Yesterday, the N.Y. Times published one of those tea leaf articles about presidential politics which can either be suggestive or frustrating depending on whether you believe there’s any substance to the speculations. Pres. Obama has made two rather astonishing statements regarding Israel in the past few days which, depending on how you look at them, may indicate a new-found resolve to get tough on Israel and its prime minister Bibi Netanyahu; or it may be more high-minded bloviating along the lines of the Cairo speech, which sounded good and seemed to signify nothing.
Here’s how the Times reported it:
It was just a phrase at the end of President Obama’s news conference on Tuesday, but it was a stark reminder of a far-reaching shift in how the United States views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how aggressively it might push for a peace agreement.
When Mr. Obama declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a “vital national security interest of the United States,” he was highlighting a change that has resulted from a lengthy debate among his top officials over how best to balance support for Israel against other American interests.
This shift, described by administration officials who did not want to be quoted by name when discussing internal discussions, is driving the White House’s urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal. It increases the likelihood that Mr. Obama, frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to terms, will offer his own proposed parameters for an eventual Palestinian state.
Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
There are two strains that I read in Barack Obama’s political approach: one is playing for time, which is mostly what he seems to have done regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict until now; and then there is keeping your eye on the prize and seeking historic change. If Pres. Obama got frustrated enough that he proposed his own settlement parameters and he got the Quartet and EU on board, along with the Arab League, he would have a winner, regardless of Israeli government intransigence. In fact, I believe that faced with such a wall of support an Israeli government would either acquiesce or be replaced in elections.
When I first read Steve Walt’s portrayal of General Petraeus’ Congressional testimony in which he advanced the ideas in the last paragraph of the quotation above, I knew Obama had a winner. There is no argument stronger than a national security argument and what was so powerful and persuasive about this one was that it took the ground away from the Israel lobby. If American boys are facing down the wrath of Islamic militants at least partially because of the latters’ frustration at the injustice of the Occupation and suffering of the Palestinian people–this is an idea that will resonate with the American people even more than the idea that Israel and the U.S. have “shared values” or Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Body bags trump “common values” every time.
The second titillating statement concerned the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the president urged Israel to sign it:
“Whether we’re talking about Israel or any other country, we think that becoming part of the NPT is important…”
While he hastened to add that this has been U.S. policy for decades, the truth is that no president in my lifetime (as far as I recall) has ever made mention of this issue. The fact that Israel is a non-signatory is a major factor in Iran’s concern about its lack of a nuclear weapon. It realizes that Israel could strike at Iran at any time using its own nukes and Iran would have little recourse. This is a big destabilizing factor not just for Iran, but all of Israel’s neighbors who are without such weapons. Obama’s sensitivity to this issue is a very good sign, even if there’s not much he can do about it right now.
It is, of course, no accident that Bibi Netanyahu was a no-show at the conference attended by forty-seven other countries. He knew that Obama would likely make such a remark and couldn’t bear the idea of it. The fact of the matter is that if Israel wishes to make a stink out of Iran’s supposed thirst for nuclear weapons, the former doesn’t exactly have the cleanest act itself.
Being someone who’s interested in “inside basball” regarding this subject, I found this sentence fascinating and I wonder who the guests referred to were:
Last week, National Security Council officials met with outside Middle East experts to discuss the Arab Israeli conflict.
My money is on Daniel Levy as a sure thing. Not sure about Rob Malley or Dan Kurtzer but they were distinct possibilities along with Aaron David Miller. If you know the answer, let me know.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Ron Lauder Doesn’t Speak for the Jews (peacenow.org)
High-minded bloviating is what Obama does best. As for the much-touted Cairo speech, I was unimpressed, and have become less impressed as time goes on.
“If Pres. Obama…proposed his own settlement parameters and he got the Quartet and EU on board, along with the Arab League…”
Whether or not he would be successful would depend less on whether he came up with his own parameters or got the Quartet and EU on board than on whether the specific parameters he proposed would be acceptable to the Palestinians. If he wants to get the Arabic League on board the best thing he could do would be to adopt the peace proposal they have unanimously set in front of the Israelis for the past eight years – you know, the one the Israelis have consistently given the middle finger.
“ I believe that faced with such a wall of support an Israeli government would either acquiesce or be replaced in elections.”
Richard, surely you know by now that it doesn’t matter an iota who is in the Israeli government. Every single Israeli government since 1967 has had the same position toward the OPT’s – take, take, take, build, build, build, and if any Palestinians have objections, too bad for them. That is not going to change just because Netanyahu is replaced. Something has to happen in Israel that is much more profound and much bigger than a change in government.
Richard Silverstein says
That’s precisely my view. That the parameters he proposes should mirror the Arab League proposal since many parties have already signed on to it.
I frankly would give up on the Israeli gov’t in this process. If Obama gets significant international support & Palestinian sign-on then Israel will go along. They will essentially have no choice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Bibi or Tzipi signing the peace agreement. All they need is someone signing their name in Hebrew & representing Israel.
If you’re going to go for the two-state solution, the Arab League proposal is by far the most cogent, and concise plan. It really shouldn’t be more complicated than that, and attempts to make it more complicated suggest an ulterior motive.
Richard, I gave up on Israeli governments long ago when it comes to any kind of good faith with the Palestinians or much of anyone else. There hasn’t been a single one of them since 1967 that had any intention of giving up the West Bank or the Golan Heights. Even the saintly Rabin and his team were not negotiating in good faith. Like many others I saw Oslo for what it clearly was; a ploy to buy time for Israel to create more facts on the ground to obviate the creation of a Palestinian state. (I recommend Hanan Ashrawi’s book This Side of Peace for an alternative view to what was going on at that time.)
As for your suggestion that all they need is someone signing their name in Hebrew and representing Israel, since when has Israel’s name on any agreement meant anything? Israel is a signatory to the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNSC 242, and on and on, to all of which they have given the middle finger for decades, and done so with complete impunity. Why would you trust an Israeli signature on a peace agreement with the Palestinians?
