On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to defuse a potentially explosive dispute over the latter being excluded from secret meetings with Turkey. Israeli Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, with Netanyahu’s acquiescence, met with Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish foreign minister, in Brussels on Wednesday. Lieberman was reportedly furious that he had learned of this only after the fact.
Netanyahu is expected to say that there was no intention to cause the foreign minister any embarrassment, and that the oversight was due to a simple error. He will also insist that agreeing to the meeting was the right decision, and that every measure should be taken to continue a dialogue with the Turkish government. It is understood that Lieberman disagrees strongly with this position, believing that such meetings will do nothing to repair the damaged ties between the two countries.
The openSecurity verdict: The meeting today will likely see a number of Lieberman’s grievances aired. It seems that Netanyahu’s decision to circumvent his own foreign minister in conducting diplomacy was motivated by nothing more than a desire to avoid Lieberman’s objections to dialogue with Turkey. Lieberman, however, will likely consider it to be part of a broader issue. Since being appointed as part of the coalition agreement between his party and Likud, he has been repeatedly boycotted by other countries due to the perceived extremism of his views.
His view is that Netanyahu has not done enough to protest this repeated snubbing, and in this context the secret talks with the Turks are part of a broader effort to marginalise him and his Yisrael Beiteinu party in government policy making. The current spat comes at a time when there is speculation that Netanyahu will be forced to bring Tzipi Livni and her centre-right Kadima party into a reformed government of national unity in order to bolster Israel’s credibility in the wake of the assault on the Gaza peace flotilla last month.
The Labour party has said that it will quit the coalition unless Kadima joins by September. But Livni has said a precondition for her party’s participation is a renewed engagement with the Palestinian authority based on a land-for-peace formula. In contrast, Lieberman favours a scheme, published again in The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago, in which there are adjustments to the Israel-Palestine border in exchange for the wide scale transfer of Israeli Arabs to Palestinian sovereignty, stripping them of their Israeli citizenship in the process.
Israeli hardliners have previously urged that their government hunker down and wait out the Obama administration rather than compromise on issues of settlement construction and a final peace deal with the Palestinians. In the wake of the Gaza flotilla assault, it appears that Netanyahu does not have the time. His coalition, always an unlikely alliance between the left-wing Labour Party and the ultranationalist Israel Beiteinu, is fraying. There are other obstacles on the horizon, including the presentation of the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly in late July, Turkey’s assumption of the rotating presidency of the Security Council in September and the looming expiration of a partial ban on settlement construction in the West Bank.
Netanyahu is heading into tough political waters; the result may be a moderation of Israel’s Palestinian policy and security posture. In the worst case, there may be a further hardening of the coalition’s stance as it loses the Labour party and is forced to rely even more on its ultranationalist constituency. Eitherway, the implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear standoff are enormous.
Carnage in Lahore in the wake of shrine suicide bombing
Late on Thursday evening, the popular Data Darbar shrine in Lahore was struck by suicide bombers in a bloody attack that has left at least 42 people dead and over 175 injured. In what is believed to be the first attack on a shrine in the eastern Pakistani city, two men entered the sanctuary, where thousands of people had congregated. The first detonated his explosives in an underground room housing devotees preparing themselves for prayer. As people fled above ground, the second bomber activated his own payload in the courtyard outside.
The shrine holds the remains of the Persian Sufi saint Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery, but is visited every year by thousands of Sunni and Shi’ia Muslims. Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the Taliban is known to despise the mystical Sufi strand of Islam, and considers worshipping at the shrines of saints to be un-Islamic. Analysts point out that this attack continues a worsening trend of militants targeting minorities: in May 93 people were killed in a similar attack on two mosques belonging to the fringe Ahmadi sect in Lahore.
Pakistan has been plagued by an increasingly intense bombing campaign since, at the United States’ insistence, it began making armed incursions into the North West Frontier Province in an attempt to supress elements of the Pakistan Taliban. By far and away the prime target has been the frontier city of Peshawar, overlooking the Khyber pass. Recent attacks on other cities, including Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore illustrate another worsening trend: the Pakistan Taliban’s ever increasing reach in carrying out terrorist attacks within the country.
Taliban strikes development team to ‘welcome’ new US general
Early on Friday morning, gunmen assaulted the offices of Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), a US development contractor in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. The ensuing gun battle with Afghan police lasted for five hours, killing five people, including a German security guard and two Afghans. At least twenty people were wounded. A Taliban spokesman said that six men had participated in the attack, which he characterised as a ‘welcome’ for General David Petraeus, who arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to replace disgraced General Stanley McChrystal as commander of all US and ISAF troops in the country.
Senior Yemeni Intelligence officer assassinated
On Thursday night, Colonel Saleh Amtheib, a senior officer in Yemeni military intelligence, was shot dead by two gunmen on motorcycles outside his home in Zinjibar, the capital of Yemen’s southern Abyan province. Colonel Amtheib is the second member of the county’s security forces to be killed in Abyan in a month. Reports indicate that his work focused on countering Al Qaeda and secessionists.
On 19 June, militants suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda’s increasingly active wing in the Arabian country assaulted a police intelligence head quarters in Aden. Since Al Qaeda’s Yemen cell claimed credit for an attempted US aircraft bombing in December last year, its government has been under increasing pressure to resolve its ongoing disputes with secessionists in the south and Shi’ite rebels in the north to focus on countering the global terrorist group.