A Strange Way to Conduct Diplomacy

A Strange Way to Conduct Diplomacy

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In observing political behavior and one is frequently struck by very bizarre behavior, much of which was just not the pattern in the past. Visits of heads of states historically were usually meetings where the results of their official conversations were pre-ordained. They were never a repudiation of an existing understanding or a rejection of the purpose of the visit. Extensive staff work precedes most such meetings and while personal discussions are usually substantive, there are rarely significant surprises.  Modern day heads of Government do not hold talks which produce unexpected results. There may be disappointments perhaps, but not slams. It is therefore worth considering the events of the past few days since the behavior pattern was precisely the opposite.

Aside from his earlier embarrassment of President Obama by flip-flopping on accepting Netanyahu’s apology over the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at a White House press conference yesterday after meeting with the President, reiterated his intention to visit Gaza in June despite the fact that both Secretary Kerry as well as the President had lobbied against this visit. While he obviously has his own domestic audience to whom to answer were he to have reneged on this promised visit, it would seem that he will might have finessed the question until he returned home and not stuff it to the President in his own house.

Similarly and perhaps with far greater potential consequences, Russian President Putin entertained Prime Minister Netanyahu on a visit which he undertook precisely to urge the Russians not to deliver or to cease their delivery of high sophisticated Yakhont long range Russian cruise missiles to the Assad Government. Within two days of Netanyahu’s departure, Putin announced that Russia was proceeding with the sale of all the weapons promised to Syria.

It is likely that Netanyahu knew that his visit would be futile, yet he sought to make the trip, and Putin received him knowing precisely what was on the table. In fact, given that Putin had just agreed to encourage an international summit on Syria, perhaps the U.S. encouraged the Israelis to try to make the effort to stop the transfer of these new missiles to Assad.

Bibi did announce upon his return home that Israel would not tolerate Syria possessing weapons which could reach easily into Israel’s heartland –or out to sea as well–,nor would he permit the IAF to be challenged by the highly sophisticated new Russian radar systems. He was indicating directly to Assad—over Putin’s head—that Israel would attack any new systems that would be arriving before they were operational.

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