Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 3: The Zionist Union Position

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 3: The Zionist Union Position

by

Howard Adelman

I will begin with the position of Isaac Herzog (Buji) and the Zionist Block, both because it picks up on the query on whether Buji is also a hawk and agrees with Netanyahu (Bibi) on Iran and because the discussion is a great segue into an analysis of the effects of the dispute over the Iran nuclear deal on Israeli-U.S. relations. To set up the discussion, I begin with an analysis of Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin’s essay posted on the Institute for National Security website. Yadlin, its director, is a former head of Israeli intelligence (2006-2010) who was slated to become Defense Minister if the Zionist Block won. He had served the IDF for decades and had been a deputy commander of the Israeli Air Force and had commanded two flight squadrons and two air bases. Two weeks after the framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran was announced, Yadlin posted his essay.

There is nothing radically new in the essay. It reiterates themes he has stressed for years. Before even the Plan of Action in dealing with Iran was announced, Yadlin had emphasized in speech after speech the fundamental foundation of Israeli security – a strong alliance with the U.S. For Yadlin, that foundation is built on the strategic analysis that the U.S. and Israel share common security interests and that the U.S. can rely on Israel as an ally as an important strategic asset. The foundation is based on key common interests, interests which have grown with the rise of radical Islam and the recent turmoil throughout the Middle East.

There is a major difference however. While both allies share the strategic goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the two countries have different timelines with Israel wanting and needing Iran to remain non-nuclear for a much longer period. Further, for the U.S., it is acceptable if the nuclear and the weaponization programs are dealt with as separate baskets. But for Israelis, the two issues are inseparable. In the build-up towards the Israeli elections this past winter, Yadlin’s own vision of the foundation for Israeli security came into stark relief. Yadlin did not hold back in attacking Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

First, Yadlin echoes the criticism that Bibi was not only interfering in Obama’s relations with Congress, but was doing so to make domestic capital  in the IsraeIi elections, a charge I have refrained from making. For Yadlin, interfering between the President and Congress is equivalent to original sin. Israel has always relied on a major power for military and strategic purposes. In recent decades, the U.S. has been Israel’s sole protector. Therefore, when initiating any foreign policy action, Israel must act in tandem with the U.S., though not always with American endorsement. Hence the mantra: it is forbidden that Israel become an issue of contention between the U.S. and Israel. 

Though I focus on the nuclear issue and foreign policy towards Iran, this premise applies to Israeli relations with the Palestinians and Israeli actions on the Golan, for both will necessarily be affected by a fallout between the American president and Israel. This will be especially true as the Palestinian Authority seeks to go the international route both through the court in The Hague and through the Palestinians requesting a new motion in the Security Council. As Yadlin repeatedly stated, a speech in Congress would do nothing to forge better relations with the Executive branch of the American government, whereas utilizing discrete channels with America’s National Security Council, the Pentagon, and Secretary of State may. As he reiterated, “The Iranian nuclear program will be stopped by using wisdom, along with operational and political measures. The cooperation with the United States is critical for this.” Yadlin accused Netanyahu of causing enormous damage to the need for collaboration between Israel and its allies.

In that line, Yadlin wrote about how to bridge the gap between Israel and Washington. Netanyahu had himself backpedalled to the same position, moving from an insistence that Iran’s total nuclear capacity be dismantled to acceptance that it would and could not be. But the shift was barely noticed in the rhetoric denouncing the deal. The Zionist Union and Likud are on the same page on some issues that differentiate both Israeli groups from Washington. They are: 1) threat perception and the difference between an existential and simply a military threat; 2) the weight of history Israelis as Jews carry versus American fears of getting bogged down in another unwinnable war; 3) given these as well as the enormous huge gap between American and Israeli capabilities, Israel wants a much longer period to a breakout than one year; 4) given all of that, Israel needs a firmer and less flexible redline than the U.S.; and 5) the greater unwillingness of the U.S. to contemplate the alternative of war and the recognition by the U.S. of the fluidity of the sanctions regime then considered to be operating at its peak whereas military action remains on the front burner in Israeli strategic planning.

