Hot off the presses.

Here’s my latest, hot off the presses! (If you’re willing to count both today AND the last couple of weeks as “hot”).

  1. Obama’s Peace ‘Pause’ Spells Victory for Bibi (The Forward 4/27/14): “There’s a lot of talk about what Barack Obama and John Kerry should, or can, or might, or won’t do in support of the two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been a stated American policy goal for many, many years, following the collapse of talks. On Friday morning, we learned that Obama has suggested a “pause” in negotiations, to give the parties a chance to consider their futures without an agreement. If history is any guide, though, we know exactly what the U.S. will do at this juncture: Nothing.”
  2. Israel Hires Psychic Uri Geller To Fight Rockets (The Forward 4/23/14): “Really, can you blame them? Faced with ongoing rocket fire on the citizens it’s meant to protect, Israel’s military has done the only truly reasonable thing it could do: It hired a spoon-bending mentalist named Uri Geller.”
  3. “Breakout” – What It Is, And What You Need To Know (Ploughshares Blog 4/23/14): “Whenever the topic of negotiations with Iran comes up, the word “breakout” isn’t far behind. But what is “breakout,” and why is it so important? Breakout time estimates are both a barometer of the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon and an indication of diplomatic progress to prevent that possibility.”
  4. Annexation Was Always Naftali Bennett’s Plan A (The Forward 4/10/14): “On Wednesday, the multi-portfolioed Naftali Bennett – Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs – sent a letter to his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In that letter, according to Israeli Army Radio, Bennett called for a cabinet meeting “to begin the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty on the areas of [the West Bank] that are under Israeli control.” This he called “Plan B,” saying Plan B is necessary because negotiations with the Palestinians have failed – because “the Palestinians have broken new records of extortion and rejectionism. Now. It must be acknowledged that this is some phenomenally well-honed and impressively brazen Orwellian doublespeak. Truly.”
  5. Cross-Border Conversations: Discussing #Irantalks in Israel (Ploughshares Blog 4/8/14): “Given regional tensions, much of the discourse surrounding Iran’s nuclear capacity centers not on the countries negotiating, but on the security needs of Israel. The vital and diverse discourse around this subject was on display last week at a Jerusalem conference on regional security and foreign policy hosted by Ploughshares Fund grantees The Center for American Progress and Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.”

I wrote a bunch of stuff this week.

I wrote a bunch of stuff this week. And some in the weeks prior! And I haven’t been updating this blog with any of that writing. Because, you know: Reasons.

Some of these reasons fall under the general heading of “I’m kind of lazy,” and others fall under the narrower heading of “a lot of Non-Writing Life Stuff has been going on” and… you know. Like that! But I’m here with some quick links, because I did kind of promise I would do this sort of thing. Sorry I’ve been rather inconsistent!

In backwards chronological order:

