The good, the bad and the ugly-minded

November 28, 2013
Sarah Benton

Here are articles on the Iran nuclear deal from

1) European Voice, Iran: the diplomatic dividend; 2) Ha’aretz (which provides the above headline) Catherine Ashton will save us; 3) the LA Times: Iran nuclear deal foes rein in criticism, rounding up the critics; 4) Israel and EU compromise on terms of joint initiative, Barak Ravid on the Horizon 2020 negotiations; 5) Israel threatens ‘big noise’ when interim agreement ends Israel and U.S. to Hold Military Exercises When Iran Deal Ends; Plus, 6,  Notes and links on how Catherine Ashton was seen three years ago.

The  EC’s Catherine Ashton with Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, Tony Blair, the man who made her a Lady. From a working class Lancashire background, she held many ministerial posts in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Photo by EPA/BGNES

She was nominated as the EU’s High Representative by Gordon Brown. As he is less telegenic, there are very few photos of him with his appointee.

Iran: the diplomatic dividend

The European Union deserves a great deal of credit for securing a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme

By Andrew Gardner, European Voice
November 28, 2013

The international agreement struck this weekend to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme may only be preliminary, but it is a huge success. In practical terms, for the first time since 2004, Iran has committed itself to suspending the programme and is rolling back some critical elements.

In diplomatic terms, the deal is a triumph. The United States and Iran are talking publicly again, after three decades. The five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom – have maintained a united front since international talks began in March 2012. And the European Union – led by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief – has led those talks and maintained that unity.

The international dividends could be substantial, as the leaders of the EU – Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission – were quick to point out. It was, they said, a “major breakthrough for global security and stability” and could “reduce political tensions, contribute to build trust and support the promotion of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

They are right. There are risks, of course: how, for example, might sceptics and opponents – Israel, the American right, and Saudi Arabia – respond to a permanent deal? But the Middle East, in particular, and central Asia (Afghanistan above all) could benefit from a less confrontational relationship between Iran and the rest of the world. More generally, and more certainly, it is better to have Iran inside the international system, subject to constraints, rather than as a state behaving as a rogue and often treated as a pariah.

There could also be a dividend for the EU’s role in diplomacy. Barroso and Van Rompuy limited their reflections on the EU’s involvement to praising Ashton for her role as principal negotiator of the deal. But the sense of satisfaction went further than that. EU negotiators received a standing ovation when they arrived to debrief the political and security council on Monday (25 November), and were hailed for what was described as a huge success for EU diplomacy.

Just how much the breakthrough was attributable to EU diplomacy and Ashton will become clearer when more is known about the behind-the-scenes diplomacy between the US and Iran. Hours after the deal, it emerged that the two had been holding secret talks since March, a process that continued during the formal talks in Geneva, with go-betweens scurrying around the city incognito.

But such secret diplomacy also needed public diplomacy – and for that the EU and Ashton were essential. The US and Iranian foreign ministers were able to meet face-to-face only in the presence of Ashton. “She is no more than a liaison, and at that she is very effective,” is how an Iranian official described Ashton’s role to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. But even if that characterisation is right, it is clear that liaison was vital – indeed, a senior Western official insider says that it was at Iran’s insistence that many of its meetings in Geneva included just Ashton and that Ashton had to be at almost all the other meetings.

That type of specific demand by Iran illustrates how diplomacy inevitably develops characteristics specific to each situation. Deriving general points from the talks with Iran about the EU’s role in international diplomacy is tricky and risky.

The deal did, however, highlight the EU’s potential as a deal-broker in set-piece negotiations. As a bloc of 28 countries, the EU cannot be as swift or as flexible as the US – or any individual member state of the EU – when diplomacy becomes more strategic and geopolitical. However, the EU can be an honest broker in multilateral negotiations in a way that many individual countries cannot.