On all of these issues, the Zionist Block shares a common outlook with Bibi. They differ on whether these differences demand confrontation or greater coordination. But instead of cooperating in the negotiations, Bibi opted for confrontation. Instead of ironing out the difference between insisting on a maximum of 3,000 versus 6,500 operating centrifuges, America negotiated hard but only managed to whittle the number down to 5,000, but did win a concession that they would all be old-style slow centrifuges. America did come close to the Israeli target of getting the enriched uranium stockpile down from 9,000 kg. to 300. Israel wanted the deal to be enforced for twenty years. The U.S. settled for a mixture of 10 years on some issues and 15 on others. Further, the accountability and inspection system was made mandatory. As Israel wanted, both Fordow and Arak are to be made inoperable for producing nuclear weapons. The big difference which unites the U.S. and Israel against Iran to this day is whether relief from sanctions will be gradual upon proof of compliance or whether relief will be total upon signing the agreement.

In effect, when the deal was announced the terms demonstrated that the U.S. was much closer to the Israeli fallback position than most observers expected. What Yadlin then called for was developing a joint U.S.-Israeli plan for dealing with failures in compliance. But instead of cooperation and coordination, Bibi chose confrontation. In Amos Yadlin’s interpretation, analysis and recommendations concerning the Framework Agreement, entitled, “The Lausanne Statement on the Iranian Nuclear Program: Insights and Recommendations” (6 April 2015), Yadlin focused on what was needed to strengthen the deal, not on Israeli differences with the White House over the deal. Hence the Zionist Block position calling for intensive talks with the U.S. administration as the negotiations for a final agreement proceed to ensure clarification on some murky areas and that appear to Israeli strategic thinkers as “problematic.” Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni both echoed this message. Further, they emphasized the point of coming to an agreement over an alternative plan if Iran does violate the agreement.

I have gone into such detail because this is very far from a hawkish position. Just because the Zionist Block agreed with the fallback position of Netanyahu, to repeat, often totally obscured by his own rhetoric, they radically disagreed on the severity of the differences between the U.S. and Israel and on how to deal with those differences. As the Zionist Union policy document stated: “Instead of a policy that leaves Israel without a meaningful influence on the world powers’ decision-making process, Israel must immediately hold a comprehensive, intimate and deep strategic discussion with the U.S. about all of the relevant issues and to complete the discussion before the completion of the final agreement.” As a last resort, the Zionist Union wanted to get a U.S. agreement that if Iran breaches its commitments, the option of a military strike will be on the table, or, at the very least, Israel will be permitted to exercise that option.

Thus, when one gets into the nitty gritty, especially when comparing Netanyahu’s fallback position with that of the Zionist Block,  the disagreements between the Zionist Union and Netanyahu are no more substantive than the differences between Israel and the U.S. As Herzog said, “We are committed to a determined, all-out fight to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and continue to give full support to this cause…In this matter, there is no division between the coalition and the opposition.”

However, the tactics of handling those differences are radically at odds. Netanyahu’s tactics deeply undermined U.S.-Israeli relations. Further, Netanyahu continued to insist on shutting down far more facilities in Iran than the P5+1 agreed to. As well, he insisted that sanctions only be lifted, not only when Iran was in full compliance with the terms of the deal, but when Iran ends its “aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism, and its threats to annihilate Israel.” The add-ons as well as the radical difference in tactics, but not in goals, whether sincerely or politically motivated, would in every expert’s estimation sink the deal.

What really dramatically differentiates Buji from Bibi in the management of the Iran-U.S. file is that Buji refuses to follow Bibi’s lead in openly challenging Israel’s chief benefactor and protector, diplomatic defender and military supplier. Buji trusts Obama to get the best deal possible. Bibi distrusts Obama and characterizes any deal in apocalyptic terms as the worst possible. Buji characterizes Bibi’s approach as one which “led us to a situation of total lack of trust—total lack of trust between the administrations or their leaders. Now it’s essential—it’s essential to have trust between the leaders, not only the professionals, not only the government level, but the leaders. It’s a fact. It’s a fact that there is no trust at all between the president and the prime minister.”

