JTA reports: When it comes to the deal between Iran and major powers, Israel and the pro-Israel community are retreating from a strategy of confrontation and working instead to influence the contours of a final agreement.
In a conference call last week, Howard Kohr, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s executive director, advised pro-Israel activists and leaders not to confront the Obama administration directly over the “difference of strategy” between the United States and Israel on Iran. Instead, Kohr said to focus on passing new sanctions as a means of shaping a final deal.
AIPAC would not comment on the call, which was first revealed Dec. 3 in a Zionist Organization of America news release criticizing AIPAC’s approach. But Kohr’s advice comports with a recent rhetorical pivot by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who initially excoriated the interim deal with Iran reached last month in Geneva as a “historic mistake.”
This week, meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem, Netanyahu significantly downplayed his unhappiness with the interim deal and said he was focused instead on the outcome of the six-month period established to reach a final accord over Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu is sending a team to Washington in the coming days to consult with US officials on how best to influence a final deal.
“We believe that in a final deal, unlike the interim deal, it’s crucial to bring about a final agreement about determination of Iran’s military and nuclear capability,” Netanyahu said. [Continue reading...]
Steven Salaita, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, writes: In recent years, we have seen greater recognition in the United States that religious acrimony and ancient blood feuds are not the source of the Israel-Palestine conflict, whose progenitor in fact is Jewish colonization. As this recognition grows, along with corresponding support for Palestinian human rights, unprecedented pressure bears on Israel’s defenders to maintain the once-dominant narratives of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian terror.
These days, Israel is an extremely difficult state to defend.
It should be so. Israel continues to make a mockery of the “peace process” by constructing new settlements and insulting American leaders. It tolerates politicians who routinely make racist statements. And it continues to be in violation of at least 77 United Nations Resolutions and numerous provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The latest challenge to these violations comes from the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, which has attracted the attention of pro-Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government itself, thus validating the efficacy of the tactic. A specific element of BDS, academic boycott, was recently ratified by the Association of Asian American Studies and enjoys overwhelming support among the membership of the American Studies Association, whose National Council today voted to affirm a resolution honoring the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.
Although at first glance academic boycott seems vengeful and arbitrary, its mission is rigorous and ethical, perfectly concordant to comparable boycotts that earned widespread support in the United States (against apartheid South Africa, for instance, or Arizona when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day). [Continue reading...]
Haaretz reports: Former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer says that Israel is not looking for peace “to the extent that it should” and that it is “divided between those who want to settle the West Bank and those who seek peace.”
The rare public criticism of Israeli policy from the soft-spoken former governor, widely credited with navigating the successful Israeli economy of the past decade, came during a discussion of “Israel: the View from the Inside Out,” which convened on Tuesday evening at the Center on Law and Security of New York University’s School of Law. Participating in the panel alongside Fischer were former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Hebrew University Professor Moshe Halbertal and New Republic Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier, who moderated.
“The approach that we have to be strong because if we’re not strong we will be defeated is absolutely correct but it is not the only the part of national strategy,” Fischer said. “The other part is the need to look for peace, and that part is not happening to the extent that it should.”
“The country seems to me to be divided between those who want to settle the West Bank and those who seek peace. It is a huge challenge for the future for a country whose achievements are so extraordinary,” he added. [Continue reading...]
Haaretz reports: The death of Hassan al-Laqis, a senior Hezbollah commander who was killed on Tuesday in what looks like a clean and especially professional assassination in Dahieh, the Shi’ite quarter of Beirut, is the biggest operational blow to the Lebanese organization since the death of Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh, who was described as the Hezbollah chief-of-staff, was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008. At the time Hezbollah blamed Israel, which refrained from responding. On Wednesday morning the organization blamed Israel for the assassination of Laqis as well.
Laqis, one of Hezbollah’s veteran military leaders, has been familiar to Western intelligence services since the 1980s. Intelligence officials have described him in the past as a “brilliant mind” who played a combined role in the Shi’ite organization, which could be compared to the head of Israel Defense Forces’ research and development as well as technology and logistics branch.
