The unpromised land for African refugees

Meron Rapoport writes: Two weeks ago, almost all Jews in Israel celebrated the first day of Passover by reading and singing the Hagada, the centuries-old text which tells the story of the miraculous exodus of the Jewish slaves from the hands of their oppressors in Egypt.

But in a strange coincidence, just one day before Passover, Israel announced its intention to initiate a new exodus: a forced removal of some 40,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan back to Africa, dangerously close to the hands of their former oppressors. A reversed Hagada.

This new policy became known almost by chance. Dozens of Eritrean asylum seekers were summoned to the Population and Immigration Authority where they were given a letter saying that “after working hard” during the last few months, Israel has found “a country which will host you”.

Without naming it, the letter promises that this country “is in the process of economic development” and that it will provide them with residence and working permits. These Eritreans were given a simple choice: either accept this generous offer – which includes a $3500 grant – and leave Israel within 30 days or face an open-ended imprisonment in an Israeli jail.

In a court hearing a few days later, the Israeli authorities agreed to name these benevolent host countries – Rwanda and Uganda – but still refused to reveal the content of the agreements signed with them. A minister in the Rwandan government confirmed the existence of such an agreement, while the Ugandan government flatly denied it agrees to host refugees deported from Israel.

Using Rwanda and Uganda as target countries is not new in the ongoing attrition war between Israel and those tens of thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese who crossed its borders illegally in search of a safer and better life than the one they experienced in their war-torn countries.

Despite being one of the first signatories on the UN convention on refugees and despite the fact that most European countries view asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan as entitled to refugee status, Israel never welcomed them and refused to allow them any official status. At most, it granted them the right not be deported. [Continue reading…]

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How Israel hid its secret nuclear weapons program

Avner Cohen and William Burr write: For decades, the world has known that the massive Israeli facility near Dimona, in the Negev Desert, was the key to its secret nuclear project. Yet, for decades, the world — and Israel — knew that Israel had once misleadingly referred to it as a “textile factory.” Until now, though, we’ve never known how that myth began — and how quickly the United States saw through it. The answers, as it turns out, are part of a fascinating tale that played out in the closing weeks of the Eisenhower administration—a story that begins with the father of Secretary of State John Kerry and a familiar charge that the U.S. intelligence community failed to “connect the dots.”

In its final months, even as the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race captivated the country, the Eisenhower administration faced a series of crises involving Cuba and Laos. Yet, as the fall of 1960 progressed, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encountered a significant and unexpected problem of a new kind — U.S. diplomats learned and U.S. intelligence soon confirmed that Israel was building, with French aid, a secret nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. Soon concluding that the Israelis were likely seeking an eventual nuclear weapons capability, the administration saw a threat to strategic stability in the Middle East and a nuclear proliferation threat. Adding fuel to the fire was the perception that Israel was deceitful, or had not “come clean,” as CIA director Allen Dulles put it. Once the Americans started asking questions about Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear complex, the Israelis gave evasive and implausible cover stories.

A little anecdote about an occurrence sometime in September 1960 sheds light on the development of U.S. perceptions that Israel was being less than honest about Dimona. That month, Addy Cohen, then the young director of the Foreign Aid Office at the Israeli Finance Ministry, hosted U.S. ambassador to Israel Ogden Reid and some of his senior staff for a tour of the Dead Sea Works — a large Israeli potash plant in Sdom, on the Dead Sea coast of Israel. The Israeli Air Force provided a Sikorsky S-58 helicopter to fly the American group from Tel Aviv to Sdom. As they were returning on the helicopter, near the new town of Dimona, Reid pointed to a huge industrial site under heavy construction and asked what it was. [Continue reading…]

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The United States and Palestine

Rashid Khalidi writes: As with many other unresolved issues in the modern Middle East, it was Great Britain rather than the United States that initially created the problem of Palestine. But in Palestine, as elsewhere, it has been the lot of the United States, Britain’s successor as undisputed hegemon over the region, to contend with the complications engendered by British policy. And as elsewhere in the Middle East, in the end the United States significantly exacerbated the conflict over Palestine that it inherited from Britain. The outlines of the problem can be simply stated: with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, Great Britain threw the weight of the greatest power of the age, one which was at that moment in the process of conquering Palestine, behind the creation of a Jewish state in what was then an overwhelmingly Arab country, against the wishes of its inhabitants. Everything that has followed until this day in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this basic decision.

Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to support Zionism publicly, and his backing was crucial to the awarding of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to Britain. This in turn led to the inclusion of the text of the Balfour Declaration in the terms of the Mandate, committing the entire international community of that era to the establishment of a “Jewish national home.” Wilson extended the United States’ support to Zionism in spite of the results of the American King-Crane Commission, which discovered the majority Arab population of Palestine to be overwhelmingly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish national home — which they rightly feared would inexorably develop into an exclusively Jewish state in their homeland and at their expense.

Although the United States withdrew from active involvement in the League of Nations and from many other aspects of international politics soon afterwards, the impact on Palestine of these key post-World War I decisions in which the United States played a crucial role was to be lasting. Under the protection of the British Mandate, and with its invaluable support, and with financing which largely came from contributions raised from American donors, by 1939 the Zionist movement had created the nucleus of a viable, independent Jewish state. This American financing, from private and later governmental sources in the form of economic and military assistance, has been crucial to the success of the Zionist project and the state of Israel from the very beginnings and until the present day. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas warily eyes proposals for long-term truce with Israel

Adnan Abu Amer reports that international envoys visiting Gaza are in discussions with Hamas: The increased tempo of international proposals to extend the truce is coinciding with mounting warnings about a conflagration in Gaza caused by the continued siege, the lack of progress in reconciling with Fatah and the similarity in the security and on-the-ground conditions today, compared with those that preceded the last war in July 2014. Taher al-Nunu, Hamas’ media adviser, told Al-Monitor, “The proposals currently considered complement efforts to bolster the cease-fire with Israel. Hamas will present those proposals to all remaining factions, with whom we shall consult to adopt a unified stance.”

Israeli media outlets published details about the truce proposals on March 11, reporting that Israel and Hamas were considering achieving a 15-year cease-fire, during the first five years of which both sides would undertake to cease all military operations in exchange for lifting the siege and building sea and air ports in Gaza.

But Gaza’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad, one of Hamas’ most prominent negotiators with international envoys, told Al-Monitor, “No practical progress has been achieved with Western diplomatic sources visiting Gaza in relation to the sea and air ports dossier; because Israel refuses to hand Hamas a victory after the last battle.” [Continue reading…]

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Why has Russia lifted its ban on delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran?

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Kremlin lifted its self-imposed ban on the delivery of a powerful missile air-defense system to Iran on Monday, stoking sharp criticism from the White House and Israel and casting fresh doubt on the international effort to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

U.S. lawmakers seized on Moscow’s announcement Monday to warn Russia was among a host of foreign countries using the prospect of a nuclear deal to begin seeking out lucrative business deals that could bolster Iran’s military and economy.

Any delivery of an air-defense system would complicate airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or the U.S. should the diplomatic track fail.

Iran thinks that Russia will deliver the missile system this year, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Interfax news agency in Moscow on Tuesday.

The U.S. Senate is set to vote this week on legislation that would provide Congress with the power to approve, amend or kill any agreement that seeks to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

Supporters of the bill, Republican and Democrat, said Russia’s lifting of its ban on the S-300 surface-to-air missile system could be just the beginning of countries testing the sanctions regime and a United Nations arms embargo on Iran.

“Before a final nuclear deal is even reached, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has started to demolish international sanctions and ignore the U.N. arms embargo,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who sponsored legislation that seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran if a final deal isn’t reached by June 30.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the defensive systems didn’t come under the U.N. arms embargo, and that Russia implemented the S-300 ban voluntarily. “This was done in the spirit of good will to stimulate progress in the negotiations,” he said, adding that it was no longer necessary.

The State Department also said that the embargo imposed on Iran in 2010 didn’t prevent the delivery of S-300s. But the White House warned that the missile system, while defensive, could enhance Iran’s ability to challenge key U.S. allies in the Middle East, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It said that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue with Mr. Lavrov on Monday.

Still, the Obama administration was measured in its criticism, noting that it didn’t believe the proposed missile sale would jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. [Continue reading…]

Some analysts may interpret Putin’s move as an effort to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran, but one can argue that on the contrary, the planned delivery of S-300 missiles may make the conclusion of the deal a fait accompli.