  1. It’s the Occupation, Stupid (The American Prospect, 3/25/14). “From the way my community (on either side of the ocean) yells about BDS, you’d think that BDS is the problem. You’d think that for the last 47 years, the BDS movement had been investing Israel’s resources—financial, military, and human—in morally disastrous policies that serve to dispossess the Palestinian people and undermine Israel’s own democracy…. The bald inequity of the occupation, whereby (aside from any other concern) millions of people’s lives are controlled by a foreign government over which they have no legal influence, is so enormous, so insurmountable, so entirely disproportionate to any other concern that BDS might raise—how can we possibly talk about anything else? And yet talk we do.”
  2. Netanyahu’s Fake Jerusalem Stalls Peace (The Forward, 3/24/14). “Har Homa – an illegal settlement built on Palestinian land in order to massively expand an historically-false version of Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital’ – has framed Netanyahu’s political career. The language employed by the Israeli government concerning Har Homa and the entire settlement project has served to obfuscate, disrupt, and steadily shift the terms of engagement, so that what was once non-existent is now treated as inescapable. Not to mention that no matter how the Palestinians have acknowledged and/or recognized Israel, it’s clearly never been good enough for Bibi.
  3. Peace and Palestinians behind Israel’s prison bars (Haaretz, 3/23/12). “Everything’s a crisis. Everything’s a battle royale. Everything’s a big, boiling pottage of names, numbers, and facts that only a few remember (like that 2005 transport deal). Lines are drawn (red, or in the sand), insults are flung, tripwires lie all around. And every single last one of these brouhahas, individually and collectively, serves as a terrible, horrible metaphor for the entire conflict – and the fact that after all that effort, we are still mired in conflict.”
  4. Book review: ‘The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC – 1492 AD,’ by Simon Schama (Dallas Morning News, 3/23/14). “Here is the heartbreak, here is the horror, but here also are families moving up the social ladder, men choosing brides, women doing business, whole communities shaping and reshaping their relationship with their faith, even as they interact with, influence and are influenced by other communities among whom they live…. In conveying all this, Schama’s writing is at turns wry, sly and lavish, tumbling over itself much in the way that he describes the tens of thousands of documents and fragments of documents found in the Cairo Geniza, and yet often turning agonizingly spare in the face of the terrors that came — and they did come, over and over again.”
  5. Will the Crisis in Ukraine Damage Negotiations with Iran? (Ploughshares Blog, 3/19/14). “Much as it may be tempting to believe otherwise, Russia is a rational actor. Whatever its designs on Ukraine, Moscow also has very real interests involving Iran that President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to want to compromise.”
  6. If a Palestinian Did This, He’d Be Dead (The Forward, 3/14/14). “If you’re online and follow news out of Israel, you’ve probably already seen or at least heard of that wild-and-crazy video of a Hebron settler try to steal a Palestinian flag off a Palestinian roof. The guy gets caught on some barbed wire and then — even as his compatriots shout abuse (‘you son of a whore!’) at Shadi Sidr, the man who lives in the house, and even as Sidr tries to help free the settler from his predicament (while also attempting to reassure onlookers: ‘It’s okay, don’t worry!’) — the settler explains, with almost otherworldly calm, that in fact ‘This roof, this is my roof. This is all mine. The whole country is mine. The whole state is mine.’ Soon after, soldiers show up and threaten not the settler but the homeowner with arrest, demanding that he take down his flag. Crazy, right? Wild!”
  7. (follow-up to the aboveTrading a Palestinian Flag for a Kid’s Freedom? (The Forward, 3/18/14). “Rather than, say, arrest the settler for trespassing, though, soldiers responded to this absurd series of events by attempting to browbeat Shadi Sidr, the Palestinian in question, into handing over his flag. At various points, various soldiers insisted that flying the Palestinian flag was forbidden and that Sidr would be taken into custody if he didn’t take his down, but when he refused, at least one of them had the good sense to understand that continuing the farce in front of cameras was not a good idea. Later it transpired that the Israeli military in fact has no anti-flag regulation.
    And that, you would think, was that. Or, at any rate, you might think that was that if you had no experience with Israel and the occupation. Because of course that was not that. That was not even remotely that.”
  8. Iran Negotiations and the Broader Nuclear Agenda (Ploughshares Blog, 3/10/14). “The number of nuclear weapons in the world tops 17,000, yet none of them belong to Iran. While negotiators work for a verifiable deal that would prevent Iran from ever obtaining nuclear arms – it’s important to remember that the current negotiations also have the potential to strengthen international security, and move us forward on a path to a nuclear weapons-free tomorrow.”

The Argument Against New Sanctions on Iran.

I’m now writing once a week for Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that supports advocacy for a nuclear weapon-free future. Naturally one of Ploughshares’ biggest issues is Iran’s nuclear program and the negotiations, which is what I’m writing about (which is cool for me, because I really like Ploughshares and getting to write about Iran!)

Following are the tops of my first two posts — they’re both brief primers for folks who feel like they need a little more background on the issue. You can click through to Ploughshares to read the rest. I hope they’re useful!

