The Iran nuclear talks remain in suspended animation as the original deadline for their completion passed on Tuesday and they’re now moving into Thursday. It’s hard to tell whether they’ve been extended because the participants see a real possibility of reaching an understanding or because they’re playing a game of chicken to see who blinks first.
The Iranians understand that the U.S. team is under great pressure because it faces a snarling GOP and Israel Lobby ready to pounce whether or not an agreement is reached. The Obama administration will be especially vulnerable if Kerry returns home with no agreement whatsoever. Then the pressure will be on in Congress to redouble Iran sanctions. This in turn will alienate the Iranians and make a future agreement that much less likely. All this is music to the ears of the U.S. hawks and Israel. As Trita Parsi, who is at the talks on behalf of the National Iranian American Council, wrote: the greatest existential threat facing Bibi is peace.
Though the Iranians may understand the U.S. plight, they see no reason to aid Obama in his hour of need. After all, they want a deal that reflects their interests so that they can sell it, in turn, to their own hardliners. So the Iranian team probably feels it can’t afford sympathy for the Americans. No one ever said you had to throw your opponent a life preserver as he flails in the water.
Bibi Netanyahu has been yammering the past few days about the talks and his statements have been weird, wild and wonderful (in the ironic sense of the term). I bring this up both because it’s entertaining in a dark, ghoulish sort of way and because it offers a portal into the mind of a bizarre political animal. Here’s how Ynet characterized his statement at a cabinet meeting:
“After the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad axis, Iran is carrying out a pincers movement in the south [Yemen] as well in order to take over and conquer the entire Middle East. The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous for humanity and needs to be stopped,” he said, drawing a line between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the actions of the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Bibi, who loves bombast and overstatement as much as he loves himself, is never one to make due with saying something once and leaving it at that. So he evokes Bush’s hoary “axis of evil” not once, but twice in the above passage. At first, it’s the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad axis: meaning Hezbollah, Assad, and Iraq’s Shiite militias. All presumably take orders directly from Iran and are part of a massive conspiracy to control the world, er the Middle East. Note, Bibi has conveniently left off any mention of al Qaeda or ISIS, the latter of which has its own far more overtly expressed ambition of conquering the region (in order to install a Sunni caliphate). Besides the fact that ISIS and al Qaeda are Sunni and therefore can’t be an Iranian ally, it would be awfully inconvenient to blacken the reputation of a Muslim force (al Nusra) with which Israel is actually allied in Syria.
The second axis is, if it’s possible, even more dipsy. I get that Iran is supposedly arming the Houthi rebels, so the Iran-Yemen connection at least makes sense in Bibi’s crazy world-view. But “Lausanne?” The nuclear talks are part of an axis of evil? Actual negotiations aimed to control Iran’s nuclear development and delay or prevent proliferation have become “evil” in themselves. That goes far beyond anything I’ve heard from the mind of Bibi (and I’ve heard a lot!).
The minds of most politicians seek to find historical parallels that bolster their political agenda. So Bibi is like any other one of his class. But the difference is that his mind manages to twist the evidence he offers into bizarre, unrecognizable shapes. If I were a psychiatrist (I’m not) I might even say these are the expressions of a pathological, even megalomaniacal mind.
All this only serves to confirm that Netanyahu is completely shut out of the talks. He’s flying blind except for intelligence his own Mossad can gather from the sorts of spying it did earlier on in the talks. But the CIA and State Department are no longer providing any briefings. Bibi has been shut out of the game. He played his cards in Washington when he went for broke in his Congressional address. But the bet didn’t pan out. This may change if an agreement fails. But so far, it’s not looking good, as there is too much riding on too many parties for the talks to fail.
Since Bibi himself yoked together the civil wars in both Syria and Yemen, this got me to thinking that there are indeed parallels worth noting. First, the Middle East has, for millennia, been a region in which great powers have clashed while making extensive use of local proxies. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans all clashed with their enemies in this manner. So the current round of bloodletting is nothing new.
In Syria, Shiites have banded together to preserve the rule of Bashar al-Assad. They include Hezbollah and Iran. They fight against a motley crew of Sunni extremists largely associated with ISIS and al Qaeda. They are funded and armed by Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Israel too has thrown in its lot with the Sunni Islamists, largely because its sworn enemies are both Hezbollah and Iran.
In Yemen, a similar pattern repeats itself. The Houthi rebels who amount to 30% of the population and are situated mostly in the north of the country, have mounted a rebellion against Sunni forces based largely in the south. A wild card in the midst of this has been al Qaeda which, though Sunni, has not supported either side. Iran has entered the fray on behalf of the Houthis. As their rebellion gathered force and rolled over significant swatches of territory, Yemen’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia, determined to intervene.
