No friends? More hasbara!
Benjamin Netanyahu with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at an official welcoming ceremony, May 8, 2013. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fury about the Iranian nuclear accord has exposed Israel’s limited reach on the international stage.
By Crispian Balmer, Al Arabiya / Reuters
November 28, 2013
Criticized for settling occupied land and stung by its failure to shape the new world power deal with Iran, Israel must rethink its strategy if it wants to avoid severe diplomatic setbacks in the coming months.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fury about the Iranian nuclear accord has exposed Israel’s limited reach on the international stage and has coincided with growing frustration abroad over its flailing peace talks with the Palestinians.
Traditionally the closest of friends, Israel and the United States now stare at each other with barely concealed mistrust.
Some of Netanyahu’s allies suggest it is time for Israel to build up relations in other regions, such as Asia, to make sure that all its diplomatic eggs are not in one, American, basket.
That might prove a valid long-term plan, but it will not help Israel win its short-term goal of getting Western partners to wring many more concessions from Iran in the next, decisive round of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
And it will not help Israel dodge blame, if, as expected peace talks with the Palestinians collapse in early 2014.
As an initial step to improve the mood music, megaphone diplomacy and public sniping at U.S. President Barak Obama’s administration needs to stop, some Israeli analysts argue.
“If we do not change the tone of our discourse, build up the scope of our activities and confine discussion to behind closed doors, then I hate to say it, but we will become diplomatic pariahs,” said Uzi Rabi, head of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University.
The international community and Iran are on a path to reaching a “middle ground” deal on Tehran’s nuclear program that will allow each side to claim victory, but which will allow Iran to eventually become a nuclear state, a leading Middle East expert told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, who will soon publish the book The Shi’ite Crescent: An Iranian Vision and Arab Fear, added that an Israeli military operation against Iran’s nuclear program was feasible several years ago, but that today, “the train has left the station.” And while Netanyahu might lecture the U.N. General Assembly last month that Iran’s new, moderate-sounding president was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Israelis could learn something, Rabi said, from how Tehran used diplomatic tact to its benefit.
Barely had the ink dried on the Nov. 24 accord with Iran, which offered the Islamic Republic limited sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear activities, than an angry Netanyahu denounced what he termed a “historic mistake.”
His criticism put him at odds with the United States as well as France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia; all approved the deal in the face of heavy lobbying from Israel, which fears Iran will develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
“We are the ones directly threatened by this, so we have to be the ones doing the warning,” Ronen Hoffman, an academic expert on diplomacy, said of Iran’s nuclear program.
Elected to parliament this year for the centrist Yesh Atid party, which is in Netanyahu’s coalition, Hoffman said, however, that Israel’s reaction may have been ill-judged.
“Maybe we should have been more understanding about the needs of the world to promote soft power rather than jump immediately to military confrontation,” he told Reuters.
“It is a question of PR and perception.”
Israel has repeatedly hinted that it would strike Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop its nuclear progress. It was always a tough prospect to hit distant Iran, but to do so now in defiance of the world’s top powers, looks impossible.
Netanyahu and his inner circle feel particularly betrayed by Obama, who they believe has repeatedly misread the Middle East. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has suggested that Israel’s historic ties with the United States are weakening.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and also once an adviser to Netanyahu, said he did not see the special relationship with Washington breaking, but did think it was time to broaden Israel’s circle of influence.
“There are civilisational ties that run very deep,” he said of the United States. “But it is important for Israel to develop diversified diplomatic relationships with many countries around the world, including in the Asia Pacific.”
Netanyahu visited China earlier this year, but needed to bow to tough demands just to get the invitation, according to Israeli media, indicating the difficulties that lie ahead if Israel is serious about widening its reach.
China hosting both Palestinian, Israeli leaders, AP, May 6th
BEIJING (AP) — China is hosting both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders this week in a sign of its desire for a larger role in the Middle East.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was welcomed by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a visit to the eastern financial hub of Shanghai. Netanyahu is due in Beijing on Wednesday following Abbas’ departure a day earlier.
China’s Foreign Ministry said last week it would be willing to help set up a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu if the two men wanted. Talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides have been deadlocked for four years and there was no indication a meeting would take place.
China has traditionally maintained a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but in recent years has tried to play a more active role in the region as part of its quest for markets, resources and diplomatic influence. Beijing has sought stable relations with both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but Israel’s weekend airstrike on a Syrian military complex created a turbulent start to China’s diplomatic foray.
