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Nov 21 2013

The delicate negotiations with Iran

Talks have resumed again today in Geneva between the Iranians on one side and the group known as P5+1, which consists of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, China, France, UK) and Germany. The talks seemed poised for a breakthrough the last time they met but were torpedoed at the last minute by the French.

This seems to be a standard process in such negotiations. As soon as there emerges rumors of a possible deal in which Iran negotiates limits on its uranium enrichment programs in exchange for changes in the sanctions regime, the prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu freaks out and pulls out all the stops to try to stop a deal. In his efforts to scuttle any deal, Netanyahu has been joined by Saudi Arabia (which sees Iran as its rival for dominance as a regional power) and France which is interested in cultivating Saudi Arabian arms deals. Andrew Cockburn explains another factor behind France’s actions.

Sarkozy exited the Élysée Palace in 2012, but left behind him at the Quai d’Orsay (home of the foreign ministry) a tightly knit group of officials, including its political director, Jacques Audibert, and Simon de Galbert, its director for disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. Such people, I am told, “drank from the cup of neoconservatism.” Many had graduated from the ideological swamp of French leftist theory to an equally fantastical adherence to core neocon tenets: unswerving obedience to Israel’s dictates, coupled with militarism lightly disguised as promotion of democracy.

France’s sabotage of the recent negotiations gave Israel the breathing space it needed to mobilize Congress against any further possibility of settlement this side of a restoration of the Iranian monarchy. In the past week Capitol Hill has morphed into the Knesset. Israeli government ministers throng the halls urging deferential legislators to reject any agreement coming out of the next round of negotiations, and instead to stiffen sanctions against Iran. The hapless Kerry argues, correctly, that Israeli “intelligence” on Iran’s nuclear program is fraudulent, but senators are having none of it. The Iranian administration’s shock-and-awe assault on U.S. policy — which has included more concessions, even on Syria, than anyone in Washington dared hope for — appears to have come to naught.

But of course, the trump card in Israel’s deck is its lobby in the US and the influence it buys, especially in Congress. While presidents are also vulnerable, members of Congress seem to be more susceptible to its pressure tactics. And as usual, Israel has called on its lobby in the US to go all out to urge members of the US congress to block any deal that the Obama administration might try to work out, even to the extent of imposing new sanctions on Iran while the US is in the middle of trying to negotiate reductions of the very sanctions, despite president Obama’s explicit appeals to them to not do so. Netanyahu is even letting it be known that he would consider launching a unilateral attack on Iran if a deal is made not to his liking and the Israeli press has taken to smearing John Kerry.

This extraordinary effort by Netanyahu to so openly undercut the efforts of the government of its most loyal ally, without whose generous financial, military, and diplomatic support Israel would be in deep trouble, is raising eyebrows, with even supporters of Israel wondering if he is in serious danger of overplaying his hand. Dan Drezner, professor of international relations at Tufts University, says that Netanyahu seems to be ‘wigging out’.

Israeli jaw-jawing about a military strike puts it into a corner with no good exit option. Netanyahu’s definition of a bad nuclear deal seems to include… any nuclear deal. So say that one is negotiated. What can Israel do then? Netanyahu could follow through on his rhetoric and launch a unilateral strike. Maybe that would set Iran back a few years. It would also rupture any deal, accelerate Iran’s nuclear ambitions, invite unconventional retaliation from Iran and its proxies, and isolate Israel even further. If Netanyahu doesn’t follow through on his rhetoric, then every disparaging Israeli quote about Obama’s volte-face on Syria will be thrown back at the Israeli security establishment. Times a hundred.

It should be noted that poor U.S. consultation with Israel could be a cause for this kind of behavior. But consultation is a two-way street, and right now Israel is pretty much pissing all over the Obama administration. That’s its prerogative — but over the past few years Netanyahu has repeatedly bet against Obama’s political position and lost. I don’t see that changing.

Even a loyal Israel supporter like Tom Friedman says that this naked power play by the Israel lobby brings into the open how beholden Congress is to the Israel lobby.

Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.

This reinforces what he said earlier that the “standing ovation [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby”. The point of this lobbying effort is to persuade the media that American people wholeheartedly support Israel’s hardline policies when that is not the case.

It will be interesting to see if president Obama and secretary Kerry can overcome these hurdles and negotiate a deal in the current negotiations.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    Gee, Tom Friedman a “loyal Israel supporter”. Only in Professor Singham’s imagination.

    Here’s a link to an oped by former Secretary of State George Shultz on negotiating with Iran. His advice, keep one hand on one’s wallet while negotiating.

    http://goo.gl/QBn7yf

  2. 2
    colnago80

    Since according to Prof. Singham, Iran has a perfect right to develop nuclear weapons, I fail to see why he has any concern about whether a deal is negotiated. According to him, Iran is doing the US a big favor by even appearing to negotiate a halt to their nuclear weapons program.

