The talks between the P5+1 and Iran are stirring up an already bubbling cauldron in the Middle East. The US’ position in the region is going to change in the next few years, though how that change manifests remain to be seen. One thing is certain, and that is that a deal between the United States and Iran is desired by both of those parties and scares the hell out the US’ closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. I explore in this week’s column at Souciant.
This article originally appeared at LobeLog.
The trick to finding an agreement between the P5+1 world powers and Iran has become clear: keep Israel and Saudi Arabia out of the room. (But don’t expect them to be happy about it.)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is touring the globe now with his message of doom about an impending Iranian nuclear weapon. “It will be tragic if (Iran) succeeds in avoiding the sanctions,” Netanyahu said in Rome on Tuesday.
That statement comes on the heels of his Meet the Press appearance where he said: “I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops the nuclear program, that is, dismantles it.” Continue reading
The new nuclear talks with Iran seem to be reflecting a new direction for the Islamic Republic under Hassan Rowhani and a new openness from the US and Europe to a reasonable compromise. The unhappy parties are Israel and Saudi Arabia, but at least for now, they are not able to scuttle the hope for a resolution. Some of what this theater demonstrates is the obvious fact to anyone who has been paying attention for the past fifteen years: the entire issue of an Iranian bomb has been phony. I explain this week in Souciant.
In most corners of the world, the news that a presentation by Iran at its meetings with the 6 world power P5+1 team in Geneva today was greeted warmly by their interlocutors aroused optimism and a hopeful feeling. Not so in Israel, where any hint of rapprochement with the Islamic Republic is viewed as an apocalyptic security threat.
“We heard a presentation this morning from Foreign Minister (Mohammed Javad) Zarif. It was very useful,” Michael Mann, spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said. “For the first time, we had very detailed technical discussions, which carried on this afternoon. We will continue these discussions tomorrow.”
That is about as promising a beginning as one could hope for. Shortly after the presentation, though, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evoked the threat of a pre-emptive strike on Iran. At an event marking forty years since the Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu the hawk was perhaps more radical than he has ever been.
The 1973 conflict between Israel, on one side, and Egypt and Syria on the other, taught Israel “not to underestimate the enemy, not to ignore the dangers and not to give up on preemptive strikes,” according to Netanyahu.
“Back than we paid the price of self-illusion,” he said. “We will not make this mistake again…There are cases when the thought about the international reaction to a preemptive strike is not equal to taking a strategic hit.”
According to Barak Ravid of Ha’aretz, “Netanyahu also pointed out that ‘peace is achieved through force,’ as exemplified by the fact that in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, Israel signed peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan.”
Netanyahu is willfully distorting history. In fact, the 1973 war demonstrates the foolishness of his current course of action. Israel had an opportunity, in 1971, to get the same deal with Egypt it would eventually strike at Camp David, but then-Prime Minister Golda Meir would not even consider it. Egypt decided to attack Israel as a result, intending not to destroy the Jewish state (in fact, their early and sustained military success in that war came as something of a surprise to the Egyptians) but to press the recalcitrant Israel into the very peace deal that came along a few years later. Jordan is completely irrelevant; that peace deal came over two decades later, and was the result of far different circumstances.
The saber-rattling plays well to Netanyahu’s right flank, which is wringing its hands right now less over the Iranian nuclear issue than over what they fear Netanyahu might be willing to bargain away to the Palestinians at the behest of the Americans. These fears are likely unfounded, but they are prominent in Netanyahu’s mind as he tries to cooperate with the United States without alienating the right wing that dominates his government.
But there is more to it than that. Netanyahu has made his name on anti-Iran ranting, and on raising the global alert level when it comes to Tehran. But he is aware that the status quo is not to the liking of Europe or the Obama administration. Obama wants to step back from the war posture his country has been in for the past years, and Iran has opened the door to a serious possibility of doing so.
But there is no reason to believe that the U.S. and E.U. are going to settle for anything less than clear verification of peaceful uses of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Netanyahu surely knows this as well. No, this is about maintaining sanctions on Iran to prevent it from regaining its economic stability and enabling it to pursue its ambitions of a stronger position in the region. More to the point, Netanyahu is very concerned that any deal with Iran could lead to a number of possibilities he will find unpalatable: far greater concessions to the Palestinians than he wants to make, compromise of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal, or an increased Iranian role in ongoing crises in the region.