Buji did not ape Bibi’s position on Iran. Instead he emphasized both the fundamental commonality as well as the radical differences. They reveal clearly that Isaac Herzog is not a hawk. Further, the suggestion that when the Zionist Union position paper on the Lausanne Framework agreement came out and said that the agreement was “an issue on which there is no coalition or opposition,” that Herzog was making an underhanded bid for a grand coalition in which he would be made Foreign Minister, has no foundation. Read the text. The differences are made perfectly clear. So are the agreements about Iran as a threat. But the two sides differ radically on how to deal with the negotiations in general and the relations with the United States in particular. The paper does not present the framework agreement as a negative development, but, on the contrary, as a positive agreement that could be improved. Further, the proposals for improvement are not “similar, or even identical, to a list of changes” proposed by Netanyahu. There are some overlaps, but the two leaders are traveling in opposite directions though, in Buji’s statement, towards the same goal.

Tomorrow: Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 4: The U.S.-Israeli Relations

American Idolatry

American Idolatry

by

Howard Adelman

Three days ago, we raced across five states of the United States of America. We traveled from the middle of Nebraska across Iowa and Illinois and traversed the upper reaches of Indiana to get to Michigan from where we left the next morning to get home late afternoon on the day before yesterday. Arriving home and settling back in is a process that included dealing with a pile of mail higher than me, a telephone message box that was full, as well as the unloading and unpacking from seven months away. Home is a great place to be after you have been away so long, but it requires a couple of days to make it feel like home again.

I have been wanting to write about the responses to the Iranian Nuclear Framework Agreement for days, especially as optimism has turned to pessimism among my friends. But perhaps today’s blog can be considered a prolegomena to another revisit to the Iranian agreement next week. For all agreements are about some degree of trust, even though they are built on distrust and suspicion. This blog is basically about whether America, not Iran, can be trusted to keep treaties.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei last week said that, “If the other side avoids its amphibology [ambiguity] in the [nuclear] talks, it’ll be an experience showing it’s possible to negotiate with them on other issues.” This response feeds the hopes of those negotiators who believe generally that engagement if possible is a better approach than either coercive diplomacy or coercion through military action and who see this agreement as merely a first step in negotiating with Iran on its support of terrorism and its attitude towards Israel as well as Iran’s goal of becoming a regional power.

But one does not have to be so hopeful about larger accomplishments to support the framework agreement or so pessimistic about those larger goals to undermine it. In fact, the deal may crash, not because of the spoilers on each side or because the negotiations over the next two months will be so difficult and tough. It may be sufficient that each side has to engage in public relations or spin to undermine those spoilers such that the use of these steps in public relations themselves undermine the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already warned the Americans that the “fact sheet” issued by the American side would complicate how the deal is received in Iran. What each side needs to make the case for the deal domestically is often at total odds with what each side has to do to make the deal with one another.

For years I have been on the side of those scholars of international negotiations that stress that the most important aspect that threatens peace agreements has to do with those spoilers who oppose them. Peace is often not made by peaceniks but by ostensible warriors who agree to smoke a peace pipe. That is why it is so often the case that peace agreements are often made by the most belligerent ones in domestic politics because they do not have spoilers to contend with domestically. Today, however, I will write about the monument on Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota with the famous sculptures of the faces of four American presidents as iconic representatives of the history of America: George Washington (1732-1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt (1858-1919), that we visited the day before our mad dash home. I also want to write about the monument to Chief Crazy Horse subsequently though we saw it just before visiting Mount Rushmore. I will leave the discussion of Iran for now.

Let me begin with one of the observations we made in crossing Nebraska and especially Iowa. The corn fields were tiered. We were curious why this was the case. I looked for an answer when I got to our hotel room and found an article in the April 1917 issue of the American Threshholder, a popular farmer’s magazine a century ago that spread the message of good farming practices while advertising new tractors and threshing machines and taking advantage of the changes in advertising brought about by the invention of the linotype press one hundred and twenty-five years ago almost to the day in 1890. (As you will understand in the follow-up, the reference to advertising is relevant.) The article was the equivalent of today’s blogs with reflections by a very astute observer on raising corn in the Midwest.

His main point was to prove that, contrary to what the cattlemen had argued, farmers could raise corn in the territory west of the Missouri River, given that the land was semi-arid with relatively small amounts of rainfall. For the writer, it was an important lesson learned “when there was no more north to conquer.” He noted that even in 1917 in Montana, there was as much land under cultivation for corn – 18 million acres – as in Iowa and Illinois put together. The author also posed a challenge to the cattlemen with whom the farmers were in contention. And it always seems to have been thus as ironically implied in the song in Oklahoma. Farmers and cowboys should be friends but the never seem to have been.