  3. 3
    Chiroptera

    …the five members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, China, France, UK) and Germany.

    Friendly nit-pick: That should be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

    But I knew what you meant.

  4. 4
    Mano Singham

    I am in favor of complete nuclear disarmament. My point is an obvious one, that if Israel has the right to nuclear weapons, then why shouldn’t Iran? Having the right to do something does not mean that doing so is a good thing in the grand scheme of things.

  5. 5
    Rob Grigjanis

    So the Bechtel Bozo calls the Iranians ‘great rug merchants’. This is the kind of statesmanship we all miss.

  6. 6
    colnago80

    The difference is that Israel agreed back in the Kennedy Administration that they would not use nuclear weapons without the express consent of the US Government and that they would retain ambiguity as to their existence. In return, the US would turn a blind eye towards Israel’s nuclear arsenal. There is no such constraint on Iran which would be perfectly free to use them at any time.

    I must say that I find this equating of Israel and it’s Arab adversaries extremely ill thought out on the part of Prof. Singham. Israel has shown restraint in attacking civilian populations. If it behaved like the Government of Syria does in that regard, Prof. Singham would really have something to whine about.

  7. 7
    gworroll

    The constraint on Iran using nuclear weapons is a simple one- they would cease to exist by the end of the day.

  8. 8
    Mano Singham

    Thanks! I have corrected it.

  9. 9
    doublereed

    Iran is not Syria.

  10. 10
    left0ver1under

    What would you expect from an uneducated Rube who equates the condemnation of “settlements” to a call for reopening the death camps?

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2013/11/20/no-israel-does-not-prove-gods-existence/

    He’s so unhinged that the door fell off.

  11. 11
    colnago80

    As usual, the Vancouver vagrant spouts nonsense. Just for the record, I oppose and have always opposed the settlements as an impediment to any peace deal, in the unlikely event that the Palestinians become interested. As for being uneducated, I have a PhD in elementary particle physics from a reputable university and my joint PhD thesis advisers were finalists for the Nobel Prize in physics this year.

    At this point, I don’t think that either Bibi or the PA has any real interest in making a deal, as, given the views of their constituents, they would have a lot of explaining to do. Abbas would have to explain why he gave up the demand for resettling Palestinian refugees in Israel while Bibi would have to explain why he gave up most of the settlements. The refugees and the settlers would take great exception to these concessions.

  12. 12
    colnago80

    But, in fact, it’s the Iranian Government together with their proxies Hizbollah that are keeping the Assad kleptocracy in power.

  13. 13
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    :LOL, that’s weak even for you, slc.

    “Israel can be trusted with nuclear weapons, despite an avowed purpose to hit Iran first, because they promised, pinky-swear, that they wouldn’t use them. ”

    AND

    “Iran can’t be trusted with nuclear weapons that they don’t have, because some guys who hate Muslims say that Iranians are all dirty thieves who can’t be trusted.”

    That’s some prime argumentation there, dude. Fox News and Bibi must be so proud.

  14. 14
    trucreep

    I’m pretty ignorant to the history and debate surrounding Israel in general, but from what I have seen, I’m blown away by the influence they have over us. Its hard for me to imagine an American venue allowing a foreign power to openly attack American policy DURING active negotiations with another power. That to me is unbelievable.

  15. 15
    trucreep

    “Israel has shown restraint in attacking civilian populations.”

    Like I said below, I’m largely ignorant in this area, so I’m not saying things to provoke, because I understand this is a sensitive issue. But wasn’t Israel bombing Gaza yesterday?

  16. 16
    Rob Grigjanis

    Yes, but they did it with more restraint than Syria would use, so it’s OK. “Better than those guys” is a wonderful moral principle to pass on to one’s offspring.

  17. 17
    colnago80

    Re trucreep

    They bombed a site from which rockets had been fired across the Gaza fence. Of course, it’s perfectly AOK for terrorists in the Gaza Strip to fire Qassems into Israel according to the Grigjanis of the world. If there is no action, there will be no reaction.

  18. 18
    Rob Grigjanis

    “the Grigjanis of the world”

    I’m flattered! Despite your making up fantasies about what is AOK according to me.

  19. 19
    colnago80

    Re Grigjanis

    So I take it that ole Rob doesn’t think it’s AOK for the terrorists in the Gaza Strip to fire Qassems across the fence. Then the question is, what should the Government of Israel do about it?

  20. 20
    Rob Grigjanis

    col, life is too short to engage in more of your little “watch me build two strawmen for every one you knock down” games.

  21. 21
    colnago80

    Interpreting Rob Grigjanis last comment.

    I don’t have the foggiest notion what the Government of Israel should do about the Qassems so I won’t answer the question.

  22. 22
    Mano Singham

    That’s the best argument that you can come up with? A secret deal between the US and Israel? Why would anyone else take that seriously or consider it binding on them? And when did Kennedy become god, deciding to whom to issue nuclear dispensations?