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Getting the Facts on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Americans of every political stripe are weighing the pros and cons of diplomacy right now, discussing the efforts to achieve a long-term nuclear deal between Iran and the so-called “P5+1” countries – so-called because those countries are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (the US, UK, Russia, China, and France), plus Germany. Too often though, among all the talk, basic facts don’t get much attention.

From I like Ike to the Islamic Republic

Iran’s path toward nuclear power actually began in 1960 under the “Atoms for Peace” plan, an American program launched by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran was entrenched in a brutal war with Iraq; Iraq used chemical weapons (with American knowledge) as early as 1982, and Iran sought non-conventional means with which to respond. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Iranians were killed in eight years of carnage, a fact that shapes politics in both countries to this day.

For the rest, click here.

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The Argument Against New Sanctions on Iran

No negotiation process is easy or smooth, particularly between long-time rivals. Some Westerners are worried that Iran can’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Some would like to demand that the country’s entire nuclear infrastructure dismantled, or feel that if earlier sanctions were good, more would be better.

It’s now a little more than a month into the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the six-month agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the US, UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany). TheInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that Iran is complying with the deal, stopping or rolling back critical parts of its nuclear program, and cooperating with IAEA officials who have daily access to the country’s nuclear facilities. In return, the international community has lifted or reduced sanctions imposed as part of a global effort to compel Iran away from a nuclear path.

More is Less

While these concerns and doubts might be understandable, they fail to take into consideration the fact that Iranians have concerns, too – as do the other P5+1 nations.

Imposing new sanctions now would be meeting cooperation with reprisal. Such an approach isn’t likely to build confidence with Tehran, or encourage its government to keep engaging with Western powers.

Furthermore, the JPOA commits the UN, the EU, and the US Administration (“consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress”) to no new sanctions. While Congress could choose to act against the spirit of this agreement, doing so would violate a commitment made not just to Iran, but to our international allies as well.

If, on the other hand, Iran stops keeping its side of the bargain, or tries to push off a long-term agreement, new sanctions could be a useful tool. Indeed, if Tehran chooses to violate the JPOA, it will do so in the knowledge that harsher sanctions await.

For the rest, click here.

Israel mocks Iranian leader in undiplomatic Tweet.

I’m on record as thinking that the current Prime Minister of Israel tends to overstate his country’s case against Iran—that while official Israel’s long-standing concern regarding the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear capability is surely understandable (particularly considering the latter’s oft-stated hostility to the existence of a Jewish State), we mustn’t forget that Israel itself has nuclear weapons (yes, it does), that not everything’s another Holocaust, and that furthermore, if your government has spent more or less the last decade claiming with tones of urgency that we’ve only got six months, a year, two years in which to prevent calamity—your government might be overstating its case.

But you know what? Israel’s long-standing concern regarding the possibility of Iran achieving nuclear capability is surely understandable, particularly considering the latter’s oft-stated hostility to the existence of a Jewish State. If I were an Israeli official, I, too, would want to make sure that the U.S. government was not messing around and that whatever precautions being taken to protect my people were good and solid. That seems only reasonable, and certainly to be expected. Overstating a case doesn’t mean that the case doesn’t actually exist.

And yet.

And yet, there is asking the President of the United States to dot his I’s and cross his T’s; there’s making sure your concerns are heard; there’s even pressuring your allies and asking your friends to do the same because this is actually kind of a big deal and you’re truly alarmed.

And then there’s this nonsense.

Israel embassy tweet Rouhani 9 23 13

 

Rather than treat the rolling tide of news regarding a possible thaw in relations between the U.S. and Iran as the serious matter that it is, rather than take into consideration all that’s at stake, rather than—oh, I don’t know—consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, if the Obama Administration manages to achieve an agreement with Iran, it might actually meet Israel’s security needs and improve the lives of everyone in the Jewish State—the Israeli Embassy in the U.S. decided to try its hand at biting social media wit, by way of fifth grade level sarcasm. Creating a false LinkedIn account for your country’s arch-nemesis carries about as much gravitas as does poking your friend at lunch and saying: “Hunh-hunh! Let’s give Hassan devil’s horns in the yearbook!”