Consider the cast of countries in Geneva: it contained countries that Iran has good historical reason to distrust – the US, France and the UK – and countries that the West has reason to mistrust, Russia and China. By contrast, the EU is a small-moving bloc of countries whose members embrace widely varying views and whose bilateral relations with non-European states typically range from non-existent to problematic (for the former colonial powers France and the UK in particular). The EU is a bloc that still primarily co-ordinates national policies, so it has some of the advantages of a traditional power – weight and influence – with fewer of the disadvantages, such as a difficult history.

In due course, the EU may develop foreign policies so broadly accepted by its member states that it can move swiftly. In the meantime, the deal with Iran shows that, even in the infancy of its foreign policy, the EU can play an important role in very complex diplomacy.

One of the EC’s official portraits when Lady Ashton was appointed the EC’s High Representative, foreign and security affairs, at the end of 2009.

Catherine Ashton will save us

The boycott of goods from the settlements can save Israel from itself since the expansion of the settlements means the creation of a single binational state.

By Tal Niv, Ha’aretz
November 28, 2013

A week ago radio host Isaac Noy made fun of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s looks, calling her ugly. I assume that Ashton did not even blink, and it is likely that she has never heard of Noy. Nonetheless, the hatred for the “foreign minister of the EU” that Noy expressed in his indecent way actually is very interesting, and important in understanding the fundamental process that may possibly in the end bring about the rescue of the State of Israel from such shortsightedness.

Condemning Ashton as ugly heralds the EU foreign minister’s being marked as the latest Israel-hater, and expresses the great fear that right-wing Israelis are steeped in when they look with fire in their eyes at the evil person who has just now signed on the agreement in Geneva with Iran. But it expresses more than this. Because those who denounce this “Israel-hater” seem to also understand very well that Ashton – who personally led the process to create a historic agreement in Geneva to limit Iran’s nuclear program and forge mutual recognition between Iran and the world powers, with the United States at their head – is leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a joint scientific cooperation agreement with the European Union for the Horizon 2020 program.

In this agreement Netanyahu in practice is accepting the determination that the settlements are not a legitimate part of the State of Israel. Ashton has coerced Netanyahu into signing the agreement, which will lead in the end to the creation of a ladder with which those who hold with the ideology of the West Bank settlements can climb down from the tree.

The signing of Horizon 2020 will enable, it is estimated, the transfer of NIS 2.4 billion to Israeli academia and research. For now this distances Israel from its paved path to the Cuban situation: A country under embargo, isolated, one that does not receive aid and does not act in harmony and cooperation with its allies; a state that in the end will be choked by what it has cooked for itself.

Zev Elkin and Uri Ariel, ministers of handsomeness, are relieved they can now blame the EU and Catherine Ashton for forcing their government to accept that settlements are illegitimate entities (and they mustn’t bomb Iran).

In signing onto Horizon 2020, which entails the understanding that the settlements are not legitimate in the eyes of the world, the European Union has pulled Israel’s chestnuts out of the fire. Even Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, the great democrat who initiated the boycott law that imposes punishments on those in Israel who call for boycotting goods from the settlements, can say to himself: This is not something Netanyahu wanted, or that I did. Ashton wanted it and there was no choice. Even Housing Minister Uri Ariel, even Yair (“I’m right wing?”) Lapid, all of them together can hate Catherine Ashton and her European Union as they please, and they will also have whom to blame. That way the settlements will be evacuated not because the settlers are critically damaging the dignity of people and commandeering land that is not theirs by international law, but because they were forced into it. Netanyahu was, too.

The boycott of goods from the settlements can save Israel from itself since the expansion of the settlements means the creation of a single binational state, with a regime of separation implemented in practice. Then those who are anointed to explain these sorts of things will say that the money from American aid, along with defense and high-tech exports, are enough for us. But they also know that the president of the United States, in this term, listens, but really listens, to Ashton. Netanyahu, who may be perceived as Samson in the eyes of his supporters, can in this way sign the Horizon 2020 agreement without any problem, even though he is turning the settlements into outcasts. It is not him, Elkin, it’s Catherine.

