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Moment of truth 'maybe'

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TEL AVIV -- Is Israel approaching its moment of truth with Iran? The official and public position is "no." But behind the scenes diplomatic activity that suggests "maybe."

Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon completed two days of intense talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanahu, Defence Minster Ehud Barak and Israeli National Security Adviser Gen. Yaacov Amidror.

Donilon's visit was acknowledged only after his departure. Later this month, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to return to Israel to complete the Donilon consultations.

Between these two visits, Deputy Secretary of State Nick Burns is briefing his Israeli counterparts about new sanctions on Iran that they will reduce Iran's oil exports by 40 per cent and will increase considerably economic pressures on Iran.

And to cap all this, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived Sunday night for a one-day consultation about her discussions in Egypt about Egypt, Iran and the Palestinian Authority.

Clinton is not directly involved in the secret negotiations about Iran, but her visit coincides with growing Iranian terrorist activity against Israeli targets in Cyprus, Kenya and Azerbaijan.

The Cypriot government has arrested two terrorists, one of them a member of Hezbollah who planned to hit places frequented by Israelis. The two were assembling intelligence for elite Iranian al-Quds operatives to blow up an Israeli plane or hijack a cruise ship with Israelis on board.

All this semi-secret activity is accompanied by an increased American naval presence in the Persian Gulf. After sending two aircraft carriers to bolster its Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain, the U.S. sent additional torpedo boats and other naval units to warn against interference in the freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz.

There are signs that Iran feels nervous about the West's intentions. Iran also feels that Syria, its closest ally, is likely to fall while its attempt to cement its hegemony in Bahrain failed because of strong Saudi action.

Iran is no longer sure even about Russia. A Russian ship carrying helicopters was ordered back because the Kremlin did not want to be accused of supplying Assad with arms to kill his people. Turkey has undertaken a move of great concern to Iran: Turkey signed with Iraqi Kurdistan an agreement to supply Turkey with oil from Kirkuk, ignoring the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Lebanon is tense and unstable for the first time since its 1975 civil war. The Sunni majority under the leadership of Saad Hariri has become a serious counterbalance to Hezbollah. As a result, all Iranian attempts to continue arming Hezbollah are encountering stiff Sunni opposition.

For a time, there were fears that, acting on Iran's orders, Hezbollah would take steps to destabilize the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israel warned publicly, but also through other channels, that any Hezbollah attempt to act against Israel according to Iranian orders would cost Lebanon dearly.

Israel does not accept Hezbollah as an "independent" element in Lebanon. It regards Lebanon as one entity under the authority of the Lebanese government.

Clinton reported in Jerusalem on her discussion with newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and army "boss" Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Clinton's impression was that there was no immediate danger to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

Clinton was under the impression that Morsi is totally "absorbed" by the ongoing conflict with the military, which would "never" cede total control of Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are women, Christians and liberals to protect and the army would not abdicate its responsibility to do so.

In her discussions with Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Clinton invested much time to finding ways to revive the peace talks. She found Netanyahu more amenable to make some gestures to the Palestinians, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners. But the problem is not that of prisoners but of peace.

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free

Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2012 A7

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.


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