A US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks suggests that Israel told Palestinian leaders and Egypt that it was going to attack the Gaza Strip before the war began nearly two years ago, indicating a level of prewar cooperation never confirmed before.
The rival Palestinian government in the West Bank denied any prewar consultations and said that it had told Israel not to attack Hamas-ruled Gaza. There was no immediate response from Egypt.
Israel launched its offensive, known as "Operation Cast Lead," on December 27, 2008, in response to months of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. During the three-week offensive, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, drawing harsh international condemnations and war crimes accusations in a UN report.
The revelations in the leaked cables suggests that the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which remained largely silent during the Israeli attack on its rival, knew more about the operation than it has acknowledged, though there is no indication that it cooperated with the Israelis.
The June 2, 2009, communique from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv cites Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a US congressional delegation that 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."
According to the cable, Barak said that both rejected the offer.
Israeli officials, including Barak's office, would not comment on the leaks on Tuesday.
Fatah is the party that dominates Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' West Bank-based government. Hamas is the Islamic militant movement that wrested control of Gaza from Fatah forces more than three years ago. Egypt borders Gaza and controlled it before Israel captured it in 1967 and occupied it for 38 years before turning it over to the Palestinians in 2005.
"We knew about the war because the Israelis were saying there was going to be a war," said Saeb Erekat, a top Abbas aide. But "there were never any actual consultations between us and the Israelis before the war."
Several months before the fighting broke out in late December 2008, Abbas asked Israel's then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, not to go to war and told him he would "not go to Gaza on an Israeli tank," Erekat said. He said the exchange took place in a face-to-face meeting that he himself attended.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that he was not surprised to learn of Fatah cooperation with Israel.