Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.

Brussels

  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Canadian Civil Society II – Islamophobia and Empathy

by

Howard Adelman

This blog continues the discussion of the core values of the Canadian civil religion in contrast to the Trump-Stone ethos now governing the polis in the U.S.  In the previous blog, I dealt with the first four values, but I reprint the whole list as a reference.

Canada                                        U.S.A.

  1. Civility                               Incivility
  2. Compassion                      Passion
  3. Dignity                               Indignation
  4. Diversity                           Unity
  5. Empathy                           Insecurity
  6. Impartial                          Partisan
  7. Egalitarian                       Inegalitarian
  8. Fairness                            Ruthless & even Unfair
  9. Freedom as a Goal          Freedom as Given
  10. False-consciousness       Humans as Falsifiers

Why is empathy, the fifth value above, different from compassion? Compassion is a feeling for the suffering of others. Empathy is a cognitive exercise, getting inside the head of another to understand how and why the individual makes the decisions he or she does. Empathy operates by adopting the point of view of the other as one’s own in order to understand the other’s perspective. This vicarious experiencing of the thoughts, feelings and frame of reference of another was largely evident in the debate leading up to the Members of the House of Commons passing an “Islamophobia” Motion, M-103, by a vote of 201-91 two months ago on 23 March 2017.

Before I analyze the Canadian debate on Islamophobia as an example of empathy for the most part, I want to first explain what Islamophobia is and why I offered “insecurity” as the antonym to “empathy” by tracking Donald Trump’s position on Islam. I also want to do this as an exercise in empathy rather than righteous haranguing against Donald Trump’s self-evidently outrageous statements on Islam.

Donald Trump’s criticism of Islam began long before he launched his campaign to become president and long before he assumed the Office of President of the United States of America. Some statements made five years earlier may have adumbrated one plank of a presidential campaign that would include negative statements about Islam. When Donald Trump took leadership of the Birther Movement, the organized effort to convince Americans and the world that: a) Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.; and b) that Obama was secretly a Muslim, in an interview on 11 December 2011, Trump articulated his more general warnings about Islam and Muslims.

In November of 2015, he uttered the outright lie that, “thousands of people [Muslims] celebrated in Jersey City in N.J. on 11 September 2001.” Though some residents of Jersey City claimed that Trump’s assertion was true and that “we saw it,” no video or photo has ever appeared to verify the claim. According to Trump, “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it [the destruction of the Twin Towers] a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. No good.” In December of 2015, Trump put out a policy statement in his race to win the Republican nomination that warned of the “extraordinary influx of hatred & danger coming into our country.”

This is what appeared then on his campaign website:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing “25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51% of those polled, “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.” Shariah authorizes such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won’t convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women.

The citation of a notorious Islamophobe, Frank Gaffney and his organization, in itself fostered Islamophobia. Gaffney was even banned from attending the Conservative Political Action Conference when he levelled the same claim against the board members of being Muslim Brotherhood agents that he had accused Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, of being. Thus, Trump’s call on the campaign trail to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., his assertion in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN that, “I think Islam hates us,” and that, “we can’t allow people coming into the country who have this hatred of the United States,” and his promise to absolutely implement a Muslim database, all offered evidence of his purported Islamophobia. The campaign climaxed in the two failed executive orders he issued when he became president to ban members of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

However, in Riyadh on Sunday as President of the U.S. appearing before an Arab summit of 50 leaders, he called his foreign policy, “principled realism,” though it is very difficult to discern any moral principles informing the doctrine. He asked for “partnerships” that would “advance security through stability, not through radical disruption.” In a slip of sloppy writing, he contrasted those prospective partners with perfection: “We must seek partners, not perfection.”  The ideal was self-reliance; the compromise was partnerships, partnerships even with predominantly Muslim countries.

Donald Trump made other mistakes in his overtures to these countries. He celebrated the pyramids and palaces of Giza and Luxor, the ruins of Petra in Jordan, all pre-Islam, but conspicuously not the grandeur in art and architecture, science and technology, thought and writing achieved at the pinnacle of Muslim civilization. However, he lauded Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths” and insisted that the war was against terror, against radical Islamicists; the majority of the victims were Muslims. He never used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” that he claimed Barack Obama had been too cowardly to employ. He continued: it was not a war between civilizations.

How can we reconcile these assertions as President with Donald Trump’s claims as a campaigner? Was Trump guilty of Islamophobia, but quickly abandoned the belief after he became president and made his first foreign trip abroad to Saudi Arabia? Let me try to understand the position, but only after reviewing the debate on Islamophobia in Canada.

On 26 October 2016, the Canadian Parliament gave unanimous consent to a motion by NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, condemning Islamophobia:

That the House join the 69,742 Canadian supporters of House of Commons e-petition (e-411) in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.

In his speech, the Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP) said:

Mr. Speaker, hate crimes targeting Muslim Canadians have tragically become more frequent in recent years. Each time we hear of another, it weighs heavily on our hearts. We know that Canada is fundamentally a country of peace. Nous célébrons la diversité et les différences. Cela fait partie de qui nous sommes mais ces valeurs doivent être protégées. Les étincelles de haine doivent être condamnées. Nous ne pouvons pas rester sans rien faire. L’histoire nous l’a bien appris. Nous devons lutter contre la haine perpétrée à l’endroit de n’importe quel groupe de personnes en raison de leur religion, de leur ethnie, de leur langue ou de leur orientation sexuelle. We must actively fight hate perpetrated against the Muslim community and denounce, in this House, lslamophobia in all of its forms. Au nom de tous les néo-démocrates, je tiens à offrir mon appui à la communauté musulmane de Sept-Îles et à rappeler à toutes les communautés musulmanes du Canada que nous sommes avec elles.

What took place between the passage of this motion and three weeks earlier, on 6 October, when an almost identical motion was defeated by a handful of Conservatives members shouting, “Nay”?  Did Parliament deny the Canadian-Muslim community the recognition and empathy it deserved in the defeat of that motion? Was it subsequently moved by a petition with almost 70,000 signatures and/or the third attack on a newly-built Sept-Ȋles mosque that took place just four days before the motion passed? Was the defeat of the 6 October motion itself an act of Islamophobia that even went beyond the claim that it was an indication of a lack of empathy? Or was the vote of a handful of Conservative members of the House likely motivated simply by partisanship, as Mulcair claimed?

Ironically, the vandalism was probably not a hate crime. At the time of the unanimous passage of the motion, a man turned himself in to the police confessing responsibility for the crime. He said that he had become drunk that night in the bar next door to the cultural centre and did the damage, but he was too drunk to even know at the time that he had committed the crime. Nor, given the subsequent debate on a bill against Islamophobia, was the earlier dissent on the motion likely motivated by either partisanship or Islamophobia. It was more likely the Conservatives did not fully grasp the meaning and intent of the concept “Islamophobia’. They gave evidence that they had not been sufficiently empathetic to the position of the Muslims.

Why would they want to vote against a bill that condemned a form of hatred? One possibility is that they regarded Islamophobia as a term that did not mean “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” It was not anti-Muslim or anti-Islam at all. Islamophobia literally meant fear of Islam, Islam – phobia.  Fear is different than hatred. One can irrationally fear all Muslims even though very few are terrorists, but there is no necessary connection between fear of the other and hatred of the other.