With an elastic clock, Benjamin Netanyahu has long favored a breathless time is running out narrative when it comes to closing the door on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

If no deal is signed and within a few months Iran’s newly-reinforced defense systems make its nuclear sites extremely difficult to attack, 2015 is probably the last year that Israel could launch or instigate air strikes on Iran. It has never been plausible that it could conduct such attacks on its own, but the timing for it to enlist the support of others has probably never been worse.

The U.S. and Iran are effectively on the same side in a war against ISIS. American forces currently in Iraq would definitely become very vulnerable if the U.S. soon started bombing Iran.

Moreover, as Yemen becomes a quagmire for Saudi Arabia, an attack on Iran would likely become the tipping point for the current matrix of regional conflicts to start hopelessly spinning out of control.

Putin’ intention in approving the delivery of S-300 missiles at this juncture might simply be to push Russia first out of the gate in the race to cash in on the rewards from the inevitable ending the economic embargo on Iran.

Those who currently argue that the framework agreement is not good enough are rapidly being confronted with the reality that either the deal gets struck by the end of June or within a fairly short period Iran will see dwindling incentives for making any deal. Time is on Iran’s side.

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Netanyahu told cabinet: Our biggest fear is that Iran will honor nuclear deal

Haaretz reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a recent meeting of the security cabinet that if a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers is indeed signed by the June 30 deadline, the greatest concern is that Tehran will fully implement it without violations, two senior Israeli officials said.

The meeting of the security cabinet was called on short notice on April 3, a few hours before the Passover seder. The evening before, Iran and the six powers had announced at Lausanne, Switzerland that they had reached a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and that negotiations over a comprehensive agreement would continue until June 30.

The security cabinet meeting was called after a harsh phone call between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama over the agreement with Tehran.

The two senior Israeli officials, who are familiar with the details of the meeting but asked to remain anonymous, said a good deal of the three-hour meeting was spent on ministers “letting off steam” over the nuclear deal and the way that the U.S. conducted itself in the negotiations with Iran.

According to the two senior officials, Netanyahu said during the meeting that he feared that the “Iranians will keep to every letter in the agreement if indeed one is signed at the end of June.”

One official said: “Netanyahu said at the meeting that it would be impossible to catch the Iranians cheating simply because they will not break the agreement.” [Continue reading…]

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My missing family in Syria: Naming and shaming in Yarmouk

Ramzy Baroud writes: Members of my family in Syria’s Yarmouk went missing many months ago. We have no idea who is dead and who is alive. Unlike my other uncle and his children in Libya, who fled the NATO war and turned up alive but hiding in some desert a few months later, my uncle’s family in Syria disappeared completely as if ingested by a black hole, to a whole different dimension.

I chose the “black hole” analogy, as opposed to the one used by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – “the deepest circle of hell” – which he recently uttered in reference to the plight of Palestinians in Yarmouk following the advances made by the notorious Islamic State (IS) militias in early April. If there is any justice in the hereafter, no Palestinian refugee – even those who failed to pray five times a day or go to church every Sunday – deserves to be in any “circle of hell”, deep or shallow. The suffering they have endured in this world since the founding of Israel atop their towns and villages in Palestine some 66 years ago is enough to redeem their collective sins, past and present.

For now, however, justice remains elusive. The refugees of Yarmouk – whose population once exceeded 250,000, dwindling throughout the Syrian civil war to 18,000 – is a microcosm of the story of a whole nation, whose perpetual pain shames us all, none excluded.

Palestinian refugees (some displaced several times) who escaped the Syrian war to Lebanon, Jordan or are displaced within Syria itself, are experiencing the cruel reality under the harsh and inhospitable terrains of war and Arab regimes. Many of those who remained in Yarmouk were torn to shreds by the barrel bombs of the Syrian army, or victimised – and now beheaded – by the malicious, violent groupings that control the camp, including the al-Nusra Front, and as of late, IS. [Continue reading…]

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In the rubble of Gaza, militias prepare for inevitable war with Israel

Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.

“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”

“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.

Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]

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‘Empty words': Donors fail to deliver pledged Gaza aid

Al Jazeera: Just a quarter of the $3.5bn in aid pledged to rebuild Gaza in the wake of last summer’s devastating war has been delivered, according to a new report.

