While it’s still too early to tell, the prospects in Congress for a new set of draconian anti-Iran sanctions seem to be flagging. The legislation has gone from a virtual sure thing to a question mark ,with former allies like Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin withdrawing their support. But what’s interesting is that it has established yet another arena for Bibi Netanyahu to attempt to sabotage the foreign policy of the Obama administration. Of course, this is happening in the Kerry talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, which hit some major roadblocks as the U.S. exerts pressure on Israel to give up territorial claims to the Jordan Valley.
Just yesterday, Bibi told the schussing leaders caucusing in the wintry Swiss Alps town of Davos that Israel couldn’t possibly give up this land because it was prime winter skiing–er, actually because it was integral to some sort of odd conception of Israeli strategic defense (though virtually a who’s who of Israeli security and intelligence chiefs have sniggered at the credibility of this claim). The actual money quote was: “I will not uproot a single Israeli” from the Jordan Valley.
Israel has dug its heels in on this issue just as it did years ago about the settlement freeze proposal. It knows if it can frustrate U.S. resolve on one seemingly peripheral issue, it can destroy the entire agenda for the peace talks.
But the sabotage of the Iran nuclear talks by Netanyahu and the Israel lobby has lasted longer and come closer to achieving its aim of destroying the talks, than other Israeli efforts in other arenas. The wacked-out notion advanced by sanctions proponents in Congress and among the pro-war hawks is that such threats have worked so well before, that more sanctions will produce even better results, making Iran even more pliant to western will. This notion is beholden to the strange idea that Iran only understands the language of threat and force; and that it can only be brought to heel by punishment (like a stubborn donkey in the bazaar).
Of course, the very philosophy of diplomacy is precisely the opposite: that nations have common interests and the goal of negotiations is to find out what they are and arrive at common ground or consensus. The Geneva talks succeeded in drawing up a 6-month agreement calling for suspension of parts of Iran’s uranium enrichment program in return for easing sanctions. Negotiations worked. Just when something seems to be working, Mephistopheles arrives snickering: that worked so well, let’s try more of the same.
The lobby has gone into overdrive to summon its legislative allies in Congress. It has found obedience among likely parties like Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez (not to mention a newly elected water-carrier, Corey Booker). But some unlikely individuals are proving a harder sell. The Lobby is having a tough time with Rep. Deborah Wassserman-Schultz. She is the current chair of the Democratic National Committee and a devout supporter of the president. The Forward notes that Aipac has taken the highly unusual step not of taking Wasserman-Schultz to the woodshed, but of a semi-public flogging.
In a particularly ham-handed bit of mafiosi-style enforcement, it appears that Aipac or someone close to it leaked a story to the neocon pro-Israel Washington Free Beacon saying the Representative was playing a key role in torpedoing sanctions. That then allowed Aipac to issue a letter to its citizen lobbyists and supporters deriding Wasserman-Schultz’s alleged “betrayal.” The letter reads in part:
“The article included below about Debbie Wasserman Schultz blocking bipartisan Iran sanctions came out yesterday and, simply put, we need to know if the story is true,” the letter states, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.
“So, we are asking you, our leaders in the pro-Israel community, to reach out to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office and respectfully ask the congresswoman if the Free Beacon article is true,” AIPAC writes. “If the article is not true, then please ask if the congresswoman will issue a statement supporting the Cantor-Hoyer [Iran sanctions] Resolution.”
As Foreign Policy notes, given her position as a Obama legislative ally who must ultimately (if quietly) oppose sanctions, and her Florida constituency consisting of elderly Jewish pro-Israel voters, she’s in a deep quandary. The Lobby strategists believe if they can break her, then other Democrats “sitting on the fence” will break away from the administration position. That in turn would start a stampede of support for new sanctions to which the president would simply have to accede. This would likely be followed by denunciations from Iran and a possible pull-out from the nuclear talks. All of which would sit very well with Netanyahu, who has lobbied for war against Iran going back at least to 2010, if not earlier.