However, the Ontario Human Rights commission offers a definition of Islamophobia as: “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.” In the UK, the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in its 1997 report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.” The concept is made up of the following eight recurring views of Islam as:

(1) a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change;

(2) separate and ‘other’ without ‘values in common with other cultures,’ being neither affected by them nor having any influence on them;

(3) ‘inferior to the West,’ ‘barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist;’

(4) violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilizations’;

(5) a political ideology used for political or military advantage;

(6) rejecting out of hand ‘criticisms made of the West by Islam’;

(7) hostility justifying ‘discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society’;

(8) seeing anti-Muslim hostility ‘as natural or normal’.

In contrast, antisemitism is defined as hatred aimed at Jews. Islamophobia has a wider range than hatred. There was a fear that the vagueness of the term and its broader cast would have the potential to stifle debate. Some even claimed that this was the only reason for introducing the bill, to stifle criticism of Islam even further. According to Dennis Prager, “The term “Islamophobia” has one purpose — to suppress any criticism, legitimate or not, of Islam.” Critics, specifically from the Jewish community, claimed that Motion M-103 put forth by Mississauga-Erin Mils MP, Iqra Khalid, would allow a person criticizing Islam to be subjected to criminal charges. A final reason offered was that, in contrast to B’nai Brith’s extensive collection of data and documentation of violence, harassment and vandalism against Jews, the equivalent documentation against Muslim and Islamic institutions was sparse.

Ironically, a Muslim academic, Ingrid Mattson, who holds the Inaugural Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron University College in London, Ontario, said that as much as hatred targets Muslims groups, there were many more antisemitic attacks in Canada. I was not able to ascertain whether Amira Elghawaby, the Communications Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), who was also at the conference, agreed or whether she would simply say she does not know because the Muslim community is not as adept at collecting data as the Jewish community.

First tabled on 5 December 2016, M-103 passed in March by a vote of 201-91 and was referred to committee for further review. Why had it been subject to so much acrimonious debate? Why did opponents view it a slippery slope to limiting freedom of speech or even introducing Sharia law into Canada when that law ran counter to Canadian values and laws? Why did almost the whole Conservative caucus, with the exception of Michael Chong and Bruce Stanton, oppose the bill? Why were not these opponents swayed by the 29 January mosque shooting in Quebec City where six Muslim worshippers were killed? And why, according to an Angus Reid poll conducted between 13 and 17 March 2017, did only 12% of Canadians support the bill? 31% saw M-103 as endangering free speech, another 31% viewed it as a motherhood motion without any effect, and 17% viewed the bill and the debate as a waste of time.

Khalid’s motion required the government to undertake three initiatives:

  • Condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination;
  • Quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear;
  • Develop a government-wide approach for reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.

The latter would require the heritage committee to create and maintain a data base on hate crime, much as B’nai Brith does for the Jewish community with respect to antisemitism in its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. Data collection on Islamophobia, in contrast, is sparse.

However, an effort to collect such data, however valuable, might also cause one to pause, especially if the data is to be assembled by government. For, in the age of digital communications, incidents of antisemitic remarks have expanded exponentially, suggesting a rising tide of antisemitism based only on the number of incidents recorded. As B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn opined, the comment section of any news media includes a plethora of comments condemning Zionist plots and Jews for murdering children. In addition to genuine acts of antisemitism – spray painting swastikas on gravestone, vandalizing synagogues and Jewish community centres – there are a plethora of crackpots now publishing antisemitic symbols and spreading hate.

The same can be said of hatred aimed at Muslims. Haroon Siddiqui gave a speech at the Aga Khan Museum that blamed the media, in particular, the National Post and the Postmedia newspaper group, for contributing to Islamophobia by looking for terrorists under every minaret and writing up every Muslim who makes an outrageous statement suggesting militancy or malevolence. On the other hand, given the incident yesterday evening in Manchester, one should not be surprised at the fear that a Muslim could be a terrorist. Should Harvey Levine, the Quebec Director of B’nai Brith, be condemned when he asked Montreal police to investigate two incidents of Muslim imams allegedly calling for the killing of Jews?  It should be no surprise that Levine had concerns about M-103.

Cannot the same be said about motions condemning antisemitism – that they go overboard and sweep up genuine criticisms in their compass? What is the difference between some strong criticisms of Israel and the xenophobia allegedly evident in statements and articles critical of wearing the niqab and the fearmongering that accompanied it. A motion was passed unanimously by the House of Commons, the Irwin Cotler motion, that noted “an alarming increase in anti-Semitism worldwide,” incidents that included a singular and virtually exclusive preoccupation with the alleged misdeeds of the Israeli government and even the denial of the right of self-determination for the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist.  When does legitimate criticism of Israel become antisemitic?

There is one notable difference between the antisemitism and Islamophobia. The latter starts with fear and expands towards hatred. The former starts with hatred that fosters fear. But there are far more commonalities. And, in the final analysis, whatever the fears of creeping infringements on freedom of speech in both cases, whatever the ambiguities, whatever the comparative quantitative and qualitative analysis of victimhood, whatever the contradictions when some Muslim groups seem to be main purveyors of antisemitism and some Jewish organizations are major critics of the open-ended nature of the focus on Islamophobia, if one empathetically enters into the mindset of the pains and fears of members of either group, whatever the qualms, support for motions condemning both antisemitism and Islamophobia usually follow. Even when it does not, one must appreciate the relative civility in which the debate was conducted and honestly get inside the mindset of the person in opposition.

Which brings us back to Trump. I do not think he hates Muslims. I do think he used hatred and fear as means to advance his own political agenda. He should be condemned for manipulating people based on their irrational fears and hatreds rooted in their insecurities and, thereby, contributing significantly to a rising tide of Islamophobia.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Consequences of UNSC Resolution 2344

The Global Consequences of UNSC Resolution 2344

by

Howard Adelman

UNSC Resolution 2334 did not pass by a vote of 14-0 with the American’s abstaining in a vacuum. Context is crucial. So are military troops on the ground. The Resolution may have endorsed once again the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, but as I have shown with respect to other areas – Russia in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Turkey in Cyprus, Morocco in the Western Sahara, North Vietnam in South Vietnam – the list is long with respect to the non-application of the principle. There were some exceptions – Kuwait and East Timor – but the general disposition has been to look the other way or pay only superficial and short-term attention when territory is acquired by force. In most cases, and contrary to the Israeli position, the conqueror had little justification for any territorial claims.

In Iraq and Syria, satraps were used to acquire control over the territory. In Iraq, the Obama doctrine entailed following the path forged by Henry Kissinger in Vietnam – declare victory while withdrawing from the field. But the Obama administration never managed to pull it off. It was too half-hearted. America did not pursue that goal with persistence and clarity. Declarations may require equivocation. Actions may demand a feint. But intent must be unfailing. Barack Obama, with his many great virtues, was too often a fence-sitter. Not counting “military contractors” involved in the privatization and transference of military responsibilities to mercenaries, the U.S. still has over 10,000 troops and personnel in Iraq.

It is not as if the U.S. did not want to get out of Iraq. America clearly did. But the U.S. also wanted to protect its vision of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state (really, a multi-Islamic religious state). When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched its offensive in mid-2014 in Iraq, it made quick gains that are only now being completely nullified. Barack Obama sent in American troops and supplied the Kurdish Peshmerga with both military and humanitarian aid when the Kurds were directly attacked by ISIL. By 2015, the direction of the war was reversed and the final steps to clean out ISIL forces are well underway. With the end of open warfare imminent, will the U.S. leave in the face of greater need when ISIL reverts to insurgency warfare?

