National Security Brief: Hillary Clinton Heads To Middle East

— President Obama has dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East to defuse the conflict in Gaza. Clinton will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Palestinian officials in the West Bank, and Egyptian leaders in Cairo. Clinton will not meet with Hamas, the U.S. designated terror group that runs Gaza. “We do not engage directly with Hamas,” said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

— The New York Times reports that because of the conflict, Hamas’ strength and popularity among Palestinians is growing at the expense of the more moderate Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank. “For the United States, as for other countries hoping to promote a two-state solution to this century-old conflict, a more radicalized West Bank with a discredited Palestinian Authority would mean greater insecurity for Israel and increased opportunity for anti-Western forces to take root in a region where Islamism is on the rise,” the Times notes.

— The Washington Post notes that the Israel-Hamas conflict is putting the Obama administration at odds with two of its most important partners in the Middle East, Turkey and Egypt, threatening to undermine other U.S. objectives in the region at a time of political upheaval.

— Iran’s role in the Gaza conflict is lurking just under the surface. “The Iranian factor rears its head in multiple ways,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Iran, most analysts believe, provided the longer-range rockets that have set this round of hostilities apart from others. Those rockets — likely versions of Iran’s Fajr-5 — have given Hamas, for the first time, the ability to reach at least the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That has raised the stakes, to say nothing of the tensions inside Israel.” Iran likely smuggles the rockets via Sudan to the Gaza Strip through tunnels in the Sinai.

— In other Middle East news, the European Union recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the new political opposition group in Syria, as the legitimate governing authority in the civil war-ravaged country. Meanwhile, NATO countries will reportedly supply Turkey with Patriot missile batteries to defend against Syrian attacks.

— With the media focused on the war in Gaza, President Obama’s unprecedented trip to Myanmar has received little attention. “Across the city there were symbols of how much mistrust has dissolved between the two governments and how much Myanmar has changed over the past two years as it moves from a dictatorship and toward a democracy,” the New York Times reported. “There were graffiti tributes to Mr. Obama, and shops sold T-shirts with his image.”