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Suleiman wanted to cleanse the Sinai of arms smugglers

world Updated: Feb 10, 2011 18:37 IST

Omar Suleiman, the new vice-president of Egypt, told the Israelis he wanted to start "cleansing the Sinai" of Palestinian arms smugglers, according to leaked cables.

Suleiman, Israel's preferred candidate to replace 82-year-old Mubarak, promised personally to take responsibility for 'cleansing the Sinai'.

The diplomatic cables leaked to the WikiLeaks website give evidence of close ties between Israel, the United States and Suleiman, who is tipped to replace Hosni Mubarak as Egypt's president, the Daily Telegraph reported.

A secret hotline between Suleiman and the Israelis was said to be "in daily use", according to the cables.

The pledge to cleanse Sinai was made by Suleiman to Yuval Diskin of the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) after he complained about the smuggling of weapons across the border with Gaza.

According to a cable sent in November 2007, Diskin met Rob Danin, the US deputy assistant secretary of state, and Mark Kimmitt, the deputy assistant defence secretary, in Tel Aviv and told them that the Sinai peninsula had now become a "weapons and explosives warehouse" for operations in Gaza, Egypt and Israel.

The cable said, Diskin told Danin and Kimmit [sic] that the ISA had, on several occasions provided Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt's intelligence services, with detailed intelligence on the names of smugglers.

Diskin said he met personally with Suleiman in Egypt, at which time Suleiman promised personally to take responsibility for 'cleansing the Sinai'.

"Despite these promises and Israeli offers to initiate joint operations, Diskin said Egypt has not acted to eliminate the smuggling networks," the cable said.

In Diskin's view, there is a core policy problem in that the Egyptians saw themselves as the primary mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians, and are careful not to alienate either side.

Suleiman worked hard to position himself as the main Egyptian link with Israel.

According to the cable, he was blocking attempts by the Israelis to form links with other members of the Cairo government.

This was, according to Diskin, because of Suleiman's "desire to remain the sole point of contact for foreign intelligence."

The efforts paid off.

In 2008, Suleiman was named as Israel's preferred successor to Mubarak and the new secret direct hotline was in daily use.

By early 2009, Dan Harel, deputy chief of staff at the Israel Defence Staff, was reporting that "on the intelligence side under Suleiman co-operation is good".

A cable reported, "Co-operation against smuggling is better with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman than it is with Egyptian Military Commander Field Marshall Tantawi.

"In May 2009, in a meeting with the Americans, Suleiman was telling them of how Egypt had made the border with Gaza more secure."

This included "destroying tunnels, and erecting underground metal barricades", although he "acknowledged that the smuggling could never be fully stopped".

Suleiman has already won the backing of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to lead the "transition" to democracy after nearly three weeks of demonstrations calling for Mubarak to resign.