Asked by reporters about playing host to Netanyahu following the airstrike, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying avoided criticizing Israel by name but said, “We oppose the use of force and believe any country’s sovereignty should be respected.”
Despite unanimous backing for the Iran deal by all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Gold rejected suggestions Israel was isolated over the issue, pointing to deep discontent amongst Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East has improved this year. Civil war in Syria has hobbled one old foe, while the downfall of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has bolstered its southern flank.
But any chance of a public alliance forming between Israel and Sunni Muslim leaders to counter Shiite Muslim Iran is rendered impossible by the unresolved Palestinian conflict, which remains a deeply emotive issue across the Arab world.
Both Hamas and Fatah [above, Presidents Abbas and Morsi affirm their friendship, February 2013] believed ties with the Egyptian governent under President Morsi would be a source of strength. The Egyptian army coup has strengthened Israel but not created an open friendship.
U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in July after a three-year hiatus and were meant to lead to a deal within nine months. Although both sides have acknowledged a lack of meaningful progress, neither wants to walk away for fear of being blamed for the mess.
However, in a rare reprimand, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned this month a wave of announcements of Jewish settlement-building on occupied land, indicating Israel may be deemed the guilty party in Washington in the event of failure.
“I mean, does Israel want a third Intifada?” Kerry said in an interview, referring to the danger of a new Palestinian uprising to follow those that erupted in 1987 and 2000.
The confluence of the Palestinian and Iranian issues is a source of constant frustration for Israel, which sees the two questions in a very different light – the first representing a threat to its very essence as a Jewish state on biblical lands, the second a grave problem but one it can continue to manage.
Yet when Israel seeks international support for its complaints that Iran is not being made to fulfill obligations to the U.N. Security Council to halt uranium enrichment, its critics hit back that Israel itself is ignoring U.N.
resolutions, notably those condemning Jewish settlements.
“I am worried that we risk being stigmatized by the settlement issue,” said coalition lawmaker Hoffman, adding that the only solution was to forge on with peace talks.
Tel Aviv University’s Rabi suggested that Israel needed to send out an “army of skilled diplomats” to explain to the world the changing dynamics of a Middle East transformed by revolutions in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.
Israel’s problems in fielding top diplomats has been highlighted this week in a dispute with the European Union over new EU guidelines that bar financial assistance to any Israeli organization that operates on occupied territory.
Negotiations might normally be expected to be handled by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman or his deputy. However, both are West Bank settlers, making them ill-placed to compromise and also illustrating how the domestic priorities of coalition politics can limit the prime minister’s room for maneuver.
In the end, Netanyahu dispatched centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to talk to the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. An agreement was reached within hours.
Iran has proved that if you have skilled diplomats, you can achieve almost everything,” Rabi said. “Israel needs to understand that, or else we will be left behind.”
Analysis: Israeli and Saudi condemnation of the current first steps on the agreement with Iran goes beyond cynicism.
By Michael Moran, Global Post
November 26, 2013
NEW YORK — As the prospect of a long-term deal over Iran’s nuclear program has gone from remote to possible, Middle East leaders are demonstrating once again why their region remains a graveyard of diplomatic initiatives — and thus the most violent and hateful corner of our planet.
The interim deal reached by Iran and international negotiators in Geneva this weekend is incomplete and there are genuine reasons its terms must be scrutinized and adherence to them very carefully enforced.
Broadly speaking, Iran is required over the next six months to stop producing highly enriched uranium and to dilute its current enriched stockpile to below bomb-grade levels. In exchange, as a confidence-building measure, some economic sanctions on Iran will be lessened — though most will remain in place during this trial period. Iran also must halt construction of a troubling heavy-water reactor at Arak — capable of producing plutonium, the other material a nuclear weapon can be based upon.
So it’s fair to ask whether Iran will live up to these terms given its history of deceit on nuclear matters, or whether this is merely a stalling tactic to give Iran’s nuclear scientists time to create a useable warhead.
But the tone of outright dismissal adopted in some places — in Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular, but also in that hive of wisdom, the United States Congress — is so complete and determined that one has to wonder whether it is the concept of peace or merely the particular first steps taken here that are so offensive.
“A historic mistake,” says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who should know something about such things since he almost single-handedly derailed the Oslo peace talks with the Palestinians a decade ago.