Laqis was knowledgeable of and involved in all the organization’s operational secrets – from the acquisition and development of advanced weapons to the establishment of classified communication systems to Hezbollah’s operative plans. His death strips Hezbollah of a “intelligence source” – a person whose experience and widespread connections to Syrian and Iranian intelligence organizations served Hezbollah well for almost three decades. [Continue reading...]
Aeyal Gross writes: When discussing democracy in Israel, some people seek to distinguish between what happens within the Green Line and what happens beyond it – an undemocratic regime of occupation. They believe the occupation doesn’t weigh on Israel’s democratic character, both because it’s a temporary situation and because it has the distinction of taking place outside the state’s borders.
But the claim of temporariness has steadily eroded as the occupation nears its jubilee, and the claim that the situation is different and distinct from what happens inside the state has been eroding as well, given the similarity of many practices on both sides of the Green Line. This is exemplified by the cases of Susya and Umm al-Hiran.
The government’s decision to settle Jews on the lands of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran entails evacuating and demolishing one of the state’s “unrecognized” villages – communities that, despite being inhabited by citizens of the state, have no master plan, and whose residents don’t receive basic services like water and sewage. Some of these unrecognized villages have existed since before the state was established, and some are the result of the expulsion of Bedouin citizens from their lands. Israel’s military government expelled Umm al-Hiran’s residents from their original village in 1956 and relocated them to the Nahal Yatir region. [Continue reading...]
Graham Allison writes: Amidst the weeping and gnashing of teeth from the Prime Minister’s office after the interim agreement on Iran reached in Geneva, it is appropriate to pause to ask how President Obama’s interim agreement actually measures up on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s chosen yardstick.
Who can forget Netanyahu’s UN presentation last year where he made his best case to the world about the threat Iran’s nuclear program poses to international security. To vivify this danger, Bibi unveiled a graphic sketch of a bomb on which he demonstrably drew a red line.
As he explained in his UN speech then: “In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb, this bomb has to be filled with enough enriched uranium. And Iran has to go through three stages. The first stage: they have to enrich enough of low enriched uranium. The second stage: they have to enrich enough medium enriched uranium. And the third stage and final stage: They have to enrich enough high enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
Having set the stage, he then asked, “Where’s Iran?” As he answered: “Iran’s completed the first stage. It took them many years, but they completed it and they’re 70% of the way there. Now they are well into the second stage.” He then vowed that Iran would never be allowed to cross his red line to the third stage. “The red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program,” he argued, “because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target. I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Several thousand people worldwide have taken part in protests at the Israeli government’s plans to forcibly remove Bedouin Arabs from their villages in the Negev desert.
In Israeli towns and cities mounted police used teargas, stun grenades and water cannon against demonstrators, in what the Association of Civil Rights in Israel described as a “disproportionate” response to stone-throwing. More than 40 people were arrested at protests across the country, and 15 police officers were injured.
In what was billed as an international “day of rage”, demonstrations were also held in London, Berlin, Rome, Istanbul, Cairo and in the United States.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, criticised the protests. “We will not tolerate such disturbances,” he said in a statement. “Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave. We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev,” he said. [Continue reading...]
Al Jazeera reports: Those passing by Al Araqib may call it a shanty town, but to Sheikh Siah Altori it is a home he says he is prepared to die for. After a reported 62 separate demolitions by state authorities, the remains of the Bedouin community, off the road from Rahat to Be’er Sheva, consists of several portable buildings, and a clutch of shacks and animal pens clinging to a hillside in the north of Israel’s Negev Desert.
Portions of the village’s lands have been designated to be planted with a state-sponsored forest. Al Araqib is one of the Bedouin communities known as an “unrecognised village”, which receive no state services such as electricity, water or sanitation. As many as 200,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, an area comprising 60 percent of Israel’s territory. Under a government proposal known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, $340m has been allocated for land and monetary compensation to move up to 40,000 of the Bedouin into state-sponsored townships.
On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 30 cilties – in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as well as in other countries – to protest the Prawer-Begin Plan.
