By James M Wall
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the United States this week, vowing to expose “the truth” about Iran.The exposure vow from Netanyahu was just the opening barrage in what is expected to be a four-day visit with ample diplomatic fisticuffs.
Obama spoke last week to the United Nations General Assembly and pledged to turn his attention to a pursuit for peace in the Middle East. Specifically, he said he would focus on resolving the issue of Iran’s nuclear development and finding a path to peace between Israel and Palestine.
In Obama’s UN speech he forcefully pointed to the two issues which will consume his diplomatic energies in the near term:
“America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.
“The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War.
“On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly or through proxies taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
“I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight. The suspicions run too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road toward a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Say this for Obama; he knows how to slip AIPAC’s talking points into the middle of a peace speech. He did so when he said that Americans see an Iranian government that “has declared the United States an enemy and directly or through proxies taken American hostages, killed US troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.”
To put the best spin on this statement, we might conclude that Obama is referring to what Americans think about Iran (thanks to Israel’s propaganda that Iran’s primary interest is not its economy but its desire “to wipe Israel off the map”, a false statement.)
Whatever he had in mind by including the misleading, inflammatory bromide that Iran threatens “our ally Israel with destruction”, it was not an appropriate statement for a world leader seeking to bridge a gap that has extended over 34 years.
Look at the facts, Mr. Obama. Iran wants what every other nation wants, a nuclear power system. Does it want a nuclear arms system? Most likely it does, with one good regional reason.
Israel probably has as many as 200 nuclear war heads. It has long been understood that nations have no intention of ever using a nuclear bomb. Nukes are deterrents. A nation foolish enough to use one against a nuclear-enemy can expect equal or more response, hence, what kept the peace in the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union was MAD, mutually assured destruction.
The irrationality of a small country like Iran building a single bomb and using it to “destroy Israel”, thereby evoking enough nuclear bombs into Iran to eradicate forever a country that until 1924 was the Persian Empire, staggers the imagination. When Netanyahu spoke Tuesday to the UN General Assembly, he made assertions like this sentence from the transcript reported by MJ Rosenberg:
“Today our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.”
In this one sentence, Netanyahu lays out his full-fledged paranoia, a belief that Iran would commit national suicide because it hates Jews.He also fails to support his allegation that Iran is “nuclear-armed”.
It is not. Pray for the Israeli people who have reelected a man with these views.
The fact that Netanyahu continues as prime minister of a major industrial power is frightening. Paranoia on a scale this large, with at least 80 nuclear bombs awaiting use, is a major, major argument for eradicating all nuclear arms worldwide.
The New York Times asked veteran diplomat Gary Sick for a comment on Netanyahu’s speech. Sick was polite but obviously surprised. A former National Security Council staff member who specializes in Iran and who is now a research scholar at Columbia University, Sick said he saw in Netanyahu’s speech a somewhat ineffective attempt to abort the momentum that Rouhani had sought to build.
“He was so anxious to make everything look as negative as possible he actually pushed the limits of credibility,” he said, noting that it seemed incongruous after Mr. Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures and President Obama’s cautious responses. “It really is jarring to see that, the extreme element, and how far he was willing to push it. He did himself harm by his exaggerations.”
The nuclear arms race is the most destructive, immoral, impractical, suicidal components of the world’s military obsessions. All nuclear arms should all be banned. Unfortunately, in the realpolitik of the 21st century, the chances of a nuclear arm ban are slim to none.
Obama has to be aware of the irrational views of Netanyahu. So it is that when Obama enters the world political boxing ring, he enters with an 800-pound gorilla on his back, a potent political force that keeps whispering in his ear, “is this good for Israel”?
A gorilla? Yes, a gorilla, which is one way to describe a particular reality whose name must not be spoken, even though it influences whatever is going on in the room of world politics, corporate strategy meetings or a marriage counseling session. The gorilla is always there, but as in the Harry Potter books, his name “must not be spoken”.
The leader of the world’s sole remaining superpower functions in politics, domestic and foreign, with no reference to Israel’s political prisoners, its checkpoints, its home demolitions, or its repressive occupation. Because President Obama does not speak “the name” except in the lofty phrase, “our ally”, Obama focuses on Iran’s nuclear program as something that concerns him.
Of course, the nation it really concerns is Obama’s 800-pound gorilla which succeeded in getting Iraq neutered as a troublesome neighbor and is eager to do the same now with Iran and Syria.
