Clinton Lands in Israel, U.S. Secretary of Defense to Arrive Next Week for Talks on Iran, Syria, Palestinians

Group of U.S. officials, including Hilary Clinton, arrives in Israel for regional talks, Leon Panetta expected to arrive early next week.

The cadre of senior American officials that has arrived in Israel over the past week is expected to increase by one more, as United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is also due to arrive in Jerusalem next week to conduct talks on Irans nuclear program, and the deteriorating situation in Syria.

Panetta is scheduled to arrive in Israel roughly one week after U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who landed in Israel late Sunday night. She plans to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday.

According to an AFP report, Clinton's talks are expected to focus on Iran's nuclear program and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In addition, she is to discuss with Israeli officials Egypt's political upheaval.

Citing an AFP correspondent traveling with the delegation, the news agency reported that Clinton arrived on a flight from Egypt shortly after 11:30 P.M. and that this was her first visit to Israel in nearly two years.

U.S. Middle East envoy David Hale and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran, are accompanying Clinton on the trip, AFP reported.

Clinton's visit comes on the tail end of a trip to Egypt. On Sunday, in a meeting with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Clinton urged him to work with Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, on a full transition to civilian rule.

Upon her departure from Egypt on Sunday, protesters hurled tomatoes and shoes at Clinton's motorcade. According to Reuters, a tomato struck an Egyptian official in the face, and shoes and a water bottle landed near the armored cars carrying her delegation in the port city of Alexandria after she gave a speech on democratic rights during her first visit to Egypt since Morsi's election.

A senior U.S. official said neither Clinton nor her vehicle, which was around the corner from the incident, were hit by the projectiles, which were thrown as U.S. officials and reporters walked to the motorcade after her speech.

Protesters chanted "Monica, Monica," a reference to the extra-marital affair conducted by Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, while in the White House. Others earlier chanted "leave, Clinton" an Egyptian security official said.

The downfall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year has raised questions among Israelis about whether Egypt, the first Arab nation to have made peace with Israel, will adhere to that treaty under his Islamist successor.
"At the top of [her agenda] will be her impressions and assessment of the last two days that she spent in Egypt," a senior U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Radio that Clinton is "a very calming message. By their [the U.S.'s] reckoning as well, Egypt's agenda, and certainly President Morsi's agenda, will be a domestic agenda."
"He has to rehabilitate the economy there ... internal challenges that are really of utmost importance," Ayalon added. "There is no change (on Egypt's commitment to the peace treaty) and I surmise there will not be in the foreseeable future."

Dinner with Netanyahu

Clinton is scheduled to attend a state dinner in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. Her arrival in Israel follows an unusual, and slightly embarrassing, absence of almost two years. Clinton's last visit to Israel was on September 15, 2010, when Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem. Two weeks after that meeting, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians imploded, and Clinton has avoided a visit since.

Speaking to Haaretz, senior U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Clinton, who visited neighboring countries more than once in those two years, has not come to Israel or the Palestinian Authority because she didn't feel such a trip would result in jump starting stalled peace talks. According to the officials, Clinton wasn't interested in a visit that wouldn't bear fruit.

The fact that Clinton's trip comes one week before the arrival of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives the visit an internal-U.S. political spin. American media outlets have been filled with speculations, with many opining that Obama sent Clinton now as a kind of "preemptive visit," ahead of Romney's.

While Clinton's meetings in Israel will likely focus on Iran to a large extent, Israel-Egypt ties are expected to take the spotlight. During the secretary of state's time in Cairo, she heard soothing rhetoric from Morsi concerning anything related to the future of Israel's peace deal with Egypt, and she emphasized in her Egyptian press conference that she hoped Morsi and Netanyahu would meet soon.

Another issue Clinton is expected to discuss with Netanyahu is the Palestinian threat that it will put in a bid in September to the United Nation's General Assembly in an effort to be granted the status of an observer-state that is not a full UN member. Clinton, who met with Abbas last week in Paris, will urge Netanyahu to pledge a significant enough package of gestures to convince the Palestinians against such a bid.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel, 2012.
Hillary Clinton