The challenge was simple. Recognize truly who the Indians were. Contrary to cowboy beliefs, Indians were not savages. They had been settled farmers who raised corn; the white man had learned the techniques of growing corn, including tiered farming, from the Indians. Evidently, constructing the rolling lands into tiers was used to preserve scarce water. Further, the American settlers had learned those methods from the Indian women. “Are you saying,” this early twentieth century blogger argued against the cowboys, “that the white man cannot do what their Indian sisters had already proven could be done?” He reminded those cowboys that a century earlier, the Lewis and Clark expedition, which had opened up the West for Western and northern expansion, had survived partially by the corn they bought from the Indians.

In reading this essay, I was reminded of a number of observations:

–          The American practice of continuing to use the term Indians, both by native peoples as well as non-natives, contrasts with the Canadian practice that has replaced the term “Indians” with “aboriginal peoples”

–          The American stress was on expansion through settlements combined with the exercise of power

–          Farming was carried out by women in Indian societies as the men hunted and trained to be warriors

–          When we visited the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn where General George Armstrong Custer made his last stand, when the American cavalry first attacked the Indian encampment, they slew women, children and old men as the warriors slipped out of the village into the surrounding forests to be able to regroup later and prepare to counter attack

–          The first casualty that really alerted the Indian encampment was the killing of a young Indian boy; the second was the killing of an Indian woman who had been picking turnips – it was these two killings, and not the famous use of the Indians’ early warning systems, that really woke up the camp to the fact that the camp was under attack by the U.S. cavalry.

–          Runs the Enemy, an Indian chief, was smoking his pipe in his teepee when, “Bullets sounded like hail on tepees and tree tops” as reported by a Hunkpapa warrior. The family of Chief Gall – his two wives and three children – were all killed in the attack

–          The determination that led to the slaughter of every last man under Custer’s immediate command was a result, not only of the determination of the Sioux and Cheyenne to preserve their lands and their way of life as promised, but because of the fury that fired them up when they learned that the American cavalry had so wantonly slaughtered women and children

As one last final point to drive his message home, the author pointed out that the early fur traders had founded a distillery on the Yellowstone River using corn raised by Indians.

All of this is but background to discuss my observations after visiting both the monuments to the presidents at Mount Rushmore and the monument to Crazy Horse 17 miles away in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We were especially pleased that we had seen the latter monument before visiting Mount Rushmore. Let me signal my main general observation. We loved our visit to the monument to Crazy Horse in spite of all the reservations and issues the monument raised. We spent four hours there. We were totally disappointed and put off by our visit to Mount Rushmore. We spent less than an hour there. This was in spite of the fact that I was enthusiastic about the latter visit and had been looking forward to it, and only learned about the monument of Crazy Horse en route (revealing my ignorance of the American west) and we decided to make a side trip to see the monument to Crazy Horse before visiting Mount Rushmore.

To readers unfamiliar with American monuments, especially non-Americans, I only knew of Mount Rushmore because of the important role it played in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest. (More on this in a subsequent blog when I combine film analysis with social observation.) Carved right into the Black Hills of South Dakota, considered sacred to many Sioux people, the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, dynamited and drilled tons of rock to create huge iconic faces of the four former American presidents, except they do not appear in the order in which they served. Theodore Roosevelt looks out from a position further back between Jefferson and Lincoln.

The monument evidently receives three million visitors a year. As the promotional material advertises, “Today visitors come to appreciate this colossal man-made creation, learn about the design and construction process, appreciate its significance as a symbol of the American history of ‘monumental’ leaders (my italics), and to learn about the natural and cultural history of the Black Hills region.” I came away with a very different response. I was both disappointed and very critical of American egoism and insensitivity.

The Black Hills in Sioux culture was the place where the spirit of their ancestors abided. White men scarred the landscape to create a tourist attraction. Further, they did so by boasting that the four figures selected represented different ideals of American development. Washington stands for independence from foreign rule and there are no notes that I read about George Washington’s speculation in land in the Indian territories. Those lands had been recognized by Great Britain as belonging exclusively to Indians “in perpetuity”. They were to be reserved for the Indian peoples.

