London, Feb 8 (IANS) Egypt’s new Vice President Omar Suleiman is a long-standing favourite of Israel who spoke daily to the Tel Aviv government via a secret “hotline” to Cairo, US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have revealed.
Suleiman, who is widely tipped to take over from Hosni Mubarak as president, was named as Israel’s preferred candidate for the job after discussions with American officials in 2008, the Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.
The revelations come after Suleiman began talks with opposition groups on the future for Egypt’s government. Egypt is in the grip of political unrest since protests against Mubarak began Jan 25. The UN estimates that more than 300 people have died in clashes with police.
As a key figure working for Middle East peace, Suleiman once suggested that Israeli troops would be “welcome” to invade Egypt to stop weapons being smuggled to Hamas terrorists in neighbouring Gaza.
On Saturday, Suleiman won the backing of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lead the “transition” to democracy after two weeks of demonstrations calling for President Mubarak to resign.
Leaked cables from American embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv disclose the close co-operation between Suleiman and the US and Israeli governments as well as diplomats’ intense interest in likely successors to 83-year-old Mubarak.
The documents highlight the delicate position which the Egyptian government seeks to maintain in Middle East politics, as a leading Arab nation with a strong relationship with the US and Israel.
By 2008, Suleiman, who was head of the foreign intelligence service, had become Israel’s main point of contact in the Egyptian government.
David Hacham, a senior adviser from the Israeli ministry of defence, told the American embassy in Tel Aviv that a delegation led by Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak had been impressed by Suleiman, whose name is spelled “Soliman” in some cables.
But Hacham was “shocked” by President Mubarak’s “aged appearance and slurred speech”.
The cable, from August 2008, said: “Hacham was full of praise for Soliman, however, and noted that a ‘hot line’ set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use.
“Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated.”
The Tel Aviv diplomats added: “We defer to embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.”
Elsewhere the documents disclose that Suleiman was stung by Israeli criticism of Egypt’s inability to stop arms smugglers transporting weapons to Palestinian militants in Gaza. At one point he suggested that Israel send troops into the Egyptian border region of Philadelphi to “stop the smuggling”.
“In their moments of greatest frustration, (Egyptian Defence Minister) Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) would be ‘welcome’ to re-invade Philadelphi, if the IDF thought that would stop the smuggling,” the cable said.
The files suggest that Suleiman wanted Hamas “isolated”, and thought Gaza should “go hungry but not starve”.