Iran nuclear deal foes rein in criticism

The deal’s backers and opponents are recalibrating strategies in light of war-weary Americans’ conflicted views of Iran and strong support for the accord.

By Paul Richter, LA Times
November 27, 2013

WASHINGTON — As they prepare for battle over the new deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, the accord’s supporters and foes are calibrating strategies based on their reading of Americans’ conflicted views about the Islamic Republic.

American war-weariness forms a big part of the Obama administration’s campaign for the accord, a preliminary agreement to curb Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Administration officials have said that without a diplomatic deal, the country would be on a “march to war.”

For now, the administration appears to have the upper hand. Many skeptics of the deal, who issued sharp criticism shortly after its announcement, have since muted their words.

Instead of attacking the agreement directly, opponents have pinned their hopes on continued American suspicion of Iran and its leaders. They expect the government in Tehran to fail to meet its obligations under the agreement and are poised to go on the offensive if that happens.

“Critics of the deal are reluctant to attack it too frontally because they realize how popular it is,” said Dylan Williams, legislative director for J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that supports the deal.

Polls suggest that support for the deal is strong now but could easily decline. Americans are deeply reluctant to embark on a new Middle East war. At the same time, however, Americans have consistently held negative views of Iran since the hostage crisis during the Carter administration.

For years, many Americans have said in surveys that they would support military action if that was necessary to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. A June poll by the Pew Research Center found 64% support among Americans for such intervention.

Now, however, a Reuters-Ipsos survey released Tuesday showed 44% of respondents supported the new accord; 22% opposed it. If the deal failed, 49% would favor more sanctions, 31% wanted more diplomacy, and 20% wanted to turn to military force.

“The appetite for military engagement anywhere is very low,” said pollster Julia Clark of Ipsos. After two wars that were far longer and costlier than expected, “we in the public feel burned.”

Even so, Clark said, opinions on the deal could change because Americans are uncertain about its complexity and have negative views about Iran, which has been at odds with the United States since the 1979 revolution. She noted that about one-third of the poll’s respondents weren’t sure how they felt.

“There’s real hesitation here,” she said.

The preliminary agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., was announced Sunday in Geneva. It would temporarily ease some of the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy in return for a halt to key aspects of the country’s nuclear program.

The deal is intended to allow time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear program. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but officials of many countries believe the effort is aimed at developing at least the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

Opponents of the deal have called for new sanctions, saying that greater pressure could force Iran to yield more. The Obama administration calls that unrealistic and says new sanctions could derail any chance for diplomacy to succeed.

In a videotaped message designed to sell the deal to Congress, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the negotiators had moved to prevent Iran from acquiring a bomb “in the most effective way: We did it through diplomacy.”

A number of key lawmakers who have criticized the agreement have said they support additional sanctions but are ready to hold off unless signs emerge of Iran not holding up its part of the deal.

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for deferred sanctions.

Israeli officials have strenuously opposed the accord, and lawmakers who support Israel have been prominent among the deal’s critics. But statements from major pro-Israel organizations in the United States have been relatively mild.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby, cited “serious concerns” that Iran could still develop a bomb even if the two sides reached a final deal. But AIPAC said new sanctions should be imposed only if Iran violated the agreement or failed to agree to an acceptable final deal.

Another major American Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, said it was “deeply concerned” about the “flaws” in the deal. But instead of calling for sanctions, it committed itself to “work to promote a final agreement which ensures Iran is incapable of building a nuclear weapon.”

An official of another pro-Israel group, who declined to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the issue, said many in the organization were reluctant to be seen as trying to block the deal, especially at a time when the issue was straining relations between Israel and the Obama administration.

Mark Wallace, chief executive of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, acknowledged that the deal had support, but predicted that the backing would fade “when people begin to digest and understand the agreement.”

