Thursday, June 2, 2011

Israeli Diplomacy and The Arab Spring: It's Complicated

In recent days there has been some crucial behind-the-scenes diplomacy between the Israeli government and the emerging leaders of Egypt as well as an envoy carrying a message on behalf of the revolutionaries bent on overturning Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

The missions are important to providing some much-needed confidence to Israelis who feel threatened by the uncertainty of the Pan-Arab freedom movement, known as The Arab Spring.

There are still fears in Israel that the pro-democracy revolutions will be hijacked by Islamic extremists, leaving the Jewish State to face more Iranian-style governments run by religious radicals.

At the forefront of the flurry of diplomatic flurry, the Israeli Defense Ministry's political-security section representative Amos Gilad traveled yesterday to Cairo to negotiate the release of Hamas prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held by Hamas.

Shalit's release could reportedly come as early as today, though the Israeli government and Hamas is playing down the trade and its timing.

Gilad was also re-assured by senior Egyptian officials that the security measures being taken by Egypt at the newly re-opened Rafah border crossing are strict and effective. The New York Times reports that Palestinians are indeed finding it difficult to cross from Gaza to Egypt at Rafah.

On another front, the U.S. is pressing Egypt to start allowing natural gas to flow through a pipeline that serves Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The pipeline was damaged during the Egyptian revolution, but was repaired two weeks ago and stands idle.

"It would help rebuild confidence if the gas flows soon," a U.S. source who lobbies on behalf Israel said a short while ago.

Turning to Libya, French writer Bernard Henri Levy told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a 90-minute meeting in Jerusalem today that the rebel Transitional National Council intends to open diplomatic ties with Israel.

"The main point was that the future Libyan regime would be moderate and anti-terrorist and will be concerned with justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel," Levy told Agence French Presse. "The future regime will maintain normal relations with other democratic countries, including Israel."

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