At Hura, a town in the northern Negev, more than 500 protesters gathered peacefully until youth began throwing stones and police used water cannon, horses and stun grenades to disperse the demonstration. Clashes continued throughout the night as the highway from Be’er Sheva to the Dead Sea was blocked with burning barricades and scores of young people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
Earlier, Bedouin were joined by busloads of supporters to voice opposition to the Begin-Prawer Plan. While the Israeli government maintains that the policy will ensure its Bedouin population receive access to basic services and economic opportunities, critics see the plan as an attempt to displace and threaten an indigenous way of life. [Continue reading...]
Peter Oborne writes: It was one of those coincidences that a novelist might hesitate to invent. One of William Hague’s first tasks after signing a historic nuclear agreement with Iran was to address the grandest and most important gathering of Britain’s pro-Israel lobby.
Having flown back into London from Geneva on the Sunday, the Foreign Secretary then turned up the next day at the Park Plaza hotel at Westminster for the annual lunch of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). More than 100 Tory MPs, as well as hundreds more CFI supporters, were present to hear Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador, chide Mr Hague over Iran. One reporter present wrote that Mr Hague was “humiliated”, adding that when he rose to speak he was greeted with “light applause” and “heard in obvious silence”.
Some close to Mr Hague insist, by contrast, that it was a cheerful event. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was by no means as warm and easy as it was last year, when David Cameron was the guest of honour. At some tables, I am told, there was palpable resentment. Each guest had been given a briefing pack that included a caustic summary of the deal that Mr Hague had signed the previous day. A longer version of this document was then dispatched to Conservative MPs, ahead of the Foreign Secretary’s afternoon statement to the House of Commons on Iran.
I have obtained this briefing, which parroted the overblown rhetoric with which Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, responded to the deal in Geneva. The CFI warned Tory MPs that “the world’s most dangerous regime has taken a significant step towards obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapon” – echoing Mr Netanyahu almost verbatim.
This was not merely propaganda. It was ignorant and poorly informed. [Continue reading...]
Zachary Keck writes: Although not a member of the P5+1 itself, Israel has always loomed large over the negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program. For example, in explaining French opposition to a possible nuclear deal earlier this month, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated: “The security concerns of Israel and all the countries of the region have to be taken into account.”
Part of Fabius’ concern derives from the long-held fear that Israel will launch a preventive strike against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. For some, this possibility remains all too real despite the important interim agreement the P5+1 and Iran reached this weekend. For example, when asked on ABC’s This Week whether Israel would attack Iran while the interim deal is in place, William Kristol responded: “I don’t think the prime minister will think he is constrained by the U.S. deciding to have a six-month deal. […] six months, one year, I mean, if they’re going to break out, they’re going to break out.”
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done little to dispel this notion. Besides blasting the deal as a “historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Israel “is not obliged to the agreement” and warned “the regime in Iran is dedicated to destroying Israel and Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself with its own forces against every threat.”
Many dismiss this talk as bluster, however. Over at Bloomberg View, for instance, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the nuclear deal has “boxed-in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so comprehensively that it’s unimaginable Israel will strike Iran in the foreseeable future.” Eurasia Group’s Cliff Kupchan similarly argued: “The chance of Israeli strikes during the period of the interim agreement drops to virtually zero.”
Although the interim deal does further reduce Israel’s propensity to attack, the truth is that the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has always been greatly exaggerated. There are at least five reasons why Israel isn’t likely to attack Iran. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Israel should avoid taking any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers at the weekend, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.
Urging world leaders to give the interim deal a chance, Hague said it was important to try to understand those who opposed the agreement. But he urged Israel and others to confine their criticism to rhetoric.
“We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned,” Hague told parliament.
The New York Times reports: Israeli leaders denounced the agreement reached Sunday in Geneva, saying they were not bound by it and reiterating the principle that Israel would be ready to defend itself without assistance against any threat.
