News that the two sides had resumed peace talks last week after a three-year halt was largely overshadowed by turmoil in Egypt and the Syrian civil war, which has set Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims against one another.
U.S. officials still hope that resolving the decades-old confrontation will help to unlock the region's wider problems, but analysts say it no longer lies at the strategic heart of a troubled Middle East.
Much has changed in the Middle East since the last talks broke down in 2010. Autocratic leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been ousted, Islamist radicalism has spread and sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims has surged.
More than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict and violence has flared again in Iraq, with over 1,000 killed there in July alone, many at the hands of al Qaeda. Tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear program have also risen, while a struggle for power between Islamists and the military is playing out on the streets of predominantly Sunni Egypt.
Arguably, none of these crises will come any closer to being settled should, by some miracle,Israel and the Palestinians finally agree to divide the land where they live.
Aware of its battered reputation and the fact that the Arab world is not focused on Israel, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wrapped himself in the cloak of Palestinian resistance on Friday, issuing a rallying cry for fellow Muslims.
"The elimination of Israel is not only a Palestinian interest. It is the interest of the entire Muslim world and the entire Arab world," he said in a rare appearance in Beirut.
Such thinking suggests that even if the Palestinian leadership does get its wish to create a state on land seized in the 1967 war, this will not satisfy die-hard militants who reject Israel's very right to exist.
America’s most senior military officer was set to land in Israel late Sunday for talks with Israeli leaders that are expected to focus on the Iranian nuclear threat and the civil war that continues to rage in Syria.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will be the guest of Israel’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, and will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Dempsey’s visit, first reported on by Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth, comes amid concerns that Israel might be planning a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. On Sunday, Iran was inaugurating new president Hasan Rouhani, touted by some as a relative moderate who may attempt to open a window to the West. Netanyahu, however, told his cabinet Sunday morning that the new leader would continue the policies of his hardline predecessor.
With at least some Hezbollah forces tied down in the fighting in Syria, and the organization experiencing political blowback in Lebanon for its support of the Assad regime, the US may be concerned that Israeli leaders believe the cost of an Iran strike — especially in terms of rocket strikes on Israeli cities from across the border — has dropped significantly, according to the report.
Just hours ahead of Dempsey’s visit, Netanyahu upped his rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear program, citing Rouhani’s anti-Israel oratory as proof of his hawkish views.
Netanyahu’s original response said that Rouhani had “revealed his true face sooner than expected.” It added, “This statement should awaken the world from the illusion some have taken to entertaining since the elections in Iran. The president was replaced but the goal of the regime remained obtaining nuclear weapons to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the safety of the world. A country which threatens to destroy Israel must not have weapons of mass destruction.”
Saturday night Aug. 3, the global warnings issued last week by the US State Department and Interpol against terrorist attacks covering almost the entire Muslim world, suddenly reached the American homeland. Sunday morning, Aug. 4, as US missions closed in 22 countries, including Egypt and Israel, the New York Police Department went on high alert. Security was beefed up in high-profile areas outside houses of worship and transportation hubs, although Police Commissioner Ray Kelly complained that “a lack of specific information was cause for concern.”
Nothing in this statement specified the nature of the “potential threat.”
Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the ABC that the threat was "more specific than previous ones" and “the intent is to attack Western, not just US interests.” He reported that the diplomatic facilities closed “range from Mauritania in northwest Africa to Afghanistan.”
If the threat is specific why does the warning extend to so many countries? Al Qaeda is not even active in all them. If the danger is so immediate, why haven’t any governments in North Africa and as far east as Bangladesh declared their own terror alerts?
Finally, the sweeping warnnings from the Obama administration dramatically refute its own oft-heard claims that al Qaeda is no longer a force to be reckoned with, because it has lost its compact central command and control of its component branches, which have split up into regional franchises operating autonomously. Al Qaeda, they have been saying, is no longer capable of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global scale.
U.S. Extends Embassy Closings
U.S. Extends Embassy Closings
The closing of U.S. embassies in 21 predominantly Muslim countries and a broad caution about travel during August that the State Department issued on Friday touched off debate Sunday over the National Security Agency’s sweeping data collection programs.
Congressional supporters of the program, appearing on Sunday morning talk shows, said the latest rounds of warnings of unspecified threats showed that the programs were necessary, while detractors said there was no evidence linking the programs, particularly the massive collection of cell phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans, to the vague warnings of a possible terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, there were no reports of violence or unusual activity in any of the countries where the United States had kept its embassies and consulates closed when they would have ordinarily been open on Sunday. Nevertheless, the State Department announced that embassies and consulates in 16 countries would remain closed throughout the week, including four African nations that had not been on the original list. Diplomatic posts in five other countries would reopen Monday, the State Department said, including those in Afghanistan and Iraq, where terrorist attacks have been frequent.