Washington was motivated to fight the British much more, in my understanding, not primarily because of unfair taxes, but because of restrictions on American expansionism that Great Britain’s treaties with the Indians imposed on American settlers. The fight over taxes that continues until today was just a cover for a much different imperial agenda. Washington at the age of 17 worked as a surveyor for the Ohio Company. That experience aroused his covetous desire for the land across the Allegheny mountains. After all, Washington embodied the opportunistic and visionary businessman as well as a military commander and democratic leader. At the time of his death, Washington owned fifty thousand acres of western land worth then a half million dollars. No other Virginian had been so active in lobbying and working to acquire the West for the expansion of settlements.

American expansionism was built upon a foundation of disrespect for international treaties and a belief in territorial acquisition as much if not more than a resentment of inherited aristocratic authority. As a result, the native Shawnee and Delaware Indians were pushed off their land. “If he (Washington) was at all restless, the form it took was in a determined quest to gain vast tracts of western land that he considered his both by right of discovery as a surveyor and right of conquest as the Virginian who had held on to the frontier backcountry through years of bloody battles and raids. Here his appetite was unquenchable.” Washington matured as a rapacious frontiersman, though, when he retired from his political and military career, as an elder statesman and patrician, he urged Congress to treat Indians more humanely in contrast to his early contempt for Indians as savages who threatened white settlement.

Washington led the faction that believed that the only way to defend against that savagery of Indians was through offence and carrying the battle into Indian territory. The British House of Commons had passed the Quebec Act which expanded the borders of the Quebec colony to include the West south to the Ohio River, thereby denying the “rights of freeborn Englishmen” (Washington) to acquire western lands across the Ohio River. Further, the rights of a freeborn Englishman meant the right of possessive individualism.  “No country ever was or ever will be settled without some indulgences. What inducements do men have to explore uninhabited wilds but the prospect of getting good lands? Would any man waste his time, expose his fortune, nay his life in such a search if he was to share the good and the bad with those who come after him? Surely not.” These words of Washington should have been etched in the stone at Mount Rushmore, but that would not enhance the propagandist vision that Americans have of themselves.

At Mount Rushmore, Thomas Jefferson is not celebrated for his contributions to American democracy and universal human rights, but as an iconic representative of expansionism. After all, Jefferson had written James Monroe (author of the doctrine of America’s manifest destiny) that “it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent.” His acquisition of the western territories of the Mississippi valley in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 doubled the size of America.

At Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln is not celebrated for his contribution to the emancipation of Blacks from slavery and especially not for his personal humility, but for his preservation of the union and his willingness to use coercive force to achieve that goal. Further, in the quest for unity as an ultimate value, the Lincoln administration had introduced the equivalent of a loyalty oath. Trustworthiness and loyalty to the union became the key criterion for government workers rather than “civil service”.

Theodore Roosevelt, the least visually correct image of his actual visage and with only a hint of his pince-nez as he lurks in the background, is celebrated, not for his belief in the power of America or his open imperial advocacy of expansionism or even for his love of the natural environment, but ironically for his defense of individual rights, but as those rights had evolved into an ideal of the freedom to exercise individual will with the fewest constraints possible on the individual by the state. Yet this colossus was created through federal patronage while the monument to Crazy Horse was created on the libertarian idea of refusing any aid from government.

The political message of Mount Rushmore comes across clearly before you come close to the platform to observe the faces as you proceed to the viewing platform along a wide pathway to pomposity and imperial ambition bordered by pillars with the flags of each of the states. The monument is a dedication to what I would consider false advertising about those presidents, to the art of capitalist “realism,” the American counterpart to the iconic figures of Soviet socialist realism with the same artistic virtues of the worship of the colossal using iconic abstraction for ostensible virtues that ought to be considered vices. Mount Rushmore is propaganda and idolatry at its worst, representing humans as embodying abstract ideas, though there is acknowledgement that everyone has not been pleased with the decision to make the carvings. The monument to Crazy Horse, as I hope to write about, is a direct challenge to American iconography. Given the values that have emerged in the aftermath of post WWII America, it is no surprise that there have been no monetary allocations since 1941 to ensure the completion of the sculptures. The abstract iconic faces will presumably never have bodies.