After weeks of intense lobbying against any deal between the world powers and Iran that does not ensure the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the agreement “a historic mistake,” saying in remarks that were broadcast from the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
Mr. Netanyahu excoriated the world’s leading powers for agreeing to Iranian uranium enrichment for the first time and for relenting on sanctions “in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be canceled in weeks.”
“Israel is not bound by this agreement,” he said. “As prime minister of Israel, I would like to make it clear: Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”
The foreign minister of Israel, Avidgor Lieberman, told Israel Radio that “Israel will have to make a reassessment” and that “all the options are on the table.”
“We are talking about the greatest diplomatic achievement for the Iranians,” he said. “We have to take our decision in a cleareyed, independent manner, and we have to be serious enough to be responsible for our fate. Responsibility for the fate of the Jewish people and for the state of Israel lies with the Israeli government alone.” [Continue reading...]
Yada, yada, yada. What options on which table?
Jeffrey Goldberg is in no doubt that Israel no longer has any military options:
[Obama] boxed-in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so comprehensively that it’s unimaginable Israel will strike Iran in the foreseeable future. Netanyahu had his best chance to attack in 2010 and 2011, and he missed it. He came close but was swayed by Obama’s demand that he keep his planes parked. It would be a foolhardy act — one that could turn Israel into a true pariah state, and bring about the collapse of sanctions and possible war in the Middle East — if Israel were to attack Iran now, in the middle of negotiations.
The Associated Press reports: The United States and Iran secretly engaged in a series of high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year, in a high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration that paved the way for the historic deal sealed early Sunday in Geneva aimed at slowing Tehran’s nuclear program, The Associated Press has learned.
The discussions were kept hidden even from America’s closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago, and that may explain how the nuclear accord appeared to come together so quickly after years of stalemate and fierce hostility between Iran and the West.
But the secrecy of the talks may also explain some of the tensions between the U.S. and France, which earlier this month balked at a proposed deal, and with Israel, which is furious about the agreement and has angrily denounced the diplomatic outreach to Tehran. [Continue reading...]
Haaretz reports: Israel found out about the existence of secret talks between the United States and Iran months before they were officially informed of the negotiations by the U.S. government, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. The Israeli government learned of the secret negotiations sometime near the beginning of the summer through intelligence it managed to obtain.
Managed to obtain how? Through surveillance on U.S. diplomatic communications? Or, more likely, through leaks from an Israel-friendly Washington insider.
Fred Kaplan writes: The Iranian nuclear deal struck Saturday night is a triumph. It contains nothing that any American, Israeli, or Arab skeptic could reasonably protest. Had George W. Bush negotiated this deal, Republicans would be hailing his diplomatic prowess, and rightly so.
A few weeks ago, a “senior administration official” outlined the agreement that President Obama hoped to achieve in Geneva. Some reporters who heard the briefing (including me) thought that the terms were way too one-sided, that the Iranians would never accept them. Here’s the thing: The deal just signed by Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) is precisely the hoped-for deal laid out at that briefing.
It is an interim agreement, not a treaty (which means, among other things, that it doesn’t require Senate ratification). It is meant as a first step toward a comprehensive treaty to be negotiated in the next six months. More than that, it expires in six months. In other words, if Iran and the other powers can’t agree on a follow-on accord in six months, nobody is stuck with a deal that was never meant to be permanent. There is no opportunity for traps and trickery.
Meanwhile, Iran has to do the following things: halt the enrichment of all uranium above 5 percent and freeze the stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent; neutralize its stockpile of uranium that’s been enriched to 20 percent (either by diluting it to 5 percent purity or converting it to a form that cannot be used to make a weapon); stop producing, installing, or modernizing centrifuges; stop constructing more enrichment facilities; halt all activities at the Arak nuclear reactor (which has the potential to produce nuclear weapons made of plutonium); permit much wider and more intrusive measures of verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including daily inspections of all facilities.
Without going into a lot of technical detail (which can be read here), the point is this: The agreement makes it impossible for the Iranians to make any further progress toward making a nuclear weapon in the next six months—and, if the talks break down after that, and the Iranians decide at that point to start building a nuclear arsenal, it will take them much longer to do so. [Continue reading...]