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Iran pushes Israel and Palestine into the margins

This posting has these different responses to PM Netanyahu’s speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday:
1) Al Monitor: Iran Trumps Peace Process at UN, Geoffrey Aronson focuses on the peace talks;
2) Guardian: Israel hits back over threat of Iran-US rapprochement, Simon Tisdall, also reports Iran’s foreign minister’s claim that Netanyahu ‘is a liar';
3) Ha’aretz: It’s time for diplomacy on Iran – and Netanyahu knows it, Amos Harel on Netanyahu’s limits;
4) WSJ: Netanyahu, in U.N. Speech, Assails Iran’s New President, comprehensive report;
5) Youtube: Netanyahu’s speech to UN General Assembly in full;


Benjamin Netanyahu tells UN General Assembly not to trust President Rouhani, October 1st, 2013. Link to speech at foot of post. Photo by Andrew Burton / AFP

Iran Trumps Peace Process at UN

By Geoffrey Aronson, Al-Monitor
October 01 2013

One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before the UN General Assembly featured a cartoon Iranian nuclear bomb. This year, the Israeli prime minister brandished a rhetorical STOP sign warning of the perils of negotiating with Iran and the Palestinians.

In contrast with the historic steps taken in New York toward an Iranian-US rapprochement to almost universal acclaim, the Israel-Palestine issue was a pale, lacklustre footnote. The alphabet soup of international support groups — from Tony Blair’s Economic Initiative for Palestine to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) — meeting on the periphery of the General Assembly, left all parties standing in place. PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas focused tamely on Palestine. For Israel’s Netanyahu, like most everyone else, the Iran story has sucked all the air out of the room.

To be fair, there is little on this front that could compete with the dramatic opening of the first direct top-level US-Iranian dialogue in more than a generation and the crafting of a unanimous majority at the Security Council on Syria. Only an announcement of a precedent-breaking departure in the business-as-usual atmosphere that has depressed expectations on all sides of the table would come close … and such a dramatic breakthrough was nowhere in sight.

Compared with these low expectations, even the “big news” on the talks was particularly bloodless.

In remarks at the UN last week [Sept. 25] US Secretary of State John Kerry noted, “We have agreed now, in the last week, when I have met with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, we have agreed now to intensify these talks. And we have agreed that the American participation should be increased somewhat in order to try to help facilitate” discussions. He hinted that the United States might at some point move beyond its current circumscribed role as a benign “facilitator” — “to help if there needs to be a bridging proposal to work on the way forward.”

Two months into the self-declared nine-month term of the current effort, the parties appear to be at a point where they may entertain more sustained American participation than has been the case.

Netanyahu has long opposed a guiding American hand at the table, while Abbas has unsuccessfully solicited it. However, it is not only Israel that has limited [the] formal participation of US envoy Martin Indyk in the seven or so rounds of bilateral discussions. It is not at all clear what role the Americans themselves envision. Indyk assumed his position in tandem with the talks themselves, leaving little time for the US team to get its own act together. At the policy-making level, Kerry invested all of his energies in securing the willingness of Netanyahu and Abbas to resume bilateral discussions after years of stalemate. Rather less energy was devoted to orchestrating the operational or strategic aspects of diplomacy once their agreement to talk had been won.

Most important, the president himself, notwithstanding the views expressed at the UN, has yet to make the decision to spend the considerable capital necessary to transform the environment in which the talks are occurring and thereby increase their chances of success.

What exactly do the Americans want and how committed are they to achieving it? These central questions have yet to be answered.

There is a breezy assumption, not confined to Washington, that “we know what an agreement will look like.” Simply assuming that there is a consensus on the outcome, however does not in itself guarantee or even increase the chances for success. All the more so when the discussions since 2000 have highlighted the yawning gaps between the parties, rather than served as a forum for bridging their differences. And then there is always the possibility that such conventional wisdom is simply wrong.