But the president is not without ammunition to fight this battle. He made known in the Israeli media through an anonymous source (likely Ambassador Dan Shapiro) that Kerry and Obama are none too happy with these shenanigans. Kol Yisrael reported (my translation of the transcript):
A source close to Pres. Obama and Secretary of State Kerry says there is a “discomfort” within the circle of the president and secretary regarding Jewish “activism” in Congress which is viewed as being aided and abetted by the Israeli government…The source conveyed to official Israeli figures that those surrounding the president and secretary are “disappointed” by “repeated attacks against the administration by Jewish forces in the U.S.” Israeli diplomats warned against this tendency [to attack the administration’s policy on the Jordan Valley and Iran talks] of which the source spoke. They added that Israel is perceived as encouraging political tendencies which represent the interest solely of the Israeli government without permitting other positions to be heard.
This is exceedingly polite rhetoric, I might add, when a sledgehammer would’ve done a better job. Bibi and the Lobby certainly don’t understand such niceties and it’s doubtful it will cause them to back off. But at least Obama has laid down the gauntlet in Bibi’s backyard, that is, Israel, with this statement.
Finally, the Economist published a piquant cartoon highlighting the fact that negotiators for both Iran and the U.S. have balls and chains tied around their ankles in these talks. Obama is chained to the Lobby and Israel, which desperately seeks to overthrow a negotiated resolution; while Rouhani is restrained by the hardliners and IRG hawks who reject compromise with the west.
As I’ve written here, it’s patently false, as Mark Landler has written once again in the NY Times to single out Iran as the nation which is the weakest link in the talks. Congress’ fulminations about new sanctions are no different from the harshest denunciation of compromise coming from the ranks of the Iranian fundamentalists.
Returning to the cartoon: there is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about this cartoon. In fact, the leadership of the American Jewish community, that is the Israel Lobby, has placed every roadblock possible in the president’s path. In this, Iranian hardliners are their allies. Jews may wince at the Star of David (the symbol of the State of Israel) in the President’s seal, but even Bibi Netanyahu boasts that Israel speaks on behalf of world Jewry in opposing Iran. If hardcore Zionists want to speak for the world’s Jews (a privilege I deny them) then they can’t squawk when a perceptive cartoonist takes them at their word. To do otherwise, as those shreying about anti-Semitism are doing, reeks of rank hypocrisy.
On a related tangent, Reuters shows us that it too has reporters covering Iran who have a not so hidden anti-Rouhani agenda. That is on view in this preposterous bit of propaganda given the inapt title, Insight. It claims that Rouhani’s focus on the nuclear talks will prevent him from instituting social reforms. In fact, most Iran analysts have written precisely the opposite. It’s one thing to be a contrarian as Parisa Hafezi is in this article. But it’s quite another to make up your argument out of whole cloth.
Not a single one of the “sources” Hafezi quotes says anything constructive or positive about Rouhani’s efforts. All the domestic Iranian sources she quotes are anonymous. Further, she quotes a Israeli good ‘friend’ of this blog, Meir Javedanfar, as calling Rouhani’s efforts “adventurism,” which Ayatollah Khameini will not long support. As usual, Javedanfar ignores the hard evidence that Khameini strongly supports Rouhani’s policy. In fact, the Ayatollah told the IRG and radical mullahs not to meddle in politics and instead allow the talks to take their course. There is absolutely no evidence of any sort to support Javedanfar. But that doesn’t stop him. And the Reuters reporter does him the favor of quoting his nonsense.
This sort of Iran media coverage gives journalism on this subject a bad name. I found Hafezi’s Twitter feed and tweeted questions and criticism to her which she ignored. Further, access to her account is protected. Can you imagine a journalist, supposedly committed to transparency and reporting the news openly and accessibly, who refuses to allow her reading public access to her Twitter feed? What is she afraid of? Criticism? Debate? God forbid.