Saudi Arabia has escalated the conflict and turned it into a regional nightmare. Instead of internal forces fighting each other, you now have outside major regional powers like the Saudis and Iranians entering the fray. They each have chips on their shoulders and something to prove. Both are willing to fight to the last drop of their proxies’ blood.
If this pattern sounds familiar it’s because you’ve also seen it in the manner in which Israel has fought its battles with its front-line neighboring states. In both Lebanon and Syria, Israel created new proxies (Hamas, South Lebanon army) or used existing ones (al Nusra) to battle its real enemies: in Lebanon first the PLO, then Hezbollah; and in Syria, Hezbollah and Iran.
Is there no sane strategic analyst to say to all of these parties practicing a form of pathological, homicidal mania, that this age-old system doesn’t work? You can try to beat your enemy to a pulp. But in the process you yourself will be beaten to a pulp. The greater powers funding this mayhem only care about their own grander designs. They don’t care if you two little guys kill each other. Someone ought to put a stop to this. But until they do, the endless cycle of bloodletting continues.
Returning to Netanyahu’s maundering about Iran, you can see why Obama has finally grown tired of it all and developed a spine (though too late to have any real significance for negotiating a real peace deal). The American people seem to be getting it too. Two interesting polls have been released this week. In the first, a Pew survey regarding Iran and related matters, Netanyahu’s favorable ratings among Americans dropped seven points (from 38% to 31%) in the past month. Note that the survey headline and subheading are wrong in saying Bibi’s favorables have remained unchanged, an error I find bizarre in such a reputable polling organization. Nearly 30% of Americans now say they have “little” or “no” sympathy for Israel. The number having no sympathy for Israel has risen by 12 points since August.
Pew also finds that a plurality (49% to 40%) support the current nuclear negotiations.
The second poll was conducted for Washington Post and CBS News. It finds that almost 60% of Americans support a nuclear deal either strongly or somewhat. I presume the differences in results in the two polls on this question results from differing questions asked of respondents.
Support for a two-state solution has declined considerably: 39% support it while 36% don’t. 44% disapprove of the way Netanyahu is conducting relations with the U.S. (37% approve).
Thank you for the analysis of Bibi and his proxies statement .. right on!
Iran wants the UN sanctions lifted at once because any delay would permit a veto of any permanent member of the Security Council to block a future move. For the US, France and Russia the same applies in reverse. France is still being the bad cop in the negotiations, military alliances and contracts are hanging over the end result.
Western corporations want the sanctions lifted for a new economic boost of a regional power. Obama needs the deal for his resumé as president, has little to show for results in foreign policy. Hillary Clinton was a disaster, so are some of the president’s advisors on fp and the Middle East.
Eddie Hernandez says
Couldn’t agree more Oui, great article!
Axis of Evil will make statement soon …
○ Breaking news: Framework Nuclear Deal With Iran Reached
RE: “Bibi Netanyahu has been yammering the past few days about the talks and his statements have been weird, wild and wonderful (in the ironic sense of the term).” ~ R.S.
MY COMMENT: “Yammering” is putting it mildly!
FROM MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM (huckster) :
P.S. What about making Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas the “axis of praxis”. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds scary as hell!
P.S. What about making Likudnik Israel the “Praxis of Evil”?
FROM MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM (praxis) : praxis
noun | prax·is | \ˈprak-səs\
plural prax·es \-ˌsēz\
Definition of PRAXIS
: action, practice: as
a : exercise or practice of an art, science, or skill
b : customary practice or conduct
: practical application of a theory
Arie Brand says
Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli “Intelligence” Minister, has declared in the Jerusalem Post that the parameters of the deal that Obama this morning so convincingly announced, are divorced from reality. In fostering this deal diplomats from other powers than just the US were engaged: from China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK. But this representative of a regime that has shown in every possible way that it is living in a bubble of its own making, a regime that couldn’t show more clearly that it is divorced from reality as the rest of the world sees it, claims to have a better understanding of the situation than those diplomats working in Lausanne – diplomats representing more than a quarter of humanity. This is another sign of the megalomania that has afflicted the regime that is leading Israel to the abyss.
Steinitz also alluded to the possibility of Israeli military action, if need be against the will of the US. This is of course the old blackmail that was tried before. But perhaps, with a leader whose paranoia is there for all to see, the blackmail threat might one day turn into reality. The expectation is of course that Big Brother would be there to assist them regardless. One hopes and prays however that if it ever came to that the US could generate the political will to stay out of a conflict that is not of its own making and let this belligerent state deal with its own trouble.
Yeah, Right says
But is anyone still listening to a word that Netanyahu says on this topic?
Well, apart from Boehner, and every time he takes Bibi’s advice he sees his standing with the American public – and the standing of the Congress that he leads – plummet ever deeper into the sewer.
But everyone else? Are they even taking his phone calls any more?