Kerry’s modest success in winning Israeli-Palestinian agreement to sit across the table has not yet challenged this depressing formula. Palestinians complain that the talks are going nowhere, but the parties are more or less holding fast to the agreement that details of the talks will be kept confidential. This is perhaps their greatest achievement to date. Even the failure of the US representative to be at the negotiating table may not be as telling a signal as it seems. After all, the Palestinians and Israelis alike are no doubt spending more time trying to win Washington over to their respective positions than they are trying to convince each other.

It is not at all surprising however, that Israeli efforts are focused on establishing security-related principles. This has been a constant of Israeli diplomatic efforts throughout the long history of its relationship with the PLO. Today, Israel is confronting an emerging consensus uniting US and Palestinian officials that favors a “non-territorial solution” for legitimate Israeli security concerns in the Jordan Valley region. In this context, the Israeli insistence on retaining security control of the area becomes an untenable, destabilizing demand.

This is the ground originally plowed by a US team led by Gen. James L. Jones as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s security czar during the Annapolis talks. All indications are that Jones’ latest incarnation, Gen. John R. Allen, is reaffirming Jones’ original assessments.

Israel is pushing back. In public remarks that no doubt are a reflection of discussions at the negotiating table, GOC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon declared, “We cannot count on a foreign force to do the work along the border with Jordan.”

American interests are focused on borders as well as security.

Kerry himself has frequently noted that he is the only authorized source for information about the talks. On Aug. 1, even before the talks began in earnest, Yediot Aharanot reported that Kerry informed members of Congress, “I think that 85% of the large settlement blocs will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”

Kerry was probably referring to the map presented by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Abbas in September 2008, which outlined Israel’s annexation of 7.9% of the West Bank, enabling the annexation of West Bank territory where 86% of settlers then resided.

Obama’s push to resolve outstanding issues with Iran and Syria may set the stage for a similar demonstration of dynamic American leadership on the Israel- Palestinian file. Netanyahu has cast himself as the outlier in Obama’s demarche toward Tehran. He remains far more concerned that Obama may “go wobbly” on Iran’s nuclear program than over the challenge that negotiations pose to unfettered Israeli control over the West Bank. More than anything else, Netanyahu is wary about Obama’s effort because he views it as threat to Israel’s ability to shape the diplomatic agenda — on Iran today, and perhaps Palestine tomorrow.

Geoffrey Aronson has long been active in Track II diplomatic efforts on various Middle East issues. He writes widely on regional affairs and is the author of From Sideshow to Center Stage: US Policy Towards Egypt, 1945–1955.



Israel hits back over threat of Iran-US rapprochement

Binyamin Netanyahu tells UN Hassan Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing in blistering attack on Tehran

By Simon Tisdall, Guardian
October 02, 2013

Barack Obama and Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, were at pains to demonstrate common ground on dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme. But their White House meeting on Monday night failed to assuage or disguise deep Israeli unease about the ramifications of a possible rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, and the overall direction of Obama’s Middle East policy. In short, Israel is being squeezed in a tightening strategic vice, and its pain was evident in a blistering attack on Iran by Netanyahu at the UN general assembly on Tuesday.

Netanyahu had mostly kept quiet before the White House summit about last week’s highly successful charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his subsequent game-changing telephone conversation with Obama. But the Israeli leader let rip all his fears and frustration in his UN speech, calling Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who wanted to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.

Iran remained bent on the destruction of Israel and had continued its “vast and feverish” pursuit of nuclear weapons since Rouhani’s election, Netanyahu said. Rouhani’s conciliatory words were a “ruse” to obtain the easing of sanctions. Indeed, he said, it was Rouhani who had masterminded Tehran’s nuclear arms programme. And it was Iran that continued to prop up the Assad regime in Syria which had used chemical weapons to kill its own people.

Netanyahu’s tirade was preceded by equally sharp words from Iran. The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said bluntly that the Israeli leader was a liar. “This is his nature, to lie … Over the past 22 years, the regime, Israel, has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months … The continuation of this game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment.” Netanyahu, he said, was the “most isolated individual” at the UN.

Netanyahu stuck to much the same script earlier at the White House. “Iran’s conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions – transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions. Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction,” he said. And he reiterated his previous demands: “Iran must fully dismantle its military nuclear programme. If Iran continues to advance its military programme during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened.”

