In the past few months, Israel's embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been skillfully skating one step ahead of a potential criminal indictment by launching a full blown, unprecedented diplomatic offensive on 3 major fronts -- which strategically plays into Israel's goal of clearing the decks, so to speak if Israel decides to launch a preemptive attack on Iran's nuclear installations.
Israel has secretly accomplished more diplomatically in the past few months with its adversaries than anything that Condi Rice could have or would have brokered in years -- a glaring testament to the ever-shrinking influence of the U.S. in the region and Israel's diplomatic dexterity even if it means ignoring Cheney/Rice & Co. "isolate 'em" approach to failed diplomacy
On the first front, Israel cut a cease fire agreement with its hated adversary, Hamas last week that has produced a welcome respite from the cross Gaza border war. On its second exposed northern border, Israel also is currently negotiating indirectly with Hezbollah through the good offices of the German Foreign Ministry to obtain the release of the two abducted reservists whose kidnapping triggered the 2006 Israel -- Hezbollah conflict and to further pacify the southern Lebanese border area where Hezbollah has been actively rearming under the very noses of the United Nations peacekeeping force. A potential deal is in jeopardy because at the 11th hour Hezbollah insisted that Israel release Palestinians held by Israel in addition to Hezbollah prisoners. And, on the most far-reaching third diplomatic track Turkey has been officially mediating a potential peace treaty between Israel and Syria -- mediation publicly acknowledged by these two long time adversaries.
Who would have guessed that Israel would have reversed course on so many fronts at once and actually make such tangible progress with its sworn enemies.
There is a great deal of merit to Israel's diplomacy notwithstanding PM Olmert's personal travails.
First, with respect to Hamas, Israel's policy of isolation was achieving little with each passing day. Palestinians holed up in Gaza were suffering from humanitarian shortages, and Israel was unable to silence the Qassam rockets that were terrorizing its southern cities and towns. The question is whether this very shaky ceasefire will hold even a fortnight, and to what end given Hamas' determination to continue its policy of destroying Israel. If the ceasefire is violated, it will probably be because Hamas' leadership was unable, or unwilling to enforce discipline on Hamas' sister terror organizations, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which have conveniently joined in the rocket melee, but are separate groups not falling under Hamas' sway. In that case, there is a strong likelihood that Israel will use a resumption of hostilities to move forcefully into Gaza once and for all and force Hamas out of the Gaza Strip once and for all, but at considerable cost.
Second, the deal with Hezbollah is an entirely different diplomatic maneuver directly linked to Israel's negotiations with Syria through Turkish intermediaries. Israel's goal is to reduce Syria's ties with Iran, and compel Syria to exert influence over Hezbollah militarily by ceasing Iran's requipping Hezbollah through Syria. Time will tell whether Hezbollah strikes a deal that will enable Israel to repatriate the bodies of its fallen soldiers -- a matter of great importance to Israel.
Third, the Syria-Israeli negotations, publicly acknowledged by Syria, are the most intriguing. Launched secretly months ago by Olmert over Bush administration objections, the negotiations have, according to my sources, made significant progress on a variety of fronts -- the status of the Golan Heights, Syria's role in Lebanon, normalization of ties, closing terror offices in Damascus, etc.. And it is conceivable that Syria's President Assad and Israel's Olmert will actually meet on the margins of a French-sponsored conference on Mediterranean security next month.
What actually lies behind this three-front diplomatic extravaganza is Israel's desire to clear the decks, so to speak, in the event it decides to attack Iran's nuclear installations. Israel believes that, from a diplomatic and military perspective, it is far better to have a negotiated period of calm on its northern and southern borders with Iran's principal anti-Israeli proxies in the event Israel determines that global diplomacy and sanctions have run their course, making an attack on Iran a last, but necessary resort.
Just last week, Israel's carrots and sticks diplomacy was on full display when it was revealed that Israel's air force had undertaken a major, and noisy military exercise aimed at sending a message to Iran and to the international community that Israel will not tolerate Iran developing a nuclear weapon -- all the while consecutively pursuing each of these three diplomatic tracks.
What is glaringly missing in this diplomatic "Jew Jitsu" is any tell tale evidence that there may be a super-secret fourth diplomatic track between Iran and Israel notwithstanding the continuing efforts by the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency to broker a decision by Iran to cease its uranium enrichment program.. Is it possible that Syria is conveying messages back to Tehran as part of its Turkish-mediated diplomatic track with Israel? Highly unlikely given the statements calling for Israel's destruction periodically uttered by Iran's obsessed leadership, and Israel's legitimate concern that Iran possessed of nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to Israel's very existence.
Whatever may be the long-term outcome of Israel's diplomatic multi-dimensional balancing acts, there is no doubt that by making a virtue of necessity, Israel has deftly proven that it is not bound to a diplomatic straitjacket made in the bowels of the White House and State Department.
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