Security and Defense: Sitting back and enjoying the show

The one country that stands to gain from all of this attention on Israel, its neighbors and the Palestinians is Iran.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad at nuclear facility 311 (R) (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Iranian President Ahmadinejad at nuclear facility 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Until the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Israel had only two diplomatic missions in the Arab-dominated Middle East: one of which, the embassy in Teheran, was evacuated after the toppling of the Shah and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return from exile. On Wednesday, Israel appeared to have lost its third embassy in the Middle East in the past two weeks with the Foreign Ministry decision to evacuate the mission in Amman due to concerns over massive protests planned there over the weekend. The closure of the embassy came on the heels of the emergency evacuation last week of the embassy in Cairo and the expulsion of Israeli diplomats from the embassy in Ankara the week before.
The long-term effects of these closures, evacuations and expulsions are still unclear and while Israel is partially responsible for the situation that led up to all three, it can hardly be blamed for the radicalization that is sweeping across the Arab and Muslim world.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision, for example, to slam and threaten Israel on a daily basis is part of a calculated move on his part to boost his own standing in the region on Israel’s back. An Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara incident would not be able to change that.
But in the short term, the more immediate effect is that when the Palestinians go to the United Nations next week to make their unilateral declaration of statehood, opposite them will be an Israel that is facing growing international isolation.
The one country that stands to gain from all of this attention on Israel, its neighbors and the Palestinians is Iran, which embarked this week on a media campaign ahead of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s arrival in New York where he will attend the United Nations General Assembly.
In an NBC report that aired on The Today Show this week, which was portrayed as one of the first-ever behind-the-scenes looks into Ahmadinejad’s life as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, viewers watched Ahmadinejad wake up at 5 a.m. for what is described as a “Rocky-style” workout. They then got to see the president travel to one of the poorer regions in Iran, where he met with a father who lost two sons in the Iran-Iraq War and visited government-subsidized housing, before returning to his office for meetings lasting as late as 2 a.m.
Lacking tough questions about human rights violations and the alleged torture of protesters, the NBC report came under fire from Iranian bloggers. On Radio Free Europe, Iranian journalist Golnaz Esfandiari called the report “flattering” and a “great piece of propaganda” which was strikingly similar to official press reports put out by the president’s own office.
Israeli officials who watched the video were not surprised. One government official explained that with the Palestinians’ bid for statehood set to take center stage at the UN, the Iranians, after years of being the focus of attention, have an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the show.
“The world is busy with other troubles such the Palestinians, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq,” the official said. “Iran has major domestic troubles both politically and economically, but for the most part it is gaining from the shift in the world’s focus.”
Earlier this week, for example, Iran officially inaugurated the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the southwest of the country.
At the ceremony announcing the commencement of operations was Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO), who told the crowd that Bushehr would initially operate at about 40 percent capacity and was expected to reach full capacity by the end of the year.
“The launch of Iran's first nuclear plant is a demonstration of self-belief and perseverance to defend sovereignty,” Abbasi said.
He knows a thing or two about perseverance.
In November, Abbasi survived an alleged Mossad assassination attempt when he jumped out of his car seconds before a magnetic bomb attached to the side of it exploded. In another bombing that same morning, Majid Shahriari, another scientist with the IAEO, was killed.
In another move that Israel believes is aimed at toying with the West, Iran revealed that it had sent a letter to the European Union stating that it is prepared to restart P5+1 negotiations over its nuclear program.
This comes ahead of a meeting next week at the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna where again two anti-Israel resolutions are expected to lead the agenda - one by Egypt, calling for increased IAEA inspections throughout the Middle East, and one by a number of Arab states calling on Israel to join a global anti-nuclear weapons treaty.
Iran is understood to believe that with the US focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and with Israel facing growing diplomatic isolation, the chance for a military strike against its nuclear facilities is currently at an unprecedented low. For that reason, the Iranians feel that they can move forward, advance their nuclear program and continue to enrich uranium at multiple facilities.
Israel’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program has not changed very much despite the clear escalation in activity.
Iran is continuing to stockpile enriched uranium and to master its technology to the point that when it decides to make the bomb it will take a very short time – likely anywhere from six months to a year – to complete.