And then Israel’s UN Mission re-tweeted it. Because why not.

Are these people professionals? Are they seriously concerned about Iran? Do they honestly believe that no one in the Islamic Republic can ever be safely trusted—or, alternatively, are they genuinely concerned that Iran’s leadership change its ways and be brought back into the community of nations? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”—then what on earth were they thinking?

This kind of amateur hour performance is an embarrassment, pure and simple—and it does little but strengthen the impression shared by many across the globe (including many Jews both inside and out of Israel) that the fear-mongering has always been more about distracting the world from the occupation of Palestinian lands than it has been about Iran.

Else the Israeli government might be just a little more interested in seeing it resolved.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Signs of an Iranian-US thaw.

[Note: I actually posted the following a couple of hours before the interview in question aired. I've since done a little editing to make the time-frame a bit less confusing].

On Wednesday night, NBC aired an interview that Ann Curry recorded earlier in the day with newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who won elections in June in a surprising landslide.

Remember back when I said that the situation in Syria is closely entangled with its relationship with Iran, and the American relationship with both?

Before that interview aired, I felt a need to list some of the various indicators that I’ve noticed since just before the August 21 Syrian chemical weapons attack that suggest that President Obama and President Rouhani are both intent on moving our countries away from endless enmity, and toward rapprochement, starting with:

In fact, I’m culling all of the following from a search I did within my Twitter account, but reading a long list of tweets tends to get wearisome, so I’m turning instead to that other fine tool of the modern age: The bullet point.

All of the following reads to me, in sum and in parts, like the careful public face of a lot of fierce whispering in back rooms and corridors and with the help of people like the Swiss, who have long served as Iran-US intermediaries.

  • Within six days in late August, the CIA admitted its role in Iran’s 1953 coup (see above) and also in aiding Iraq in its use of chemical weapons against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s; the latter admission came a few days after Syria’s use of chemical weapons outside Damascus. These are both huge, huge scars on the collective Iranian psyche, and are frequently used as short-hand for why Iranians cannot trust the US. The minute I heard about the first admission, I thought “backchannel talks” — and when I heard the about the second, I nearly danced in my chair. For more on why the first is significant, here’s Robin Wright; for more the importance of the latter, click here.
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s new Foreign Minister, spent 30 years of his life in the US and helped negotiate the intelligence assistance Iran gave the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11 (yes, that really happened).
  • Iran’s parliament fast-tracked a debate on suing the US over its role in the 1953 coup (which is to say: The acknowledgement was acknowledged, but no one’s ready to say it’s no big).
  • State Department statement, August 28: “The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help US citizens Robert Levinson, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini to return to their families after lengthy detentions.” (Which is to say: “It’s not like we don’t have genuine diplomatic issues pending with you, too. We respectfully ask that you attend to them.”)
  • Iran was intimately involved in the Russian-American negotiations surrounding Syria’s chemical arsenal.
  • A western diplomat told the press that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be dialing back the pressure on Iran in upcoming talks regarding its nuclear program.
  • “Rouhani seems to have chosen [the chemical weapons attack in] Syria as the first big internal debate of his new Administration.” – Time, September 9
  • Iranian state-run Press TV interviews Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; he says “Getting to yes is our motive for [nuclear] talks.”
  • In an interview held before the Russian-American-Syrian deal was hammered out, Obama told ABC that he and Rouhani have exchanged letters, adding: “Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy.” (Which is true, but also suggests that, just like Rouhani himself, Obama knows that even as he hints about a possible thaw in relations, neither he nor Rouhani will be served if he paints Iran’s President as a push-over).
  • Reuters: “New Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi pledged greater cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog [the IAEA].”
  • Der Speigel: Rouhani says he is reported to be willing to decommission Iran’s nuclear installation at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, if the West lifts sanctions.
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who, according to the Iranian Constitution, is exactly what his title suggests; thus he holds ultimate authority in the country — told a meeting of  the elite military force the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC): “I am not opposed to correct diplomacy. I believe in what was named many years ago as ‘heroic flexibility’.” He also told the Guards that they must not get involved with politics, which, given the fact that they are in fact deeply involved with the politics of Iran; helped unseat the last reformist President; and were instrumental in the violent suppression of the 2009 post-election protests — is saying something. Note also that the IRGC are the country’s single greatest economic powerhouse as well, including in such areas as civilian infrastructure and engineering, and thus they are not lightly messed with.
  • Rouhani also told the IRGC that they shouldn’t be involved in politics, saying that this had also been the opinion of the republic’s founder, the Ayatollah Khomeini — and while you and I may have no fond memories of Kohmeini, he remains a powerful unifying figure for the Iranian people.
  • On Wednesday Iran unexpectedly released eleven prominent political prisoners, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, on the eve of Rouhani’s visit to the US to attend the UN General Assembly. UPDATE: “In his annual message for Iranian New Year in 2011, President Obama specifically singled out Ms. Sotoudeh.
  • Also on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney revealed more details of the President’s letter to Rouhani: “In his letter the president indicated that the US is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.”
  • In Curry’s preview of tonight’s interview with Rouhani, she reports that he told her: “From my point of view, the tone of [Obama's] letter was positive and constructive” and that “he has full authority to make a deal with the West on the disputed atomic program” — which is code for “I have the Supreme Leader behind me.” Oh, and he also says that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.

