There is a lot of tantalizing stuff buzzing around our ears and in front of our eyes, depending on whether we are hearing or reading what might be called the "news."
The problems are that some of the news may be disinformation coming from official sources, some comes from unreliable internet sites whose credentials are more those of political activists than reliable journalists, and some come from sources that may only be speaking for one or a few parties in a sector riven by disputes.
Among the details are:
- Different voices from the peak of the Israeli establishment, with a former head of military intelligence saying that Iran is much closer to developing nuclear weapons than the Prime Minister, who says that Iran has not gone that far yet
- Public statements from US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, during his recent visit here, that Israel is entitled to look after its own defense, i.e., attack Iran if it wants
- A report from an internet site with extremist credentials--usually reporting that yet another dismal blow is falling on God''s people--that Hagel warned Netanyahu in private that Israel must not do any such thing, i.e., must not attack Iran without coordinating with the United States
- A report that one of the Arab governments has indicated that the Arab peace initiative, i.e., a Saudi idea that Arab governments would normalize relations with Israel if it withdrew from all the territory seized in 1967, would be modified to permit minor adjustments to those borders.
From all of this, some are speculating that Netanyahu is serious about a peace initiative, and that his difference with the former head of military intelligence reflects his posturing rather than his assessment of Iran. That is, Netanyahu''s mild assessment about Iran reflects, in essence, coordination with the US government on Iran and an approach to negotiations that can begin with the Arab peace initiative, as revised under pressure from the Americans.
Israeli leftists are already demanding an opening of negotiations on the basis of that revised initiative.
However, it is not yet clear that all Arab governments are on board with that revision. At least one of those governments, i.e., Syria, is not in a position to do anything except protect itself in a serious civil war. Egypt''s Muslim Brotherhood government, while behaving reasonably on a number of issues involving Israel, might not be ready for such drama. We have yet to hear from the Saudis, who claim authorship of the original Arab initiative.
The Palestinians are, as ever, wrapped up in their own politics, with some of their ostensible leaders just as intense--if not more so--in their opposition to one another than to Israel.
And there are some 500,000 Israelis living beyond the 1967 borders. Can they be accommodated within an Arab conception of "minor adjustments?"
Still to be worked out are Israeli demands for a demilitarize Palestine, an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley; and some Israeli control over entry to Palestine. I do not recall any hint of Palestinian agreements to those items.
Also waiting discussion are water, work permits for Palestinians in Israel and other forms of economic cooperation, and restrictions on Palestine''s rights to enter agreements with governments that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Competing with all of this are a few domestic issues more important to politicians and others who view Arab leaders as unstable and unreliable. Some of those same Israelis also the world''s leaders in Washington as unstable and unreliable.
Barack Obama''s waffling on Syria may be understandable, but has its costs.
Prominent on the domestic agenda are proposals to require Haredim and maybe Arabs to share the burdens of defense, social services, and taxation; to decide what might be draconian budget cuts and tax increases; as well as some not so trivial proposals to change the vacation schedule of school pupils and teachers, and to change the nature of matriculation exams.
Also muddling the possibilities is the first incident of a targeting killing by the Israeli Air Force in Gaza since Operation Pillar of Defense last November. The target was connected with the recent rocket firing on Eilat, and the event continues escalations in Israeli responses to shells landing in southern Israel
And the first Israeli in about a year was killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank. Initial inquiries suggest that the killer may have been acting alone, outside the framework of an organized gang.
The surfeit of reports about events, remarks, expectations, and projections is not unusual in this hotbed of world interest. As always, we have to sort through the possibilities, decide which might be probable, and what among those is actually likely to happen.
"Who knows?" is a typical outcome of such an exercise.
For anyone waiting to walk the alleys, see the sights, smell and taste the goodies of Damascus with the same security and enjoyment as in Paris or London, it is too early for ordering the tickets.
That we can conclude with considerable certainty.