Richard Silverstein says
Because all the other nations supporting this agreement would in effect become guarantors of Israeli compliance. Israel in general is quite expert at getting away w. as much as it can, but seems to always stop right at the edge of the abyss. So in that sense I think Israel would understand it was being given a very short leash & it would feel compelled to act accordingly.
Ah, but Israel has never been given any leash that was not very, very long indeed, so we do not really know how it would react to being given a short leash. I would like to think you are right and that Israel would respond as most rational actors would under the same circumstances, but given Israel’s history we cannot be certain.
Gene Schulman says
Shirin, something more than change in Israel has to happen. More important is change in U.S. imperial policies. Until they change, Israel, who is a key agent for those policies, will never change, no matter how many elections and change of governments they have. I see no prospect of that happening with Obama in office. He answers to, and works for the empirialists. Alas.
Israel will not change until the U.S. changes. That is the root of the problem.
You’re absolutely right, Gene. And even if the American public is convinced that the number of body bags will drop if the US changes its policies towards Israel, it’s still one hell of a long way before the government will actually listen, and stop supplying Israel with the weapons it uses to kill Palestinians. And it’s even longer before the Israelis will be forced to stop killing Palestinians!
Let us not forget that the two-state solution is dead as a doornail, too. There’s nothing left to make a Palestinian state out of.
Obama may be good at the bloviations, but when it comes to walking the walk, he’s still sitting at the AIPAC banquet.
Israel is as it is primarily because of the nature of Zionism, not because of the United States. Sure, if the United States stopped being Israel’s number one enabler there would be more constraints on Israel’s behaviour, but Zionism and Israel were what they were before they had virtually unquestioning support from the U.S., and they will not change inrrrr any fundamental way if the U.S. withdraws its support.
Gene Schulman says
You are certainly right about the nature of Zionism, Shirin. But once the Zionists cut loose from mother country Great Britain and leached on to sucking the blood of America, they can’t let go. And vice versa. They are too useful to America.
Shirin, if you look at the history of Israel you will see that American involvement was very much at the bottom of it, and has always been instrumental in maintaining it. Zionism would never have materialized into the State of Israel without the specific and purposeful complicity of people in both Roosevelt’s and Truman’s administrations.
With the exception of Eisenhower and Kennedy (had he lived), Israel has had very strong and mostly unquestioning support from the US. Without it, Israel would not have developed into what it is today.
Mary, I am quite conversant with the history of Zionism and Israel. My point was that the nature of Zionism is what determines the nature and character of Israel, and that will not change with or without the support of the United States.
Greville Janner says
President Obama has to balance “political reality” ie: the receipt of campaign funds by himself and Democratic Congressmen and Senators, with “economic reality” ie: the fact that moderate Arabs determine oil prices and availability.
Obama’s attitude is therefore informed by how much the moderate, mostly Gulf, Arab states care about the Palestinian issue. Until “Mossad” or maybe just Jewish extremists resourced by Cyril Reitman & son, killed somebody in Dubai, they frankly didn’t care. Now they are furious and Obama must either placate them, or face a world where America’s prosperity depends on Vladimir Putin’s changing moods.
Before the murder, there was even a slight chance that the Gulf Arabs would have allowed Israeli planes to overfly their territory for a strike on Iran: this won’t happen now, and all of them have fighters good enough to stop such overflights if they choose. It’s not that anyone in the UAE or Saudi Arabia loved Hamas or the leader who was killed: it’s the fact that the murder happened in a peaceful city whose prosperity depends on every race on Earth being able to do business there regardless of what disputes are happening elsewhere. (This used to be true of the Lebanon, once.)
Given the threat posed by Iran to both Israel and the UAE, a sane Israeli government would have made friends of them instead of allowing a fairly pointless murder to make enemies. Israel has made itself a threat to the bottom line, and in America, as well as Arabia, this is where the decisions are made.
And the organized harassment campaign against Judge Goldman is madness in the same vein: the most powerful government in Africa provoked for no gain whatsoever.
Gene Schulman says
Don’t count on the Gulf states to prevent an attack on Iran. The are more afraid of the Shiite mullahs than they are Israel.. The Palestinians mean nothing to them. The preservation of their royal privileges is all they care about. Israel and the U.S. are propping them up, as well as Saudi Arabia.
I don’t think the Gulf states are afraid of the Shi’ite mullahs.
Yes, they are mainly interested in keeping their high fallutin’ lifestyles, and heaven help anyone who gets in the way of that.
Saudi Arabia is very much afraid of Iran Shirin, or let me rephrase that, Saudi Arabia does not now and never did have a love affair with Iran. Witness KSA’s treatment of their Shi’ah population. Your everyday Saudi rejoiced when the Shah was overthrown and Khomeini returned. I remember this very well, but it wasn’t because they were in love with Khomeini, it was due to their hatred of the Shah. I don’t know if you are aware of this but the border fighting with Yemen that is going on, KSA is claiming it is Iranian backed. Now what they claim and what the truth is may be two different things, but that is the official line.
Furthermore, the Shi’ah in the Eastern Province suffer horribly at the hands of the Saudi government. The Saudi royal family is in cahoots with the home-grown Wahabis, a black-mail situation. The crazy mutawas and freak imams let the royals get away with what they do and likewise. But the crazy Wahabi freaks are NOT friends of the Iranians. Stick in American interests and the entire Saudi military being US trained and this really is a powder keg.
Robin, I must defer to your apparently superior knowledge of Saudi Arabia, an country that has always been outside my areas of special interest. I do know that Saudi Arabia does not have a love affair with Iran, but I still maintain that the Gulf states in general do not fear the Mullahs, and the fact that the Saudis hated the Shah so much that they cheered the return of Khomeini suggests that it is not the Shi’ite Mullahs that they have a problem with, but Iran in general irrespective of its leadership.