  23. 23
    colnago80

    It’s rather interesting that Israel has had nuclear weapons for 40 years, getting only an occasional squeak from Egypt and silence from the Gulf States. Apparently, they have more confidence in the agreement with Kennedy then Prof. Singham does. It’s only now when Iran is on the brink a developing a nuclear strike capability that these other actors suddenly express major concern and threaten to develop their own nuclear capability.

  24. 24
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    I would be happy for Iran to build nuclear reactors -providing they were thorium ones or another design that could not produce enriched uranium or plutonium and were unable to lead to Iran having The Bomb.

    Also the Iranians need to be checked and monitored and can’t really be trusted based on their past actions and programs.

  25. 25
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @trucreep :

    “Like I said below, I’m largely ignorant in this area, so I’m not saying things to provoke, because I understand this is a sensitive issue. But wasn’t Israel bombing Gaza yesterday?”

    If so I haven’t heard about it yet. Could well be true, I’ll take your word for it I spose.

    But, the thing is that Israel targets the guilty – those Islamist Jihadists who have fired rockets, planted bombs, sent / are homicide-suicide bombers and so on. Israel tries very hard to avoid innocent casualties knowing the Palestinians will both use them as human shields and blame Israel for the consquences of their hiding amongst and firing from within civilian areas. Despicable, evil cowardly tactic but that’s Hamas etc .for ya.

    Hamas OTOH, is trying to murder innocent civilians firing at random into cities and when they succeed in murdering Israeli babies, children, civilians and men, they gloat about it and dance in the streets.

    IOW, Israel are bombing in self-defence to save innocent lives.

    Whereas Hamas (& Islamic Jihad & the other Palestinians) are bombing, well, firing rockets and sending homicide-suicide bombing to take innocent lives of people that pose no threat to them.*

    Are you really so @!#!@!^%#$@! that you can’t realise what a huge difference that makes?

    * I guess we can expect attacks on Jewish settlers now and claims that there’s a threat to the Palestinians lives because Israelis choose to build homes and make good lives for themselves in their own country? Well, stuff that. Jewish people have suffered enough over history and, no, building homes even on disputed land is NOT a threat to life and limb. Oh and the security fence and other oft unfairly criticised security measures are made necessary because of Palestinian terrorism and refusal to make peace. The Palestinians have caused the majority of their own problems here** and all the scape-goating of Israel in the world won’t change that historical reality.

    ** Also a lot of the problems the Palestinians have comes from the other surrounding Islamic nations using them as pawns and funding and supporting their worst Jihadist agroups and aspects as well as refusing to resettle the refugees they caused in their lands. The original Palestinian refugees mostly left their homes because they expected the invading Arab armies to exterminate the Jewish state. Boo-flippin’ hoo for them that didn’t happen and they found themselves facing the consequences of losing a war or endless series of constant wars that they started and could have avoided. Israel has repeatedly offered exceptionally generous peace terms which always been violently rejected. Funnily enough with each war they choosestart and lose, the Palestinians are worse off, go figure!

  26. 26
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ Rob Grigjanis : How about you actually answer the key question you keep dodging? -

    Do you think its okay for Palestinian terrorists to fire rockets indiscriminately into Israeli cities and if you were an Israeli how do you think you’d feel and what would you want done?

    Do we have to dare you or something to get a simple straightforward answer or something?

    Are you capable of challenging yourself and imaging and empathising with the Israeli point of view of here? Surprise me and give an actual fair and reasonable answer please.

  27. 27
    Mano Singham

    Rob Grigjanis can answer for himself but here is my answer to your question. Of course it is not justified to attack people indiscriminately. War can very rarely be justified and the deliberate killing of civilians, or taking actions that have the almost certain effect of having civilians killed, have to be condemned.

    What we have is a situation that inevitably arises out of asymmetric weaponry, where one side has a massive military force and the other doesn’t.

    Israel has sophisticated weapons where they can claim they are not targeting civilians and that any that are killed are ‘collateral damage’. It is the same defense that the US makes when it kills innocent people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, etc.. Of course, things like Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 where Israel rained destruction on the entire people makes such a defense hollow. In the short space of 22 days, 1400 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians, over 300 of them under the age of 18, and making over 20,000 people homeless nd destroying essential infrastructure like water supplies that caused extreme misery and health problems. It does not get much more indiscriminate than that.

    The other side has crude weapons that are undoubtedly indiscriminate. The question that can be posed to you is whether you would support Hamas and the other groups getting high precision weapons that they can use to accurately target Israeli political and military targets, and drones that they can use to pick off Israeli leaders, to see if they still use them to deliberately hit civilians. Would you support that?

  28. 28
    Rob Grigjanis

    “Rob Grigjanis can answer for himself”

    Can, but won’t. On this topic, I’ve had my fill of colnago80′s and StevoR’s grotesque apologia, and will not engage them again. I lack your patience, Mano.

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