At the same time, Russia accomplished the same feat in Syria, only this also entailed defeating anti-Assad rebels who had been supported by the Americans. Further, the war was fought at a far greater cost in lives, a vastly greater destruction of property and an unprecedented number of refugees and internally displaced that even made the Indochinese exodus in the late 1970s and 1980s look relatively small. Yet the Americans still have 500 mainly special operations forces in Syria serving as advisers and explosive ordinance disposal experts. With the U.S. as a silent partner to Russia, a partnership which Donald Trump wants to declare openly, where once Syria had been under French tutelage, it has now become a Russian protectorate. Where once Iraq was under British protection, a century later it has become a protectorate of the U.S.

General James (Mad Dog) Mattis, Trump’s new Defense Secretary, is thoroughly familiar with these two theatres of war, and Afghanistan as well, where large numbers of American troops are also deployed. But he left the theatre and retired in 2013 before the geography of war in the region changed. He understands the principle of holding and controlling territory by force. However, Mattis is completely unsympathetic to the Zionist enterprise. After his retirement, he said, “I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that meant all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us…they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.” Like John Kerry, he has argued that the Israeli settlements will lead to apartheid, not exactly the message coming from Donald Trump.

On the other hand, Mattis shares Israel’s belief that not only is Iran a mortal and existential threat to Israel, but is the main destabilizing force in the Middle East. But he also shares the traditional view of both the old State Department and a good part of the military establishment that America’s main allies in the region are Arab and they must be appeased. That includes, most specifically, Saudi Arabia. Mattis supports America’s backing of the Saudis with military equipment as that government continues its ruthless assault on the Houthi population of Yemen. Whether in Yemen or in Iraq, Mattis insists on clear policy objectives and a military fully resourced to achieve those objectives. He believes in being ruthless in the will to sustain the battle based on a sound strategy. He is totally dismissive of half measures.

The real question is how the American imperium will deport itself in the Middle East. Though superficially like Trump in his bluntness, Mattis is unlike The Donald in so many other ways. He is consistent and a hard-nosed realist who recognizes the value of allies. Mattis steeps his strategy in hard data rather than in the subconscious outflows of rhetoric of an unstable mind. Mattis reads books; Trump reads twitter feeds. Mattis believes in “continuing American engagement” in the world. Trump wants to complete Obama’s half-measures of withdrawal and press ahead at full speed – but with exceptions. The question is on what side of those exceptions will Israel fall?

That is the central question – where will Israel stand in the revised American imperium? UN Resolution 2334 would relegate Israel to a pariah status as long as it not only continues its settlement activities, but even as long as it maintains those settlements. Resolution 2334 raised the stakes by making the armistice lines of 1949 the reference border as well as declaring that all lands on the other side of the Green Line were Palestinian. It was as if Jews never lived in Hebron or the Old City. The UN was now competing with other regimes in the Middle East to eradicate ancient cultures and ethnic groups and their rights. The statement did not say “residents of Palestine,” for Jews had once been Palestinian in that sense. The reference was to Palestinians as a political group.

However, the innovations have not only been in principles but in practices to realize those principles. Lawfare has been raised to a central ingredient of international diplomacy. With the passage of Res. 2334, recourse to the The Hague Court will become de rigueur. Any Israeli – civilian, politician, military officer or settler – is now subject to being charged under the Geneva Convention – a long term goal of those opposed to any Israeli settlements. Fatou Bensouda, the The Hague prosecutor, has finally been given a license to correlate settlement activity of any kind with war crimes.

In spite of his antipathy to Israel as a threat to American-Arab relations, General Mattis is the last to uphold the Geneva Convention. In the Bush II Iraq War that toppled Saddam Husseini, Mattis, as commander of the First Marine Division, engaged in mass slaughter, arbitrary arrests and rough treatment of civilians to extract information he needed in the prosecution of a war he later labeled a major mistake. He would deny access to humanitarian aid – in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention – to the civilian population to make them comply with his fulfilling his strategic objectives. Just look at his leadership in the battle for Fallujah in 2003. His modus operandi in Iraq makes the Israeli military look like gentleman soldiers, especially since they are so constrained by Israeli law itself.

For Mattis, in global strategic terms, Israel is an outlier and an unnecessary burden. If Israel is torn between an adherence to the rule of law, including international law, and its own security needs, Mattis has no similar compunctions or restraints. Further, he agrees with Israel about Iran. Like the Republican hawks and unlike The Donald, he has no use for Putin. One can predict Mattis and Trump will be at loggerheads, but it will be difficult to see how Israel will emerge from the battle. Given that both Trump and Mattis far outflank Netanyahu and his right-wing government’s disdain for international law and sometimes even domestic law governing war and humanitarianism, Israel can count on the new Trump administration, when it engages in war against the UN, to undermine the use of international humanitarian law and the efforts to use courts to reinforce one side of a political struggle.

Resolution 2334 not only greatly enhances the role of lawfare in the field of international conflict, but the long arm of international law will creep into such relatively esoteric areas as sports and culture. Res. 2334 provides FIFA, the international governing body for soccer (THE major international sport), authority to intervene in a dispute with six Israeli soccer clubs. If the territories on the other side of the 1949 Armistice Line are designated as Palestinian territory by the UNSC, Israeli teams as part of the Israeli soccer league playing at the settlement clubs now become likely violators of international law. The monitoring team on this spat, led by Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa, which had been dithering on the issue, is now in motion, guided by a directive along these lines from Wilfried Lemke, the special advisor on sport to the UN Secretary-General.

Culture is another field that will be affected by the new level of lawfare. Ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls is set to become another issue that will be tested given UN Res. 2334. For the scrolls were found on Palestinian territory, at least according to the UNSC authoritative pronouncement and the change from Res. 242 and 338. The scrolls were found in caves near Qumram in the West Bank. Even if purchased from Bedouin, the question was whether the Bedouin had any legal right to even sell the documents. You can count on a suit coming from the Palestinians on this issue, perhaps using a European country as its front to protect the PA from economic reprisals from Israel.

The major internationalization of the conflict will take place on the economic level. BDS, which had been battling and losing in the trenches, just won a major victory in the UNSC. The UN has been given a clear sanction to develop the administrative mechanisms for an organized boycott of Israeli goods and services. Those boycotts may not significantly undermine Israel as a modern economic miracle, but they will cause some distress and even broader annoyances. What they will not do is bring Israel kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. For Israel has expressed a continuing willingness to do so without any pressures, but also without any preconditions. Israel will no longer freeze settlement activity as a precondition of peace talks.

Many are predicting an increase in violence as a result of Resolution 2334. I doubt it – at least on any significant level. Based on this enormous diplomatic coup by Abbas with both the passage of Resolution 2334 and even the Paris Summit, and, further and perhaps even more importantly based on the current weakness of Hamas under threat from the population of Gaza dissatisfied with Hamas rule, Abbas (Abu Mazen) was able to forge a unified government with Hamas. Abbas will boast that he can now exercise with even greater authority restrictions to the resort to violence of Hamas. However, at the same time, the Palestinians will continue to celebrate their “martyrs” who are killed in violent attacks against Israelis. The week before the Paris Peace talks, 4 Israelis were killed and many more wounded, a few quite seriously. Abbas refused to even condemn the terror attack. The PA government, subsidized to a great extent by Europe, will pay the “martyr’s wife 2900 NIS per month (about $CAN1,000) for the rest of her life.

On the diplomatic front, positions are hardening on both sides, though for very different reasons. The passage of the Resolution may have made it very self-satisfying for those who support the Palestinian cause without qualification, but it will not advance that cause one iota. The conflict will only become more contentious, spread into more international arenas, but highly unlikely to bring both parties to the negotiating table.