I am aware of the involvement of the Wahabis in the Yemini conflict, and did know that Saudi Arabia is trying to blame Iran, just as everyone is trying to blame Iran for just about everything they don’t like right now. A few of the allegations against Iran are not completely implausible, but I have never seen any evidence that convinces me to believe them, and most simply do not pass the giggle test. It seems quite unlikely that Iran is in cahoots with the Taliban, for example, but that is what we are hearing from the U.S. and its stenographers in the media. Remember when the U.S. insisted that after the virulently anti-Shi`a Zarqawi was reportedly grievously wounded by the Americans he made a beeline to seek comfort, succor, and expert medical treatment from the Iranians? And then there was the other story that Zarqawi and Muqtada Al Sadr had formed an alliance. So, the blame Iran game is not one I find very convincing for the most part.
And yes, I am very aware of how the Saudi regime treats the Shi`as living inside its borders. I have also learned from scholars whom I respect that Iran has made some effort in the last few years to discourage the Shi`as living in the Gulf states from making too many waves, and that they have done so in an effort to improve their relations with those states.
“Moderate” in this context meaning, of course, not moderate, but in the United States’ pocket, which is not even remotely the real meaning of moderate.
Can we please stop promoting U.S./Israeli propaganda terms and call things what they are? Saudi Arabia, while certainly allied with the U.S., is anything BUT moderate. On the contrary it is a socially, culturally, and intellectually bankrupt country run by a bunch of deeply hypocritical, self-serving religiously-totalitarian wack jobs. Axis of evil member Syria actually is a moderate state, with a very moderate, pluralistic society whose leader is actually interested in improving the condition of the country, the welfare of its people, and its position in the world (if only Israel and the U.S. would let it).
When we mean U.S. allied, please, let’s say that and not buy into the jargon developed by the P.R. hacks the U.S. government hires for multi-tens-of-millions to come up with this rubbish.
RE: KSA”On the contrary it is a socially, culturally, and intellectually bankrupt country run by a bunch of deeply hypocritical, self-serving religiously-totalitarian wack jobs”.
Shirin can I politely disagree with you? While I agree 100% their domestic policy is run by whack jobs, their foreign policy is far from being run by whack jobs. In fact, that is the root of the problem, they ARE “smart”. Please note that I placed smart in quotation marks denoting that “smart” to me means cunning.
On the other hand, Gene’s statement. “Until “Mossad” or maybe just Jewish extremists resourced by Cyril Reitman & son, killed somebody in Dubai, they frankly didn’t care”
Categorically untrue partially (which is an oxymoron fitting of KSA’s historically schizophrenic policy towards the Palestinians) KSA cared very MUCH when King Faisal implemented the OPEC rationing of oil in response to the Ramadan War (or as some might call it, the “Yom Kippur” war)
There have been cases when KSA “cared” and then there have been cases when their foreign policy approach to Palestine certainly wasn’t helpful-to put it mildly. My point being that one can’t paint KSA’s policy towards the Palestinians with one big brush. Not trying to defend it whatsoever, just trying to point to the schizophrenic nature of it. If you had the Saudi “mood on the street” implemented in their foreign policy you would see a major MAJOR shift.
Gene Schulman says
That was Janner’s statement, not Gene’s. Gene has enough trouble making his points, without being misquoted. Thank you.
Apologies Gene. I got my “G” names mixed up when I scrolled down after doing the quote.
I will also forever disagree on the description of “moderate” to describe Syria. They’re thugs with an atrocious human rights record.
Mary, I understand what you are saying, and of course we have had this conversation before. The government of Bashshar Al Asad leaves a lot to be desired in many respects, including human rights, but compared to his father’s his regime is a paragon of moderation, even in the human rights realm.
Can you name a Middle Eastern government with a better human rights record than Bashshar’s Syria? I cannot, and I can name many that are much worse. We could start with U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, for example, which makes Syria look great by comparison. And looking at the Arab countries usually characterized as “moderate” – aka U.S. puppets – Jordan has a terrible human rights record; many Egyptians will tell you that Mubarak is as bad as Saddam; `Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qabus is in many respects the most enlightened of the Arab rulers, but in human rights not so much. And let’s not forget the brutal tyrants whose worst excesses the U.S. has supported, including the “moderate” Shah of Iran, who would make the Syrian regime look like a paragon of human rights. And of course there was Saddam.
Realistically we measure moderation by more than just human rights. Since coming to power Bashshar has changed a lot of things in Syria for the better, and many Syrian people recognize that and appreciate him for it. Each year when I go I see noticeable improvements in infrastructure, for example, and the availability of things like wireless internet is growing exponentially.
And Bashshar is interested in reaching out to the West, and has made several overtures to Israel with the goal of negotiations on the Golan Heights and a peace agreement. The big problem Bashshar has in reaching out to the West is that he is not ready to accept dependence on the U.S., let alone the client state status that others have accepted, so I guess he is more useful as a pariah state, and is kept in that position despite all his efforts to the contrary.
So, yes, Syria leaves a lot to be desired in a number of areas, including human rights. It is nevertheless what I would consider a moderate country overall especially relative to others in the region.
Robin, I was speaking generally, not referring to their foreign policy specifically, or to their policy toward Palestine at all. My point was that there is no way in which the word moderate can reasonably be applied to Saudi Arabia except by using its propaganda definition of “allied with the United States”.
As for the Gult states, I submit that they are only as moderate as they need to be to maintain their position of power and their high lifestyles.
Greville Janner says
It is possible to be too cynical about the motives and thinking of moderate Arab rulers.
Fear of the Shiite Mullahs is too simplistic, too, because a great many leading Shiite theologians are teaching that the Iranian regime is misguided and illegitimate. Khomeini’s mass executions a few years ago, done for no better reason than that the jails were full, divided Shias, more like 75:25 against the regime than down the middle.
The UAE’s location may put them in the firing line as regards Iran, but it also means that they know better than anyone else what’s actually going on inside Iran, and inside the regime.
Greville Janner says
I wasn’t thinking “Saudi Arabia” when I used the term “Moderate”, but the UAE, Oman, Qatar and all the others. There’s a lot of venom rather than information in some of the views expressed here.
