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This article was published 14/3/2011 (2202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TEL AVIV -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Cairo today on her way to Tunis, thus becoming the highest-level American official to visit these two countries since the toppling of their presidents. One stop, however, is missing in this trip: Riyadh.
According to some reliable sources, Saudi King Abdullah has refused to see Clinton, claiming he is "tired" after medical treatments in New York and long convalescence in Morocco.
The Saudi king is reported to be appalled by the U.S. "abandonment" of Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak. Since Mubarak was forced into exile in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Abdullah's contacts with the U.S. have been very limited. The Saudi king is reported to argue that by failing to protect his allies, President Barack Obama is jeopardizing naval bases in the Persian Gulf, stability in the oil markets and the struggle against al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
By "abandoning" Mubarak, Obama raised some doubts about Cairo's future ability to maintain its co-operation with Israel in combatting Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Iran's effort to consolidate its naval bridgehead in Syria and Lebanon.
On her current trip to the region, Clinton was to meet in Paris with her counterparts from France, Great Britain, Russia, Canada, Germany and Italy, to discuss recent developments in Libya. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted strikes if Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to bomb his people. The Arab League favours enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya.
The U.S., however, has consistently shown reluctance about military intervention. U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, in particular, is opposed to any military intervention in a third Arab and Muslim country, after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Facing such opposition from his own military establishment, Obama suggested that Egypt supply arms and military equipment to the Libyan rebels. It sounded like a joke in Cairo.
Furthermore, Russia, China and Turkey -- all three members of the Security Council -- are opposed to such intervention, while Germany and Italy are reported to have some reservations.
Some Israeli scholars believe that facing the Libyan crisis, Obama did not do his homework. When the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents were overthrown, they left behind an integrated government bureaucracy and military and security apparatuses that ensured transfer of powers to the new regimes.
Libya is different. During his 41 years in power, Gadhafi practically destroyed all state institutions and has no capable bureaucratic apparatus that can run the country if the regime is changed. As a result, and contrary to Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi is capable of buying the loyalty of the bureaucracy with his billions of petrodollars. His militias and army are helping the Libyan ruler to reverse the initial successes of the rebels.
Clinton and her western and Russian counterparts, therefore, will discuss in Paris what to do in Libya.
While in Paris, Clinton will consult informally with Russia, France, Britain and Germany on recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In light of last Friday night's stabbing to death of five Israeli settlers in Itamar, a religious settlement close to Nablus, Israeli-Palestinian tensions in the West Bank are again high. The dead were members of the same family -- the parents and three of their six children, the youngest being a three-month-old baby. The overnight assassination was the first attack in months and it infuriated Israelis of all political colours.
In an effort to calm the tension, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the construction of 400 housing units in the three blocs that Israel hopes to eventually integrate into Israel. Netanyahu informed the White House about this plan before it was announced. He was told that the U.S. will have to condemn the move, but nothing more. White House officials told Israel that, on April 15, the Quartet will hold a formal meeting in an effort to revive the peace process. They expressed hope that, by then, Netanyahu will be ready to present his new peace plan for resumption of formal talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Samuel Segev is the Free Press Middle Eastern correspondent.