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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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Frayed cloak, rusty dagger?

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Seems someone on the Mossad’s hit-list just won a reprieve.

A botched assassination exercise by Israel’s overseas intelligence service on Monday has thrown a rare spotlight on its secret tactics, as well as raising questions about professionalism.mossadchief1

According to witnesses, a black-clad man in his 20′s attached a magnetic replica bomb to the door of a car parked in Tel Aviv’s tony port district, and tried to slip away. He was spotted by two diners at a nearby restaurant who, thinking him a terrorist or mob contract-killer, alerted police.

Confronted by the cops, the suspect revealed that he was on a Mossad drill. The story surfaced on Tuesday evening, after government censors dropped a gag order.

Was it a training exercise for a novice spy? Probably not. The Mossad is known to dispatch its cadets onto the streets of Israel, and beyond, to learn basic surveillance and infiltration skills. But assassination missions are reserved for select squads of veteran operatives.

Who’s Actually Ready for Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks?

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What exactly are the prospects for renewed Syrian-Israeli peace talks now?

SYRIA-ISRAEL/PEACETurkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s has called for a new round of Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli negotations.  The problem is that it is unclear whether Israelis or Syrians are still on board with the idea.

In a Reuters  article about Erdogan’s proposal, some Israeli officials said they were now sceptical of Turkey’s role: Benny Begin, a Netanyahu confidant, suggested Turkey’s fierce criticism of the Israeli Gaza offensive had damaged Ankara’s role as a neutral negotiator and said any negotiations for a peace agreement would have to be conducted directly between Syria and Israel without a negotiator.

The Mysterious Mr. Mitchell’s MacGuffin

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It’s a bit like a Hitchock thriller. Nobody knows where he is — not even the U.S. State Department — and nobody knows when he will show up in Israel. All we know is, suspense is building and it’s time to watch out for surprises.

President Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy Senator George Mitchell is somewhere in transit — probably – and expected in Israel and the Palestinian Territories next week –  sometime.

Tight corner

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A quiet weekend in the country is often not quite that in this part of the Middle East.  A couple of days in the northern Golan Heights left me with plenty to reflect on, about land and people, borders and sovereignty, war and peace.

The picture on the left shows, in the middle, the southern end of the Shebaa Farms, the few square miles at the centre of possibly the knottiest territorial dispute in a region with no shortage of same.  Is it Lebanese? Or Syrian? In any case it is occupied by Israel. All three countries converge here, while neither Lebanon nor Syria recognise Israel, seeing instead Palestine across their border. In the foreground of the picture, taken from near the 13th-century Crusader-era Nimrod Castle, lie the Golan Heights, Syrian territory seized by Israel in 1967 and held in another war six years later. In the distance, lie the Hezbollah strongholds that saw heavy fighting in the 2006 war with Israel.

Managing the message

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Gone were the track suit, the back-slapping and the wise-cracking, all part of Ehud Olmert’s casual demeanor when he used to fly to the United States for White House talks and stand in the back of a chartered El Al plane, fielding questions from the travelling press.

His successor as Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, managed the media very differently this week during his first visit to the White House since taking office on March 31.

Want peace? Blunt Iran, Netanyahu aide says

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As Benjamin Netanyahu’s top pick for national security adviser, Uzi Arad will be key to crafting the foreign and defence policies of the incoming Israeli government.

Arad is a retired official of the Mossad intelligence agency who served under the hawkish Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister in 1996-1999. That period saw Israel pursuing U.S.-sponsored interim peace negotiations with the Palestinians, as well as tentative rapprochement with Syria.

Netanyahu adviser speaks on foreign policy plans

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We interviewed one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading advisers on foreign policy earlier this week. You can read what Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations, had to say in our story, looking at Netanyahu’s plans to use special industrial zones and easing in Israeli military occupation measures to bolster the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. You can also read fuller extracts of Gold’s comments. As we look at other ways to bring you the news via AxisMundi, we thought you might also like to listen in full to what this key figure in the likely incoming administration has to say, not just about Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, but also on Iran, relations with Washington and the possibilities for contacts with the wider Arab world. So please have a listen and let us know if you find it useful to hear direct from key policymakers in the region.

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