There is an absolutely palpable difference crossing the border between Saudi Arabia and most of its neighbours. Many people with jobs in Saudi, rent a cheap flat there and buy or rent a better house in Abu Dhabi in which to actually live.
Describing the Arabs as being in America’s pocket may mistake the directionality of the relationship, given America’s recent economic performance.
Greville, these Arab states hold massive US Treasury bills, massive US bank shares, massive US real estate holdings and massive contracts with US businesses. Each and every one of them including Saudi Arabia. Follow the money. It’s what makes the “world go around”. But note also, these Arab states have capitulated on EAR, the Ribicoff Amendment, Arab boycott because it is in THEIR economic interest to do so. The Gulf States would no more rock the boat than a woman at gunpoint about to be raped would tell her attacker she is happy to comply. The Gulf states depend on US business cooperation and that means MORE to them than Palestine. End of story.
To me, it seems that Israel – and its shifting winds – is the great unknown in this equation. America may be relatively easy to predict – it is clear that Obama is attempting to move the goal posts – too glacially and cautiously for most of us here – but unmistakenly moving something. Behind him is a growing consensus of a majority of democrats, including an even larger majority of jewish americans – all in favor of putting some pressure on israel (where the difference is really in the “how much” and ‘threading the lobby needle”). Against his administration are the forces of republicans-gone tea-party nuts, egged on by neocon and AIPAC die-hards as well as remnants of the still-powerful christian zionists. But they are all in the minority now, and Aipac itself has splits in its ranks which it’s doing all it can to hide. If given enough time, the outcome is clear – a serious nudge from the US with sticks that are blunted at first, but increasingly tipped with just enough poison to deliver a bite.
Time is only unknown for america- will Obama have enough of it, given this is mid-term elections season, and attention, if not intent, are bound to waver.
For israel however, the questions are far more confounding. Is the israeli collective still sane enough to side with rationality and self-interest in the end? That is the real question, IMO. Because the Israeli population is not like any other previous colonizing power. They may not fold as the French [wisely] did in the end in Algier, or the white south africans or the british everywhere, or even the Russians, once they realized they have a losing hand. The Israeli psyche has become seriously teinted with a Maccabean mentality, and there’s no telling whether rationality itself can triumph, when losses are presented as wins and where every battle is viewed through a distorted glass, with bits of bible, and bits of holocaust, and a large dose of myth – all shrink wrapped in a foil of paranoia mingled with deep sense of exceptionalism. I say that, knowing quite a few rational israelis myself who may disagree on points but are plenty rational enough to be brought around. it’s just that there’s this hard core element in israel that’s nothing like what Bernard Avishai and J street wish it to be. It’s a core that cannot be softened with words or reality, because reality itself is a secondary consideration to this element.
I don’t know the answer, because psychosis is easy to diagnose and difficult to prognose. trial and error is all there is – for the sick individual as for the afflicted society.
here’s wishing for a cure….
Gene Schulman says
Prognosis easy. Early extinction.
Richard Silverstein says
I DO NOT appreciate this comment. It violates the comment rules. Consider this a warning. In spite of our disagreements I like you Gene, but rein it in.
Gene Schulman says
Duly warned. Apologies offered.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks. I appreciate that.
Dana, I have not found that Israel has ever been unpredictable. The shifting winds you refer to have never affected the core principles and goals of Zionism, nor have those “shifting winds” ever significantly affected Israel’s aggressive nature, and brutality toward those who got in the way of its agenda.
Among all of Israel’s Prime Ministers Moshe Sharett alone showed some apparently genuine inclination toward the idea of real coexistence. He was not appreciated for that at all, and in any case was only there for less than two years as some sort of “interim relief PM” while Ben Gurion took some time off. And OK, Levi Eshkol also appeared to have some genuinely decent impulses toward the “Arabs”, which did not make him more popular, and which never resulted in anything real. And let’s not forget that it was his government that started one of Israel’s most aggressive wars, another major ethnic cleansing (96% of the Syrian population of the Golan Heights, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced to flee, or driven in trucks and buses to the borders, and forced to cross, hundreds of villages and neighborhoods demolished and in some cases covered with dirt to hide the fact that they had ever existed), and of course its most successful war of expansion.
Even Israel’s most famous “man of peace”, Rabin, was unspeakably brutal, and in the end Oslo was hardly more than a subterfuge used to further restrict Palestinian freedom and buy more time for Israel to tighten its grip on the OPT (as I mentioned above, when they try to make the peace agreement too complicated, and turn peace into endless “process” you can be sure there is an ulterior motive).
Dana, unlike you I have found Israel to be all to tiresomely predictable over its history, and I do not expect that to change. Mainly what has changed from government to government is the wrapping paper, but what is in the box remains the same always.
shirin, I’ll clarify what I meant, if I may:
It is not Israel’s intentions or desires that are unpredictable, it’s the rationality of the response in the face of concerted pressure. i.e., it’s not about the “actions” but about the “reaction”.
I do not disagree about what you say israel, or, more specifically, zionism – as an ideology wanted and aspired to. By definition, zionism has been conceived as a colonialist movement, wrapped – like so many others throughout history – in a package labeled “manifest destiny”. That israelis would rather have a land without Arabs is a tautology. The same exclusionary ideology that drove early american settlers who wanted an america without the Indians and the boers wanted a white south africa without the blacks (or with the blacks relegated to subservient roles). The only difference between zionism as a colonialist ideology and others before it, is the quality of PR which has successfully presented conquest by force as “Return” sanctioned by mythology, and made inevitable by previous persecution.
So we all know what israel, the collective entity, aspires to. The question I raised is how rational the response will be when confronted by concerted opposition from the rest of the world. We know what south africa’s response was in the end. We know what serbia’s was, and what the french one was. At some point they all accepted the verdict and moved on – after much initial resistance.