What about initiatives by Donald Trump who stands unequivocally against Resolution 2334? Trump’s son-in-law, 34-year-old Jared Kushner, has been named the point person on this effort? According to the Donald, “You know what? Jared is such a good lad, he will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get. You know, he’s a natural talent, he is the top, he is a natural talent. You know what I’m talking about – a natural talent. He has an innate ability to make deals, everyone likes him.” Ignoring Jared’s lack of diplomatic experience, given such an endorsement, would you have any optimism about the possibilities of negotiations?

In fact, based on either the European initiatives or the Trump initiatives from a radically different angle, would you expect any successes on either front? When Saeb Erekat after the Paris Peace Summit issued the following statement urging France to, “immediately recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” and when Netanyahu’s increasingly defiant government, at the other extreme, promotes the expansion of settlements, attempts in its “formalization law” to retroactively legalize over 100 outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land and deemed illegal according to Israeli law, and when his government even flirts with the idea that the two-State solution has had its day, neither international diplomacy, nor lawfare nor economic pressure are going to bring the disputants to the negotiating table.

The Palestinians grow bolder. The right in Israel grows more recalcitrant and more inclined to ignore the international community. And some believe that the results of Resolution 2334 are beneficial as a move towards peace!

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

by

Howard Adelman

The Significance of the Agreement

Was this the “the most significant and tangible progress that we’ve made with Iran” since Obama took office? Or was the agreement a “historic mistake”, a loss of momentum towards capitulation by Iran or the readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by the allies? Without question it was the most significant agreement since there had been none for decades. Its projected impact was presumed to be very large whether one approved or disapproved of the deal. The real question is whether the agreement represented progress or a historic mistake.

Canada took a position somewhere between Netanyahu and Obama by emphasizing scepticism and withholding its support of the agreement until such time as Iran granted “unfettered access” to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Further, Canada waited to see whether the verification promised in the deal was fulfilled. Although the Harper government said it had been moving economic self-interest to the front in its foreign policy, in the case of Iran, Canada closed its embassy and delayed the gold rush of opportunities as western companies sought to establish a foothold in the opening with Iran. At the same time, Canada abandoned its political lockstep link to Israeli policy, hence losing any advantage by the delay.

Why then did Avi Benlolo of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center support the Canadian position since Canada supported the interim agreement if full transparency and verification resulted. Benolo was far more critical of the agreement and accused the P5+1 of being suckered by Iran’s new smiling diplomacy while Iran retained its deep antipathy to the West and remained determined to develop nuclear weapons while it bought the necessary time to progress towards that goal. For Benolo, the Iranian retreat had to be surrender, not just of the entire nuclear program, but of the support for terrorism. Canada stipulated no such conditions.

Certainly, the agreement does nothing substantive to curb Iran’s rogue status in the international community. However, the interim agreement opens wide such a possibility. The real substantive dispute is whether the interim agreement denies Iran the right to enrich uranium or whether it reified Iran’s right to enrich uranium, as President Rouhani declared? Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium for fissile material for nuclear weapons. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, claimed that Iran was not given any inherent and unfettered right to enrich uranium, but concedes that Iran will likely be given a limited, completely verifiable right to have a very constrained program of enrichment for peaceful (medical) purposes.

This was not a zone of creative ambiguity because Iran retains the right to enrich uranium to 5% purity for peaceful purposes, but is explicitly denied the right to enrich uranium to 20% purity to enable Iran, with banks of centrifuges, then to increase that uranium readily to 90% purity for weapon’s grade purposes. The agreement does NOT enshrine an apparent promise that at the end of the process, Iran would be entitled to enrich uranium as it wants, when it wants and as much as it wants. Such a charge makes nonsense of the plain text of the agreement.

In a more modest but very severe criticism, did the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) shred six United Nations Security Council resolutions that required the Islamic Republic of Islam to abandon its enrichment program and reprocessing facilities? Not as I read the intent of the agreement that followed the interim one. Further, the UN resolutions demanded only that Iran “suspend” its nuclear enrichment program, embark on a course of confidence-building measures, suspend the construction of heavy water plant at Arak for producing plutonium and ratify the IAEA additional protocol. Iran did all of these.

The first three points were already part of the interim agreement. The UNSC nonbinding resolutions required a suspension of Iran’s enrichment, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. This is precisely what the interim agreement achieved. Perhaps, these successes may be inadequate, may cover up for a long term malevolent intent, but they seem clearly to fulfil both the letter and spirit of the UNSC resolutions. Previously, Iran had accelerated work on its uranium enrichment program (it had stopped in November 2004) and stopped voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol. The interim agreement seems to fulfil the aims of the UNSC resolutions in accordance with the goals of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006.

The Reception in Iran

The agreement had a fiery reception in Iran, only second to the one that greeted the agreement in the United States. On 23 June 2015, three weeks prior to the signing of the agreement, the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament, passed The Government’s Obligation Act to Protect the Nuclear Rights and Achievements of the Iranian Nation (the Iran Nuclear Achievements Act – INAA) by a vote of 213 to 10. The Act provided that all sanctions be lifted on the day Iran began to comply with the obligations of the Agreement, a requirement that the JCPOA definitively did not make. However, there was nothing in the agreement that contradicted the Act’s requirements on inspections restricted to nuclear facilities but banning access to military bases and security sensitive areas because the Act also provided that such access conform to Supreme National Security policies. Therefore, the steps to obtain such approval were included in the agreement. More importantly, the Act only required that the agreement be submitted to the Majlis, not endorsed by that body.

Less than a week after the deal was signed on 14 July 2015, the Majlis set up a special commission to examine the JCPOA with a vote on its report scheduled just after the deadline for American Congressional approval. However, two days before the deal was signed, President Rouhani signed the law safeguarding Iran’s nuclear achievements and ordered the relevant ministries to implement INAA, in effect, JCPOA. The hardliners in Iran, parallel to the hardliners in the U.S., were denied a voice to a great degree to articulate their strong opposition because the Supreme National Security Council issued a directive to media outlets to avoid representing Iran as divided about the deal and, therefore, avoid permitting the hardliners – the fundamentalists, authoritarians and militants – to criticize the deal and insist that the agreement crossed the red line of the Supreme Leader. By 3 September, the Supreme Leader weighed in and reversed the intent of the legislation and determined that the Majlis should make the final decision, not the government on its own; Majlis approval now seemed to be required.

But the make-up of the Special Commission, while giving the opposition a strong voice, still seemed to assure that the agreement would be approved. The Majlis 15-member Special Commission for examining the nuclear agreement consisted of a clear majority of moderates: 6 members representing not only the United Front but the Combatant Clergy, the Pathfinders and the Resistance Front. They were opposed by the 6 members of the Stability Front, the party of extremist fundamentalists. However, the opposition on the other flank to the so-called moderates were the Reformists (2 seats) and independent (1 seat) who were expected to support the moderates on approving the deal. In any case, the Majlis was very weak relative to the Executive branch of government and the Executive Branch was fully committed to implementing the deal.

The Reception Elsewhere and in the United States

I have already referred to the overwhelming opposition to the deal In Israel. However, in Europe the agreement had vast support. Further, 70 nuclear non-proliferation experts endorsed the agreement. So did the United Nations Security Council in a unanimous vote. The agreement, however, was vociferously and overwhelmingly opposed by Republican majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate where the vote on the deal was scheduled for September. A two-thirds vote would have to be mustered to overthrow a Presidential deal since the Senate had already surrendered its power to formally endorse the agreement.

