Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wanted unprecedented help from Israel in attacking Hamas during the clashes just prior to the militant group's bloody coup of the Gaza Strip, according to a classified cable leaked by WikiLeaks on Monday.
In a cable dated June 13, 2007, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones wrote that Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin had told him in a meeting that Abbas' Fatah movement was "desperate, disorganized and demoralized" over the situation in the Gaza Strip.
The cable was released as the violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas were underway; three days after the meeting between Jones and Diskin on June 9, Hamas began seizing control of the coastal territory and within five days had displaced the Palestinian Authority government there.
Israel has "established a very good working relationship" with Abbas' forces, Diskin told Jones in their meeting. As Hamas was overrunning Gaza, Diskin said, some desperate Fatah leaders even wanted Israel to attack Hamas.
According to the cable, Diskin assumed in the early days of the clashes that Hamas was not yet strong enough to "completely destroy" Fatah's presence in the Gaza Strip. Hamas may be able to win the battles, Diskin said, but Fatah's response would be damaging.
Diskin told the American envoy that Hamas had managed to penetrate the echelons of Fatah's security forces, emphasized that Abbas' faction was suffering a leadership crisis and had put senior official Mahmoud Dahlan in charge of overseeing the situation in the coastal territory.
Dahlan was in effect "trying to manage Fatah's security forces by remote control," said Diskin, adding: "We are not even sure where he is."
Jones emphasized in the cable that an aide to Diskin had surmised that Dahlan was in Cairo at the time; a few days later Diskin told Jones that Dahlan was in Amman.
Diskin told the American envoy that although Fatah was desperate, its leadership was behaving as would be expected of people faced with such a difficult situation.
He told Jones that Fatah had thus turned to Israel for help in attack Hamas, which he termed a new and unprecedented development in Jerusalem's relations with the Palestinian Authority.
"They are approaching a zero-sum situation, and yet they ask us to attack Hamas," Diskin said. "This is a new development. We have never seen this before. They are desperate."
Diskin is also cited opposing a U.S. proposal to supply ammunition and weapons to Fatah, fearful that Hamas might get its hands on them instead.
Diskin went on to share with Jones sensitive details relating to the cooperation between the Shin Bet and the Palestinian security and intelligence forces in the West Bank.
Palestinian security was sharing "almost all the intelligence that it collects" with Israel," Diskin told Jones. "They understand that Israel's security is central to their
survival in the struggle with Hamas in the West Bank," he said, according to the cable.
Despite that revelation, Diskin issued critical words of Tawfiq Tirawi, the head of the Palestinian General Intelligence, calling him "psychopathic, cruel and dangerous."
The cable also exposes Diskin's concern that Abbas had begun to pose as a problem for Israel. "He's a paradox. He cannot function and do anything. Why is Fatah failing?
Because Abbas has become the 'good guy' whom everyone is trying to do everything for in order to keep him alive.
"He knows he is weak and that he has failed ... to rehabilitate Fatah. He did not start to take any action when he had the chance in 2004. Instead of choosing to be the leader for Fatah, he chose to be a national leader for all Palestinians," Diskin said, according to the cable.
A few days after the meeting with Diskin, when the clashes in Gaza had reached their peaks on June 12, Jones met Israel's then-Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.
In the cable sent to Washington, Jones said that Yadlin had been quite satisfied with Hamas' seizure of the Gaza Strip.
If Hamas managed to take complete control then the Israel Defense Forces would be able to relate to Gaza as a hostile territory and stop looking at the militant group as an undiplomatic player, Yadlin apparently told Jones.
A few weeks later, Israel's cabinet indeed reached the decision to relate to Gaza as a hostile territory.
A year and a half before Israel took offensive of the Gaza Strip in Operation Cast Lead, Yadlin referred to the territory as the fourth most hostile place in the world – following Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Gaza was lost for now, Yadlin said, adding that he had expected the clashes with Fatah since Hamas' victory in the January 2006 elections.
Yadlin also said that he would be surprised if Fatah could actually be victorious in battle with Hamas.
In response to a query from Jones, Yadlin said he would only begin to worry that Iran would move in to the Gaza Strip if a port was set up in the territory.
Jones wrote in the cable that he was surprised by Yadlin's comments on Gaza and by the calm way he seemed to be reacting to Hamas' takeover.
The ambassador referred to Yadlin's demeanor with regard to the situation as representing a change of stance within the Israel Defense Forces.
Yadlin's position went in tandem with that of IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, Jones wrote, who also believed that the real threat against Israel was coming from the northern border.
The disclosure of the cable could seriously embarrass Abbas and his Fatah movement, which Hamas has always accused of collaborating with the Israelis.
An official with Abbas' government played down the information, saying "information-sharing between us and Israel is limited to field information that serves our security and the interest of our people." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with reporters.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he was not surprised to hear about the cooperation.
"This is proof of what Hamas has said in the past, that there has been a division of labor between some elements of the former authority in Gaza and the Israeli occupation," Barhoum said. "The same situation is taking place right now in the West Bank as well."
The just-released memo is not the first to indicate cooperation between Israel and Abbas' West Bank loyalists.
A June 2009 diplomatic message cited Israel's defense minister as asking Fatah before Israel's January 2009 war in Gaza whether it wanted to assume control of the territory once Israel defeated Hamas.
Fatah rejected the offer, according to the memo from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. An Abbas aide denied there were any prewar consultations.
Abbas' international prestige is tied to the quest for a peace deal. Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and pelted southern Israel with thousands of rockets, maintains that nothing can be gained by negotiating with Israel.
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