But the Israeli prime minister appeared to realise that Obama’s revived emphasis on diplomatic solutions both in Iran and in Palestine – framed within Iran’s apparently more moderate posture – had left him with little alternative, for now at least, but to go along with the US administration and to wait, perhaps, for the inevitable collapse that sooner or later usually attends such well-intentioned initiatives.

While it was an achievement of sorts that a repeat of their 2011 Oval Office row, and any hint of open disagreement, were avoided, it was not a good day for Netanyahu. While reassuring his visitor that he would insist on substantive concessions before relaxing the pressure on Tehran, Obama avoided any mention of a timetable or “red lines”, or of any specific steps that Iran must take.

Like its European allies, the US does not believe that a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear programme is a realistic objective. Their emphasis instead is on curbing uranium enrichment and on expanded verification and inspection measures.

Netanyahu’s energetic attempts over the past three years to convince the great powers that Iran is the world’s number one security threat, akin to but more dangerous than North Korea, thus seems to have run into the sand. Nor do previous veiled threats of Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear sites now appear to have any substance, as US opposition to any such action has stiffened with Obama’s re-election and the technical and practical difficulties for Israel of mounting unilateral strikes have become clearer.

Most Israelis – 78%, according to a recent poll – appear to share their prime minister’s scepticism about Iran’s change of heart, as do numerous American and Israeli commentators. Yet, ironically, the hawkish Netanyahu, a favourite target for American and European liberals, now finds himself under attack from Israel’s political right for allegedly failing to stand up to Obama.

Current and former members from far right and nationalist side of the Knesset have been voluble in their concern about Netanyahu’s handling of both the Iranian and Palestinian issues. As the Jerusalem Post reported: “Likud MK [member of parliament] Moshe Feiglin said Netanyahu’s conception that the world will take action to prevent a nuclear Iran has collapsed. He said it was now clear to all that Iran will proceed toward a military nuclear capability and the US will not take action to stop it … What Netanyahu needs to ask himself is not what Obama will do, but whether under his own watch, an extremist Muslim country that wants to destroy Israel like Iran will join the nuclear club … That’s what history will judge him on. It is wrong to shift our security to the US. It shows we haven’t learned anything.”

The former Knesset member Aryeh Eldad said Netanyahu and Obama were both “good actors” but the reality facing Israel was starkly clear. “Bibi [Netanyahu] gave up the Israel option for military action on Iran, and he is now relying on the US, which says we need to give up on the Palestinian issue in return,” Eldad said. “He understands the fight is lost. He sacrificed the land of Israel.”

The deputy defence minister Danny Danon said Netanyahu was under an obligation to try to help Obama make the diplomatic route succeed. But he warned that the Israeli right had been surprised by the 1993 Oslo peace agreement and the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and did not want another surprise.

Its nuclear ambitions apart, Israel has a long list of grievances against Iran, starting with former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated assertion that the state itself is illegitimate. Rouhani distanced himself from such talk but has said little to suggest an end to Iran’s support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, its backing for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, its development of long-range missiles, its alleged complicity in terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, its cold war with the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, its machinations inside Iraq or its evident aspirations to regional superpower status.

On the American side of the ledger, Israel has cause to worry that Obama’s U-turn on military action in Syria means his threat of strikes on Iran, should diplomacy fail, is equally empty; that before leaving office he may try to force Netanyahu into the historic compromise on Palestine that he has hitherto successfully resisted; and that the White House is insufficiently appreciative of how deeply threatening is the current turmoil in Egypt and other Arab spring states to Israel’s security.

Netanyahu received a bruising reminder this week that between Iran and the US is Israel’s hard place.



It’s time for diplomacy on Iran – and Netanyahu knows it

The Israeli military option will come back into the picture, perhaps for the last time, in the coming spring, if talks between Iran and the six superpowers fail.

