There are three news stories breaking in the Middle East this week.
1) Israel and Hamas have negotiated a cease fire.
2) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Lebanon's new president Michel Suleiman, figurehead head of the new unity government. Lebanon's new power-sharing government is the product of a compromise between the secular Sunni-dominated majority (mainly represented by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his Future Movement Party) and the opposition, led by the veto-wielding Shiite faction, the ascendant Hezbollah and its allies.
3) NATO and Afghani forces have begun an assault on the Argandab district in Southern Afghanistan. Taliban troops recently took over the Argandab district, located just 12-miles outside of Kandahar (where 600 Taliban staged a massive jail break last week ).
There's no connecting thread to the three stories, but obviously two of the stories—the news out of Lebanon and the news about Israel and Hamas—hint at an emerging theme in Middle East politics right now: Temperatures are lowering and enemies are talking. Hamas and Israel? The U.S. and Hezbollah?
It's weird that this line (in the second paragraph) of the NYT story on Rice's visit to Lebanon wasn't a page 1 headline:
"Ms. Rice met with government leaders from both the government majority and the Hezbollah opposition..."
It's 10 O'clock, do President Bush and John McCain know where Condoleezza Rice is? She's out appeasing!
Meanwhile, not only are Israel and Hamas signing deals, but Israel is talking about peace with Lebanon too. Israel isn't really in a stand off with Lebanon, though. I think Israel's peace talk overtures to Lebanon are code for engaging Hezbollah—nudging Hezbollah to transition into a political rather than military force. More simply put (and this is connected to the story about Secretary of State Rice in Lebanon): There's a growing recognition of Hezbollah's political legitimacy, which is causing Hezbollah's enemies (namely Israel) to think diplomatically rather than militarily. Israel is also in peace talks with Syria.
NATO's military offensive in Afghanistan isn't in synch with all the olive branch headlines, but it does represent the other dominant story in the Middle East right now: The all-out war that's on its way between the United States and the Qaeda and Taliban forces grouping in Western Pakistan. Tuesday's front-page NYT feature on unchecked Pakistani Taliban comander Mualavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, was just the latest in a run of recent stories about the brazen Taliban and Qaeda operations in the Western hinterlands of Pakistan.