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Detente Steps Ahead of Netanyahu-Obama Meeting

By DEBKAfile & VOA News

After more than a year, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, Nov. 9, with the deck heavily stacked against him – and not just because of the Islamic State, which is a universal bane, or Obama's Iran policy - or even the evaporation of the peace process with the Palestinians. This time, Netanyahu is not getting a dressing-down over the disappearance of the two-state solution, because even the US president has decided to shelve it for the remainder of his presidency which ends in January 2017.

This is not because the Netanyahu government has missed any chances for talks with the Palestinians, as the Israeli opposition loudly claims, but because it is unrealistic. The Israeli prime minister had his most promising card snatched from him just 10 days before he traveled to Washington. He had intended presenting the US president with the quiet alliance he had formed with key moderate Arab governments as a viable alternative for the deadlocked Palestinian peace process, with the promise of a measure of stability for its members in the turbulence around them.

However, the linchpin Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sissi's position was suddenly shaken up badly by the downing of the Russian passenger plane over Sinai on Oct. 31, presenting him with his most dangerous crisis since he took power in 2013. In addition, the security situation in Syria, including along Israel's northern border, especially the Golan, has gone from bad to worse - especially since Russia built up its military presence in Syria.

Israel has been forced to forego most of its red lines for defending its security as no longer relevant. Although no Israeli official says so openly, Israel's military options in Syria have shrunk, and even the overflights by its air force flights for keeping threats at bay are seriously restricted..

Iran and Hizbullah, under Russian air cover, have been slowly but surely making gains in their attempt to retake southern Syria from the rebels and hand it over to the army of Syrian President Assad. Israel is still insisting that it will not allow the deployment of Iranian or Hizbullah forces on the Syrian side of the Golan, but these statements are losing their impact. If the coalition of Russia, Iran, Syria and Hizbullah defeats the rebels in southern Syria and moves in up to its border, Israel will find it extremely difficult to prevent this happening.

It would also mark the end of more than three years of investment and building of ties with various elements in southern Syria as part of a strategic decision to transform those groups into a buffer between Israel and Iran in the Golan area.

Netanyahu's struggle against the nuclear deal with Iran was not just aimed at Washington's recognition of Iran's nuclear program, but ever more at Obama's acknowledgement of Iran as America's strategic partner and leading Middle East power. But in this respect, the US president is most likely chafing over the setbacks to his own cherished plan, as a result of four developments:

  1. Iran has plunged more deeply than ever predicted into the Syrian conflict. For the first time since the 19th century, Iran has not only sent its military to fight beyond its borders, but it is coordinating its moves with Moscow, not Washington. Even if Israel needed to turn to the US administration for a helping hand against Iran, it would have no address because Washington too has been displaced as a power with any say in the Syrian picture.

  2. Although the alliance by Israel and moderate Arab countries was designed by Netanyahu to serve as a counterweight to the US-Iranian partnership, that alliance too is far from united on Syria: El-Sissi, for example, supports President Bashar Assad, and is in favor of keeping him in power in Damascus.

  3. The Islamic State continues to go from strength to strength in Syria and the Sinai Peninsula which share borders with Israel as well as in Iraq' and 4. Israel's political, defense and intelligence elite have badly misread or missed altogether four major events in the region: The eruption of a new, deadly Palestinian campaign of terror which strikes unexpectedly in every town, highway and street. These errors are taking their toll on Israel's security, wellbeing and prestige.

Even if Netanyahu and Obama, like Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, do reach an agreement on Israel's security needs for the coming years and US military assistance, such an agreement may not withstand the test of Middle East volatility. The rapidly changing conditions are for now all to the detriment of the US and Israel.

In Jerusalem Sunday, Netanyahu said his upcoming meeting with Obama will focus on "strengthening the security" of Israel in the wake of the nuclear deal. Netanyahu told his Cabinet that the United States has always been committed to preserving Israel's "qualitative edge" amid the changing balance of power in the Middle East.

The nuclear agreement severely strained relations between Israel and the U.S., with Netanyahu charging that it would not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons that could threaten the existence of the Jewish state.

In the wake of that perceived threat, Netanyahu wants compensation from America. He said Israel is seeking a significant increase in U.S. military aid over the next decade. The current annual U.S. aid package to Israel stands at $3 billion, and officials say Netanyahu hopes to get that raised to $4 or $5 billion each year.

The two leaders will also discuss six weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence that have raised fears of a major conflict. While an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has evaded President Obama during his two terms, he and Netanyahu will discuss ways to ease tensions on the ground.

The visit also comes amid a dispute over the Israeli prime minister's new spokesman, Ron Baratz. In a posting on Facebook, Baratz said Obama's response to Netanyahu's last visit "is what modern anti-Semitism looks like in Western liberal countries." He also said Secretary of State John Kerry has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. The State Department called the comments "troubling and offensive," and claimed that Netanyahu has promised to "review" the appointment.

In a new Facebook post, Baratz apologized for the "hurtful remarks" he posted and said he was sorry he had not informed Netanyahu in advance about them. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said he wouldn't expect the issue to come up when the two leaders meet in the Oval Office Monday morning.

Rob Malley, Obama's senior Middle East adviser said ahead of Netanyahu's arrival in Washington, "The president has reached the conclusion that, barring a major shift, the parties are not going to be in the position to negotiate a final status agreement," for the first time in two decades, the White House "faces a reality where the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution is not in the cards," he said.

The Israeli prime minister for his part will be reaching out to pro-Obama Democratic circles and make his pitch directly to the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) on Tuesday. Detente would be welcomed by many Democrats, who feel that Netanyahu's fierce opposition to the nuclear accord, and especially his speech on Congress, put them in an uncomfortable position. Netanyahu will also appear before the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as well as at CAP. In addition, he will speak at the general assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday.

