the standing of Abu Mazen among Palestinians.

Haaretz explicitly notes the cable indicates that, in fact, “Israel wants Hamas to be strong enough to enforce the de facto ceasefire between the two sides and prevent the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel,” suggesting a détente could be established between the two. If you look at how a lull in violence has developed between the two in the past days, it does look like the ceasefire agreement Hamas would like between Israel will rest on the establishment of détente (or, perhaps, tahdiya, which is Arabic for “calming” or “quieting” and has been used to refer to temporary cessations of violence between Israel and Palestine).

Additionally, Haaretz covers a cable from September 21, 2005, which features Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, about four months before the Palestinian parliamentary elections that Hamas won, saying January 21, 2006 will be a “fateful day.” Gilad suggests Israel may not have given enough attention to the elections and says, “We are doomed if Hamas becomes a real power and part of political life, especially as the PA continues to be helpless."

The fear of doom was enough to spur Israel to intensify its control and strangulation of Gaza. From the Goldstone Report:

…[a] series of economic and political measures imposed against the Gaza Strip began around February 2006 with the Hamas electoral victory in the legislative elections. This was also accompanied by the withholding of financial support for the Gaza Strip by some donor countries and actions of other countries that amounted to open or tacit support of the Israeli blockade. Hamas took over effective power in the Gaza Strip on 15 June 2007. Shortly thereafter Israel declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile territory,” enacting a series of economic, social and military measures purportedly designed to isolate and strangle Hamas. These have made a deep impact on the population’s living standards.

The report notes that “no list of items allowed into the Gaza Strip nor the criteria for their selection [has been] made known to the public.”

A cable [07TELAVIV1733] covered by Yedioth Ahronoth reveals then-Israeli Director of Intelligence Amos Yadlin, in a meeting in June of 2007 with then-Ambassador Richard H. Jones, predicted “armed confrontation in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah” following the January 2006 elections. He singles out Hamas leader Khalid Mishal saying he feels Mishal gave his tacit consent to Hamas to militarily go after Fatah.

Yadlin considers Gaza to be “hopeless for now.” He comments Palestinians have to realize Hamas offers no solution. He talks about a scenario that could involve Fatah losing control of Gaza and expresses his view that the “development would please Israel since it would enable the IDF to treat Gaza as a hostile country rather than having to deal with Hamas as a non-state actor.” And, when asked if he is worried about Iran having a presence in Gaza, Yadlin says Israel can handle their presence “as long as Gaza does not have a port (sea or air).”

This view of Yadlin’s becomes more resolute. In a cable [07TELAVIV2280. In the cable, Dagan shares his view of Gaza:

Departing from official GOI policy, 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 USD 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. Fatah as a party would have to completely reorganize itself in order to regain credibility, argued Dagan, but instead they have turned once again to the "old guard." The Mossad Chief suggested that a completely new approach was required, but did not provide Townsend any additional details.

Dagan’s tenure as Mossad Chief came to an end in 2011. The Jerusalem Post, in an article on the end of “the Dagan era,” notes Dagan brought a “new sense of daring” to the position.

Meir Dagan was installed into the top intelligence post by prime minister Ariel Sharon, who had worked with him in the 1970s running a unit of elite commandos called Sayeret Rimon whose soldiers disguised themselves as Palestinians and raided the Gaza Strip in search of PLO fighters.

After his appointment in 2002, he immediately set out to revolutionize an organization that had been rocked by the botched assassination of Hamas's Damascus-based chief Khaled Mashaal in Amman in 1997, under the tenure of Mossad chief and former Labor MK Danny Yatom. Two Mossad agents were caught in the botched operation. In exchange for their release, and to salvage ties with a furious Jordan, Israel was forced to provide the antidote to save Mashaal's life and to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, notably including Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

As Mossad Chief, the Jerusalem Post reports CIA relations “peaked due to the Mossad’s success in once again providing critical intelligence and proving itself to be a major player.” There was “unprecedented cooperation between the agencies.” That cooperation likely made it possible for Dagan to carry out some key targeted assassinations:

In February 2008, a car bomb killed Imad Mughniyeh, Hizbullah's military commander in Damascus. Later that year, Gen. Muhammad Suleiman, Syrian President Bashar Assad's liaison to Hamas and Hizbullah and the head of the country's covert nuclear program, was shot dead by a sniper at his vacation home in the port city of Tartus. In January, the Mossad reportedly struck again, killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas arch terrorist, in Dubai.

Targeted assassinations or extrajudicial killings may be frowned upon in the international community, but, like Yadlin (who told Rep. Wexler in December 2008 Israel could use “targeted assassinations” on Hamas in Gaza), it is but another tool for minimizing an “axis of evil” that consists of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

It appears Israel has managed to get the Palestinian Authority to endorse Israel’s war on Hamas (and, thus, all Israeli incursions into Gaza mounted under the pretense of ridding Gaza of Hamas). In a meeting with General James L. Jones and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [07TELAVIV3586], referring to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert says there are “many layers of language in the Arab world.” This is Olmert’s way of saying the Palestinian Authority says one thing in private and does another in public (which is not exclusive to the Palestinians as anyone following the Cablegate releases understands by now).

Olmert explains, “In their one-on-one meetings, President Abbas always asks Olmert to take tougher actions against Hamas and its Gaza leadership. But when the IDF carries out operations in Gaza that kill terrorists, Saeb Erekat writes a letter to the UN complaining about it. Olmert said that the Palestinians say one thing to Secretary Rice and then ask him to do the opposite.” As revealed in the “Palestine Papers” released by Al Jazeera English, this behavior is similar to how the Palestinian Authority Leadership cooperated with the US and pushed to delay reference of the Goldstone Report to the United Nations Security Council.

On March 22, nineteen people including children were wounded when Israel launched air strikes on Gaza. Four unarmed civilians were killed while playing soccer in a backyard.

Israeli officials said the attacks were in response to rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza. Al Jazeera English reported the military “held Hamas ‘solely responsible for terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip.” Hamas was “warned not to continue its aggression.” Israel continued to attack the Gaza Strip throughout the end of March and the first days of April. Now, the Hamas-run government in Gaza has announced Palestinian groups have agreed to a ceasefire to halt the violence.

Palestinian youth increasingly recognize how political division between Hamas and Fatah is impacting their future. That is why on March 15 they held a “Day of Rage” calling for political unity between Hamas and Fatah.

The action was interfered with and suppressed. Fatah supporters of the Palestinian Authority attacked the pro-unity protesters in Ramallah. Intelligence officers closely monitored protesters interviews with the media. Fatah supporters burnt an American flag to make protests seem anti-American. And, Hamas security forces assaulted and forced protesters in Gaza to disperse and regroup.

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