By Amos Harel, Ha’aretz
October 02, 2013

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to the United States this time knowing that Israel’s role in the current act of this saga is relatively marginal. Most of the world’s attention was focused on the speeches of the presidents of the United States and Iran at the UN General Assembly last week, and the somewhat tortuous dialogue between the two countries. Netanyahu was not a party pooper, as he described himself on the eve of his departure for the United States, because the party was over long before he landed in New York. The Americans are already over their heads in the political crisis paralyzing the federal government, and the international agenda is no longer fixed solely on Iran.

Under these new circumstances, Netanyahu could not give the same belligerent and dramatic speech he gave against Iran last year, nor could he clash directly with President Barack Obama in their meeting Monday at the White House. As has been clear since President Hassan Rohani’s election in June, it is now time for diplomacy. Israel can insist on its demands and warn against Iranian duplicity, but cannot truly influence events. In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu, with his usual eloquence, presented the Israeli message for the coming months.

A good portion of his arguments had quite a bit of truth to them, both in regard to the true face of the regime in Tehran and in regard to its work toward a nuclear weapons program and involvement in terror is concerned. But it seemed that the audience had already been persuaded that diplomatic negotiations were the only way to go. It is unlikely that anyone in the hall believed that Israel is on its way to a military strike.

Netanyahu is now trying to prevent the sanctions against Iran from being lifted before a significant pledge is received from Iran in response to Western demands, and perhaps to explain to American lawmakers the importance of another round of sanctions (which are unlikely to be imposed given the current circumstances). The Israeli military option will come back into the picture, perhaps for the last time, this coming spring, if talks between Iran and the six superpowers fail. If an agreement is reached, even if it leaves Israel unsatisfied, Israel will find it very difficult to go against the opinion of the whole world and attack Iranian nuclear sites.

In addition to its demand for Tehran’s transparency with regard to its nuclear program, and for significantly tighter monitoring, Israel is highlighting the need to dial back Tehran’s nuclear program. Since Netanyahu does not believe in the good intentions of the Ayatollahs, it is important to him that they stay as far away from military nuclear capability as possible. The head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies and the former Military Intelligence chief, Major General (res.) Amos Yadlin, wrote this week that Israel must make sure that if Iran breaches the agreement it will be “years, not months” from manufacturing a nuclear bomb. Yadlin’s position, which is quite close to that of the defense establishment, is that Iran be permitted to enrich uranium to the low level of 3.5 percent, not 20 percent, and that the enriched uranium be removed from the country.

The Israeli response to the conduct of the Obama administration in the Iranian case, as in the Syrian chemical weapons issue that preceded it, is mixed: harsh criticism over the method, doubt as to the final outcome, yet still hoping that the Americans know what they are doing and will arrive at a positive outcome. That can still happen with regard to Syria where (for now) Obama’s hesitant zigzag ended with a promising arrangement, if it is kept, to dismantle the Assad regime’s huge chemical weapons stores.

Israel was surprised at Obama’s soft, somewhat yielding attitude toward his Iranian counterpart. Rohani, under pressure from the sanctions, is the one who should have come crawling to Washington, instead of Obama’s courting, to which Rohani finally deigned to respond with only a phone conversation. In the Syrian case, as a senior political figure in Israel said, the Americans had great cards, but Russian President Vladimir Putin took the whole pot. The way the United States is approaching contacts with Iran could ostensibly presage similar results.



Netanyahu, in U.N. Speech, Assails Iran’s New President

Israeli Leader Calls Rouhani ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’

By Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, Wall Street Journal
October 01, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu castigated the U.S. diplomatic outreach to Tehran, telling world leaders Iranian President Hasan Rouhani is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” determined to use a political thaw to advance his country’s nuclear program.

Mr. Netanyahu, addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, said Israel would take unilateral military action against Iran if it felt the international community wouldn’t act to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Israeli leader’s comments came a day after President Barack Obama reassured him during a White House meeting that the U.S. would use force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s blunt rhetoric at the U.N. highlighted the obstacles Mr. Obama faces as he attempts to forge a diplomatic accord with Iran.