Clark, of Ipsos, said that could happen. The Reuters-Ipsos survey found “some hedging” in reactions because of the uncertainty about the details of the deal, she said.

But the uncertainty of public opinion creates risks for both supporters and opponents, she said. “If there’s a sudden great surge of confidence, people may not want to be on the record as being against it.”

Israel and EU compromise on terms of joint initiative, following rift over settlement funding ban

Livni and Ashton draft agreement to enable signing of Horizon 2020 pact, following day-long marathon telephone negotiations.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
November 26, 2013

Israel and the European Union reached agreement Tuesday evening on a compromise formula that would allow Israel to sign the Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation agreement despite the new EU guidelines that bar funding to entities over the Green Line, a senior Israeli official said.

The formula was reached during marathon telephone negotiations between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, the official said. After weeks of talks during which the EU had rejected various proposals, Livni had presented Ashton with wording the latter could accept, the official added.

According to the senior official, agreements were reached on two clauses in the Horizon agreement that had disturbed Israel and blocked it from signing. One clause related to the EU demand that an appendix be attached to the pact stating that the conditions of the agreement would not prevent the EU from implementing the guidelines approved regarding allocating funding to entities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The guidelines, approved in July, are set to go into effect on January 1.

With regard to this clause, the parties decided to formally agree to disagree. The EU would add the above-mentioned appendix, while Israel would attach an appendix in which it declares that it objects to the guidelines regarding the settlements from both a legal and political perspective.

The second clause Israel wanted softened related to indirect funding and loans to Israeli entities based in Israel that also operate in the settlements or have extensions or branches in the settlements. The EU’s concern was that it would not be able to verify that European money would not, in the end, make its way to the settlements.

On this clause, the two sides agreed that any Israeli entity that operates within the Green Line can apply for European loans, and both sides would examine ways to make sure that the money would be restricted and not reach the settlements in any form. What this seems to mean is that Israeli companies or organizations that do business in the territories and want loans from the EU would have to set up a system to make sure that any money it gets from the EU would be invested solely within the Green Line.

The official said that these agreements addressed both the European and the Israeli demands, but that the wording still needed the approval of the diplomatic echelons on both sides.

After it emerged Monday that the EU had rejected most of the Israelis’ conditions for compromise, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an urgent meeting on the issue, which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy minister, Ze’ev Elkin, took a tough stance, with Lieberman declaring: “Signing the agreement would constitute capitulation.”

Livni and Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry took the opposing view from Lieberman and Elkin at a government meeting on the matter, saying that Israel could not afford to give up the European investment.

Following two emergency meetings to discuss the rift with the European Union, Netanyahu decided late Monday to continue seeking a compromise that would enable Israel to sign the pact.

“In light of the difficulties in the talks with the European Union, Netanyahu ordered us to work to change the agreement so that it can be signed,” a high-ranking diplomatic source in Jerusalem said.

Netanyahu had seriously weighed sending a delegation headed by Livni, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Elkin to Brussels to hold personal meetings with Ashton and other EU officials to try to hammer out an agreement. In the end, that idea was dropped, and the negotiations were conducted by phone.

The European Commission’s guidelines regarding EU funding of entities in the West Bank settlements prohibit funds and agencies from giving grants, scholarships, or prizes to Israeli entities in the settlements or to activities in the settlements. In some cases, the guidelines forbid giving loans to Israeli entities that operate directly or indirectly beyond the 1967 lines.

The guidelines also stress that every agreement between Israel and EU has to include a territorial clause that stipulates the agreement does not include the settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. Due to the new guidelines, the agreement on the scientific cooperation initiative Horizon 2020 has become a point of contention between Israel and the EU.

The Horizon 2020 agreement would provide Israeli research institutes and high-tech companies with hundreds of millions of euros in funding over the next several years. If Israel does not sign, the country’s R&D stands to lose about 500 million euros (roughly NIS 2.5 billion) over the period. The Committee of University Heads and the Council for Higher Education’s Budgeting and Planning Committee have expressed great concern over the damage to Israeli academia if the agreement is not signed.