And hey, it’s not just me who believes there’s real momentum toward a major diplomatic shift! CIA veteran and Georgetown University professor Paul Pillar wrote today that

Since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran, he and his appointees have piled up indication upon indication, in their words and their actions, that they strongly want a new and improved relationship with the West and that they will do what they can to bring one about by facilitating a mutually acceptable agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. 

Diplomacy is a messy, horribly frought business, and lord knows that the US and Iran have bungled many an effort to mend fences. Witness the fact that all that intel sharing in 2001 went absolutely nowhere — that indeed, within months, George W. Bush was referring to Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” Among other issues, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t appear particularly interested in any kind of thaw between Iran and the West, and as Pillar says, is providing copious rhetorical ammunition to any hardliners in the IRGC who would rather stay cozy with the Syrian regime and far away from the United States.

A lot could still go badly wrong, is what I’m saying.

But for the first time that I can ever remember, it feels like we have leaders on both sides who want it to go right.

Michael Oren’s formidible truthiness – an open letter to Stephen Colbert.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stephen_Colbert_2_by_David_Shankbone.jpg

Don’t worry, Mr. Colbert – Michael Oren won’t ever be as splendiferous as you.

Dear Mr. Colbert,

As proud member of the Colbert Nation, I salute you, and I offer my kudos and a hearty huzzah for Tuesday night’s interview with the Ambassador of America’s BFF, Israel. Seeing you with Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren was not unlike seeing into the bed chamber of the most loving couple on God’s green earth—which was, I admit, a tad embarrassing, but Mr. Colbert, you know my love for you is pure.

Setting aside that rather arresting image however, if I had to narrow my sheer delight down to one thing, it would be this: Oren, for all his status and (one imagines) fancy dinner parties, has clearly chosen to take on the teachings of America’s most humble pundit and thoroughly embody the Colbert Creed of Truthiness: truth that’s from the gut, not books! Truth that (if I may quote the American Dialect Society of January 2006) reflects “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true”!

Thus, for instance, Oren was able to look you (the very Prophet of Truthiness!) straight in the eye and say “Israel doesn’t get involved in internal politics in the United States”—even though you had already gone to the metaphorical tape and reminded him of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open support for President Obama’s competitor in the last elections (what was that guy’s name again?). “But Netanyahu wanted the other guy, that’s clear,” you said, and when Oren demurred, you doubled down: “It’s absolutely clear to anybody who’s got eyes in their skull, he wanted the other guy.” (It might be suggested that in this case, the student became the master and Oren pwned you in the truthiness stakes. But it will not be suggested by me, for I am loyal.)