The Saudis have been more circumspect — or opaque, perhaps, would be a better term. No official pronouncement or klieg-lighted predictions of doom have been reported in Riyadh.
But over the past several months, the kingdom’s emissaries have made clear their unhappiness with the general drift of US policy in the Middle East: that is, President Barack Obama’s determination to extract the US from its deep and entangled position in the region’s political weeds.
The Saudi and Israeli complaint lists are similar. Both cheered the tighter US sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table, but Israel and Saudi Arabia misjudged what would flow from the sanctions. They seemed to assume Iran would simply redouble its nuclear arms research, forcing Obama to take military action, as he has repeatedly warned he would, if Iran moved toward weaponizing its nuclear capabilities.
As in Syria, however, Obama has chosen not to embroil the US military in yet another Mideast war.
But unlike Syria, in Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, Washington has found for the first time a party willing to sit down and make concessions that will be subject to clear and public verification.
The sudden prospect of peace is disturbing the calculus among both US allies.
The previous Iranian regime, led by the Shia chauvinist and anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made it very difficult to ask Israel to have faith in a negotiated solution.
For Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, unrest in nearby Bahrain, with its Shia majority, underscored the perception of a Shia threat to the whole region. The fact that the US flirted with support for Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement deeply shook the Saudi monarchy.
The Israeli government position — that Rouhani is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing — may seem reasonable for now. But not allowing the US and its so-called P5+1 allies to test the theory, and potentially avoid war, by holding Iran to its new nuclear commitments is unreasonable.
On the Saudi side, a deeper game of regional influence is in play. The Saudis, keepers of Islam’s two holiest shrines, view themselves as the true leaders of the Sunni Arab world.
With Iran dominating the northern shores of the Persian Gulf, and the outcome of the ill-conceived US war in Iraq leaving Baghdad country in the hands of Iran’s allies in Baghdad, the Saudis fear more than ever that Iran will come to dominate the region.
Already Saudi and Iranian operatives vie for influence against each other in the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, in Egypt’s roiling streets, and particularly in Bahrain. More than ever, Iran — in Saudi eyes — is the Great Satan.
Finally, both Israel and Saudi Arabia, to some extent, also fear abandonment by the US.
The withdrawal from Iraq (and its lapse into a Shia-led zone of unrest), the decision not to intervene in Syria, and talk of a “pivot” to Asia threaten to undermine Israeli and Saudi influence on America’s diplomatic agenda.
So, too, for Saudi Arabia, do the shale gas and tight oil booms in the US heartland.
Add the longer-term prospect of an improving US relationship with Iran — which, after all, has a long pre-revolutionary history of partnership with Washington, and whose large crude reserves will invariably bring global oil prices down, unless Saudi Arabia cuts back its own production. This gives rise to bleak scenarios in the Saudi royal mind and feeds into fear of isolation so deeply rooted in Jewish history.
But what, realistically, is the alternative to pursuing negotiations? Here Israelis and Saudis speak with equal vagueness in the language of military options and “lines in the sand.” Israel has reiterated it will not permit a nuclear-armed Iran. As with its own large nuclear arsenal, Israel refuses to discuss details.
In fact, most experts for years have regarded military options as unrealistic, and more punitive than useful, in terms of ending Iran’s ambitions. Time and again, classified US war games on this scenario suggest enormous risks of escalation plus energy disruption that would throw the world into a new and deep recession.
This is what zero-sum logic portends.
Given the history of such things in the Middle East, and the propensity for both the Israelis and Saudis to make mischief, it is quite possible the current agreement will come undone.
But to publicly hope for the failure of peace talks that have only taken their first step is to abandon any pretense that there is a desirable outcome other than war. This goes beyond “realpolitik.” This is deep, dangerous cynicism.
In any other region, this would raise eyebrows.
After all, the Israelis have been saying, often with the CIA’s quick confirmation, that Iran is two years away from a nuclear weapon since at least 1997. And the Saudis understand that with every fracked well in North Dakota, every barrel pumped in Brazil and every small improvement in fuel efficiency, their own influence is draining away.
No wonder they want action now.
An unconfirmed report in the Sunday Times (which is behind a paywall) says that Mossad is negotiating a secret deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia for a possible attack on Iran. Saudis would allow Israel use of air space and provide drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes, report says. Ha’aretz, 17th November, 2013.
saudi king – AP – November 16 2010
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Photo by AP