The head of the Council for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, told the meeting Tuesday last night that along with the sums of money that would be lost, “even more important is that we’d lose access to the most advanced research and development in the world. There is no alternative to an agreement with the EU.”

Senior Israeli academics on Tuesday urged the government to mend the rift to enable the signing of the pact. The president of the National Israeli Academy of Science met with Lieberman and Livni and pressed them “to do the utmost” for the pact to be signed.

Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences, urged Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to “do everything” they could to get the pact approved.

The talks were aimed at finding a formula that would enable Israel to participate in the EU’s flagship research program, given the EU guidelines published in the summer that bar any EU funding to entities over the Green Line, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Arnon, in a public statement, called Horizon 2020 “Absolutely essential for the future of science in Israel, and failure to sign it, God forbid, will be an irreversible and disastrous loss to Israeli science in particular and the country in general.”

According to Arnon, what’s at stake is “not just the financial issue, but Israel’s participation or non-participation in the most prestigious competition in the scientific world, knowing that we have an excellent chance of coming in first place.”

Dr. Eli Even, who heads the Research Authority at Bar Ilan University and is the Israeli member on the EU’s Advisory Committee on Research and Development, also warned of the consequences of rejecting the agreement.

“If the negotiations do not produce an agreement, the practical significance will be damage to about 50 percent of the State of Israel’s research budgets. It would be a fatal blow to research in Israel,” he said.

Over the past five years 336 Israeli researchers received EU grants that enabled them to return to Israel, thanks to grants from the organization.”

EU rejects Israeli demands

On Friday, Pierre Vimont, Ashton’s deputy, sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry rejecting most of the proposed Israeli compromise on the language of Horizon 2020 agreement. The Europeans turned down Israel’s demand to remove the new guidelines on the settlements. The EU wants the agreement to include an “attachment” stating that the agreement’s conditions do not prevent the European Commission from implementing the guidelines on the settlements.

The Foreign Ministry officials said this clause breaches oral understandings between the sides and backtracks on positions that the EU stated during the talks.

The EU also rejected Israel’s demand to remove the clause prohibiting the indirect funding of agencies that operate in the settlements. Regarding loans, EU officials said they feared that no way would be found to ensure that EU funds did not eventually reach the settlements. They said the EU was unwilling to back down on the issue.

Foreign Ministry officials, including Elkin, who is responsible for this issue, see this clause as untenable under any circumstances. They say it harms Israeli firms even if they only have branches in the West Bank, such as fuel companies, energy companies and banks.

The EU also demands that Israel’s recognition of its policy on the settlements not just focus on EU funding. The EU now demands Israel’s consent to the following clause:

“In accordance with EU policy this agreement shall not apply to the geographic areas that came under the administration of the state of Israel after 5th of June 1967. This position should not be construed as prejudging Israel’s principled position on this matter. Accordingly the parties agree that the application of this agreement is without prejudice to the status of those areas.”

Israel and U.S. to Hold Military Exercises When Iran Deal Ends

Despite the interim deal between the U.S. and Iran, Israel will still beat the drum of protest until the six-month agreement expires, when a joint military exercise with the U.S. will help it ram a message home to the Iranians, says a high-ranking Israeli official

By Karl Vick and Aaron J. Klein, Time magazine
November 27, 2013

Over the next six months, while Washington and other world powers bend to the nitty-gritty of rolling back Iran’s nuclear program through talks, Israel will likely continue to dissent, while making conspicuous efforts to rehabilitate the military threat that did so much to bring Tehran’s project onto the agenda.

“The strategic decision is to continue to make noise,” a high-ranking Israeli officer tells TIME. The racket, the official says, will come to a head in six months, just as the interim agreement signed on Sunday is due to expire.