Does anyone care? Apparently Obama does – http://www.newsweek.com/obama-calls-bibi-after-framework-set-iran-nuclear-deal-319269
Here is a post from 2011 from Iran official presidential website “The reason for our insistence that the Zionist regime should be wiped out and vanished is that the Zionist regime is the main base for imposing oppression and harbors the main terrorists of the world,” (http://www.president.ir/en/28177).
If Bibi won’t be worried, he is not doing his job. The price of cottage-cheese can wait.
Richard Silverstein says
@Tankist: Once again you’re using hasbara talking pts based on pre- Rouhani’s memes. Nothing any official said back in the bad old Ahmadinejad days carries any weight unless Rouhani’s endorsed it & you know he didn’t. Do not post further comments on this thread.
Here’s an interesting post Rouhani meme.
A senior adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani states that Iran’s ambition is to become a regional hegemon — in short, to reestablish the Persian empire.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/former-top-cia-official-heres-irans-grand-strategy-2015-4#ixzz3WXibb8Um
Richard Silverstein says
@ Hefe: First, I’ve never heard of Younesi. I don’t know what, if any formal position he holds in the Rouhani regime. Second, there is no source for this quotation. So I don’t know if it was invented out of whole cloth, comes from a fraudulent source, or is accurate. Third, I don’t know anything about who translated this alleged quotation. Let me know when you verify each of these questions, then we can talk further.
I will check with my Iranian sources. If you’ve concocted or abetted a fraud, you will hear about it.
UPDATE: This from Muhammad Sahimi, a native Farsi-speaker who follow domestic Iranian politics faithfully:
Would you like me to quote bellicose statements by Israeli military & intelligence figures about Israel’s desire for regional hegemony? Would that make things even?
And in the case of Israeli bellicose statements there is no “harsh admonishment” forthcoming because war hawks speak on behalf of the political leadership (Netanyahu and the war party).
From a translation from the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw:
Tehran “does not eye beyond its borders but a natural unification in the region is on the table right now.” Ali Younesi added that the “natural unification” does not mean “that we should once again conquer the world; I mean that we have to remain vigilant and know where we stand. We have to think globally but act Iranian.”
“all of the Middle East is Iranian.” Younesi declared, warning that no one had the right to oppose Iran’s influence in the region.
He said that people now living in neighboring countries are also Iranian “because their countries were separated from the empire east and west.”
Ali Younesi’s remarks came after Saudi Arabia expressed alarm that “Iran is taking over Iraq.
True enough, Ali Younesi’s remarks caused a firestorm in the Iranian Parliment, whert 1/3 of the members called for Ali Younesi’s dismissal.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Hefe: This is a bit inconvenient for you, don’t you think?
Younesi is a former minister who isn’t one now. He’s an “adviser,” which could mean anything. But certainly a demotion from his former position. BTW, has no Israeli “adviser” to Netanyahu ever said anything bellicose, hardline, or hawkish? Shall we also examine the Likud platform which still calls for a form of Israeli empire “from the river to the sea.”
[Comment deleted: off topic]
Yeah, Right says
Obama does not give Netanyahu any heads-up whatsoever before the deal was announced.
Zip. Zero. No consultations before Kerry went to Lausanne. No briefings during the talks. No advance notice once the deal was sealed. N.o.t.h.i.n.g.
Obama then gets up in front of the press to announce the deal, and in that announcement he goes out of his way to point out that while he HASN’T bothered to speak to Netanyahu about this yet he HAS spoken to the Saudi King. Ouch!!! Know your place, Bibi!
And not only that, Obama THEN goes on to stress that he’ll be inviting all the important countries to come over to Camp David and discuss the implications of this deal.
You know, real allies: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain.
Everyone else – the also-rans, the dudes who could for Jack Shit – have to make do with a quick phone-around.
Two hours later… [ring][ring][ring] Hey Bibi, my man, have you been reading today’s paper….
You are a hoot, Tankist. Obama doesn’t give a crap what Bibi thinks about this deal.
Bibi wasn’t consulted beforehand.
Bibi wasn’t consulted during.
Bibi wasn’t consulted after.
He was the last one to know, and Obama made absolutely certain that everyone was made fully aware of that.
And in the weeks to come when all the REAL allies are assembled in Camp David someone is sure to ask:
Allie: Hey, what’s Netanyahu take on this?
Obama: You say that as if I should care.
He doesn’t care, and that you *think* he does just shows the bottomless depth of Zionist arrogance and egocentric self-importance.
Yeah, Right says
Tankist, if you think that Obama cares then you really should read the transcript of what Obama’s statement to the press:
Note the pointed insults towards Netanyahu couched inside all the fluff:
a) Obama goes out of his way to tell the press that the Saudi King was important enough to ring straight away, but Netanyahu still hasn’t had his phone call i.e. on the totem-pole of importance the order is Saudi King first, then the US Press, and only then the Prime Minister of Israel.
b) Obama makes the point that the Gulf States are coming over to Camp David to be personally briefed by him, whereas all that tedious Israel-stuff will be handed over to “my national security team” i.e. Israel isn’t important enough to demand any more of his time than just one (1) phone call.
