The United States is sending senior officials to Israel for a week of
high diplomacy. There are wide gaps to be bridged.
Iran will top the
agenda when American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrives in
Israel on Monday. Gates is expected to urge Israel not to attack Iran's
nuclear facilities, saying the planned U.S. dialogue with the Islamic
Republic deserves time to bear fruit.
But Israel is skeptical.
Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, says Iran
could use the dialogue to buy more time to build a nuclear bomb.
could happen is that the Iranians will go on in enriching uranium and
reaching the stage where they can produce a bomb within a few weeks, or
within a few months, and any controls or anything like that will be
useless by then," he said.
Iran says its nuclear program is
for peaceful purposes, but its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has
threatened to wipe the Jewish state "off the map." Therefore, Israel
has warned that if international diplomacy fails, it might launch a
pre-emptive strike on Iran.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell will also
visit Israel to discuss advancing the peace process with the
Palestinians. He will press Israel to halt the expansion of Jewish
settlements in the West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem.
Israel has refused, creating a deepening rift with Washington. Israel
says construction in West Bank settlements will continue to accommodate
"natural growth," and that Jews can build anywhere in Jerusalem because
it is the nation's capital.
"Obviously there are going to be
matters on which there will be disagreement, including for instance
building in Jerusalem, in the suburbs of Jerusalem, and about
settlements," said Shoval.
Two other senior U.S. officials will
visit Israel later in the week: National Security Adviser James Jones,
and Middle East specialist Dennis Ross.