“In May there’s going to be a joint training exercise with the Americans,” says the officer, who asked not to be identified since he was discussing operations not yet officially announced. “It’s going to be big.”

Israel and the U.S. routinely hold joint exercises, and a spokesman for the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) said the exercise in the spring was planned independent of events unfolding in the region. “I think we’re still in the process of deciding the scale of the exercise,” says Captain John W. Ross, the EUCOM spokesman.

But if war is the continuation of politics by other means, as the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously put it, war games are an opportunity to make a statement without spilling blood — especially given the view (which increased sharply after U.S. President Barack Obama demurred on his vow to strike Syria) that Washington has cooled on the prospect of new military operations. “The wind from the Americans into the Israeli sails is, ‘We will maintain our capability to strike in Iran, and one of the ways we show it is to train,’” the senior Israeli officer tells TIME. “It will send signals both to Israel and to the Iranians that we are maintaining our capabilities in the military option. The atmosphere is we have to do it big time, we have to do a big show of capabilities and connections.”

Months remain for that to change, of course. But to those watching closely — including Tehran — full-throated U.S. participation in a May 2014 joint exercise would stand in especially vivid contrast to what transpired in the last large joint exercise: Washington quietly scaled back its level of participation, amid fears that Israel was growing too bold.

Since then, if anything, Israeli threats to strike Iran on its own have lost a good deal of their punch, analysts say. “It’s become irrelevant,” says Yiftah Shapir, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University. Part of the problem is that the window of opportunity for an effective Israeli air strike closed in February when Iran opened the Fordow enrichment facility deep in a mountain outside Qom, deeper than Israel’s bunker busters could reach. And politically, the drums of war were muffled when Iranians surprisingly elected as President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on a platform of reaching out to the West to reconcile concerns about its nuclear program. Since then, diplomacy has taken center stage.

Israel appears resigned to allowing diplomats the room to work — while both intensely lobbying Obama and other leaders to toughen the terms of any final deal, and keeping a close watch for evidence of Iranian duplicity: “The focus will be to gather intelligence in order to reveal a fraud, and not to gather intelligence for an attack,” says the senior Israeli officer.

At the same time, Israel shows signs of working to rehabilitate the military option. In “If Attacked, How Would Iran Respond?” published in the INSS journal Strategic Assessment recently, the last-serving head of Israel’s sprawling military-intelligence apparatus offers a detailed rebuttal to arguments that striking Iran’s nuclear program would provoke a thunderous response that would engulf the entire Middle East.

Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin, who now heads the INSS think tank heavily staffed by former security officials, concedes that Iran’s Shahab-3 and missiles can reach Israel, but not very accurately. Likewise, the unguided rockets that might be launched from Lebanon by the powerful Shi‘ite organization (and Iranian client) Hizballah. Iran’s once vaunted covert capabilities, which gave it the reputation as the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, lately appear feeble, and in terms of airpower, “the most relevant threat scenario is suicide drones being sent from Lebanon or Syria.”

From the sea, the worst Iran can manage is suicide attacks launched from midget submarines — “Iran has several such submarines” — launched from civilian vessels. “These scenarios are far from large-scale war, and their impact would be primarily psychological,” Yadlin writes, with co-author Avner Golov.

Yadlin has voiced qualified support for the interim deal, saying Israel can afford to wait the six months before exploring alternatives. But as a pilot in the Israeli air strike that destroyed a heavy-water nuclear reactor outside Baghdad in 1981, Yadlin is clear about what the alternative would be. In other words: Israel can both strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, and handle the blowback.

Israeli preparations for action against Iran have acquired an almost institutional momentum. “Many people have been working on this option for many, many years, and I don’t think they can think of anything else,” says Shapir, the senior researcher. In assembling its order of battle, Israel has steadily acquired the long-range fighter-bombers and bunker busters meant to address the threat from Tehran. “What happened to the more than 10 billion shekels [about $3 billion] that Israel spent on preparations for an attack?” analyst Shimon Shiffer asked in Yedioth Ahronoth on Nov. 21, in a piece blaming Netanyahu for allowing Iran to become a “nuclear threshold” state, one only a leadership decision away from constructing an atomic weapon.