The report from the Association of International Development Agencies, released on Monday, found that only 26.8 percent ($945m) of the money pledged by donors at the Cairo conference six months ago has been released, and reconstruction and recovery have barely started in the besieged coastal enclave.

“The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, which was among the report’s signatories.

“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change.”

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We need to talk about Israel’s ‘right to exist’

Ben White writes: There was outrage last week when the University of Southampton cancelled a forthcoming conference on Israel and international law, ostensibly on the grounds of “health and safety”.

The university had been under pressure from pro-Israel advocacy groups, and organisers have begun legal efforts against what they see as a concession to outside interference and bullying. The story of the campaign to shut down the conference should not, however, distract from why Israel’s supporters found the topics scheduled for discussion so objectionable.

One theme dominated criticism of the conference, summed up by this headline in the Daily Express: “Outrage as BRITISH university questions Israel’s right to exist.” This is therefore a useful opportunity to examine what has become a cliché in discussion about the Middle East by politicians and pundits.

So, does Israel have a “right to exist”? The answer, or at least an important part of the answer, is that no states have a “right to exist”, without exceptions. States come and go, are formed, and broken up. South Sudan was created in 2011. The USSR ceased to exist in 1991. Czechoslovakia became Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993.

There is popular discussion and scholarly work about the legitimacy of numerous states. This debate is generated by factors such as the legacy of decolonisation, or the dozens of active independence and separatist movements across the world.

But what about whether Israel has a “right to exist” as a “Jewish state” specifically? The UN Partition Plan and General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 did indeed call for the establishment of an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state” within the boundaries of British Mandate Palestine.

However, it did so based on population distribution at the time – it did not define a “Jewish” (or Arab) state so as to encompass Jews not already living there. It avoided, in other words, “invoking an abstract right to self-determination of Jews as an extra-territorial group”. [Continue reading…]

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CIA director attacks critics of Iran deal as ‘wholly disingenuous’

Politico reports: CIA Director John Brennan reportedly says the preliminary framework around the nuclear deal with Iran does what had once seemed impossible, calling some critics of the agreement “wholly disingenuous” and expressing surprise at the Iranians’ concessions.

“I must tell you the individuals who say this deal provides a pathway for Iran to a bomb are being wholly disingenuous, in my view, if they know the facts, understand what’s required for a program,” Brennan told an audience at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics on Tuesday night in his first comments since the outline was announced last week in Lausanne, Switzerland, according to Agence France-Presse.

Brennan said that while critics worry that lifting sanctions on Iran will “cause more trouble throughout the area,” the framework is “as solid as you can get” when it comes to blunting the Islamic Republic’s efforts to build nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]

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Bibi’s bogus ‘better deal’ with Iran

Peter Beinart writes: Benjamin Netanyahu insists that opposing Thursday’s framework nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t mean he wants war. “There’s a third alternative,” the Israeli prime minister told CNN on Sunday, “and that is standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure until you get a better deal.”

There are three problems with this argument. The first is that even some of Netanyahu’s own ideological allies don’t buy it. Netanyahu and many Republican politicians—knowing that the American public doesn’t want war—insist that there’s a diplomatic alternative to the current deal. But over the years, key conservative foreign-policy experts, have said exactly the opposite. Eliot Cohen, a former Bush administration official who teaches at John Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, has written that, “The choices are now what they ever were: an American or an Israeli strike, which would probably cause a substantial war, or living in a world with Iranian nuclear weapons, which may also result in war, perhaps nuclear, over a longer period of time. Understandably, the U.S. government has hoped for a middle course of sanctions, negotiations and bargaining that would remove the problem without the ugly consequences. This is self-delusion.” According to Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, “The only credible option for significantly delaying the Iranian nuclear program would be a bombing campaign.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol has argued that, “It’s long since been time for the United States to speak to this regime in the language it understands—force. … We can strike at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and weaken them. And we can hit the regime’s nuclear weapons program, and set it back.” And over the last month alone, two other prominent hawks, John Bolton and Joshua Muravchik, have penned op-eds entitled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” and “War With Iran Is Probably Our Best Option.” Netanyahu may sincerely believe that there’s a preferable diplomatic alternative to last week’s deal. But it’s telling that for years now, many on his ideological side have disagreed. [Continue reading…]

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GOP’s Israel support deepens as political contributions shift

The New York Times reports: As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

One of the surprisingly high-profile critics is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who burst to prominence with a letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues to leaders of Iran warning against a deal. Mr. Cotton, echoing criticism by Israeli leaders, swiftly denounced the framework reached on Thursday as “a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons” — words, his colleagues say, that expressed his deep concern about Iran’s threat to Israel’s security.

