- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2017

Last month he slapped a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket over his chinos and blue blazer and visited Baghdad to talk with Iraq’s top military leaders. This week details emerged that he played a major role organizing his father-in-law’s first foreign trip despite his lack of diplomatic experience.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser, influences the White House in ways that send U.S. diplomats and journalists scrambling for answers.

With Mr. Kushner now traveling alongside Mr. Trump on the nine-day U.S. presidential tour of holy sites in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, it’s no surprise that the Middle Eastern press is scrutinizing his actions for clues about how the Trump administration will proceed in the region.

On Sunday night, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz pondered Mr. Kushner’s position in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Since joining the administration in January, the 36-year-old real estate developer married to Mr. Trump’s glamorous daughter Ivanka — has generally declined interviews.

Haaretz dug around and found White House sources who admit they occasionally receive information requests “with a side note indicating it is intended” for Mr. Kushner.

But the requests are mysterious. “Once it’s about economic stuff, a few days later it could be something about the core issues of past negotiations,” Haarezt quoted a source as saying. “There is no pattern.”

A previous Middle East negotiator who has advised the Trump White House told the Israeli paper that this could be an intentional strategy to make Mr. Kushner a significant chess piece.

“It might make sense to deliberately not involve Jared at this early stage,” the negotiator said on condition of anonymity. “So that once he does get involved, it will become a major moment, and prove to everyone that this thing is getting serious.”

Given his closeness to the president, deep involvement by Mr. Kushner could be interpreted by regional players as a sign that Mr. Trump himself is deeply interested.

The Israeli press is also closely watching how Mr. Netanyahu treats Mr. Kushner.

During a February White House meeting with Mr. Trump, the Israeli prime minister joked with Mr. Kushner whether or not he could reveal how long they’d known each other.

The remark took time for the U.S. media to understand, as speculation flew that the comment emphasized Mr. Kushner’s young age and lack of diplomatic experience.

The truth had more to do with Mr. Kushner’s deep personal and religious connections to Israel.

An Orthodox Jew, whose Hebrew name is Yoel Chaim, Mr. Kushner has visited Israel since childhood. His father, a prominent New York real estate developer and donor to Israeli causes, has also supported Mr. Netanyahu for years and once even hosted the Israeli prime minister at their New Jersey home.

According to The New York Times, Mr. Kushner gave up his bedroom so Mr. Netanyahu could sleep there.

These personal connections have made Mr. Kushner seem like a hidden hand guiding the administration’s developing policy in the region, state department staffers have said.

Another example of behind-the-scenes activity emerged just before the Trump tour departed Washington last week.

On Friday, news surfaced that Mr. Kushner had played a major part in negotiating an arms deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia worth more than $100 billion. The deal was officially announced when the president landed in Saudi Arabia.

But it is said to have come together earlier this month, when Mr. Kushner hosted a visiting delegation of Saudi princes. While they discussed the deal, Mr. Kushner personally called Lockheed Martin’s CEO and smoothed out details over the sale of a U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, radar system to the Saudis.

The princes and Mr. Kushner reportedly forged a bond, and they took comfort from his family relationship with the president.

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