The answer: the attack is still threatened — repeatedly by Netanyahu, who declared at the U.N. in September that, if the rest of the world is charmed by the new Iranian leadership, Israel “will stand alone.”

“This threat is the way to tell the Iranians not to cheat,” says Efraim Inbar, who heads a think tank at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, which last week published his paper titled, “A Strike on Iran: Complex, but Possible.”

“There are two issues,” Inbar says. “One is intention: Is Netanyahu really ready to do it? Probably my answer would be yes. And the second issue is international legitimacy. Now, after this agreement, ‘peace’ has arrived!”

But if Israel’s actions are constrained by the force of world opinion, it still has the power of words. Israel drove the Iranian program onto the global agenda with seemingly credible, almost constant threats of attacking Tehran — frequently reinforced by alarmist headlines inside Israel, where senior security professionals warned that Netanyahu and his then Defense Minister Ehud Barak were obsessed with launching air strikes. At one point, in 2010, the two ordered Israeli forces to prepare for an attack that has yet to occur.

“He most likely decided not to because there are great advantages to waiting until Israel comes as close as possible to the limits of its tolerance,” Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud party lawmaker who is close to Netanyahu, told the Times of Israel recently. “Because when that point is reached, we can use all of the previous restraint as a very powerful tool for strengthening the legitimacy of our actions.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu continues to point out that the Geneva pact will not restrain Israel, a warning that analysts say can be backed up in the real world. In Monday’s edition of Israel’s largest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, military-affairs specialist Alex Fishman wrote: “We should not be surprised if Israel not only makes threats but also demonstrates capabilities that make it clear to anyone who needed a clarification that a strike on these facilities is not just a theoretical possibility.”

Notes and links
Three years ago

From Financial Times profile with James Ferguson’s unflattering drawing, July 2010

It seems odd that Cathy Ashton’s swift ascent to the heights of international power – from junior minister in Tony Blair’s government, to cabinet minister under Gordon Brown, to European trade commissioner, then to the newly created role of high representative – has been made with so little public acclaim. What attention she does receive is generally hostile. When she was appointed last November, she was accused of lacking experience of foreign affairs. When she took up the post in December, she was criticised for her less than fluent French, the language of EU bureaucracy. In recent months, concerns have been expressed that she has not been at all EU meetings, nor in the vanguard of strategic policymaking. Voices of support from fellow British politicians, even colleagues in the previous Labour government, which put her name forward for the job, have been muted at best, leading to something of a modern-day near-beheading in parts of the media.

We were all wrong about Baroness Ashton [speak for yourself, Oborne]
From Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph, September 27th, 2013

When Baroness Ashton was appointed European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs four years ago I thought it was a most discouraging appointment. She appeared to the worst kind of Labour Party quangocrat, and filled me with mild horror.

She got her job for what appeared to be the worst possible reason- nobody else wanted to do it. She was Gordon Brown’s fourth choice for the job. Foreign Office people I spoke to made little secret of their contempt. I remember one senior official telling me that she only got the job because it was of no importance.

I rather agreed with Rod Liddle of The Spectator when he sneered that “never elected by anyone, anywhere, totally unqualified for almost every job she has done, she has risen to her current position presumably through a combination of down-the-line Stalinist political correctness and the fact that she has the charisma of a caravan site on the Isle of Sheppey.”

The Economist was almost as vicious and even the Guardian was doubtful,  quoting an anonymous Whitehall source who remarked called her appointment “a complete disgrace” and compared her to a “garden gnome.”

Well, let’s admit we were all completely wrong. It is now obvious that Catherine Ashton has been a success….

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