What I cannot be sure of is whether israel – as a nation represented by people who elect instruments of state – is capable of coming to a rational decision, based on cost/benefit considerations. Individuals certainly can, as would perhaps 30% of the israeli population, those who most readily identify with the world at large (e.g., the Avishai global/coastal “elite”). But there’s that other 70% – who range from hedging to outright rejecting. We can quibble about what the percentages are and what they mean, but I wouldn’t call it a national psychosis, if I thought there really was a solid majority that would go along with a “live and let live” solution.
Question: Just how far does Israel have to go before the rest of the world puts the brakes on them?
This mass deportation order is a good example. It’s going to result in some deaths, as it’s already going to be guilty of splitting up tens of thousands of Palestinian families. This order is going to be enforced by IOF soldiers, who will have unlimited authority to decide who leaves and who stays.
It will affect every non-Palestinian who is married to a Palestinian and living in the West Bank, and it will affect their children.
Ironically, it contradicts an order originally coming from Mahmoud Abbas as a gesture of conciliation; he allowed the Gazans to live in the West Bank, now he is behind the order to kick them out. I am told by someone who has inside knowledge that Abbas asked the Israelis to enforce this order so that the Gazans, who tend to support Hamas, would not be in the West Bank for the upcoming elections.
Thank you for the clarification, Dana. I see what you were getting at now. For what it is worth, I don’t think Israel as a collective entity has ever been rational, and if anything it is more irrational now than ever. I agree with you about the “national psychosis”, and I doubt we will ever see Israel reacting in a rational way.
Greville Janner says
It’s important to remember that the defining characteristic of the Iranian regime, after brutality, of course, is cunning.
If Israel responds as Dana fears, then the Iranian regime can basically lay a trail of breadcrumbs towards the most suicidal option.
The technical route to a bomb programme that would work fastest for Iran, and rely least on external resources, would be to exploit Iran’s significant Thorium reserves, turning that via a heavy water reactor (which they already had) and heavy water, of course, (they’ve had a plant for that for some years, too) into U233. This can then be purified from the parent material, thorium, by purely chemical means, in much the same way that platinum and palladium are separated from nickel on a commercial basis, every day. This avoids the huge industrial overhead of “enrichment” of U235 from natural uranium and the similar difficulties of reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium from partially-enriched uranium after it’s been in a reactor.
Also, there is no way of separating weapons-grade Pu239 from Pu240 once the latter has been formed, so the irradiation of enriched natural uranium to make weapons grade material has to be done right to start with: there’s no way back once there’s more than about 7% Pu240 in the results.
So, the simplest type of heavy water and graphite “pile” can irradiate Thorium to produce a fissile isotope, U233 (not found in nature as it’s less stable than U235 or U238) and, because this is the only isotope of uranium then present in the Thorium feedstock, it can be extracted with high purity by strictly chemical means.
This process doesn’t need complicated plant, and it certainly doesn’t need acres of plant, the way the repetitive enrichment process does.
U233 is also amenable to the two point “Swan” implosion technology which the Iranians are alleged to have tested. The drawback is that any warheads made with it have a limited shelf-life (reportedly, five years) before the cores need reprocessing. Although, this is again a purely chemical process, creating a small but malignant waste residue.
And yet, after building the heavy water plant, near a hydro-electric dam, and having some of the world’s most exploitable Thorium deposits (near the Caspian sea), and having built the right type of simple heavy water and graphite “pile” years ago, the Iranians commenced on building rows of gleaming enrichment centrifuges, with plans to build thousands more, and with regular TV announcements about the levels of enrichment being achieved. And the uranium ore to feed all this, was very publicly imported, too.
I smell breadcrumbs here.
By taking the covert Thorium to U233 route, the Iranians could already have a small stock of bombs, being rotated through core reprocessing as each bomb reaches its five year safe handling limit.
The enrichment of natural uranium, however, is a tool of political manipulation, as well as a perfect decoy. They can ramp tension up and down at will, just by showing the press into the gleaming enrichment palaces and letting the IEA have a sample of uranium a bit more enriched than the last time. The Israelis, or the Americans, can bomb all this to buggery and it will achieve nothing -except provide a pretext for “retaliation” using weapons derived via the technically easier, more covert, and vastly cheaper, route.
The main reasons why the American and British nuclear programmes never used U233 are: the relatively short shelf-life and the malignance of what you get left with when you reprocess old U233 -and the fact that by the time they realized that they could, America had already built five huge enrichment plants and the UK’s Magnox power stations were producing copious amounts of plutonium which was being bartered for the American enriched uranium. The USA did eventually build and detonate one U233 test warhead: if this had required anything like the industrial investment of their main weapons programmes, this experiment would have been ludicrously expensive. It was cheap enough to be done, essentially out of curiosity.
So, it’s within Iran’s resources to already have several nuclear weapons, buildable by a far more covert route than uranium enrichment, and the enrichment programme (a thousand centrifuges when fifteen thousand are probably needed) could be worth the money just for the political control it gives the Iranians, not just over American and Israeli reactions, but most importantly, over the timing of those reactions.
I know, from when they murdered the entire family (down to a ten year old female cousin) of a college friend back in 1980, that the Ayatollahs are brutal almost beyond comprehension. But they have considerably more than a brute intelligence and, like all psychopaths, manipulation and traps are their field of excellence.
Israel needs an ally who actually knows what the Iranian regime is really up to, rather than basing its survival plans on what it looks like they are up to.
Gene Schulman says
Sorry for the ad hominem attack here, but Janner, you are really around the bend. I think the subject here is about America’s changing attitude to Israel. Who asked for a disquisition on Iran’s nuclear problems?
And, yes, the Ayatollas can be brutal. We all know that. But are they any more brutal than what the IDF is reining on Gaza? More brutal than what the U.S. is doing in Iraq or Afghanistan?
Oh, puleeeeeeze. Ignoring your prattle about thorium and u233 (do you really think anyone here is impressed?), you start off with a standard stereotype – brutal and cunning, eh? I guess they also have hook noses, big thick lips, and wield scimitars?
