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.

Why Blast When You Can—And Do—Build?

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maaleadumim_009.jpg

Maaleh Adumim.

As a long-time observer of Israeli government policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian people, I don’t understand why Israel’s leaders feel they must loudly trumpet their opposition to Palestinian statehood and/or basic rights. On any given day, we get to hear that virtually anything Palestinians do or say is The! Worst! Thing! Ever! (and, of course, woe betide any who might venture the opinion that, hey, maybe not).

I say this because, as per the usual, the hyperbole surrounding yesterday’s statehood vote at the United Nations General Assembly was a thing to behold: Palestinian President Abbas’s decision to go to the U.N. was “pure diplomatic terror”! His speech was “venomous”! Members of Knesset try to burn the Palestinian flag!

Yet if we’re to be brutally frank, bluster and threats are entirely unnecessary. Israel doesn’t need to convince the world of its position or to take extreme measures to make sure that Palestine’s nascent statehood dies in the cradle. All Israel needs to do is stay its decades-long course and keep sending out bulldozers.

Witness the report that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s morning-after response to the statehood vote is 3000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as expedited work in the E-1 “envelope,” a development project intended to geographically join Jerusalem to the settlement of Maaleh Adumim and thus cut the West Bank in half. And thus destroy territorial contiguity for any Palestinian state. And thus drive a final nail in the coffin of the notion of two-state peace.

Though impressive in scope, there is, in fact, nothing new in these plans—indeed, even though Netanyahu committed to President Obama upon taking office that he would not build in E-1, that piece of it can’t be considered a breach with the past either. After all, Israel is forever promising the U.S. one thing and then doing quite another, in particular with regard to the settlements.

Remember the 2003 George W. Bush-backed Road Map to Peace? Here’s what Israel agreed to there, signing its name alongside that of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia:

Government of Israel immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001; consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).

Yeah. Not so much.

And remember the vaunted/vilified ten-month “settlement freeze” of 2009? In response to pressure from the Obama administration, Netanyahu announced a ten-month moratorium on building in the West Bank (though very pointedly not in the legal fiction that is East Jerusalem) in November; on January 1, 2010, Haaretzreported that

Despite the construction freeze, dozens of settlements in the West Bank are experiencing a building boom… According to data collected by Dror Etkes of Yesh Din, and by Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, construction is being carried out in more than 50 settlements and in two other industrial zones.

All this building was made possible largely by the fact that while the White House was wrangling with Netanyahu earlier in the year, construction crews were furiously pouring foundations—because any construction already underway was allowed to continue under the “freeze.”

And just in case anyone’s harboring any doubts about what might happen after Israel’s upcoming elections—the results of the recent Likud primaries should serve as a bracing corrective.

Yesterday’s UNGA vote was a historic moment, and who can tell but some lasting, tangible good may come of it. I don’t know how individual Palestinians are feeling about their nation having achieved “non-member observer state” status. Honestly, if it were me, I imagine I might have wept last night, and possibly thrown a party.

But I’m not Palestinian, and from where I sit, the vote hardly matters. Unless and until the international community, and at its head the President of the United States, should decide to hold Israel to international law and its own signed commitments, a right-wing led Israel will continue to take daily unilateral action to change the facts on the ground so that a viable Palestinian state becomes a literal impossibility.

No heartrending hasbara necessary.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Palestine vote at the UN General Assembly – sources.

I have NO TIME — I have an actual, factual deadline here — but I’m of course obsessing about the Palestine vote at the UNGA, even though that’s not what I’m supposed to be writing about (international labor and safety are very worthy topics, Contract Client! Just not what I’m thinking about today).

However, I figure folks might be coming here for a little clarity on the event, so I thought I’d throw up a rolling post with sources, adding as I find new ones.

  1. If you want to watch things unfold (whenever that starts – Abbas was supposed to start speaking at 3 pm EST, but it’s now 3:20 and, so far, bubkes 3:30 EST update – they’ve started): CSPN
  2. This is from the terrific +972: Q&A: Implications of the recognition of Palestinian statehood
  3. Also from +972: What Palestinian statehood means for International Criminal Court jurisdiction over Israeli crimes
  4. My Twitter list of sources I follow for issues Israel/Palestine/Middle East – it’s not in the least exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start if you just want to take a peek at what’s going on and what the mood is (it’s worth noting that all of Syrian internet has been shut down and the Damascus airport has no flights in and out or, indeed, radar today – all very, very bad signs, so that’s something else to keep an eye on, too).

update: JJ Goldberg in The Forward: Who Stands Against Peace? Palestinians Are Sounding Reasonable as Israel Drifts Right.

update: 

  1. Another good Q & A, from Barack Ravid at HaAretz: Everything you need to know about the Palestinian bid at the UN: Nine questions and answers
  2. The final tally: 138 voted for upgrading Palestine to “non-member observer state” status, 41 abstentions (including Germany and Holland), and nine “no”s. Click here to see the list of how each state voted.
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