And then—oh glory!—Oren’s performance as a Truthiness Acolyte shone out even above the tests you set for him! (They were just tests, right? You don’t really want people to use the eyes in their skulls?) “The Iranian leaders are every week threatening to wipe us off the map,” Oren said, “if they get these nuclear weapons.”

As a dual American-Israeli citizen, I can assure you: this is what the Israeli government feels to be true—it’s the concept Israel prefers to talk about rather than the facts that are known to be true! The facts, those silly, annoying things, tell us that Iran’s leaders don’t actually talk about building or using nuclear weapons. They talk about nuclear power, because if they talked about building weapons, U.S. bombers would likely take off for Tehran tomorrow.

Now, it’s true that nearly 12 years ago, then-Iranian President Rafsanjani suggested that in the case of a nuclear war with Israel, Iran would survive and Israel wouldn’t, but it’s also true in the meantime Rafsanjani has often denied that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, citing Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against such weapons, none of which really lends itself to a serious assertion that “the Iranian leaders are every week threatening to…” etc, etc, etc. I would agree that common sense suggests that we take these words with a hefty grain of salt and continue to prepare for all eventualities—but that’s just the common sense talking. Don’t mind me.

Clearly Oren’s gut tells him that all this is much too nuanced for the American people, just as Americans can’t be trusted with the fact that Israel itself has nuclear weapons that everyone knows about but to which it refuses to cop. But as you said, we here at Colbert Nation will have Israel’s back with every single nuke to which it does admit! Duty shall not be shirked!

And yet, if I may, Mr. Colbert, Oren’s greatest moment actually came early in the conversation and went entirely unremarked by you—thus becoming truthiness in its purest form, because it went unchallenged.

Oren tossed off the notion that one of his government’s highest priorities is to “get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table”—and oh, the marvel of that statement!

Like the finest jazz, the beauty was in the notes that Oren didn’t play: The Israeli leaders under whom Oren has served these last several years have done virtually everything they can—from massive settlement construction, to incursions into what is ostensibly Palestinian-controlled territory, to all-out war, to vague threats of bringing down the Palestinian government—to ensure that such negotiations will be impossible to resume. Good will, schmood will! If we keep those Palestinians just angry and insecure enough (my Israeli government seems to think), they’ll never want to talk to us again! VICTORY!

Oh my, the whole interview was a marvel and a wonder, not unlike a brief foray into Paradise. I thank you, Mr. Colbert, and again: I salute you. Truthiness is as truthiness does, and clearly: Acolyte Oren does truthiness very, very well.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Please ignore Kristol’s desire to bomb Iran.

I know that not a lot of people, in Washington or out, are thinking about this stuff this week, but former Sen. Chuck Hagel continues to be dogged by a ludicrous smear campaign. Given the Administration’s near-silence on the matter, I continue to be worried that President Obama is going to let the campaign work—simultaneously allowing the world at large to continue to conclude that, really, Israel’s right-wing supporters set U.S. foreign policy (a conclusion that also, frankly, worries me).

Exhibit #1,247 (give or take): this ad, produced by (pay close attention) the Emergency Committee for Israel.

And there it is, straight-up-no-chaser: You don’t support the Emergency Committee for Israel’s desire for an attack on Iran? You are not fit to be Secretary of Defense in the United States government.

It is not good for Israel or the Jewish people to perpetuate the notion that U.S. policy is set in Jerusalem. Neither is it good for America or American security interests to leta small, unrepresentative group of power-hungry political machers set the tone for Presidential decision-making.

Former C.I.A. official Paul Pillar wrote last week in The National Interest, “Intimidation feeds on itself, with successful intimidation encouraging more of the same and failures discouraging further attempts.” This president has an ambitious agenda for his second term, one which I desperately hope includes working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Allowing himself to be browbeaten by the likes of Bill Kristol will not further that agenda.