And while I am sincerely sorry about what happened to your college friend’s family thirty years ago, the cast of characters has changed by now – a lot – and so has everything else. The Iran of today is hardly the Iran of thirty years ago.
If Iran is working on nuclear weapons – and there is no evidence that they are, or that they ever have been – one can hardly blame them given the persistent and very serious threats they have been under from Israel and the United States. I guess I’d be arming myself if I were threatened as much as Iran has been, and I can even stand to kill a spider when I find it in my house – I pick them up and release them outside.
Iran has not attacked or invaded another country aggressively in nearly 300 years. Iran is not a threat to anyone, but Iran is most certainly under serious threat.
I’m still trying to figure out why Iran is being singled out as the bad actor in this scenario, and why Israel, who has shown itself to be irrationally and brutally violent against Palestinians and Lebanese and Egyptians, is the one wearing the self-righteous halo.
Israel, who has not allowed weapons inspectors in to scrutinize its own nuclear program and who refuses to sign the NPT, is supposed to be the trustworthy one?
What on earth have these folks been smoking?
Gene Schulman says
AIPAC propaganda reefers, apparently, Mary.
Don’t you love it? Part of Obama’s big nuclear plan is to emphasize the importance of signing and complying with the NPT, and ostracize those who will not sign and will not comply. So, who gets invited to is nice little conference but Israel, who refuses to sign, and who has historically been brazenly non-compliant with virtually every agreement it HAS signed, and who gets dissed? Why, Iran, who has signed the NPT and has not been shown to be out of compliance with it in any significant way.
This, my dear Shirin, seems to be what happens when the lunatics are running the asylum. Nobody gives, shall we say, a dead rat’s rear end about what makes sense and what is true.
As a result, people die. Thousands and thousands of them. Which looks like where this idiocy is heading. Anyone who ever thought Obama had a brain in his head needs to get his own examined.
Richard Silverstein says
You’re absolutely right. I think not inviting Iran & explicitly excluding it fr. the list of nations the U.S. pledged never to attack w nuclear weapons was too cute by half on Obama’s part. He wants to score political pts at Iran’s expense. IF he really wanted an agreement w. Iran he wouldn’t have done that.
For all of the focus on Iran, you do have to admit that it’s definitely cute, Richard. Whoever Obama’s handler is in this matter is quite adept.
Could it be because whenever the Iranians make a public appearance, they make very damning statements about Israel, raising issues that make everyone uncomfortable?
Greville Janner says
The cast has not changed: the junior who sentenced the family to death is now the supreme leader. It is interesting, after several supremely stereotyped comments about “moderate Arabs”, that a well-informed observation about the Iranian leadership should be presented as a racial caricature, when it isn’t. They are cunning buggers, that is how they are still in power when the Iranian population wants them gone.
And who is bonkers, if you think that America’s attitude to ANYTHING in the region can these days be separated from Iran?
Hamas is a tool of Iranian policy. And, since misery in Gaza suits Iranian rabble-rousing very well, it’s almost as if the IDF is an unwitting tool as well.
At no stage was I trying to pretend that Israel is in the right, merely to observe that Iran isn’t either, and this compounds the dangers in Israel’s actions.
The state of Israel is acting foolishly, but it is not doing this in a vacuum; its folly is being exploited and that’s a pretty good reason, morality aside, for a rethink.
It is also false to say that Iran has not invaded anyone in 300 years: they have illegally occupied Abu Musa (an island on the shipping lanes into Dubai harbour) since 1972 and unwarranted territorial claims against the UAE are the one thing that have not changed between the Shah’s regime and that of the Ayatollahs.
And it is apparent that everyone is reacting to my post without reading it: it is not an argument for attacking Iran, which may already be a nuclear power, but for resisting such a thing, even if the Iranian leadership appear to be courting such an outcome.
Nice piece of hasbara, too bad it doesn’t fly.
Any high school student should be able to explain to you that Iranians are not Arabs. I burst out laughing when I read the beginning of your comment; unfortunately, this faux pas on your part affects the credibility of the remainder of your statement.
Iran is made up of such “cunning buggers” that they have not attacked another country in 300 years. Admirable, the sneakiness of those Iranian “Arabs”! Your little tale about Iran “occupying” an island is so funny that it beggars belief, especially when contrasting this with a 62 year illegal occupation of Palestine. Please, spare me.
I can also assure you that Hamas is not a tool of Iran; it is a product of brutal occupation. Hamas is also working hard for the people of Gaza, which is more than I can say for literally anyone else in any government in the world. This is the reason they were elected by the Gazan people to represent them, and I have had more than one citizen of Gaza tell me this personally. Hamas may receive weapons and support from Iran, but believe me when I also tell you that they receive them from many other places as well, some of which would shock you right out of your shorts.
The onus should be on Israel to sign the NPT and allow weapons inspections, not on Iran to desist from a nuclear weapons program.
“the junior who sentenced the family to death is now the supreme leader.”
How very convenient. And what evidence do you have that this crime actually took place, and that the current Supreme Leader was the culprit?
“a well-informed observation”
“Brutal and cunning” does not constitute a well-informed observation. It is, at best, an opinion, and not the kind of opinion one usually hears from truly well-informed people, but from people who prefer quick and easy stock phrases.
I guess we should be in awe of your erudition by now.
“Hamas is a tool of Iranian policy.”
And now you present us with boilerplate propaganda phrases? Impressive.
“It is also false to say that Iran has not invaded anyone in 300 years: they have illegally occupied Abu Musa (an island on the shipping lanes into Dubai harbour) since 1972 and unwarranted territorial claims against the UAE…”
Is this the best argument you have on this point? A 39-year-old occupation of a tiny little uninhabited island in the Gulf (they have occupied it since 1971, not 1972) and some “unwarranted” – according to you – territorial claims against the UAE? If so, you would have been better off either conceding the point or ignoring it.
The one thing that is becoming clear is that you are obsessed with Iran, and not in a healthy way.