But it is also true that Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.

Republicans currently in the Senate raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees deemed pro-Israel than their Democratic counterparts, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed for The New York Times by a second nonprofit, MapLight. The Republican advantage was the first in more than a decade. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s phony claim that he wants ‘a better deal’ with Iran

Jessica T. Mathews writes: By definition, a negotiated agreement is imperfect. This one in particular entails risks, costs, extended vigilance, and a significant chance of future failure. Judging it begins and ends with clarity about what choices are truly before us. That has a simple answer: there are only two alternatives to a negotiated deal.

One is a return to the situation that prevailed for a decade before negotiations began and before an interim agreement was reached at the end of 2013. In the best case (in which Iran is seen to have been the cause of negotiating failure), punishing multilateral sanctions would continue. Iran’s leaders would respond as they have before, standing up to foreigners’ pressure by continuing their nuclear program—adding more advanced centrifuges, stockpiling enriched uranium, completing a reactor that produces plutonium, and taking Iran to the threshold of a nuclear weapon and perhaps beyond. There might continue to be some international inspectors on the ground, though with far less access than at present.

We know where this option leads, for it has been well tested. In 2003, the US rejected an Iranian proposal that would have capped its centrifuges at 3,000. By the time the current negotiations started a decade later, the standoff created by more sanctions and more centrifuges had resulted in costs of nearly $100 billion to Iran from sanctions and its production of 19,000 centrifuges. The lesson of sanctions — from Cuba to Russia and beyond — is that they can impose a cost on wrongdoing, but if the sanctioned country chooses to pay the price, sanctions cannot prevent it from continuing the sanctioned activities.

The second alternative is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Even supporters of this option do not believe that it would do more than delay Iran’s progress by more than two to four years. It would certainly unite all Iranians around the absolute necessity of having a nuclear deterrent. It would strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, radicalizing its politics and probably prolonging clerical rule. While the bombed facilities were being rebuilt, with more of them being put securely underground, there would be no inspectors or cameras. Outsiders would know far less than they do now about what is being built and where or how close Iran had come to producing a bomb. Soon another round of bombing would be necessary.

Is there a third alternative, namely a tougher deal that requires no enrichment in Iran and the destruction of its nuclear infrastructure? Prime Minister Netanyahu promised in his appearance before Congress that the US can get such a deal by “call[ing] their bluff.” Simply walk away from the table and “they’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.” If sanctions brought Iran to the table, this argument goes, more sanctions and more pressure will get us everything we want. It sounds reasonable, but it fails on closer inspection.

First, of course, the argument ignores the essence of negotiation — that neither side gets everything it wants. Also, although it is true that sanctions are imposing real pain on the Iranian economy, there are many in Iran’s power elite, especially in the Revolutionary Guard, who profit from the country’s isolation and would welcome continuing sanctions. Others oppose a deal for ideological reasons. The balance in Iranian politics that brought negotiators into serious talks for the first time was long in coming and remains precarious. If the US were to reverse course, abandoning negotiations in hopes of a winner-take-all outcome, Iran would follow suit.

Moreover, if other nations found America’s reasons for rejecting a deal unreasonable, support for multilateral sanctions would quickly erode. Soon we would be back to ineffective, unilateral sanctions.

The question, then, is whether proponents of this approach have diagnosed fundamental weaknesses in the deal that has been reached and genuinely believe that renewed negotiation could strengthen it, or whether they are counting on both sides walking away from the table and not returning. The fact that so many of them — emphatically including Netanyahu — trashed the deal before it existed and make demands they know to be nonnegotiable strongly suggests that the insistence that the US “negotiate a better deal” is phony. [Continue reading…]

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Israel should be given the consideration it deserves

Juan Cole writes: US television news isn’t very good and it has clearly gotten worse over the past 20 years. In the aftermath of the Kerry-Zarif initial framework deal on nuclear energy in Iran, it seems obvious that an interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would be newsworthy. But to my knowledge none of the networks or major cable news shows had him on.

