‘Spies’ Authors Write in Newsday: After Gaza, Will Barack Obama Push for MidEast Peace?

Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman have an article in a leading New York newspaper, Newsday, on President Obama’s options after the Gaza crisis.  Click here for the full article.

An excerpt:

All sides involved in this month’s Gaza crisis face an array of choices. They might simply claim victories, as Israel and the Palestinian Hamas faction are doing. They could feel the satisfaction of having avoided a wider war by mediating the cease-fire — a credit claimed by the United States and Egypt.

President Obama in Oval Office with national security advisors Tom Donilon (center) and Denis McDonough

…But the Obama administration is in a unique position to reorient the trends in the Middle East, so that the Gaza events lead to a new push for peace.

…Strengthened by his re-election, President Obama may choose to renew the American mediation effort that led to disappointment in 2009 and 2010. This could involve not only prodding Israeli and moderate Palestinian leaders to sit around a negotiating table, but a wider goal of creating a pro-peace, pro-stability coalition in the Middle East.

At their most ambitious, officials and diplomats speak of fashioning an axis of Sunni Muslim nations that want to diminish Shia influence and to stand against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. The axis might naturally include Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

More specifically, as an outgrowth from the Gaza crisis, American officials focus on three key leaders: Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The officials say Morsi came through last week. As a Muslim Brotherhood member, he was expected to sympathize entirely with the radicals of Hamas. Yet, obviously aware that Egypt’s economy is in terrible shape — with an almost total absence of tourism revenue — he saw the value of billions of dollars of U.S. aid. Morsi helped the Obama administration by toning down the passions and finding a practical path to a truce.

This being the Middle East, there can always be unexpected actions and reactions, as we now see in Egypt. Morsi decided to take advantage of the prestige that Gaza diplomacy gave him and issued decrees on Friday that give him powers superseding ordinary laws and the judiciary. As thousands of protesters again filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Obama administration expressed “concerns.” But it seems to be tolerating Morsi’s moves.

As for Turkey, Erdogan has been saying hostile things about Israel for years, but Western diplomats in the Middle East continue to hope that a strategic partnership, which used to be a huge plus for Turkey and Israel, can be restored. The diplomats note, with satisfaction, that the heads of Turkish and Israeli intelligence were both in Cairo while the Israel-Hamas cease-fire was being negotiated. …

The hope voiced by people — dwindling both in Israel and in Muslim countries — who have somehow retained their optimism about peace prospects is that a pro-stability Washington-Cairo-Ankara axis can support positive developments and factions in the Middle East, while working together to oppose radicalism.

That could give a much healthier background to efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. And success would strengthen an anti-Iran coalition.

The talks would face many obstacles. Hamas consistently refuses to speak directly with Israel, and vice versa, so the best to be expected would be a deal with the moderate Fatah faction in the West Bank.

Yet there are many strong reasons for the Obama administration to try again. Among its arguments to a skeptical Netanyahu? If you want U.S. backing for whatever may unfold in the Iranian nuclear crisis, cooperate with the pro-stability axis we are creating. And, while you are presenting yourself to voters on Jan. 22 as a tough, security-minded leader, please consider that nothing would make Israelis more secure than an overall settlement with their nearest Arab neighbors.

Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent in Washington, and Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist specializing in strategy and intelligence, are the authors of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.” They blog at IsraelSpy.com.

November 25, 2012

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