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Obama. Israelis stunned Photo: AFP
Obama. Israelis stunned Photo: AFP
 
 

Rules of game changing

Israelis officials can’t keep up with dramatic changes in America’s Mideastern policy

Shimon Shiffer
Published: 05.03.09, 12:30 / Israel Opinion

The reports about the rapprochement between the Obama administration and Syria left Israeli policy makers stunned.

 

“What’s going on here?” asked a senior figure in Jerusalem last night. “The Syrians are not providing reasons that could justify the rush of administration emissaries to visit Damascus. The Syrian regime continues its involvement in Iraq and enables terrorists to cross the border and carry out attacks against the US Army. The Syrians bribe anything that moves in Lebanon in order to affect the election results there.”

 

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In Israel, it appears that officials can’t keep up with the dramatic changes that are taking shape in America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The intimate relations with the US, at least the way it seems right now, are no longer what they used to be. One of the reasons for it may be the fact that Israel is still reexamining its foreign policy ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in about two weeks.

 

However, Obama is not waiting: He is vigorously promoting the moves we heard about back in his election campaign.

 

A senior Israeli official says that Obama is interested in delivering on his promise to leave Iraq within a year and boost Lebanon’s government, and to that end the Americans need Bashar Assad. The common perception within the defense establishment is that if Israel wishes to remain in the picture, it needs to initiate the resumption of negotiations with Syria; otherwise, the initiative will come from the Americans.

 

No more boycotts

Defense officials believe that Assad is waiting for the resumption of American intermediation and that he isn’t interested in indirect talks via the Turks. Assad believes that only the US can force Israel to pay the price of peace as he sees it: The return of the entire Golan Heights.

 

We can assume that this issue will be discussed in depth in the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama. It is highly doubtful that Netanyahu would offer to the American president that the deal between Israel and Syria will be premised on the formula proposed by Foreign Minister Lieberman: Peace in exchange for peace.

 

The negotiations between Israel and Syria, which have been conducted with American intermediation in the past decade, clarified to each of the sides the price they need to pay for a peace deal. Israel demands that Syria will stop serving as an arms supplier for Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

 

One thing is certain: The era of boycotts against major players in the region that characterized the Bush administration has come to an end. Eventually the Americans may discover that in the Middle East one cannot predict anything or plan anything in advance, yet until that time, everyone will have to get used to the new rules of the games.

 

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