As one Black visitor wrote as a response to visiting Mount Rushmore, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image!!! Being a Black American I find Mt Rushmore to be another insult to minorities everywhere. Four slave owners (sic!) being recognized for what? Some people just don’t get it and unfortunately it’s the people who are making decisions about America. We (Americans) are slowly being taken apart and if America does not wake up WE are headed [for] destruction. Funny thing is all WE have to do is treat everyone with respect. Make sure that everyone is treated the same regardless of their ethnicity and culture. Unfortunately, America still refuses to respect all people and until that happens, America will continue to fall. America is the best country, WE just have very poor leadership, and it started with those four individuals on MT Rushmore!!!!”

 

The Washington-Israel Brouhaha

The Washington-Israel Brouhaha

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

by

Howard Adelman

A brouhahah is building up steam as we approach Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled 3rd of March address to both houses of Congress in response to the 21 January invitation of U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader, John Boehner (with the concurrence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but NOT the Democrats in either the House or Senate, who were not informed about the invitation). Bibi is scheduled to address Capitol Hill in a joint session of Congress on the subject of Iran. Boehner did not coordinate the visit with the White House in an alleged breach of protocol. On the basis of separation of powers, Boehner denied any protocol breach. Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, argued that proper protocol required Boehner to inform the White House, not Israel, and that is why he did not raise the issue with John Kerry in their two-hour meeting; that, he argued, would be truly “inappropriate.”

However, he said nothing about the accusation that he set in motion a precedent in inviting a foreign leader to interfere in American decision-making or in making Israel a partisan issue for the first time. As the debate over the invitation continues in Washington, the focus of the debate is really in Jerusalem over, in the first place, the impact of this dispute with Obama on the Israeli election, the impact of the dispute on Jerusalem-White House relations, the impact on relations with the American Jewish diaspora, which remains largely liberal but generally loyal, even if somewhat critical, of recent right-wing leaders in Israel, and, on a much deeper level, the extent to which Iran poses an existential threat for Israel, and, correspondingly, the way the Washington-Tehran nuclear negotiations will impact on Iran as a threat to Israel.

A parallel and seemingly unrelated imbroglio is taking place over the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman on 18 January in his Buenos Aires apartment. Nisman was the prosecutor who had been investigating the 1994 bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead. At first reported as a suicide, that belief was undermined with the passing of each day. Iran is involved because Iran had not only been accused of orchestrating the bombing, but of seducing the current Argentinian government into a trade pact that entailed setting up a Truth Commission on the 1994 bombing, but doing so, not to uncover the truth, but to shunt it aside as well as the Interpol arrest warrants for those Iranians viewed as responsible for the attack. Iran is the lynch pin between the two controversies.

The impetus for the first controversy above is a deep division over President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Tehran and the negotiations over Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons. Bibi is being invited to undercut Obama’s Iran initiative and, explicitly, criticize the President’s major strategic initiative. Trying to go over the head of the president to influence U.S. foreign policy is a no-no for many, even those who do not support Obama’s outreach to Iran. Would you not be furious if you worked in the White House and once again be willing to depict Bibi as “chickenshit”? The Republicans have been determined to introduce and pass new sanctions on Iran. In his State of the Union address in January, Obama promised to veto the proposed Congressional sanctions legislation. One day after Obama’s State of the Union address, Boehmer issued the invitation to Bibi. Among the anti-Iran pieces of legislation being forged in Congress is at least one that is intended to be veto-proof in instigating further promised sanctions if Washington cannot reach an agreement with Tehran before the end of June. So the Bibi-Obama dispute is merely a proxy for the conflict over the negotiations with Iran.

This is the first of a four-part series of blogs dealing with the Washington-Jerusalem-Buenos Aries-Tehran quadrangle. It will focus on the U.S.-Israeli axis and be centered in Jerusalem. I will discuss the Iran-Argentina axis centered in Buenos Aries next followed by the seemingly unrelated Argentinian-Israeli axis. I will end with the Tehran-Washington axis focused specifically on the nuclear negotiations that will be used to resolve the conundrums raised in the previous three analyses.

