White House sends A-Team to Israel to try to overcome settlements impasse, talk Iran

White House sends A-Team to Israel to try to overcome settlements impasse, talk Iran

A flurry of upcoming meetings between senior U.S. and Israeli officials suggest that Washington is determined to try to overcome the current impasse. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrives in Israel Monday for talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other leaders. Aides declined to discuss the secretary’s agenda at all except to confirm the trip.

Mitchell too is headed back to Israel Sunday, after visits today in Abu Dhabi, and Damascus tomrrow, and before going on to Egypt and Bahrain. One notes that Mitchell’s and Gates’s trips might overlap, and that both have Defense Minister Barak as one chief interlocutor.

National Security Advisor Gen. James. L. Jones also confirmed to Foreign Policy that he plans to lead a separate multiagency team that reportedly includes officials from the Treasury Department, CIA, as well as NSC Senior Director for the Central Region Dennis Ross to Israel for meetings next Wednesday with Israeli national security advisor Uzi Arad and others. Iran is expected to be the major focus of these talks, which are separate from the Gates’ trip, a U.S. defense official said. Some Iran watchers believe if Iran hasn’t responded to the offer for talks by September, that the process for organizing a tougher sanctions regime targeting Iran will begin to get underway at the U.N. General Assembly in September and subsequent G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, although administration and outside sources have indicated Russia is not likely to support such measures until after the end of the year. [continued…]

An Economist debate: This house believes that Barack Obama’s America is now an honest broker between the Israelis and the Arabs

Daniel Levy: “Brokering real progress on Israel-Palestine is now more readily understood as being in the US national interest. An especially compelling case can also now be made on why a two-state solution is urgent for Israel and its future as a democracy, and there are new progressive dynamics in America’s Jewish community and in online political organising that support this trend.

“Against this backdrop, Mr Obama is staking out that role of the honest-enough broker. His administration has made public its disagreement with Israel’s settlement policy, unequivocally calling for a full freeze. US relations with Syria have been upgraded. The president has made a point of reaching out to the Arab and Muslim worlds, notably in his Cairo speech, and has done so respectfully, eschewing the arrogant and lecturing tone of his predecessor. Obama has conveyed his determination to realise a two-state solution, just last week telling American Jewish leaders that he would be ‘evenhanded’, having honest conversations with and putting pressure on both the Israeli and Arab sides.” [continued…]

U.S., Israel abort missile test

Israeli and U.S. military officials this week aborted a test of a missile-defense shield under development by the two countries, raising questions about the reliability of Israel’s defenses against a potential Iranian attack.

The news, which military officials were careful not to characterize as a failure of the Israeli missile-defense program, comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East over the strengthening of Iranian hawks loyal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s recent electoral victory has fueled renewed debate in Washington and European capitals about whether to rely on continued diplomacy to curb what the U.S. and Israel see as Iran’s intention to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. [continued…]

Israeli warships’ passage through Suez Canal causes a stir

There’s no sneaking a warship through the Suez Canal, so it’s best to sail through and remain coy.

Israel has done just that. At least two of its missile-class Saar 5 warships and a Dolphin submarine have sailed through the canal in recent weeks, prompting conjecture about Israel’s intentions. Possible scenarios include the sending of a message to Iran about Israeli military might and giving the impression that Israel and Egypt, which controls the Suez, are closely cooperating against regional security threats.

The Israeli government has said little about why the vessels were on missions that took them through the Suez, but they come as Israel has grown insistent on stopping Iran’s nuclear program. That fits in with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to link the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with agreements from Arab states to help Israel counter Iran. [continued…]

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