Underneath so much bad news that emerged from the Middle East during the last week, there was actually at least one positive item that was quickly ignored in light of the apparent break-up of the Israel-Palestinian talks. (See below.) A series of meetings took place last week in Israel between the Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and his Israelis counterpart, General Benny Gantz. In addition, Dempsey met with Netanyahu and with Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. It was Ya’alon whose apology or non-apology for his attack on Obama and U.S. foreign policy makers apparently did not diminish the upbeat nature of the bi-lateral discussions which transpired between the military brass.
In addition to the usual array of bi-lateral questions involving weapons systems, joint weapons’ production, and general regional defense matters, there was reportedly a mutual agreement on probable strategic options should the P+1- Iranian nuclear talks fail. Unlike any other previous comments from U.S. leaders concerning Iran, there were no signs of equivocation coming out from their meetings.
Kerry Finishes Talking
Often negotiating parties need to see the wall which they are about to hit before they realize that if they do not slam the brakes they may well crash into it. Secretary Kerry’s (read Obama) decision to pull back from any further involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations appears curiously enough to have set forth a series of rushing back and forth between the parties to try to justify bringing Kerry back into the negotiations.
Kerry needs action before he could return and the first step would be to agree to extend the talks beyond April 29th when they are due to expire. No one should have any great idea that the Kerry framework is the final answer, but one ought to assume that both sides pulled up short last week when they saw the deal. This in turn sent Kerry packing.
There are a few non-political timing factors which need to be considered, at least from the Israeli side of the negotiations. Passover begins in one week on the evening of the 14th. There still will be eight days left after Passover before April 29th. Finally, the 29th is the day after Holocaust Memorial Day.
Syria and Gas
Syria continues to be reluctant to remove all the chemical weapons that were promised to be out of the country by the end of January. While there is a progress and Germany is expediting the destruction, Syria is hardly proceeding with all deliberate speed. In addition, Israel confirmed reports issued by the anti-Assad rebels, that Syria once again used chemical weapons against citizens in Damascus and elsewhere as recently as last week; so much for Syria’s pledge to discontinue its use of chemical weapons.
As the wondering continued about what results might have emerged from the Saudi-U.S. meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia announced today that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, following shoulder surgery would be returning to the Kingdom shortly to resume his role as head of intelligence. Prince Bandar had served as the Saudi ambassador in Washington for 22 years. He knows the players and the D.C. game as well as anyone in Saudi Arabia. There is much speculation as to why he had left and why he returned now. It is not clear if it was strictly a medical issue or whether it was over the Syrian rebels, the Iranian nukes, or the Palestinian negotiations about which he might have disagreed with the rulers; however his return to head Saudi intelligence might be an indication of a shift or an agreement that evolved during the Obama-Abdullah meetings.