The key players were 28 Jewish Congressmen; all but one were Democrats or independents who support the Democrats. There were 19 in the House and 9 in the Senate. The huge lobbying effort of AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee), the Jewish pro-Israel lobby group and the outspoken voice of Netanyahu who addressed a joint session of Congress, was not able to dissuade 19 of the 28 Jewish congressional members from endorsing the agreement. Congress thus could not muster the votes to defeat a Presidential override of any act to delay or defeat the agreement.  In effect, without a formal vote, the deal was sealed on 17 September, the agreed allotted time for the opposition to see if it could muster sufficient votes to override the agreement.

Setting aside the actual legislative victory of sorts, why is there a plethora of institutions, politicians and pundits in the United States even opposed to the agreement? Am I missing something?  No. The critics play on ambiguity. They say that the agreement enshrines Iran’s right to enrich uranium, as if this was a problem. The agreement does say explicitly that Iran has the right to enrich uranium to 5% for peaceful purposes. Iran does not have the right for further enrichment. Obfuscating this difference just confuses the public for political purposes. John Kerry did not say that Iran had no right to enrich uranium. He said that Iran had no right to enrich uranium to weapons grade, a very different matter. The reality is that Iran was within 6-8 weeks of a breakout point. If the negotiations had failed, the choice then was bombing the facilities or merely increasing sanctions. If the deal succeeds, Iran will be much further back, but will have acquired access to funds and a restored faith in the Iranian rial so the economy will improve spectacularly. But this is what the P5+1 want as well as Iran – for that would help solidify support for the agreement. Further, if the new transparency reveals cheating, the sanctions would be quickly re-imposed, the rial would plummet in value and Iran would be even worse off than it is now with dashed domestic hopes and a restive public.

If the deal had not been made, following the pattern George Bush did in 2003 when he rejected Iranian overtures to make a deal in the expectation that the Iranian regime would collapse, the results would have been disastrous. When Bush scuttled a prospective deal, Iran did not collapse. Iran has almost 20,000 centrifuges rather than the less than 200 it had ten years ago. Iran would be able to approach the breaking point without breaking into the production of nuclear weapons, thereby keeping the rest of the world on tenterhooks. If Israel attacked and even succeeded, Israel would likely be labelled the rogue state, not Iran. More seriously, Iran would feel free, and China and Russia would support Iran, to complete its nuclear program in order to defend itself against future attacks from Israel. The nascent hope is that the Iranian population will turn to greater trust in dealing with the rest of the world. Iran could come out of the cold.

The Danger to Israel and Saudi Arabia

This is precisely the real danger for Israel and the Gulf states. They do not want a more powerful non-nuclear Iran. After all, Iran is the main supporter of Assad in Syria, sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon, has made the Iraqi Shiite-dominated regime in Iraq a satrap, supports subversion in Bahrain, and is a supporter of Hamas. Retaining the sanctions and fencing Iran in is more important for Israel than reversing Iran’s direction towards an ability to make nuclear weapons. The agreement is seen as a golden opportunity to improve relations with the West, strengthen the regime and improve the support of moderates by Iranians. But that is the real threat for Israel.

Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, says on CNN that, “Of course, we want to see diplomacy succeed. Of course, we’d like to see a peaceful solution. Israel, more than any other country, has an interest in a successful diplomatic outcome ultimately. We’re the first people on the firing line,” he is being somewhat disingenuous. Yes, Israel does want a proper deal, but not only to stop but dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. More importantly, and understandably, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, want a weaker Iran. Parts of the domestic population who have been persecuted for years – the Bahá’is for example – concur. However, the United Arab Emirates had long before concluded that even the interim agreement reinforced “the stability of the region” while Bahrain welcomed the removal of fear.

The reality is that without Israel’s screams as well as threats, it is questionable whether the rest of the world would have been nearly as sensitive to the developments in Iran. Did Netanyahu build on this diplomatic success in making the world keenly alert to the Iran nuclear threat not only to Israel but to all of the Middle East and the rest of the world?  The world answered Israel’s call to impose severe sanctions. Chalk two up for Israel’s diplomatic success. However, Israel’s belligerency, its full frontal assault by all its ministers using inflammatory rhetoric against the agreement rather than reasoned debate, may not be seen just as Israel serving as bad cop, but as Israel performing a spoiler role.

This criticism of Israel does not mean that I am no longer sceptical about Iran’s intentions. They have been clear. Iran wants to retain the ability to maintain a short gap between a break out point and their existing facilities. Their negotiating stance attempted to keep that time line as short as possible while the P5+1 strived to lengthen it enormously. The issue has not been over the actual production of nuclear weapons, but reducing significantly the capacity to move to a breakout point in short order.

Since the Iranians had achieved the status of a near-nuclear power, it was an optimum time for Iran to negotiate an ending, if possible, to their economic straightjacket. Israel and Saudi criticism was that relief from sanctions, though amounting to only six billion spread over six months as a result of the interim agreement, and fifty billion at the end of the rainbow of a full agreement, was too rich a reward for signing the agreement. Iran’s achievement had reached a tipping point – either the large possibility of a bombing raid on its nuclear facilities or a diplomatic agreement. That is why the Saudis and Israel dubbed the agreement as a capitulation to a charm offensive and fraud by Iran (Minister of Defence for Israel, Moshe Ya’alon) and characterized the interim agreement as a cosmetic rather than a substantial agreement. However, Saudi Arabia was eventually persuaded to come around and support the deal. Israel alone remained the outlier.

Understandably to some degree! After all, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, continues to call Israelis rabid dogs, expresses the desire to see not only Israel disappear, but for Iran to be the agent for that event as he reiterates his desire to wipe Israel (which he repeatedly describes as a cancer) off the map. The Saudis too wanted a total dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israelis and Saudis had good reason to fear that P5+1 would be satisfied with sufficient dismantling to lengthen the time between a resumption of its program and the ability to make a nuclear weapon only a year. For Israel and Saudi Arabia, this was insufficient. They wanted enough dismantling of the production capability to make it unviable. The intelligence services of the U.S. advised the President that such a goal itself was not viable, but the program could be sufficiently dismantled and disabled such that, with inspections and oversight, the possibility of Iran resuming a nuclear military production program would be significantly reduced and, in any case, risked bringing a huge and perhaps even stronger sanctions attack against Iran. This persuaded Saudi Arabia to change its stance.

The Implications

So the devil is in the details of a final agreement; the number of centrifuges permitted – less than 6,000 – making enrichment past 5% both prohibited, but also a trigger for an immediate resumption of sanctions; the dismantling or conversion of the Arak facility to a light-water reactor rather than one capable of producing plutonium; the elimination of all uranium enrich stocks above 5%.

Israel lost its diplomatic battle in a second sense. Few believe Israel could or would now cross not only the Americans but every one of the world’s great economic and military powers and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Israeli leaders continue to bellow and blow exhibiting petulance instead of considered criticisms, sound bites linked to insults, accusations and aspersions rather than a policy alternative. A more careful course of diplomatic discourse would have been welcome. At the same time, Israel used the back door to offer comments to improve the interim deal. Do those complaints advance or harm the country’s national interests? Is perpetual petulance and in-your-face bellyaching really a constructive form of diplomacy? Israel performed any presumed role as the bad cop like an amateur stage performer.

The Build-Up to the Washington-Tehran Nuclear Negotiations

  1. The Build-Up to the Washington-Tehran Nuclear Negotiations

Part IV: The Washington-Jerusalem-Buenos Aries-Tehran Quadrangle

by

Howard Adelman

Where has Howard been going with this series? The trajectory has been simple if somewhat roundabout. I began with the brouhaha over Netanyahu’s planned visit to Washington to address a joint sitting of both houses of Congress, a visit that was against the explicit preferences of the Obama administration. My thesis was simple. I argued that Netanyahu openly risked a further breach with Obama because he deeply believed that the Washington-Tehran negotiations were more than just misguided, but were leading the West into a terrible cul-de-sac.

