Iran Again – CONTINUED: Final Part: U.S.-Israeli Relations
Several weeks ago, Samantha Power in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Operations Committee insisted that the U.S. would continue to work closely with Israel at the UN but could no longer be counted on to prevent resolutions targeting Israel to be defeated. In fact, she went further. The U.S. could not be counted on NOT to help advance such resolutions. Essentially, the U.S. might support a resolution on the Palestine-Israel peace process that would set deadlines and establish markers in working towards a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to get the negotiations back on track. As U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned: if the new Israeli government does not demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution, the U.S. will have a difficult time halting international initiatives on the Palestinian issue at the United Nations. Since then, tit for tat followed. Netanyahu rejected Kerry’s request to visit Israel to discuss the negotiations with the Palestinians immediately after the Israeli national Elections took place.
Netanyahu’s statements leading up to election day suggesting the two-state solution was dead, and his formation of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had, put in doubt his support of a two-state solution and, hence, America’s unquestioning support for Israel in the international arena. Bibi had renounced his intentions to establish a Palestinian state as no longer relevant given recent events in the Middle East and in light of the security reality in the region. Even more unequivocally, in the dying days of the election he said that that if he becomes prime minister once again, a Palestinian state would not be created.
Hence the American reaction. U.S. support would continue, but it would henceforth be questioned. As Wendy Sherman said, “If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougher… it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict.” After the election, Netanyahu attempted to backtrack on those statements when he said once again that he supported a two-state solution, but only if circumstances changed. However, he did not go nearly far enough in moving the U.S. away from signalling its reformulated policy.
France, which had been relatively hawkish on the Iran nuclear negotiations, was leading the initiative to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and to prepare and pass a new Security Council resolution that would both delineate the principles of determining borders (1967 borders modified by territorial exchanges) and recognize the Palestinian authority as the governing body over those territories. Israel would no longer be able to declare the territories are in dispute. Thus, Bibi’s efforts to push regime change in Tehran de facto when linked with his withdrawal of efforts to end the status quo in the West Bank became mutually reinforcing positions that triggered the shift in policy underway in the White House, especially when matched by a corresponding effort of Iran to tone down its radical rhetoric. Iran wearing a moderate face mask combined with the resurrection of Bibi’s ostensible support for the continuation of the occupation and effective support for a Greater Israel worked in tandem to undermine America’s previous position.
After all, in Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, he had pledged not to turn America’s back “on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own,” a pledge that could not be honoured if the new Bibi government remained true to its pre-election pledges and shunted sideward the pursuit of a two-state solution. Bibi might claim that he was ending the settlement freeze because his pledge on the freeze was made in tandem with the American pledge to work to increase pressure on Iran through the use of increased sanctions; when America lifted the sanctions, the new Israeli government felt free to end the settlement freeze. So the Israeli government and Washington were sending signals across each other’s bows that changes in policy were underway.
Other moves in America by Netanyahu’s allies in Congress can be viewed in terms of American Executive Power and the Israeli government traveling in ships going in opposite directions. They pause briefly to wave, professing to be mutually supportive, and follow with threats. At the same time, Bibi’s allies in Congress launched their own attacks on the White House from the rear.
The American Senate in mid-April amended the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. The bill was the most ambitious effort ever in continuing efforts to open trade. U.S. negotiations with the Asia-Pacific and the EU were advertised as an opportunity to set high standards and open markets with nearly 1 billion consumers, covering nearly two-thirds of global GDP, and 65% of global trade. Services negotiations cover about 50% of global GDP, as well, and over 70% of global services trade. But the Act included a sneaker. As an example, Section 2(b) 9 reads:
Localization Barriers to Trade: The principal negotiating objective regarding localization barriers to trade, set out in subparagraph 2(b)(9), is to eliminate and prevent measures that require U.S. producers and service providers to locate facilities, intellectual property, or other assets in a country as a market access or investment condition, including indigenous innovation measures.
These and other clauses counter the efforts of BDS to boycott goods made in the settlements; the Act de facto defined the West Bank and Israel as part of the same legal territory, thereby setting in motion the U.S. recognizing a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In another sign of a radical shift by the new extreme right-wing government in Israel, Yinon Migal has acted as the flag waver. He is a newly minted member of the Knesset in Bennett’s Jewish Home Party. He accused a former director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel, of being guilty of treason for advocating the two-state solution. For in doing so, Liel was accused of ceding territory to a prospective sovereign state that does not now exist. Violating section 97 (d) of the penal code provides that any action to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State or to place it under the sovereignty of a foreign state with the intention to bring that about is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment. This is but another sign of the new extremism in Israel in contention with a more aggressive dovish approach from the White House.
Netanyahu’s partisanship and heightened rhetoric on the Iran nuclear prospective agreement combined with his backpedalling on the two-state solution have not brought about a collision between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has brought about a situation in which both countries are beginning to work at odds pursuing radically opposite agendas. The framework deal, if confirmed by a completed deal – very far from certain itself – has altered both the balance of power in the region and the previously balanced relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. Such a divergence will limit America’s ability to ensure that Israel can retain its nuclear deterrent without international supervision. It may also modify America’s willingness, indeed eagerness, to fund advances in Israeli missile technology and defensive capabilities.
The rhetoric from both sides insists that nothing fundamental has changed in Israeli-American relations. This is but smoke and mirrors to hide fundamental shifts already underway. For, in the view of the current American administration, the best response to Iran’s efforts is to make the deal because, if a military solution is eventually required, America will be in a better position to deliver a response than without a deal. As Netanyahu becomes more and more irrelevant on the terms of the deal to be made by the target date of 30 June and, in his impotence, becoming increasingly hysterical rather than rational, he loses even more credibility with the White House.
