Barak Ravid
February 11, 2013 - 1:00am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted Monday that Israel will prevent the transfer of "chemical and strategic" arms from Syria to Hezbollah.

Speaking in Jerusalem at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Netanyhau stressed, "I said it before and I'll say it again, we cannot allow these weapons to fall into terrorist hands."

Several hours before Netanyahu's speech, Defense Minister Ehud Barak flew to the U.S. for an unplanned two-day visit. The trip is especially surprising considering that Barak is due to step down within a few weeks, when the new Israeli government is sworn in. Moreover, last month Barak flew to Washington to say his goodbyes to his counterpart, Leon Panetta.

This is Barak's fourth trip abroad in the last month. In contrast to the other three, this one was arranged in a relatively hurried manner. The Defense Minister's office announced the visit only after Barak's flight had already taken off.

The reason for the visit is unknown, but it could be related to the tension along Israel's northern border and Israel's desire to coordinate future  actions with the American administration. Two weeks ago Israel is reported to have attacked an arms convoy in Syria,  suspected of transporting anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israeli officials are still very concerned about additional efforts to transfer advanced arms from Syria to Hezbollah.

Barak is expected to meet Wednesday for the first time with the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, who is due to visit Israel next week, with Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor in the Obama Administration, and with Panetta, who will step down in several days. It is not clear yet whether Barak will meet Panetta's successor, Chuck Hagel, whose nomination is due to be approved tomorrow at the Senate's Armed Services Committee.

In last night's speech, Netanyahu addressed the upcoming visit of President Obama to Israel, and said that he plans to discuss with the U.S. president ways to promote the peace process with the Palestinians. In a message, seemingly meant for Obama's ears, Netanyahu clarified that he is still committed to the principle of two states for two peoples.

"One of the challenges is to create a stable peace with the Palestinians. I addressed the issue in the Bar-Ilan speech, and I still believe in this principle," Netanyahu said, referring to the speech he gave in June 2009 at Bar-Ilan University in which he endorsed the two-state solution for the first time.

 "The framework I discussed was a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. We need to hold frank negotiations, without prior conditions. In the past four years the Palestinians set pre-conditions, time after time. I hope they abandon these pre-conditions and we don't waste another four years."

Meanwhile, Obama's itinerary for his visit to Israel is beginning to take shape. Yesterday, National Security Adviser Ya'akov Amidror held a meeting to discuss the visit before heading to the White House for coordination talks at the White House. The itinerary is yet to be approved by the Obama administration, but Israel has already formulated a timetable to be presented by Amidror.

Obama will land in Israel before noon on March 20th and will be received in a ceremony at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, with the participation  of all top Israeli officials, and speeches by Obama, Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

After the ceremony, Obama will confer with Peres in Jerusalem before visiting Yad Vashem, the official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Next, Obama will visit Mount Herzl, where he will lay wreaths on the tombs of Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin. In the early evening, according to the Israeli timetable, Obama will meet Netanyahu for several hours at the prime minister's residence, before holding a press conference and dining with Netanyahu and several other officials.

The following morning Obama will meet in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. Upon his return to Jerusalem Obama will deliver a speech to the Israeli public. It is not yet clear where this will take place, but several Israeli universities have already contacted the U.S. administration and offered to host the event. But since U.S. officials want a large audience to be present, it is most likely that the speech will be delivered at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

On Thursday night an official dinner will be held in Obama's honor at the president's residence. On Friday, Netanyahu and Obama will meet again to discuss the U.S. president's visit to Ramallah. Netanyahu is interested in including visits to the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum and possibly, several Israeli high-tech companies, in Obama's itinerary.  At noon, Obama is expected to leave Israel and fly to Amman to meet King Abdullah.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017