I wanted to convince my fellow liberals that this was not a deep division between Israel and America, but that the response to the planned visit was a manifestation of the deep divisions between Israel and the Obama administration over the Iran talks. Netanyahu was not coming to Washington either to poke Obama in the eye OR to advance his election prospects in the coming Israeli elections. This cynical interpretation of Netanyahu’s motives mischaracterized the serious issues at stake. Further, the risks of going to Washington against the wishes of the U.S. President were more likely to jeopardize his election chances than enhance them.

To give some foundation to an alternative Republican and Israeli right-wing view of Iran, I took a side journey via the fracas in Buenos Aries over the investigations into the 1994 blowing-up of the Jewish cultural centre by Iranian agents and the charges that the present Argentinian administration was undercutting that investigation via a side deal with Iran. Those charges came to a head on Friday when the federal prosecutor in Argentina, Gerardo Pollicita, formally requested that charges be brought against Argentina’s current President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, for obstructing an investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish centre in Buenos Aires. This is unprecedented. Though I hope the backgrounder on Argentinian fascism and anti-Semitism helped provide some depth of understanding to the issue, my main angle was to document the Buenos Aries-Tehran connection and focus on the treachery of even the so-called moderates in the Iranian government. I did not discuss my suspicions that either the Argentinian intelligence service or, more likely, Iranian agents, were responsible for the death of thee prosecutor, Albero Nisman.

Iran will certainly manipulate and negotiate, but this regime, except, ironically, when the extremists have been in power, has always been able to hide behind lies. Yet the Prophet taught: “Be honest because honesty leads to goodness, and goodness leads to Paradise. Beware of falsehood because it leads to immorality, and immorality leads to Hell.” Surah 40:28 of the Quran reads, “Truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies.” However, for the conciliation among and between people and peoples, lying is preferable to telling the truth, especially when it is in service of the good. The Prophet says: “He is not a false person who (through he lies) settles conciliation among people, supports good or says what is good.” Lying is NOT even the exception in Islamic, let alone Iranian, foreign policy, but a norm. The great statesman, Anwar Sadat, was a master of deceit in service of the good, and good did finally emerge from the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Egypt finally agreed to a peace with Israel. But if the Other is the embodiment of evil, lying is not only permitted but encouraged, for The Good requires extermination of a disease. And it is the end point, the telos, that determines the worthiness of a lie.

In contrast to Islam which incorporates lying into diplomacy, Machiavellianism is an outlier to Christian teaching. However, it is a central element in Western foreign policy. Even Machiavelli, who was no Machiavellian but a humanist, believed that, although religion served a useful purpose in providing social order, the rules of morality were disposable when security was at stake. If the moral universe taught by Christianity was allowed to trump all other principles, then Christians would become passive and impotent allowing evil men to rule the world. In Islam, by contrast, lying becomes a virtue not a necessary prerequisite for survival as much as it may harm your chances for entry into heaven. Allah may prohibit lying, but his Prophet taught that there were exceptions. When the powerful Jewish tribal leader, Kaab Ibn al-Ashrf of the tribe of Banu al-Nudair was aligning with his enemy, Mohammed had a spy infiltrate his entourage, win his trust and assassinate him. A practice integral to the foreign policy of all countries is religiously sanctioned in Islamic ones. In that sense, Islam is less hypocritical than Christianity. Allah may not sanction lying, but if the intention is lofty, it is the intention in your heart that counts.

In Judaism, when the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of the Day of Atonement (or when Joshua fought the battle of Jericho to make the walls come tumbling down), one of the four sounds made is tekiah. It is a plain deep bass sound with an abrupt ending, often interpreted to be the base line of the Jewish character – blunt and to the point. It is the sound that also stands for forgiveness for your debts. The almost identical Arabic word, Al-Takeyya, in Islam refers to the right to be deceptive in signing any accord when the intention is to serve the higher interests of Allah. Al-Takeyya means to prevent or guard against. The principle of Al-Takeyya conveys the understanding that Muslims are permitted to lie as a preventive measure against anticipated harm to one’s self or fellow Muslims.

In the above sense, it is at the very least understandable that Netanyahu and the Republicans fear a treacherous Iran, and that belief might have a deep rational foundation. It is also why Obama can be excused for being so Machiavellian – though he is not very good at it – in trying to cut a deal that will avoid having to go to the Senate for approval as long as possible. (See Michael Doran’s Republican-oriented but astute and excellent analysis of the U.S.-Iran negotiations – http://dev.mosaicmagazine.com/author/michael-doran/; Doran is a senior fellow of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council. For his more general critique of Obama’s Middle East policies, see: http://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2014/07/the-new-middle-east-war/)

All this must be seen in my own continuing analysis of the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran in which I both tried to dispense with some of the misrepresentation of the negotiations by its critics while retaining a supportive but skeptical appreciation of the process itself. My last blog was published on my wordpress website, howardadelman.com, on 21 November 2014 entitled, “Iran: Three Days Before the Nuclear Negotiations Deadline.” That was my latest attempt to keep readers informed in an attempt to provide a balanced interpretation of those negotiations. After summarizing the build-up to the current negotiations, the agreements thus far, the current status, the divisions facing both sides, the significance of the negotiations and agreements reached, and current prospects, I will return to Netanyahu’s coming visit and the deep split within Washington over the negotiations.

There is absolutely no debate over the importance of these negotiations for the Obama administration. The discussions are, by far, the most important foreign policy initiative of his second term. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser for strategic communication, said that the nuclear negotiations with Iran are “probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy.” Though the process began much earlier, the negotiations are underway at a time when Obama has been in his weakest position in relationship to Congress where the Republicans now hold a majority in both houses. On the other hand, Obama has nothing to lose. He does not face re-election. But his weak position vis-à-vis Congress also restricts what can emerge out of the negotiations.

For both Tehran and Washington recognize that the Obama administration cannot deliver on the possibility of permanently lifting sanctions, but will only be able to offer a series of six month waivers. This has a double effect – it weakens what the administration can extract from Tehran at the same time as it frees Washington up in making an agreement without Senate approval. The Arab Spring, the military withdrawal from Iraq and, ironically, in the wake of the latter, the explosive rise of Islamic State that has led to a covert cooperation between Washington and Tehran to confront this menace, have all facilitated holding negotiations and the progress thus far, without even taking into consideration the economic pressures the sanctions have posed for Iran, especially difficult in a time of rapid and extreme declines in oil prices.

Two other regional changes have also been helpful. John Kerry’s tremendous efforts to push forth an Israeli-Palestinian deal tanked, and tanked badly. Since the administration blamed Netanyahu’s stubbornness more than the immobility from the side of the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration felt far freer in its opening to Iran. Second, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia consistently and persistently urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Abdullah felt so frustrated with Washington that he opened his own diplomatic track to Tehran and last March issued an unprecedented invitation to Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit Saudi Arabia. These two major rivals in the Middle East, these two leading heirs of the Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam respectively, these two countries so deeply buried in a cold war, these two who are in such opposite corners vis-à-vis Assad’s regime in Syria, suddenly took a totally unexpected approach to the rivalry with Iran, not because Saudi Arabia had suddenly fallen in love with Iran, but because it had lost all trust in the ability of America to back it in its conflict with its main rival.