Israel seems to be redrafting the Sykes-Picot agreement originally written at the close of World War I. It was a plan (shown at left) which two Western diplomats, Sir Mark Sykes, of Great Britain, and Georges Picot, of France, designed to create new Middle East national borders for the benefit of victorious Western colonial powers.
Israel, one of the world’s leading nuclear powers, wants to make the Middle East nuclear-free, with the exception of Israel, of course.The best way to accomplish this, from Israel’s perspective, is to break up many states into smaller, weaker “tribal states” which would pose no military threat to the reigning Middle East power, Israel.
Obama’s speech did not deal with new borders. Rather he revealed a distressing willingness to provide preferential treatment to Israel in the region:
Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the supreme leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully — although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. . . So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.
But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place.
Obama does not call for the abolishment of all nuclear weapons in the Middle East or the world, for that matter, though he has spoken of the need for just such an ideal development.He only wants to keep Iran from having its own private stash. And to pressure Iran into voluntarily giving up its nuclear ambitions the US government has implemented, along with other world powers, increasingly stringent economic sanctions against Iran.
As a result, Iran’s economy is feeling the pressure. In his speech, which had many positive elements, Obama adopted a parental or empirical tone, telling Iran it had brought those ugly “comprehensive sanctions” on itself. “But I want to be clear. We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course, and given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”
MJ Rosenberg knows that the US and Iran leaders are on the “same page” at this moment in history. He is also a realist who understands Israel’s political ambitions.
Both leaders would like to see the nuclear issue resolved and the crushing sanctions removed. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer who long ago departed from AIPAC’s clutches, writes about the thawed US–Iranian relationship:
“This is a major breakthrough – as anyone who has paid even a little attention over the past 34 years knows.However, I do not see this process leading anywhere because the Netanyahu government and its lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are determined to end the process and they have the ability to do it.
“They intend to use the United States Congress to cause Rouhani to abandon negotiations by making clear that Congress will accept nothing short of an Iranian surrender on nuclear issues. Unlike President Obama who wants to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is not used to produce weapons, the lobby, which writes the laws imposing sanctions on Iran, insists that Iran give up its nuclear program entirely.AIPAC listed its demands in a statement last week. Its bottom line is this:
“Congress must not consider lifting economic sanctions until the Iranians stop uranium enrichment, stop work on installing new centrifuges, allow international inspection of nuclear sites, and move out of the country its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. In contrast to the administration which, recognizing that Iran (like every other country) has the right to nuclear power for peaceful purposes, AIPAC says that Iran has no such right. (Israel, of course, has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons but, hey, that’s different.)
Not only that, if Iran does not agree to total nuclear surrender, “The United States must support Israel’s right to act against Iran if it feels compelled—in its own legitimate self-defense—to act.”
In his essay titled ‘Maximum Bibi’ for Foreign Policy, Daniel Levy writes about the new Iranian leader who gives strong signals that he is ready to negotiate the nuclear issue:
“This debate has taken on a new urgency given the diplomatic opening seemingly created by the election of Rouhani. It is no secret that Netanyahu has been dragged out of his comfort zone by the possibility of a US–Iran rapprochement. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aggressive and insulting behavior made him a convenient adversary for Israel; Rouhani and his diplomatic team, notably polished Foreign Minister JavadZarif, present a challenge of a very different order of magnitude.”
Levy clarifies the obvious: Ahmadinejad, who has a Tea Party “shoot from the mouth” political style, enjoys the limelight as a troublemaker. Israel’s talented propagandists took advantage of Ahmadinejad’s barnyard strutting, and gleefully made him the face of all things Iranian.
Ahmadinejad was easily Israel’s favorite leader. He was tailor-made for generating the Israel-as-victim trope.But today, Ahmadinejad is old news. Better that we focus this week on President Obama who wants to revolve conflict without war, facing off against Prime Minister Netanyahu, who wants to shove the U.S. into yet another Middle East war, for Israel’s benefit.
Sykes-Picot was a colonial, exploitative agreement that guaranteed instability in the Middle East for generations to come. Reshaping the same region for Israel’s benefit would be nothing less than Sykes–Picot Redux.
The picture above of President Obama (right) and Prime Minister Netanyahu was taken at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 13, 2013. It is an official White House photo taken by Pete Souza.
- James M. Wall is a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the magazine. He blogs at Wallwritings.