None of those prospects warms Bibi’s heart. But the matter is, for the moment, largely outside of his control. The recent experience of the U.S. citizenry overwhelmingly following their British cousins’ lead and rejecting intervention in Syria is not entirely indicative of what might happen if talks with Iran fail and fears of an Iranian nuclear device escalate again. But it certainly illustarted the far higher bar for military action that has been set in the United States.
Still, if a deal is struck with Iran, it is very likely that Netanyahu will appeal to his many friends in Congress to obstruct it. He may find that to be a very difficult road. Unless the deal can be presented convincingly to the U.S. public as a foolhardy one that will allow Iran to produce a nuclear weapon covertly, it will be a very tough sell indeed. Obama and the E.U. are not likely to produce such a deal. Netanyahu knows this, and so he is raising the specter of an Israeli pre-emptive strike once again.
The problem with that threat is that, at least for the moment, it doesn’t seem very credible. Netanyahu can talk all he likes about Israel’s independence and freedom to act on its own. But, as Johnny Depp memorably said in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.” Yes, Israel has the ability to get planes to Iran and strike some of their nuclear sites. They do not have the ability, however, to do so as effectively as the United States, and such an Israeli strike could only damage Iran’s nuclear program, not destroy it. The cost of such a venture is likely to be very high, and it could well damage Israel’s standing in Europe as well as cost it in a big way with Russia and, most especially, Muslim states. [At a forum sponsored by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) here Tuesday, former Saudi Amb. to the U.S. Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud repeated his previous warnings that an Israeli strike would be “catastrophic” for the region and “completely within the purview of the personality of Netanyahu.” – jl.]
The fact is, without the United States, an Israeli strike is much less effective and far more dangerous for Israel. It would more likely cause a massive backlash from the powerful Israeli military than deter Iran in any way.
What this really sounds like is less of a threat and more like the wailing of a desperate man who sees his ambition to crush Iran’s regional influence crumbling under the weight of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s dreaded “charm offensive.” With the United States Congress wrapped up in its self-inflicted shutdown and the Obama administration striking the right pose of welcoming Iranian initiatives while maintaining its stance that sanctions won’t be lifted until material and verifiable steps to comply with UN resolutions have been taken, Netanyahu has few options. Despite Netanyahu’s best efforts, a verifiable non-nuclear-armed Iran could well be the result of the current talks. His angry threats only prove that he fears that far more than he fears an Iranian nuke.
In the American Prospect today, Gershom Gorenberg raises the key argument against a one-state solution: that nationalism is too strong
on both the Jewish and Palestinian side for them to reasonably exist in a single state.
I agree with much of Gershom’s argument. But it is worth pointing something out, something I have been arguing forcefully about in my series of three articles this week (see them here, here and here). It is summed up in Gershom’s closing paragraph:
“The challenge to one-staters is to explain how two national groups, Jews and Palestinians, will peacefully put together a single state, live together in that state, and prevent it from ripping apart. Expecting that their nationalism will disappear is even less realistic than expecting the gold, red and blue flag to vanish from Catalonia.”
Yes, that is the challenge to one-staters. But where is the challenge to two-staters to explain how a Palestinian state with full sovereignty (meaning the right to self-defense and a total absence of Israeli forces in its territory), viability (where the area is not broken up by settlement blocs like Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim), connection between the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in East Jerusalem, and an acceptable resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue (which is both a human rights issue and a central issue in the very Palestinian nationalism Gershom discusses) is to be achieved under the two-state formula.
Oslo fails on all of those points. Yet somehow, for Gershom and many other sincere two-staters who recognize the need for Palestinian freedom and are not only concerned about Israeli security, this challenge does not have the same force as the one they bring up for one-staters. In my series, I explained why this is—because two-states has an international consensus behind it, arrived at by circumstance, happenstance and a 40-year old Palestinian decision, but not because it was necessarily the best path, while one state solutions have no political backing.
But the message for Gershom, Jeremy Ben-Ami and other purportedly pragmatic two-staters is how we get to a truly workable resolution if we begin from a point where we discount some possibilities because they have serious problems while ignoring problems of at least equal magnitude in other solutions simply because the latter is the path preferred by those enforcing an unhelpful and no longer viable consensus.