Further, Saudi Arabia was staring at an Iran that, with its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad holding on in Syria, the Shiites now dominant in Iraq, and Bahrain and Yemen also under Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia’s oil fields were surrounded. King Abdullah is now dead. Defence Minister Prince Salman, who was named as Abdullah’s successor back in June of 2012 after the death of Salman’s two older brothers, was also named Deputy Prime Minister while continuing to hold the defence portfolio. Previously, he had been the orchestrator of the new policy. He is now king.

The Obama administration chose to revive diplomacy rather than war. This fits in with its efforts to wind down military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration also embraced diplomacy because, as it analyzed the situation, sanctions may have had a devastating effect on Iran, but these were considered insufficient to bring Iran to its knees. All they could do was bring Iran to the negotiating table. As well, the sanctions were interpreted as having a perverse effect, reinforcing Iranian resistance while, at the same time, undercutting the so-called moderates now in positions of power.

Let’s review the essential elements and backstory in Obama’s negotiating strategy with Iran.

  1. The strategy is not just about containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions; it envisions reinstating Iran, the sponsor of terrorist regimes like Hezbollah and Hamas, the backbone of the repressive Assad regime, and the Shi’ite spoiler in Iraq – not to speak of Bahrain and Yemen – back into the international system of nation-states as a full participating member instead of enhancing its international isolation.
  2. Obama not only aims to accept Iran back into the community of nation-states as a full member, but he would recognize it as a regional power: “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it,” because “if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication…inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power.”
  3. The policy was intended as a resurrection of the “grand bargain” that Iran purportedly offered the U.S. at the beginning of the 21st century but which George W. Bush had dismissed out of hand.
  4. This was even part of a much larger strategic vision that intended to bury Henry Kissinger’s policies of a global balance of power and replace it with a positive sum game with very decentralized loci of power – incidentally, precisely the phrase repeated in the Ayatollah’s guideline for the negotiations. In Obama’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, he said, “our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation…No balance of power among nations will hold.”
  5. The policy had excellent bi-partisan credentials since it was the fourth plank of the 2006 strategic plan of the Iraq Study Group’s chaired by Howard Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton in which withdrawal from Iraq, reinforcing the troops in Afghanistan, and reinvigorating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were the first three planks.
  6. In this new world of multi-centred strategic blocs, Iran would become a significant player in eradicating the real danger of radical Islamicists.
  7. In inflating the Islamicists, the repressive policies of the Ayatollahs in Iran against the Bahá’is and the dissidents of the June 2009 Green Movement could be ignored even as Obama acknowledged and offered verbal recognition to their insistence on rights.
  8. Just when Obama was offering his invitation and open hand instead of a clenched fist, Tehran began to operationalize its secret underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) near Qom, after it was revealed to the IAEA by Iran on 21 September 2009, but that information was only released after it was discovered and documented by Western intelligence services, based, in part, on information from Israel’s Mossad, which had installed a listening device in the Fordow plant, a device discovered after the September 2012 explosion in the plant; Iran’s failure to inform IAEA was in blatant violations of its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its 2003 agreement with IAEA;
  9. In 2009, Iran told the IAEA that the 16 cascades of 3,000 centrifuges were to be run to enrich U-235 up to 5%; instead, they were operating to enrich U-235 to 20% bomb-grade nuclear fuel. Further, though required to give 180 day advance warning to IAEA in September 2011 of implementing the upgrading, they starting the upgrading in three months in December of 2011.
  10. As a result of the 2009 betrayal, Obama introduced the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) as the foundation for an escalating program of sanctions against Iran to pressure Iran to enter into negotiations.
  11. In July 2009, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal reiterated its belief to Hilary Clinton, then Secretary of State, that negotiations with Iran will not lead to a dismantling of its military nuclear program and that the only way to deal with Iran was “to cut off the head of the snake,” a position later repeated directly to Obama by King Abdullah.
  12. In March 2010, in a culmination of disputes between Israel and Washington, bad blood between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel clotted over discussions on Israeli settlements when Obama abandoned a private meeting with Netanyahu and left him stewing while Obama joined his family for dinner.
  13. In 2011, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, informed the U.S. as well as the world that Iran was approaching a “zone of immunity” making its nuclear program impervious to Israeli military attack and time was short before Israel would have to strike.
  14. In 2012, Obama, feeling betrayed again by Iran, not only Iran’s nuclear program, but over its support for the Assad regime in Turkey, blew up and threatened appropriate aggressive retaliation, echoed both by France and Israel.
  15. The U.S. reassured Israel that it was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability and, at the same time, increased its military and intelligence cooperation with Israel.
  16. At the same time, Obama reached out to Tehran by refusing to arm the rebels in Syria seeking to bring down Iran’s satrap, Assad; this, in turn, lead to secret bilateral meetings between Jake Sullivan, Hilary Clinton’s director of policy planning, and Iranian foreign affairs and defence officials in the Ahmadinejad regime.
  17. November 2012, Obama is reelected.
  18. In 2013, many Track II and backchannel meetings with Iran were held.
  19. In April 2013 in the meeting of the P5+1 with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the basis of the deal to enter negotiations was put in place: sanctions relief in return for Iran degrading its 20% enriched nuclear bomb grade U-235 to 5%, while allowing more uranium to be enriched to 5%, instead of, as UNSC sanctions required, ceasing all processing and enrichment of U-235.
  20. Critics lambasted Obama for not insisting on a cessation of all enrichment processes.
  21. Washington was convinced that its carrot and economic stick approach helped facilitate the election in Iran of “moderates” led by Hassan Rouhani in Iran in June 2013.
  22. When Khamenei offered Obama his hand and a promise to negotiate, though opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, Obama withdrew the military threat and acquiesced in more moderate sanctions; Obama accepted Tehran’s offer to degrade or, alternatively, transfer the 20% enriched uranium to Russia. Israel regarded itself as betrayed by the policy turn to engagement without Iran agreeing in advance to dismantle its nuclear capabilities as allegedly promised to Israel.
  23. As Israel held off from bombing Fordow and other nuclear production sites in Iran, the U.S. reassured Israel that sanctions would not be lifted until Iran’s nuclear capability was dismantled.
  24. CISADA proves even more effective than anyone had thought and Iran was quickly in dire economic difficulty.
  25. In November of 2013, the five permanent members of the Security Council, P5 +1 (Germany), agreed on a Joint Plan of Action in dealing with Iran.
  26. Senate hawks, mostly Republican and Democratic, and Obama Democratic doves, had very different goals in the ensuing negotiation; the first wanted to use Iran’s weakened position to force Iran’s hands into the fire to accept the need to dismantle its facilities, while the Democratic doves were willing simply to accept a lower degree of enrichment, leaving Iran with its core production facilities intact, in an effort to keep Iran’s breakout time at over a year instead of the three months that many believe Iran had achieved.

Tomorrow: The Joint Plan of Action: Terms and Results

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

by

Howard Adelman

 

The Significance of the Agreement

Was this the “the most significant and tangible progress that we’ve made with Iran” since Obama took office? Without question since there had been no previous progress. Or was the agreement an “historic mistake”, a loss of momentum towards capitulation by Iran or the readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by the allies?

Canada took a position somewhere between Netanyahu and Obama by emphasizing scepticism and withholding its support of the agreement until such time as Iran grants “unfettered access” to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and, further, the verification that the terms of the deal have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, although the Harper government says it is moving economic self-interest to the front in its foreign policy, in the case of Iran, it has closed its embassy and delayed the gold rush of opportunities as western companies seek to establish a foothold in the opening with Iran. At the same time, Canada abandoned its political lockstep link to Israeli policy, hence losing any advantage by the delay.

