by RAY FLEMING
THE list of acute national and international problems facing President-elect Obama is very long and presumably he has people on his staff trying to assemble them in some kind of priority order. It was therefore unnecessary for Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, to try to push to the head of the queue yesterday by criticising Obama's “readiness to talk to Iran” which she said would be seen as “a sign of weakness”. Asked if she supported any dialogue with Iran, Livni replied, “The answer is no.”

The issue of Obama's apparent readiness to open dialogue banned by the Bush administration was one of the most contentious of the presidential election campaign and it was exploited by John McCain. Barack Obama will not thank Tzipi Livni for raising it again so soon. It is quite difficult to know who is in charge in Israel at the moment. Ms Livni was acting head of government while she was trying to form a coalition following prime minister Ehud Olmert's resignation; but she was unsuccessful and has now reverted to foreign minister while Mr Olmert is “caretaker” prime minister until an election due to be held on 10 February.

This leaves a dangerous vacuum in an area as volatile as Israel-Palestine. To judge by events in the Gaza Strip in the past few days, the Israeli Army is probably in charge; it broke the cease fire observed by the Palestinians for five months by sending in special forces and killing six Palestinian militants.

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