Israel believes Iran already has enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb, if it is processed further into weapons-grade fuel. Mr. Netanyahu said Tehran is also building long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, a conclusion the U.S. government shares.

“I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons,” the Israeli prime minister said during a half-hour address. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

Iran’s diplomatic mission at the U.N. responded to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech by warning Israel that Tehran would retaliate against any military strike.

Iran, which denies its nuclear program is aimed at weapons development, also demanded Israel place its presumed nuclear arsenal under international safeguards and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“The Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that,” Iran’s government said.

The White House, which is balancing political pressures—particularly in terms of its allegiance to Israel—expressed sympathy with Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetoric.

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether the Israeli leader’s speech undermined Mr. Obama’s diplomatic overture.

“It is entirely justifiable that Israel is skeptical about Iran and Iran’s intentions,” Mr. Carney said. “After all, this is a country whose leadership, until recently, was pledging to annihilate Israel.”

Mr. Obama held a 15-minute phone call with Mr. Rouhani on Friday, the first conversation between American and Iranian presidents since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. The two countries have agreed to resume international talks on Iran’s nuclear program this month in Geneva.

Israel, as well as many of Washington’s Persian Gulf allies, is suspicious of the rapid move toward a U.S.-Iranian thaw over the past two weeks.

Mr. Netanyahu said in his speech that the U.S. risks being deceived by Iran into relaxing international sanctions, while Mr. Rouhani is committed to advancing Tehran’s nuclear program.

The Israeli leader noted that Iran was able to use another period of diplomatic outreach in 2003-05, when Mr. Rouhani was Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to complete work at a nuclear facility where milled uranium, known as yellowcake, is converted into a gaseous form for enrichment.

“You see, Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it, too,” he quipped.

Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates fear Iran will use improved relations with Washington to challenge their economic and security interests across the Middle East.

Israel’s leader said the U.S. and U.N., rather than considering ways to relieve financial pressure on Iran, should be preparing to impose more onerous penalties in coming months.

“Here is what the international community must do: First, keep up the sanctions,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “If Iran advances its nuclear-weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions.”

The Obama administration is facing an array of challenges in maintaining its diplomatic bonhomie with Iran. Mr. Obama’s pledge on Monday to keep military options open drew a rebuke from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said in a Twitter message that it was disrespectful, “macho and wrong.”

“President Obama needs consistency to promote mutual confidence,” he wrote. “Flip-flop destroys trust and undermines U.S. credibility.”

A senior Obama administration official said Mr. Zarif’s comments were “to be expected,” as all sides navigate their domestic politics.

The Obama administration has been seeking Israel’s support for diplomacy with Iran, said American and Israeli officials. The White House worries Mr. Netanyahu could make good on his threats of unilateral strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, sparking a wider Mideast war and upending delicate Arab-Israeli peace talks. The U.S. also works closely with Israel on intelligence and counterterrorism.

Yet Mr. Netanyahu challenged Washington’s policy on Tuesday and sought to cast Mr. Rouhani as a fanatical Islamist leader who was no different than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Israel’s leader charged Mr. Rouhani is a confidante of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been involved in overseeing Iranian terrorist attacks.

Mr. Netanyahu also startled the Obama administration by charging Iran with plotting in recent months to bomb the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The White House was skeptical. “We are aware that Israel has detained an alleged Iranian spy,” a senior administration official said, declining to provide any further information on the individual.

Mr. Netanyahu’s broadside on U.S. policy was viewed by many Israel watchers as an attempt to assure his political support inside Israel as well as to mobilize pro-Israel lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Many U.S. lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, have voiced support in recent days for Mr. Netanyahu’s call for even more expansive sanctions in the coming months.

Some pro-Israel groups, however, voiced concern Tuesday that Mr. Netanyahu risked isolating Israel internationally as the U.S., Europe and U.N. prepare for more extensive negotiations with Iran.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech…was a missed opportunity,” said J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, in a statement. “It was as if he wanted to send a message that peace was not a high priority for him and that it barely warranted his attention.”

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com and Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com


Netanyahu’s speech to UN General Assembly in full  33 minutes, October 1st, 2013

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