A senior General Staff officer took advantage of a free hour last week to study some papers in his briefcase while on a helicopter flight south. Among the top-secret documents lay a humble report, classified merely "reserved" - a daily analysis of the WikiLeaks reports.
At the instructions of Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, an officers' team headed by a lieutenant colonel sifts through the thousands of American cables to select the ones most interesting to Israeli intelligence. The report's recipients dub it "Wikilon."
Baidatz, who has headed the research division of Military Intelligence for the past five years, is the son of Brig. Gen. (res. ) Uri Baidatz, a veteran combat commander. His brother Shlomo, an officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, was killed in the Yom Kippur War.
Despite their misgivings, Yossi's parents permitted him to follow in his brother's footsteps and enlist in that unit. But at the recruiting center, he was stung by a bee and suffered a general organ failure. Only after a struggle with the Medical Corps was he allowed to return to service, this time in intelligence. Among other things, he served as intelligence officer for Sayeret Matkal and the Northern Command.
When Baidatz studies the Wikilon, he may read about himself as well, as the person who briefs Americans posted in Tel Aviv or visiting it.
Following the chain of reports link by link is fascinating. For example, on February 22, a report from Tel Aviv says Baidatz informed the U.S. Embassy that MI knows of immediate Syrian plans to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon with Scud-D missiles. Baidatz asked the American administration to dissuade Syria from transferring the missiles to Hezbollah, and to do so before Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrived in Washington on February 25, to prevent Damascus from getting the wrong impression that Israel and the United States had cooperated to expose and thwart Syria's plan to give Hezbollah the missiles. Why should Israel care if the Syrians thought this? Only Barak knows.
The State Department decided it shared Israel's concern and did as it was asked on February 25. Its embassy in Damascus was instructed to contact Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad to express concern over this escalation and urge Syria to act with restraint, because its strategic interests are not identical to Iran's and Hezbollah's.
Washington's explanation to its diplomats in Syria - it has no ambassador there - mentions the Scuds, but the written request relayed to Syria refers only to "ballistic missiles," "lethal long-range missiles" and "new missiles," vague terms that do not necessarily imply a change in the kind of missiles. The name "Scud" disappeared from the conversation.
Miqdad agreed to meet Charles Hunter, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, that very day, Hunter reported. Miqdad was clearly surprised, listened carefully, took detailed notes and interrupted Hunter twice to make sure the missiles in question were ballistic and to ascertain whether this was an American or an Israeli warning.
In the end, he totally denied that any weapons were reaching Hezbollah via Syria. Although the American diplomats were not misled by Miqdad's response, they found a silver lining: The meeting was arranged without delay, even in the midst of a holiday and during a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Hunter's cable of February 26 shows again that the Syrians are a tough nut to crack. Washington's next move was a sweeping instruction to its diplomats in major European and Arab capitals to ask those governments to pressure Syria not to supply Hezbollah with surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles.
Life, however, did not stop at the end of February, when U.S. soldier Bradley Manning stopped hoarding cables and key codes. MI still devotes a great deal of thought to assessing the pace of Iran's nuclear program and the chances of extracting Syria from its suffocating embrace.
Baidatz, as far as is known, belongs to the sober, moderate school on both these related issues. He is only a brigadier general, subordinate to the MI chief and, soon, to a new chief of staff. But without his explicit approval, the belligerent members of Israel's leadership will have difficulty justifying far-reaching military moves. After all, MI's research division will report its views to the cabinet, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and ultimately, the public - without WikiLeaks.
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