Netanyahu gets that one (1) phone call. After Obama has spoken to the important people, you know, like CNN and NBC.
But that’s it.
As far as the President’s precious time is concerned that’s all Bibi is worth.
One phone call, and then Bibi gets handed over to the Undersecretary-grade Underlings.
Yeah, Right says
The way that the Obama Administration has handled the news coming out of Lausanne has been nothing short of brilliant.
Quite apart from the drama of will-they-won’t-they, opponents of this deal are struggling to actually come to grips with it.
The White House Fact Sheet is a compendium of anti-proliferation wet-dreams, but is so lacking in details that there is nothing to nit-pick.
Equally, the absence of an official document (a White House Fact Sheet isn’t an official communique) coming out of that P5+1+Iran talk-fest means that critics can’t find ANOTHER document to nit-pick either.
And, shucks, those Iranians won’t play ball either: they refuse to strut around like peacocks, instead they are celebrating that they have managed to clinch a deal with…… the USA.
Which, when you think about it, shoots down not one but two stereotypes about Death Chantin’, USA hatin’ Tehran.
The critics are therefore left with nothing to criticize about this deal except… the vibe, man, the vibe…. and that just leaves them looking like kill-joys.
They are now trying to kill a deal that SOUNDS good, because there is nothing on paper that they can point to and say “that bit’s bad”, and that’s left them floundering.
Oh, yeah, and it can’t help that Boehner et al., have to stand around like idiots while they wait for Benyamin Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson to finally get around to telling them what they should do next.
Don’t think it hasn’t been noticed….
Arie Brand says
Hefe found this quotation in the article by former CIA apparatchik Michael Morell he provides a link to.
This about Morell:
Exclusive: The gross manipulation of CIA analysis under George W. Bush pushed a new generation of “yes men” into the agency’s top ranks. Now one of those aspiring bureaucrats will be Gen. David Petraeus’s right-hand man, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern. (Also, at end of article, see special comments from several CIA insiders.)
By Ray McGovern
Like many senior CIA officials in recent years, Morell’s record is checkered, at best. He held key jobs in intelligence analysis over the past decade as the CIA often served as a handmaiden to the war propagandists.
In (former CIA-Director AB)Tenet’s personal account of the CIA’s failures around 9/11 and the Iraq War, Morell – Tenet’s former executive assistant – is generally treated kindly, but Tenet puts Morell at the center of two key fiascoes: he “coordinated the CIA review” of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous Feb. 5, 2003 address to the United Nations and he served as the regular CIA briefer to President George W. Bush.
Tenet also described Morell’s role in organizing the review of the “intelligence” that went into Powell’s speech, which let slip the dogs of war by presenting a thoroughly deceptive account of the Iraqi threat, what Powell later called a “blot” on his record.
the CIA analysts mostly bent to pressures coming from the White House for an alarmist treatment of allegations about the “weapons of mass destruction,” which turned out not to be in Iraq.
Of the CIA’s finished intelligence product, it was reportedly the PDB – delivered by Morell – that most exaggerated the danger.
Not Mistaken, Dishonest
It is sad to have to recall that this was not “erroneous,” but rather fraudulent intelligence. Announcing on June 5, 2008, the bipartisan conclusions from a five-year study by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller described the intelligence conjured up to “justify” war on Iraq as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”
Arie Brand says
If it was Bush’s problem that he was too willing to listen to compliant lies among the intelligence offered him, Netanyahu’s problem is the reverse. He ignores the truth from his intelligence agencies.
J.J.Goldberg wrote in the last Daily Forward:
“The Iranian talks are far from the only instance of Netanyahu crafting policies based on threat assessments and readings of the Middle East landscape that are utterly at odds with those of his intelligence agencies. Even on the essential question of how grave a threat Iran poses to Israel, Pardo has argued semi-publicly since 2011 that Iran is not an existential threat and that it’s a serious mistake for Israel to portray it that way. Pardo’s two immediate predecessors, former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, say the same thing.
And there’s a near-unanimous consensus among Israel’s military and intelligence leadership that Israel should embrace the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative, which offers Israel full recognition and an “end of the Arab-Israeli conflict” in return for Israeli agreement to Palestinian statehood on the 1967 borders (with land swaps) and a “just” and “agreed” solution to the refugee problem. Netanyahu dismisses that assessment, too.
So here’s the mystery: Where does Netanyahu get his intelligence if not from his intelligence agencies? And by the way, why does he spend billions of shekels per year paying for an intelligence apparatus that he consistently ignores?”