As I’ve said before, I like Hagel. He has an instinct toward diplomacy and a willingness to say what he believes is really best for his country. I’ve liked him on Israel for a long time, and I also like his respect for one Israeli in particular, Yitzhak Rabin, as expressed to the Israel Policy Forum in 2008:

I don’t know of a better role model or an individual to point to than Yitzhak Rabin. What Yitzhak Rabin did, what he represented, what he still represents is hope, that in his memory, in his honor, but for his courage and boldness, we can come back with a Rabin too. It takes leaders on the other side. Sadat, Begin. It will take a unique set of leaders to do this. It’s possible. Leaders change the world.

I like Hagel. And I really do not like what is being done to his good name by the likes of the ECI. I hope the President doesn’t like it either.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

“Destroy them, God, obliterate them from the face of the earth.”

Pop quiz: What religio-political leader said the following, about which nation?

Do good, God, wipe them out, kill them…. Destroy them God, obliterate them from the face of the earth.

If you said Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, head of Israel’s Shas Party and one of the country’s ultra-Orthodox kingmakers, and further guessed that he was talking about Iran—please take a seat at the head of the class….

…Yosef also mentioned Hezbollah (“when we say that our enemies, foes and anyone who desires to do evil to us should be cut off, we should have in mind Hezbollah and Iran”), but even having said that, I’m finding it hard to see a real difference between these statements, and statements so like them that emanate from Iran.

In both cases, men who consider themselves, and are considered by legions of followers, to be exemplars of their faith communities, leaders with direct insight into the heights and depths of their religions’ teachings and traditions, are calling on the Almighty to do what they genuinely believe the Almighty already wants to do: Destroy the other guy.

When such things are said in Persian, Jews around the world rightly react with some alarm.

To read the rest, please click here to go to Open Zion/The Daily Beast — but don’t click too hard! You want to read it, not obliterate it.

Israel’s next war.

“Lebanon? That’s so 80s.”

We learned on Friday that America and Israel have concluded that the bomber in last week’s bloody attack in the Bulgarian city of Burgas was an operative working with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, under orders from Iran “to avenge assassinations targeting its nuclear scientists” (such as Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, killed in January when an assassin bombed his car in Tehran).

In the meantime, we’ve also learned that the New York police have found evidence linking Iran or its proxies to nine other plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world. According to former Israeli National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, this should not surprise us – and Israel is “to a large extent, the initiators.”

We hit [senior Hezbollah leader] Imad Mughniye [in 2008], and, mainly, we’re leading a struggle against Iran. We’re not a passive side. And the other side is the defending, deterring, and attacking one.

…If Israel will respond in such a way, it will have to take into account that its response will be followed by a response. That’s the dynamic.

That’s the dynamic. That’s always been the dynamic.

Not just in Israel, not just in the Middle East, but in every place that people have ever found themselves. Humans respond to violence with violence. It’s what Israel does – why on earth would Iran and Hezbollah be any less human than the Israelis?

As Arad went on to say:

Iran can’t stay disinterested, and it’s natural that it or its proxies such as Hezbollah will try to commit such attacks and exact a price from Israel.

In the meantime, of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu has threatened harsh retaliation:

We will pursue the attackers and extract a heavy price from those who sent them. We will continue fighting Iranian terror, we will act against it with great force.

Because that’s the dynamic.

My fear is that this dynamic will ultimately mean that the appalling murder of innocent people will  serve as an excuse for one of two ghastly outcomes: a direct Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities – an option that Netanyahu appears palpably anxious to pursue – or a third Lebanon War.

Just two weeks ago, Brigardier-General Hertzi Halevy told the Israeli press press that

The IDF is preparing seriously and professionally for another Lebanon war. The response will need to be sharper, harder, and in some ways very violent. The next war will be with very heavy exchanges of fire on both sides, and so both need to make every effort to stop this happening.