Richard Silverstein says
Hamas is a tool for no one. It is an independent actor which accepts support fr. the few sources willing to offer it. Iran no more controls Hamas than any other Middle Eastern state does. THough I’m not an expert on Hamas, my view of things indicates that Hamas is a far more independent player than Hezbollah is regarding its Syrian “mentor.”
That doesn’t mean that I find Hamas a desirable force in Palestinian poltics, but it means I believe in being realisitic & accurate about acknowledging Palestinian reality.
Gene Schulman says
Don’t forget, Hamas was created by Israel and the U.S. as a counter to Arafat’s PLO. This is the predictable blow back. The U.S. did the same in helping to promote the Muslim Brotherhood to counter Nasser, and supported the Taliban when they were fighting off USSR invasion in Afghanistan. The US. and Israel have a long history of this nature.
One may criticize Hamas methods, but hardly their purpose.
“Hamas was created by Israel and the U.S. as a counter to Arafat’s PLO.”
Gene, this is factually incorrect. Neither Israel nor the U.S. created Hamas. Hamas was founded by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood entirely without the assistance of Israel or the United States. Later Israel, under PM Yitzhak Shamir did nurture Hamas at the same time that it cracked down heavily on Fatah and the PLO in an effort to undermine the latter two, but it is simply false, and rather insulting to suggest that Hamas was created by Israel or by the U.S.. I am also unaware of any evidence that the U.S. had a hand in Israel’s initial support of Hamas.
George Fink says
To someone who supports Obama in general, it is deeply disappointing that he chooses to link the palestinian- Israel confrontration with the number of US body bags.
The first Gulf war was triggeerd by Sadam Hussain invading Kuwait! The second US assault on Iraq stemmed in part from George W Bush’s desperate need to show that he was tougher (and could cause more devastation ) than his daddy, and in part from reloading the treasure chests of haliburton, Bechtel and the US Arms industry. The US lead Afghan invasion was triggeerd by 9/11 and a deranged belief that the Taliban could be brought to heel and that Osama bin Laden could be found and brought to trial. It is for Barak Obama to decide whether he wishes to continue the useless and destructive war. Finally, Iran is correct- the USA was the first and only nation to make two nuclear strikes – Obama’s rhetoric on the NPT is arrogant and hypocritical. Instead of pompously instructing everyone else on how to behave he should apologise each day to the Japanese for the apocalyptic destruction the USA unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki!
If Obama wishes to stem the tide of US body bags and in turn make good his claim that the USA needs to improve relations with the Muslim World, he should get the hell out of Afghanistan. Israel is not in any way responsible for any of these US-lead adventures!
The fault, Mr Barak Obama, lies not with the Jews and Israel, but with yourself! You are a huge disappointment….we hoped for enlightenment, and you offer nothing but darkness and hypocritical double-speak
Richard Silverstein says
On the contrary, it is very heartening that he has done precisely that. Either you are a progressive w. a schizoid personality or you’re pretending to hold the views you do.
No one’s saying Israel’s responsible for U.S. aggression in the Mideast. But if we as a nation do want to engage w. the Muslim world then the leading irritant to such good relations is the intractable I-P conflict & Obama is precisely right in saying we need to resolve it for there to be good realations bet us & Muslims.
Actually, Richard, I don’t the United States needs to resolve the I-P conflict in order to engage with the Muslim world. I think it would be enough for the United States to stop being Israel’s #1 supplier of the means to continue its criminal behaviour – money, military equipment, PR/hasbara and diplomatic support – and start treating Israel like the rogue state it is.
I second that, Shirin. Besides, I don’t think the US is capable of solving it. Once, however, the gravy train stops, the rogue state known as Israel will no longer have the money or the support to sustain an occupation.
Mary, I think the situation would have had a far better chance of being solved by now had the U.S. stayed out of it. I’m not saying it would have been solved had the U.S. stayed out of it, but I believe the U.S.’s involvement has been a major impediment, even – maybe even especially – in its role as a (dis)honest broker.
The only problem is that the US is a party, not a broker. It is every bit as much a party to the problem as are the Zionists and the Palestinians, hence they have to be included, although they should not be running the show, which is what they’re doing. They’re not only far from being an honest broker, their duplicity is showing when they fail to acknowledge how Israel is representing US interests in the region, and that they are paid big bucks for it.
George Fink says
The “big bucks” argument is garbage! Israel could easily survive without US Govnmt financial aid – but could the US aero and “defense” industry survive? If you care to examine the way in which the annual US $3 billion grant to Israel is spent, you will see that it is virtually all spent on US manufactured arms and related equipment. The $3 billion grant to Israel is a straightforward $3 billion US Govnmt grant to US Industry. It would in my view (and that of many Israelis and Israel supporters) be great for the US to stop this grant which simply serves as a millstone around Israel’s neck. We would not then have to put up with Obama’s interminable and insufferable hypocritical sermons…
Gene Schulman says
Garbage? The 3 billion (plus) dollars the U.S. contributes to Israel every year is a pittance in comparison to the Pentagon budget, which is greater by half of all spending by other nations combined. But without it, Israel wouldn’t last more than six months, unless, of course, it were willing to make peace with its neighbors. It is more likely that the U.S. could survive much better than Israel, if they, too, were to make peace, and use those wasted funds to provide health care, social security, education, and renovated infrastructure for its own people.
“The “big bucks” argument is garbage! Israel could easily survive without US Govnmt financial aid”
Thank you for that clarification and information. Having said this, there is no need for AIPAC. Have you informed THEM of this? I will be forwarding your statement to my Christian Zionist congressman, and the long list of congressmen who continue to vote in favor of continuing this misdirected folly of theirs which isn’t necessary.
I’m sure AIPAC, the ADL, the ZOA and other lobbying outfits would be interested in the “no big bucks” thing too. Especially when it’s common knowledge that more than $3 billion a year goes from the US to Israel and that Obama just signed off on a bill guaranteeing this payment for the next 10 years.