Iran ———2———–Argentina

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-4-                                   -3-

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U.S ———-1———–Israel

A central issue in Washington is how Bibi’s visit and how the Republican initiative will affect the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, though Obama offered as his reason for his unwillingness to meet with Netanyahu the proximity of the impending Israeli elections scheduled for 17 March. For Boehner, “There’s a message that the American people need to hear and I think he (Netanyahu) is the perfect person to deliver it…The threat of radical Islamic terrorism is a real threat. The threat of Iran to the region and the rest of the world is a real threat and I believe the American people are interested in hearing this.”

But that is not the primary issue for Israelis. In the opening to his blog yesterday morning, Rabbi Dow Marmur posed the question in a way that gave his position away. “Iran does indeed constitute a major threat to the existence of Israel. Both the pronouncements of many of its leaders and the actions of its stooges Hezbollah and Hamas point to it. It’s, therefore, not surprising that Prime Minister Netanyahu should want to alert the world to that danger and, at the same time, rightly stress that Israel is by no means the only country at risk from Iran. But a much greater threat than Iran is a rupture in the relationship between the United States of America and the State of Israel.” (my italics)

If Iran is only a major threat, then the relationship between Jerusalem and the White House ranks higher than depicting that existential threat. Further, a deep breach with Washington is “the much greater threat” for it could lead to a rupture in U.S.-Israeli relations. Of course, liberals and Democrats see the acceptance of the invitation as prioritizing Netanyahu’s domestic political interests over Israel’s relationship with the United States. Most Democrats, even Nancy Pelosi, will not boycott the speech lest they undercut even in a small way their domestic supporters, but their resentment will remain palpable.

Dow omitted, probably because he rations his words in his blogs, the consequences on Jewish diaspora-Israeli relations, for, as the Israeli consul generals in the U.S. all warned the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, fierce negative reactions can be expected to the speech from U.S. Jewish communities and many Israeli allies, including even right-wing Republicans who may agree with Bibi’s take on Iran, but are upset about the intervention of a foreign political leader in American debates over policy.

Israel has been warned of this danger by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, by many American Jews, including 7 Jewish members of Congress, and by other Israelis. On the one hand, it is totally apparent that the Iran engagement by the White House is the central plank in Obama’s foreign policy during his second term. In the fading hope that Netanyahu will change his mind about visiting Washington, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, and the casino tycoon, Sheldon Adelson, are painted as the two evil masterminds “misleading” Netanyahu. (Dow’s words) This is only slightly different than Tom Friedman’s portrait of the four horseman of the apocalypse – Boehner, Bibi, Dermer and Adelson – as equally insensitive and mindblind, though not villainous. “Netanyahu; his ambassador; the pro-Israel lobby Aipac; Sheldon Adelson, the huge donor to Bibi and the G.O.P.; and Boehner all live in their own self-contained bubble.” Dow Marmur reduced Natenyahu’s status in service to his own hopes.

This portrait is consistent with American public opinion that 59% of voters expect little from the Republican-dominated Congress. Dow, by contrast, paints Netanyahu as a patsy in the hands of the partnership of an Israeli diplomat and an American tycoon. Netanyahu is not only a patsy, but a cynic willing to sell his country’s future relations with Washington down the drain just to win an election: “not losing the election may be more important to him than the future of the country and the wellbeing of its citizens.” As Nancy Pelosi suggested, the exploitation of congress as a political tool for Israeli domestic politics is scandalous. This interpretation is consistent with Michael Oren’s, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington and no bleeding-heart liberal. Thus, Dow can only fall back on his old bromide of “hope” to save the situation.

But what if Bibi’s effort is his last hurrah, his final effort to sabotage the American-Iranian nuclear negotiations that he deeply believes will endanger the future of Israel? It may be an exercise in courage – or, perhaps, rashness – in his willingness to face the stormy blowback from his decision to come and refusal to back off. Such an approach is consistent with an ambition to win the next election on 17 March because he also believes he is the only one with the talent, experience and commitment to ensure Israel’s survival in the face of its greatest danger. He needs desperately to outshine his rivals on the right. One does not have to agree with either Netanyahu’s self-appraisal or his depiction of the danger facing Israel to suggest his actions may not be that of a cynic. His position may be incorrect, but it does reverberate with many Israelis who share his fear of Tehran. Further, this self-portrayal, sincere I believe, may have the added value of distracting voters from his inadequacies as a Prime Minister.