In the Goldstone Report, the community and the world tended to get confused and think that this can be done in a nicer way. It cannot be nice. Without the use of great force, we will find it difficult to achieve the aim, and the enemy should also know that.

Note: Halevy says “both [sides] need to make every effort to stop” another war in Lebanon; likewise, a slew of Israeli military experts believe an attack on Iran would be disastrousand Israeli public opinion is torn on the matter as well, in part because most Israelis think that attacking Iran would lead to war Hezbollah, a war which would last “for at least a few months.

I’m not going to spit in the face of reality and suggest that if only we invited the Iranians and their Hezbollah pals to a nice nosh, we’d all get along. The most recent examples of tit-for-tat killings may still only be a “shadow war,” as some have termed it, but the people killed are no less dead for all that – and history has shown just how often “shadow wars” turn into the real thing.

But I think that Uzi Arad gets it right when he says

Israel must continue its struggle, but must take its consequences into consideration, and that’s part of the dynamics. Israel must manage the struggle, reduce the risks, and be prepared intelligence-wise.

I fervently hope that Israel’s government is listening. I simply cannot believe that either bombing Iran or going to war in Lebanon with serve to ether manage the struggle, or reduce the risks.

On the contrary, given the dynamic, I can only believe that the results of either would make the losses in Burgas pale in comparison.

People still suck/People can grow.

So. I’ve been rooting about in the bad news/good news department — you know, like you do — and have uncovered incontrovertible evidence that people still suck, alongside undeniable evidence that people can grow. I will leave you to determine, within the limitations of your own, personal opti/pessimeter, if we are best advised to draw hope or despair from the following. Perhaps a soupçon of both?

People still suck

It’s never a bad idea to be occasionally reminded that old-school antisemitism is still a thing. To wit:

Iran’s vice president used the lectern of an international antidrug conference [in Tehran] Tuesday to deliver a baldly anti-Semitic speech, blaming Judaism’s holy book, the Talmud, for teaching how to suck blood from people and for causing the spread of illegal drugs around the world.

Wheee!

According to Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, Judaism’s central text, the Talmud (in which the Torah’s laws are expounded, explained, and commented upon) teaches those who follow it to “destroy everyone who opposes the Jews.” Furthermore, Rahimi says, “Zionists” run the international drug trade, adding

The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drugs trade.

(Does one even bother to mention Israeli/Jewish drug addicts in this context? Or does one just move on?)

And, just to wrap it all up in a brightly delusional bow, Rahimi also talked about

gynecologists killing black babies on the orders of the Zionists and claimed that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was started by the Jews, adding that mysteriously no Jews died in that uprising.

So, you know. That happened.

BUT ON THE OTHER HAND:

People can grow

The Pentagon for the first time celebrated gay pride in a modest but emotional ceremony Tuesday, less than a year after the US military lifted a ban on homosexuals serving openly in uniform.

In a packed hall, a top defense official said the repeal of the the prohibition has gone ahead without any major problems and a panel of gay service members spoke about how much had changed after years of having to hide their sexual orientation under the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

A year ago, Marine Captain Matthew Phelps said he was “in the closet,” taking pains to conceal his homosexuality.

“I was at a point in my career that if anyone had found out that I was gay… I could have lost my job,” he told the audience.

This month, the Marine officer was invited to a reception at the White House honoring gay pride.

President Obama delivered taped remarks at the event — the very same President who on June 1 issued a Pride Month proclamation which he opened by citing the heroes of Stonewall, and ended thusly:

As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

So. That happened too.

And, I’m glad to report that the New York Times also reported that not everyone in Tehran was thrilled with the vice president’s remarks:

One Shiite Muslim cleric, a judge, said that he was appalled by the speech. The judge, who also requested anonymity because of his sensitive position, said the world must ignore Mr. Rahimi and he hoped that Mr. Rahimi and Mr. Ahmadinejad would disappear after the presidential elections in 2013. “We all need to be patient for some more months.”

I’mma let the needle on my opti/pessimeter lean a smidge to the “opti” side today.

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