At the crossroads to peace and war in the Middle East

Michael B. Oren ,, August 7, 2010
Recent events have revealed the dimensions of this divide. On the same day last month that the Arab League authorized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to move from proximity talks to direct negotiations with the Israeli government, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired a Grad rocket at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. This week, as the Obama administration joined with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders in urging Abbas to act on the Arab League’s instruction, terrorists launched rockets from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Jordan and Israel.

Finally, in an attack this week characterized by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley as “wholly unjustified and unwarranted,” Lebanese snipers shot and killed an Israeli commander, a father of four, who was overseeing routine tree-pruning maintenance on Israel’s side of the northern border. A second officer was seriously wounded. Although the maintenance work was fully coordinated with the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, and the fatal shot was fired by the nominally independent Lebanese Armed Forces, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, sent a television crew to film the ambush.

(…)All of these events are occurring against the backdrop of heightened sanctions against Iran. These strictures, particularly those that impede Iran’s ability to import and export petroleum products, are beginning to show signs of having an impact. Many observers feel that, when confronted by the sanctions’ implacability, the Iranian regime will opt to negotiate or, according to an alternative scenario, trigger a Middle East war. Such was the case in 2006 and 2008, when Iran instructed Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively, to initiate hostilities against Israel.

This is the moment that the direction of the Middle East may be determined, whether the region moves toward escalating tensions, possibly leading to further violence, or toward face-to-face negotiations and concerted efforts to reduce animosities. Much will depend on the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to enter direct talks as well as on the steadfastness of pro-Western governments, in the region and beyond, to stand up to Iran and its proxies.

Summer is traditionally a time of war in the Middle East. This summer, however, might well prove the reverse — the crucial junction toward peace. Israel stands at this intersection prepared to defend itself but also ready to make the sacrifices and hazard the risks to end the conflict definitively. The line has indeed been drawn in the Middle Eastern sand. The coming weeks may show which way it will shift.

The writer is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

The above article was published in on August 6th, 2010.


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