Or you could have talked to the British, French, German, Russian or Chinese foreign ministers, all of whom were principals and all of whom would have had interesting insights.

Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was given repeated access to millions of Americans to talk trash about the deal over the weekend and to make mostly false allegations about its contours. Israel is a small country of 8 million with a gross domestic product in the range of Portugal. Netanyahu isn’t a party to the deal.

As Bill Clinton famously once said: “Who the fuck does he think he is?

The parties to this agreement (the P5+1 and Iran) collectively represent 30% of the world’s population. Israel — smaller than 96 other countries — makes up 0.11% of humanity.

Iran’s close neighbors make up 5.5%, including several states which regard the Islamic republic as their primary foe, and yet none of whom assert a right to have the instrumental role in shaping global affairs that Israel claims.

The world’s tolerance for Israel demanding a level of influence utterly disproportionate to its size, is wearing thin.

Those who never know when to stop asking for more, risk losing the advantages they already enjoy.

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Is Netanyahu responsible for Iran deal?

Akiva Eldar writes: If the joint Lausanne statement becomes a permanent agreement between the superpowers and Iran, we will have to take off our hats to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No one contributed more than he did to the removal, or at least the postponement, of the danger that power-hungry ayatollahs would have their fingers on a button of an atom bomb. Leaders have won the Nobel Prize for lesser achievements.

For years, Netanyahu forced the international community to put dealing with the Iranian nuclear program at the top of its agenda. If it weren’t for his threat (whether real or not) to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, it’s not certain that the powers would have united to ensure that Iran would have to make do with nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. If it weren’t for Netanyahu’s success in recruiting members of Congress to the initiative to intensify the sanctions on Iran, it’s quite doubtful that Tehran would have entered open negotiations with “the Great Satan.” Like the idea that only a conservative leader like Richard Nixon could have paved the way to US dialogue with Communist China, it can be said that only a conservative Israeli leader like Netanyahu could have paved the one to US dialogue with Shiite Iran.

Nevertheless, not only does Netanyahu not claim an iota of credit for the important achievement reached April 2 in Lausanne, but even before all the details of the agreement were known, the prime minister rushed to gather his Cabinet to disclaim it. He sent his ministers to radio and television studios with instructions to portray the agreement as a capitulation to a regime that strives to destroy Israel. And thus, Netanyahu admits to the failure of his life’s mission to save Israel from a second Holocaust. [Continue reading…]

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The Obama Doctrine and Iran

Tom Friedman writes: President Obama invited me to the Oval Office Saturday afternoon to lay out exactly how he was trying to balance these risks and opportunities in the framework accord reached with Iran last week in Switzerland. What struck me most was what I’d call an “Obama doctrine” embedded in the president’s remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities — like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

Obviously, Israel is in a different situation, he added. “Now, what you might hear from Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, which I respect, is the notion, ‘Look, Israel is more vulnerable. We don’t have the luxury of testing these propositions the way you do,’ and I completely understand that. And further, I completely understand Israel’s belief that given the tragic history of the Jewish people, they can’t be dependent solely on us for their own security. But what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be … sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.”

He added: “What I would say to the Israeli people is … that there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward — and that’s demonstrable.” [Continue reading…]

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A better deal than Israelis expected

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: If the inspection of the agreement’s key points is carried out as presented to the public on Thursday evening, Iran will face an enormous challenge if it were to attempt cheating the agreement.

But, if the framework presented becomes the final agreement, including its technical addendum, even Israel could learn to live with it. As President Obama said, the current deal prevents Iran from developing enough fissile material for an explosive device or a nuclear bomb – for at least 10 years. If Tehran chooses to violate the deal, it will take them more than a year to gather enough enriched material for a single nuclear device.

We could not have achieved a better outcome even if Israel, the United States, and other countries had carried out military strikes on the nuclear sites in Iran. Even if the attack had been successful, the delay caused to the Iranian nuclear weapon program would have been shorter than 10 years.

Thus, it appears, it was a good deal. [Continue reading…]

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