I contend that the issue of Netanyahu’s visit is ultimately a distraction and side issue, hence the choice of the word “brouhaha” instead of “imbroglio.” It is a failure to analyze the American-Iranian nuclear negotiations correctly. For the Iranians and the White House are another duo married at the hip, with Iran determined not to provoke further sanctions from Washington while tamping down on any domestic opposition while Obama needs a deal, with Iran as his own (and only???) foreign policy legacy. If the Republicans torpedo the negotiations, then both Iran and Obama may fail, but both can blame Congress for that failure. And Netanyahu will rejoice in a victory that will be pyrrhic, since Israel will have to endure a very deep rupture with Washington. This is the gospel according to my rabbi and my dear friend.

In fact, the rupture is only really with the Obama administration. The schism has been very deep for a long time. The central issue, which Dow did not raise, is whether Bibi’s intention is to torpedo the deal (which is what I will suggest) or whether Bibi is merely trying to stiffen Obama’s spine so that the White House maintains a tough line in the negotiations. Dow’s analysis is incorrect because the diagnosis is inadequate. I will follow a circuitous route to establish that beginning with the characterization of Iran and its historic involvement in Argentina and the deep-seated anti-Semitism of the ayatollahs.

Let me make my position clear up front rather than forcing you to wait for the conclusion to know where I stand.

  1. Netanyahu may be a pragmatist, but he is not a cynic in this case; he sincerely believes that Iran is and will remain an existential threat to Israel; he sincerely believes that a negotiated nuclear deal is only of use to Iran as a mask for its strategic plans and intentions in the Middle East.
  2. Given that conviction, which runs contrary to the analyses of a great many current and retired major Israeli intelligence and military officers, any effort to disrupt the process, however much it may appear as irresponsible and disrespectful (Herzog’s depiction) of the American president, if not churlish, inappropriate, reckless and dangerous, is worth it no matter how much it ruffles the feathers of the White House.
  3. The relationship with the White House is a brouhaha rather than an imbroglio, a subtle but important distinction suggesting a temporary deepening of the rift between Netanyahu and Obama rather than a deep fissure between the American polity and Israel because of Israeli interference in American affairs; The issue, though certainly more serious, is more akin to disputes over Israeli-sponsored junkets for rabid gay-bashing evangelical Christians and democratic supporters of Israel. Though I agree that it would be preferable on a number of grounds that Netanyahu NOT go to Washington, I do not believe one whit in the thesis that Netanyahu’s initiative will seriously jeopardize U.S. long term support, goodwill and readiness to stand by Israel. As Nancy Pelosi herself said, all members of Congress place ties with Israel above any political differences of opinion, based on the two countries’ mutual respect for democratic values and the national security interests of the two. More specifically, the U.S. will continue in its efforts to stymie Palestinian initiatives at the UN and the ICC.
  4. There are many other countries with a deep interest in the outcome of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, not just Israel and Saudi Arabia, but the European states – Britain, France, Germany and Russia – that have been sponsors of the negotiations, but, for very different reasons, even countries like China, another sponsor, which has a strategic interest in Middle East stability as it strives to develop a 21st century Maritime Silk Road conjoined with a Silk Road economic belt in the region to create an economic corridor across Eurasia as a main objective in its One Belt, One Road strategy.
  5. Though initially I not only supported the effort of a breakout with Iran and thought there was more than a 50/50 chance the negotiations could succeed, now I am very dubious that a positive agreement will result. This will not be because of Republican sabotage but because the differences between Iran and the U.S. over the terms of the deal run too deep.

In summary, the term “brouhaha” is rooted in the French brouhaha, a corruption of Hebrew בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא; barúkh habá, “blessed is he who comes,” a greeting of welcome in Israel. A brouhaha is welcome rather than an imbroglio because it is only a state of social agitation in which a relatively minor incident has grown out of all proportion and articulated in a hysterical fashion. It is not a very difficult and possibly irresolvable imbroglio. The controversy and fuss will eventually prove to have been a tempest in a teapot, but a cover for the very serious issue that underlies it.

And it is to that very serious issue I must now turn, even if it is by a very circuitous route.