Middle East Efforts by Rice, Carter Spark More Violence

While Syrian president Bashar Assad talked about an exchange of messages with Israel through a third party – Turkey and Norway – Sunday, April 21, elsewhere in Damascus, Syrian and Iranian intelligence officers were meeting secretly with Hamas leaders and promising them every support for stepped up rejectionist violence.
In particular, they backed Hamas up in its ultimatum to Egypt (and indirectly Israel) to open the border crossings and end the blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza as the sine qua non for a lull in attacks on Israel and terms for Gilead Shalit’s release.
The impasse reached in Hamas-Egyptian truce talks, the failure of former US president Jimmy Carter’s mediation bids with Hamas and Syrian leaders, together with the presence in the region of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, all contribute to the scaling up of violence.
Tehran and Damascus believe that warfare – not only on the Gaza-Israel border, but also in Iraq and Lebanon – will work best for their interests at two important Middle East encounters this week at which Secretary Rice will be present.
One opening in Bahrain Monday, April 21 will bring Rice together with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the six Gulf nations, led by Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. The next meeting on Iraq security, which takes place in Kuwait on April 22, will be attended by the foreign ministers of all Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran’s Mottaki Manouchehr.
Here too diplomaticspeak does not necessarily reflect the private brass-tacks talks that will take place on the sidelines of the conference.
Sunday, Rice called on Iraq’s Arab neighbors to support the Baghdad government and shield it from Iran’s “nefarious influence,” while the foreign ministry in Tehran said she was suffering from Iranophobia. Nonetheless, US and Iranian officials will talk outside the conference hall and may even arrange for their principals to meet.
The Iranians are determined to come to the negotiating table with the Americans from a position of strength. They believe their strongest card is their ability to trigger bloody clashes in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, thereby showing the Americans that Iran not Washington holds the whip hand in these Middle East disputes.
Orders therefore went out to Iran’s agents, proxies and dependants to keep the pot boiling in those trouble spots. The Americans responded in the past few weeks with a heavy crackdown on the Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Medhi Army in Baghdad and southern Iraq which derives support from Tehran – despite the cleric’s threat of open war.
As for Hamas, our intelligence sources report that Saturday, April 19, after the Gazan leaders Mahmoud a-Zahar and Siad Siyam, fresh from their Cairo stalemate, met former US president Jimmy Carter in Damascus – and heard his suggestion of a one- or two-week halt in rocket fire as a gesture of good will – they went straight into a conference with their masters.
Khaled Meshaal and Mussa Abu Marzuk were there as well as Iranian intelligence officers based permanently in Syria and Syrian intelligence officers who maintain liaison with Hamas. It was agreed that Hamas would not only continue to batter the Gaza-Israel border as in the last ten days, but intensify its assaults against a broader range of targets.
Sunday night, Hamas fired 8 Qassam missiles and half a dozen mortar rounds against Israel civilian locations, their first nocturnal attack of this kind.
Shortly before midnight, they directed fire at Israeli farmers who were harvesting the Kibbutz Nir Oz potato crop in bullet-proof vests by night to escape sniper fire from Gaza. Israeli air force strikes followed, hitting armed Palestinian bands. At least 8 gunmen were killed over the week end.
debkafile‘s military sources stress that these Israeli attacks and the deaths of its operatives offer Hamas neither disincentive nor impediment for its war preparations.

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