Bibi’s only hope to salvaging the Israeli-American tight bond is if the framework agreement falls apart over the issue of the timing of the lifting of sanctions and/or over veto proof anti-deal legislation passed in Congress. For what Netanyahu most fears is not simply that a final deal will come to fruition in spite of the difficulties still faced, but that the deal will hold and Iran will stick to its terms. Then Bibi will be truly in deep sh… with America and with the Israeli voters as well for he will be unable to cry wolf when dealing with Iran or avoid dealing with the serious economic disparities within Israel unless saved by Kahlon.
The reality is that the P5+1 and Iran have struck a reasonably good deal, one that is far from perfect and which still faces many hurdles before and if it is finalized. But, as CIA Director John Brennan concluded, “I, for one, am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here.” I too was equally surprised. The framework agreement was both far more detailed than expected and provided more concessions by the Iranians than most observers expected. Natanz will – again if the deal comes to fruition – be the only nuclear enrichment facility. Its degree of enrichment will be strictly restricted and monitored. Fordow will be converted to a research facility. Arak will not be able to produce plutonium. The high speed centrifuges will be mothballed and even the number of slow centrifuges will be kept to 5,000 in operation, not quite the 3,000 that Israel wanted, but far better than the 19,000 available. The stock of highly enriched uranium will be gone and even the stockpile of low enriched uranium will be dramatically reduced.
The real problem for Netanyahu is that Israel will now face a much strengthened conventional foe but without any longer having the almost unquestioning support of its patron. The scenario that Netanyahu most feared is about to descend on Israel unless the deal with Iran can be sabotaged before it is completed.
And there is some potential. There are many issues to be resolved. There is not only the problem of defining when sanctions will be lifted. There is, for example, the issue of the form in which the minimally enriched uranium is to be stored. Most of the uranium enriched to almost 20% has been reduced to well below 5% and no longer exists in hexafluoride form. However, a residue (228 kg.) of enriched uranium to almost 20% continues to exit: 43 kg in oxide powder; 60 kg, that has not been irradiated slated to be used for the Tehran Research Reactor and, therefore, still available for easy conversion and further enrichment to nuclear level fuel; the remainder of the 228 kg remaining as scrap, waste or is in the process of being decommissioned.
How will the P5+1 and Iran deal with this issue since Iran is only to retain very limited amounts of uranium enriched above 3.67% sufficient for research purposes? The devil is indeed in the details. And these details are being negotiated as I write. Some will inevitably become crisis points in the discussions. Past track records suggest that solutions will be found. But perhaps not. Perhaps events will intervene and alter the tone of the negotiations. Perhaps personal animosities or spoilers will disrupt the discussions. These types of negotiations are perilous at the best of times. The Perils of Pauline look tame beside them. There will be no cakewalk to 30 June for everyone knows that if Iran retains even 50 kg. of medium enriched uranium to almost 20%, enough highly enriched uranium could be available in 8 rather than 12 months to make a nuclear weapon.
The most hawkish government in Israeli history will be trumpeting such obstacles as efforts of Iran to undercut a bad deal and make it even worse. Further, on the Palestinian front, Obama will be berated for handing over to the Palestinian Authority the internationalized right of Palestinians to govern themselves while the same authority allegedly refuses to grant Jews that right, while that authority works at delegitimizing Israel in an effort to kill the state of Israel by a thousand slices. It will not matter that these charges bear only a slight resemblance to reality. Yet those same extreme hawkish Israeli voices will agree with Bibi’s left critics that Israel will have to develop new strategies “to cope with our deteriorating relations with the U.S.” (Caroline Glick), a matter made urgent by the excellent possibility that Hilary Clinton may be the next president in a world far more volatile and lethal than when her husband was president.
What is the advice on how to cope? Not abandoning Israeli policies and strategies but reducing dependence of the U.S. Further, Bibi’s efforts to bypass the President and go directly to the American people must be enhanced. In other words, more of the same tactics, even accelerating such tactics, though it was precisely these tactics that led to the debacle in the first place.
But that will not be how Bibi’s supporters of his undiplomatic diplomacy will portray Israeli actions. Rather than pinning the tail on Israel, they will try to pin responsibility for the deterioration on Obama for ensuring that Iran becomes a member of the nuclear club. The accusation will be tossed about as if it were an established truth rather than a piece of ugly propaganda with little basis in fact or analysis. Instead, the accusers will insist that Obama administration officials in a rogue regime have led the U.S. to abandon its policy of denying Iran the right or ability to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, the White House will be portrayed as accommodating Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power, a charge so discrepant with actual facts as to make one wonder if such hysterics are real or simply the mouthings of a mad person, mad in the opposite way to the idealistic Madwoman of Chaillot, but both nevertheless totally detached from reality.
Instead, Israel will be urged to ignore the deal and go its own way militarily and strike Iran. This is the self-destructive logical conclusion of the folly of hyping Masada as a historic noble action instead of what actually happened as can best be determined by the historical record. When myth becomes the foundation of policy, self-destructive strategies are advocated. Israel will also be urged to abandon the Oslo agreement and once more take full control over the West Bank or, as the imperial Israeli hawks insist on calling the territory, Judea and Samaria. Hamas and the Israeli right will be united in their pursuit of a single-state solution, differing only on which party will control that state.
Do not expect these hysterical voices to die down. Rather they will now be propagated through megaphones while on the ground Israeli-U.S. relations will be further weakened and while Israel will be egged on to supersede one self-destructive policy with another one even more self-destructive.
This is the result of trading whispers for rants, analysis for inflammatory rhetoric and informed deliberation with deformed and virtually surrealistic portraits of the world that are figments of nightmares rather than bearing any significant correspondence with reality.