NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: The strange tale of Iran and Israel

The strange tale of Iran and Israel

“We had very deep relations with Iran, cutting deep into the fabric of the two peoples,” said a high-ranking official at the Israeli foreign ministry just after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Israeli (and US) officials then saw it as madness to view Iran as anything other than a natural interlocutor. Thirty years later, western policy-makers, and particularly Israelis, see Iran as a growing threat. Could this fear be based on a misreading of Iran’s revolution?

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, did not see Israel as part of the Middle East, but as part of Europe. From 1952, Ben-Gurion repeated that although Israelis were sitting in the Middle East, this was a geographical accident, for they were a European people. “We have no connection with the Arabs,” he said. “Our regime, our culture, our relations, is not the fruit of this region. There is no political affinity between us, or international solidarity.”

Ben-Gurion called for a concerted effort to persuade the United States that Israel could be a strategic asset in the Middle East. But President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-61) repeatedly declined Israel’s entreaties, believing that the US was better placed to manage US interests independently of Israeli assistance.

As a result of these rebuffs, Ben-Gurion evolved the concept of the “alliance of the periphery” which aimed to balance the vicinity of hostile Arab states by forming alliances with Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia. It was an attempt to strengthen Israeli deterrence, reduce Israel’s isolation and add to its appeal as an “asset” to the US. [continued…]

George Mitchell and the end of the two-state solution

On the surface, the most daunting task facing US envoy George Mitchell in his trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories is strengthening the Gaza cease-fire, and helping Gazans rise from the rubble.

But actually, the super diplomat’s biggest challenge, as he wraps up his first trip and lays plans for future journeys, lies in coming to terms with a grim and unavoidable fact: The two-state solution is on its deathbed.

Since the Six-Day War of June 1967, the two-state solution, based on the concept of “land for peace,” has been the central focus of almost all diplomatic efforts to resolve this tragedy. But because of Israel’s unrelenting occupation and settlement project in the West Bank, the long-fought-for two-state solution has finally, tragically, become unworkable. [continued…]

Gaza must be helped out of “hell” — EU envoy

Israel must lift its ban on materials to rebuild Gaza after its offensive in a territory resembling “hell” where children have to sleep outside shattered homes, the European Union’s Middle East envoy said on Tuesday.

“What encouragement to terrorism would it be to rebuild the sewage system, have clean water, have kids going to school, have clinics that work, have mothers delivering their babies in safe conditions?” Marc Otte asked following Israel’s devastating 22-day assault in the Hamas-ruled territory.

While Israel has opened Gaza’s border crossings to larger amounts of food and medicine, it has so far balked at letting in construction materials, including glass, steel and cement, needed to rebuild the thousands of Palestinian homes, roads and buildings destroyed or damaged during the war. [continued…]

The Middle East: what next?

H.E.: Should the US have contact with Hamas?

R.M.: I’ve never advocated direct engagement with Hamas, because we know the political realities here. My argument is different. What I say is that we have to start from a factual realization that the policies of the last two years have not only failed to achieve their objectives. They often produced the precise opposite of what we sought to promote.

If we start from that, then we have to think about how we should deal with Hamas and Gaza differently. And that doesn’t necessarily mean for the US to start treating Hamas the way it treats Fatah. But it does mean that it’s going to be very hard to have a political agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, or genuine stability, if they are not somehow part of that political equation.

Now maybe it means for the US to take a less interventionist approach toward domestic Palestinian politics; maybe it means for the US to take a less obstructionist approach, when other third parties—whether it’s the Europeans or the Arabs—seek to reconcile the Palestinians, and in doing so, engage with Hamas. Maybe it means for the US to take a less hostile view toward the emergence of a potential, putative new unity government among Palestinians, and say, as the Europeans now are hinting, that they would judge it by what it does, rather than by the ideological position of its membership. I think those are steps that the Obama administration should consider. [continued…]

Time to talk

Working as an official EU election monitor, I saw with my own eyes Hamas freely and fairly elected. Although there can never be an excuse for terrorism, I have been persuaded that Europe’s boycott, just as much as the Israeli blockade, has helped, not harmed Hamas. Britain talked to the IRA, America to the Taliban and it is now time – through proxies at first – for Europe to talk to Hamas. UN endorsement for Egypt’s talks with Hamas paves the way for a change of heart in Brussels. Others such as Jeremy Greenstock have argued for the inclusion of Hamas in the process. In my view, EU contacts with Hamas are now a moral imperative.