There are also loan guarantees and grants, all of which are described nicely by Mearsheimer and Walt in their excellent book, which I am sure you’ve also heard of. And the amount of private money (Israel is a country that accepts “donations” as though it is a private charity) flowing into the country from wealthy Zionists worldwide is almost impossible to estimate, but it is substantial.
“it is virtually all spent on US manufactured arms and related equipment.”
You really need to get your facts straight before you comment here because there will always be people here who actually know what they are talking about. Israel has a special deal with the U.S. that allows it to spend about one quarter of that three billion in Israel on its own growing military industry. To the best of my knowledge Israel is the only country that is allowed to do this – another testament to the power of AIPAC, I suppose.
And let’s not overlook the fact that the three billion in direct military aid is only a portion of the money the U.S. contributes to Israel every year.
Gene Schulman says
Of course the U.S. can’t solve anything, precisely because it doesn’t want to.
The real “rogue state” in this drama is the U.S. Israel is merely the Sancho Panza to the U.S. Don Quixote.
“the U.S. can’t solve anything, precisely because it doesn’t want to.”
Well, Gene, this is consistent with your ideology in regard to Israel and the U.S., but not much else. There is no good reason to believe that at least some U.S. governments really have wanted to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and really did try, but were unable to for a variety of reasons, all connected in one way or another to a combination of the U.s, connection to Israel’s and Israel’s lack of good faith and commitment to a resolution.
Correction: “There is no good reason not to believe that at least some U.S. governments really have wanted to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict,
George Fink says
I ignore your insulting ad hominem comments which serve only to demean your standing and lower the currency of your opinions.
I welcome Obama’s efforts to broker a I-P peace deal – possibly achieved by recognising Hamas and promoting commerce, industry and business across the whole I-P area – Netanyahu and Fayed seem to be at one on the latter.
This does not require a false and flawed link between the I-P conflict and US body bags – i.e. goy kills goy – and Obama blames the Jews – the blood libel continues, unabated….
Gene Schulman says
To just whom are you directing these remarks, Mr. Fink? I haven’t seen any ad hominem or insulting comments, especially as this is your first appearance here. Perhaps you don’t know what the word means.
I agree with that Petraeus draws a false link between the I-P conflict and US body bags, but when have you heard Obama blaming Jews. Let us please understand the difference between Zionist Israel and the “Jews.” That kind of thinking merely accentuates anti-Semitism. Blood libel, indeed.
George Fink says
to Gene Schulman
Re your query: addressed to Richard Silverstein who wrote: “Either you are a progressive w. a schizoid personality or you’re pretending to hold the views you do.”
However, I have got your friendly message – know when I am not welcome – so over and out
What is required for an end to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim worlds is not the promotion of commence, industry, and business, but for Israel for once in its existence to comply with international law, and withdraw to within the Green Line; leave the Palestinians to form their independent, sovereign state; return the Golan Heights to Syria, and the Sheb`a Farms area to Lebanon, and start conducting itself as a decent, law-abiding member of the international community.
Gene Schulman says
It’ll never happen, Shirin, precisely because, having nothing to do with my ideology, the U.S. has never tried to honestly be a broker for peace. Any belief otherwise is pure fantasy. Indeed, we all among the public (Israelis, Americans, Palestinians) want peace. But until we rid ourselves of the current “rulers of the world,” it will never happen.
I was not arguing that it will happen, Gene, I was arguing that promoting commerce, industry, and business will not bring an end to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East. It MIGHT help relieve the worst of Palestinian deprivation and suffering, but that’s about all.
Richard Silverstein says
Besides being an invidious lie, this is also a violation of my comment rules. Read them before commenting again. Further violations may result in restriction of your comment privileges.
Other than the suicide bombings which stopped years ago, why is everyone still so reluctant to recognize and engage with Hamas as a political entity?
I just thought I’d ask because it’s an important question that begs to be answered.
Oh, one thing I forgot to mention:
Israel is allowed to spend 26.3 percent of each year’s military aid in Israel (no other recipient of U.S. military aid gets this benefit), which has resulted in an increasingly sophisticated Israeli defense industry.
Do the math. Israel is currently receiving three billion per year. Now that George has informed us that Israel doesn’t need this aid I am pleased. Just think of those monies going towards education and health care here in the US.
Onwards and upwards. Or was that upwards and onwards?
George says all that money we send Israel is a millstone around their neck too Mary. Bibi and pals need to get rid of that ASAP don’t you think? I’m going to cc them too.
(Up there-doesn’t give the reply option after Shirin) When I wrote that Saudi policy wasn’t controlled by whack jobs but rather by clever ones, I am referring to their balancing act.
The last thing KSA needs is the Straights of Hormuz closed should a strike on Iran occur. Saudi economy is not thriving as it once did. If they were to allow their airspace to be used for an Israeli strike on Iran that would certainly set them in a category all their own as well. Domestic outrage would be immense. If the US military had to be called in to deploy in defense of KSA, that would increase the threat to the Saudis from AQ as well. People (not you Shirin) often forget that AQ’s #1 nemesis is the Saudis themselves. It’s all skull duggery, but the point I am making is that the Saudis have a very fine balancing act to maintain, so as to keep the royal family in power. They aren’t stupid, nor are the mostly Western educated technocrat ministers
People need to keep this in mind. Saudi Arabia itself is not necessarily stable.
(Prince Bandar watch- at the center of the skull duggery with accomplices)
One thing that is alarming is the new US ambassador who was appointed to KSA. John B. Smith. Former Raytheon executive. Not the background of former ambassadors. Also the recent deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems in KSA. My HOPE is that KSA puts their own domestic survival over any misguided allowing of Israel to use their airspace. (what a back-handed wish, for the royal family to put their own interests first–but in this case it’s to prevent an Israeli strike on Iran, my two cents worth on what I think is behind a strike thus far being abated by KSA)
The old Israel-is-doing-the-US-a-favor-by-purchasing-their -arms canard pops up on Mondoweiss, too.