Netanyahu is also planning to meet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The House is not in session this week, and both Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) are out of town.

Israeli Intelligence Showed that ISIS Destroyed Russian Jet


New reports suggest it was Israel that provided valuable information about the Russian airline that crashed into the Sinai Peninsula, according to CNN. Officials were initially uncertain what caused the Metrojet flight 9268 to crash last week, but the plane is now believed to have been destroyed by a bomb placed in the luggage compartment.

This interpretation is backed up by intercepted phone calls in which ISIS members brag about the attack. According to a US official, it is these phone calls that Israeli intelligence gave to the US and the UK. Israeli officials have not commented on the reports.

Earlier Sunday it was revealed that UK intelligence sources believe the attack was carried out by British nationals who joined ISIS. Egypt says that it remains skeptical about theories that a bomb caused the crash. "We don't know what happened exactly," says investigation head Ayman al-Muqaddam, adding that he has not seen any of the evidence pointing to a bomb.

The Egyptian team investigating the crash told Reuters on Sunday they were "90% sure" the noise heard in the final second of a cockpit recording was an explosion caused by a bomb. "The indications and analysis so far of the sound on the black box indicate it was a bomb," said the Egyptian investigation team member.

The Airbus A321 crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the Sharm al-Sheikh tourist resort eight days ago, killing all 224 passengers and crew, including 214 Russian nationals and three Ukrainians. The Islamic State claimed that its local affiliate in Sinai had succeeded in downing the aircraft, according to supporters on Twitter and the Aamaq website, which acts as a semi-official news agency for ISIS. According to the report, the organization said it did so in revenge for Russian airstrikes in Syria.

"Russians and everyone who is with you in the alliance: Know that you are not safe on Muslim soil or in Muslim airspace," read a statement attributed to ISIS. "The daily murdering of dozens in Syria by your airstrikes will bring disaster on you. Just as you kill, so you will be killed, God willing."

If the group was responsible, it would have carried out one of the highest profile killings since al Qaeda flew passenger planes into New York's World Trade Center in September 2001.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the incident could lead to changes in flight security. "If this turns out to be a device planted by an ISIL operative or by somebody inspired by ISIL, then clearly we will have to look again at the level of security we expect to see in airports in areas where ISIL is active," Hammond told the BBC.

53% of Israelis Support Killing Palestinian Terrorists 'On the Spot'


A recent survey conducted by The Peace Index finds that while Israeli Jews support hawkish handling of Palestinian attackers, they do not support similar measures taken against Jewish attackers.

A majority of Israeli Jews support the killing of Palestinian terrorists "on the spot," while 58% were against Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount during times of heightened tensions, a survey conducted by The Peace Index in October revealed.

Fifty-three percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement, "Any Palestinian who has perpetrated a terror attack against Jews should be killed on the spot, even if he has been apprehended and no longer poses a threat."

This finding may give credence to fears expressed by Israel's Arab public, with 78% saying they were "apprehensive of being harmed" in the ongoing violence. Compared to that, only 57% of Israeli Jews said that they personally feared that "they themselves or someone important to them would be harmed in the current wave of attacks."

The relative fear within the different communities in Israel was also reflected in the daily habits of residents. A majority of the Arab public (53.5%) said they had changed their daily habits as a result of the violent attacks, while a majority of the Jewish public (64%) reported they had not changed their habits.

On the issue of equal punishment for Jewish and Palestinian terrorists, a wide majority (80%) of the Jewish public believed that "the home of the family of a Palestinian who has murdered Jews on a nationalist background should be demolished," while 53% were against demolishing the home of a Jew who has murdered a Palestinian in a nationalistically-motivated attack. The issue was quite decisive, with 41% of Jews said they were not against the demolition of the home of a Jewish attacker.

The statistics were much more consistent within the Arab public, "the majority does not agree that the family home of a Palestinian perpetrator should be demolished (77%), but a large majority (67%) also opposes demolishing the family home of a Jewish perpetrator," the survey found.

Meanwhile, 70% of Jews said they believed the punishments Israeli courts levy on Palestinians who have carried out terror attacks are too light, while only 35% said the punishments meted out to Jews who have done so were too light.

When prompted on the issue of Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, a majority of respondents (58%) answered that in the current state of affairs, "Jews should not be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount." An overwhelming majority (74%) of Jews also noted they did not believe that the attacks stemmed from Palestinian despair over the lack of progress in talks.

The Jewish public was most satisfied with the way the IDF has been combating the current wave of terror, with 93% giving it grades of very good or moderately good. The Israel Police came in second, with 84.5% of Jewish respondents awarding it grades of very good or moderately good. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), meanwhile, came in third, with less than three-fourths (72%) giving it a grade of very good or moderately good. A vast majority of Jews seemed to reject the Israeli government's handling of the current wave, with only 39% of them assigning it grades of very good or moderately good.

The numbers emerging from the Arab sector in Israel in relation to the handling of the current situation were also quite surprising, with only 38% of respondents giving a positive grade to the Arab members of Knesset.

On the issue of Netanyahu's recent claim that the former mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini had influenced Hitler's decision to adopt the "final solution," Jewish respondents answered that they were overwhelmingly unconvinced, with over 62% of them saying that they were not persuaded by the claim.

"Overall, we found a Jewish public that is tense but not hysterical; holding firm yet in certain regards prepared, under the pressure of the incidents, to overturn democratic values; and that does not greatly esteem the policy and statements of the prime minister," the Peace Index said.

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