I believe an updated European border mission could help get the border re-opened for Gaza, and that Europe has the political will to do it. But it cannot be achieved without a working arrangement with Hamas – and perhaps this provides the justification to move. [continued…]

Taliban destroys a key bridge in Pakistan

Hundreds of trucks bearing NATO supplies idled at terminals near the city of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday after Taliban fighters blew up an iron bridge about 15 miles away. The explosion, the latest in a spate of attacks, cut off the main supply route for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, complicating plans to substantially increase the Western military presence there and roll back recent gains by Taliban forces.

For a quick look at the state of the war on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, one need travel only as far as Peshawar’s Karkhano Market. Set at the edge of the sprawling city of 3 million in a dusty warren of ramshackle kiosks, the 24-year-old market has long been known as a key smuggling hub for the hundreds of traders who regularly cross the mountainous no man’s land that lies between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Business has been especially brisk in recent months, in the wake of more than a dozen major Taliban attacks on NATO supply routes and the creeping encroachment of insurgents in northwest Pakistan, according to Karkhano shopkeepers. Goods pilfered from raids on NATO supply trucks have become a mainstay for shopkeepers like Noor Mohammed. [continued…]

Ahmadinejad predecessor planning presidential bid

Former president Mohammad Khatami, who for two terms led failed attempts to give Iranians more legal freedoms and end Iran’s international isolation, has decided to run in upcoming elections, aides, political allies and family members said Tuesday.

The move will pit Khatami against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an electoral battle whose outcome could alter the country’s domestic and foreign agendas.

“He has agreed to become a candidate,” Mohammad Reza Khatami, the former president’s younger brother, told The Washington Post. “He sees the difficulties ahead, but the pressure from several groups for him to run was too big for him to decline.” [continued…]

Runaway Wall Street

It is instructional that only one of the three tax-challenged Obama appointees has survived public scorn to retain a high position in the new administration. Oddly enough, it is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the man who will collect our taxes, whose career has not been stunted by his failure to pay them.

What makes Geithner so special? The answer, provided by everyone from the president to the media pundits, is that his services are indispensable because he has the expertise in regulating markets needed to preside over the most massive government intervention in the economy. Are they kidding?

Both in his years in the Clinton treasury and as chair of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Geithner has been paving the way for a runaway Wall Street. Nor has he changed his ways, as was evidenced once again last week with his appointment of Mark Peterson, a Goldman Sachs vice president and lobbyist, to be his top aide. Peterson had lobbied strenuously for precisely the deregulation that the Obama administration now concedes needs reversing. It was confirmation that Goldman Sachs runs the Treasury Department—no matter which party is in power. [continued…]

Dozens of secret Bush surveillance, executive power memos found; could be made public

Details about more than three dozen secret memoranda written by Bush Administration officials now sit atop a chart created by a public interest reporting group. The memos track new details about dozens of secret Bush Administration legal positions on torture, detention and warrantless wiretapping.

Meanwhile, Obama’s freshly-confirmed Attorney General Eric Holder told senators that he was open to declassifying White House legal memos if no support for their original classification could be found, signaling a likely showdown with former President George W. Bush over executive privilege.

“The Bush administration’s controversial policies on detentions, interrogations and warrantless wiretapping were underpinned by legal memoranda,” Pro Publica’s Dan Nguyen and Christopher Weaver write. “While some of those memos have been released (primarily as a result of ACLU lawsuits), the former administration kept far more memos secret than has been previously understood. At least three dozen by our count.” [continued…]

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