 

Why then did Avi Benlolo of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center support the Canadian position since Canada supported the interim agreement if there is full transparency and verification. Benolo was far more critical of the agreement and accused the P5 + 1 of being suckered by Iran’s new smiling diplomacy while Iran retained its deep antipathy to the west and remained determined to develop nuclear weapons while it bought the necessary time to progress towards that goal. The Iranian retreat for Benolo had to be the surrender not just of the nuclear program but of the support for terrorism. Canada had stipulated no such conditions.

Certainly the agreement does nothing substantive to curb Iran’s rogue status in the international community. However, the interim agreement opens wide such a possibility. The real substantive dispute is whether the interim agreement denies Iran the right to enrich uranium or whether it reified Iran’s right to enrich uranium as  President Rouhani declared? Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium for fissile material for nuclear weapons. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, claimed that Iran was not given any inherent and unfettered right to enrich uranium but concedes that Iran will likely be given a limited, completely verifiable right to have a very constrained program of enrichment for peaceful (medical) purposes.

This was not a zone of creative ambiguity because Iran retains the right to enrich uranium to 5% purity for peaceful purposes, but is explicitly denied the right to enrich uranium to 20% purity to enable Iran, with banks of centrifuges, then to increase that uranium readily to 90% purity for weapon’s grade purposes.  The agreement does NOT enshrine an apparent promise that at the end of the process, Iran would be entitled to enrich uranium as it wants, when it wants and as much as it wants. Such a charge makes nonsense of the plain text of the agreement.

In a more modest but very severe criticism, did the agreement shred six United Nations Security Council resolutions that required the Islamic Republic of Islam to abandon its enrichment program and reprocessing facilities? Not as I read the intent of the agreement to follow the interim one. Further, the UN resolutions demanded only that Iran “suspend” its nuclear enrichment program, embark on a course of confidence building measures, suspend the construction of heavy water plant at Arak for producing plutonium and ratify the IAEA additional protocol – a step which the interim agreement does not seem to require Iran to do, possibly because Iran already ratified the Protocol. The only problem is that the Iranian Congress refused to endorse it.

The first three points seem to be contained in the interim agreement. The UNSC nonbinding resolutions required a suspension of Iran’s enrichment, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. This is precisely what the interim agreement achieved. Perhaps, these successes may be inadequate, may cover up for a long term malevolent intent, but they seem to clearly fulfil both the letter and spirit of the UNSC resolutions. Previously, Iran had accelerated work on its uranium enrichment program (it had stopped in November 2004) and stopped voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol. The interim agreement seems to fulfil the aims of the UNSC resolutions in accordance with the goals of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006. 

Countering the Critics

This interim agreement is seen as a golden opportunity to improve relations with the West, strengthen the regime and improves its support by Iranians. That is the real threat, not the fear that the negotiations will fail. The success of the agreement for Israel and Saudi Arabia means failure.

When Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, says on CNN that, “Of course, we want to see diplomacy succeed. Of course, we’d like to see a peaceful solution. Israel, more than any other country, has an interest in a successful diplomatic outcome ultimately. We’re the first people on the firing line,” he is being somewhat disingenuous. Yes, Israel does want a proper deal, but not only to stop but dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. More importantly, and understandably, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, want a weaker Iran. Parts of the domestic population who have been persecuted for years – the Baha’is for example – concur.

The reality is that without Israel’s screams as well as threats, it is questionable whether the rest of the world would have been nearly as sensitive to the developments in Iran. Did Netanyahu build on this diplomatic success in making the world keenly alert to the Iran nuclear threat not only to Israel but to all of the Middle East and the rest of the world?  The world answered Israel’s call to impose severe sanctions. Chalk two up for Israel’s diplomatic success. However, its current belligerency, its current full frontal assault by all its ministers using inflammatory rhetoric against the agreement rather than reasoned debate may not be seen just as Israel serving as bad cop, but as Israel preparing to perform a spoiler role.

This criticism of Israel does not mean that I am no longer sceptical about Iran’s intentions. They have been clear. Iran wants to retain the ability to maintain a short gap between a break out point and their existing facilities and their negotiating stance will attempt to keep that time line as short as possible while the P5 + 1 strive to lengthen it enormously – perhaps they would be satisfied with six months or a year. The issue is not over the actual production of nuclear weapons, but the capacity to move to a break out point in short order.

Since the Iranians have now achieved that status, it is an optimum time for Iran to negotiate an ending, if possible, to their economic straightjacket. Israel and Saudi criticism is that relief from sanctions, though amounting to only six billion spread over six months, not the hundreds of billions at the end of the rainbow of a full agreement, nevertheless offers Iran wiggle room to hold out for a tough deal and minimum time to restart their program when needed and be able to produce a weapon in very short order. That is why the Saudis and Israel dub the agreement as a capitulation to a charm offensive and fraud by Iran (Minister of Defence for Israel, Moshe Ya’alon) and characterize the interim agreement as a cosmetic rather than a substantial agreement.

After all, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, continues to call Israelis rabid dogs, expresses the desire to see not only Israel disappear, but for Iran to be the agent for that event as he reiterates his desire to wipe Israel, which he repeatedly describes as a cancer, off the map. Israel and the Saudis want a total dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israelis and Saudis understandably fear that P5 + 1 would be satisfied with sufficient dismantling to lengthen the time between a resumption of its program and the ability to make a nuclear weapon only a year. For Israel and Saudi Arabia, this is insufficient. They want enough dismantling of the production capability to make it unviable. The intelligence services of the US advises the President that such a goal itself is not viable.

The Implications

So the devil will be in the details of a final agreement – the number of centrifuges permitted – perhaps only 5,000, making enrichment past 5% both prohibited but a trigger for an immediate resumption of sanctions, the dismantling or conversion of the Arak facility to a light-water reactor rather than one capable of producing plutonium.

Israel has lost in a second sense. Few believe Israel would now cross not only the Americans but every one of the world’s great economic and military powers and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Israeli leaders continue to bellow and blow exhibiting petulance instead of considered criticisms, sound bites linked to insults, accusations and aspersions rather than a policy alternative. A more careful course of diplomatic discourse would have been welcome. At the same time, Israel used the back door to offer comments to improve the interim deal. Do those complaints advance or harm the country’s national interests? Is perpetual petulance and in-your-face bellyaching really a constructive form of diplomacy? Israel is performing its role as the bad cop like an amateur stage performer.

So the focus will be on Israeli and Saudi pressure to make the toughest deal possible, and, especially for Saudi Arabia, even risking no deal at all, and the P5 + 1 to make as acceptable a deal as possible without Iran walking away from the table, an outcome which the Israelis and Saudis would prefer. For the Saudi’s greatest fear is a realignment of the US and Iran. By contrast, no pun intended, there is a gulf between the Saudis and the UAE and Bahrain. The United Arab Emirates concluded that the interim agreement reinforced “the stability of the region” while Bahrain welcomed the removal of fear. Further, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif insisted that Iran was prepared for quick follow-up negotiations to keep the deal on track.

The interim agreement will NOT be the final agreement. However, if the final agreement does not go a significant distance beyond the interim one in dismantling Iran’s capacity, then it will have been better not to have had an interim deal at all. So the future will be the test of the past. And the negotiations are going to be very tough making the interim agreement look like a cakewalk. Further, the fears of the Gulf states will somehow have to be assuaged. After all, look at how well Iran has leveraged its nuclear program without acquiring the ability to make a single bomb. It can take on the most powerful nations of the world in eye-to-eye negotiations. The current regime is now regarded as irreversible and it is recognized for its rationality and prudence though it remains the spoiler in the region. 

What a transformation!