I thought nothing could surprise me when it comes to the P5+1 deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, but that was before I heard US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “very disturbing” comment. Responding to statements by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the weekend that America’s hopes for the region were “180 degrees” from his own, Kerry reportedly told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network: “I don’t know how to interpret it at this point in time, except to take it at face value, that that’s his policy.... If it is the policy, it’s very disturbing, it’s very troubling, and we’ll have to wait and see.”
The deal reached in Vienna has been approved by the UN Security Council; the Germans have already raced to Tehran to see what business opportunities can be exploited (narrowly beating the French, whose foreign minister took his time and is only expected there next week).
What is Kerry waiting for? The fallout when the deal blows up? The Iranian leadership has been caught lying about its nuclear program in the past. Some things even now are likely hidden, but Iran’s plans for the region are not among them. On July 10, “Jerusalem Day,” Iranians publicly burned American, Israeli, British and Saudi Arabian flags. That was four days before the agreement was signed. That would have been a good point to have “waited to see” what would develop.
I have met Iranians who’ve told me that the regime turns a blind eye to some things, like Friday night partying in private homes. A street demonstration is not one of those things. If a rally takes place in the capital punctuated by calls of “Death to America” and “Death to the Zionists” the regime is either deliberately ignoring it or sponsoring it.
Kerry’s comment is disturbing in its own right, but I first heard it on an Israel Radio news broadcast along with the remarks by European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini to the EU Foreign Council on July 20. Among other things she said: “... the success of diplomacy in other fields... tells us that there is no crisis that cannot be solved by diplomacy and through dialogue.
This is something important to keep in mind at the moment where, in the Middle East, there seems to be no peace process at all.”
Mogherini feels the Iranian deal has survived the test of time – she was speaking nearly a week after it was reached – and now wants to turn her attention to Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry and Mogherini seem to be suffering from Vienna syndrome: Similar to Stockholm syndrome, I use it to describe the way a group of supposedly intelligent people can be so captivated they don’t even realize they are being held hostage.
The term “Oslo syndrome” was coined by psychiatrist Kenneth Levin to explain why during the so-called Oslo process “Israel sought to win peace through territorial and other concessions even as Palestinian leaders assured their people their objective was still Israel’s destruction.”
Twenty years after the Oslo II Accord was signed, most Israelis have a much more sober view of the chances of peace through concessions – although that hasn’t stopped Mogherini from announcing the EU would focus in the coming weeks on two tracks: “On one side, supporting, improving the situation on the ground, especially in Gaza” and “creating the conditions for a new political horizon, meaning a new international and regional framework that would lead to the conditions to restart negotiations.”
Possibly in this category fall some of the plans contained in a recent report of the European Council on Foreign Relations that advises the EU. According to a Reuters story on July 22, the think tank suggests separating the EU’s dealings with Israel from those with the settlements in fields like banking and academia, far beyond product labeling.
When the EU wants to apply the carrot-and-stick approach to Israel it dangles the stick and beats Israel with the carrot, or whatever else comes to hand.
The region is a mess. That much we can agree on.
One of the most sinister developments is to blame Israel (of course) for the rise of Islamic State.
The plight of the Palestinians, the reasoning goes, makes it easier to attract recruits to the jihadist terrorist organization. ISIS does exploit its (Sunni) Palestinian Muslim brothers as a rallying cry, but I suspect the greater attraction for most young men is the chance of free sex, adventure, and the promise of 72 celestial virgins if it doesn’t work out as planned.
An independent Palestinian state is the last thing ISIS wants. By definition, Islamic State is seeking to establish a Sunni caliphate – preferably worldwide, but starting in the Middle East. It is this identity it seeks to foster, not Palestinian rights.
That’s one of the reasons why just a few days after the deal with Iran was signed in Vienna, Khaled Mashaal, the head of the political wing of Hamas, made a surprise visit to Saudi King Salman in Riyadh.
Hamas also realizes there’s something worse than Israel (whatever pro-Palestinian supporters would have you believe). Even though it has benefited from Iranian support, the specter of a nearly nuclear Shi’ite power that has already spread its tentacles of terror to countries ranging from Lebanon to Yemen is unnerving for Hamas. So is the growth of Islamic State in Egypt, right on the border with Gaza. Hamas this week pointed an accusatory finger at the Islamic State’s local cells when six cars blew up simultaneously in Gaza (although some think it was a ploy by Hamas to exaggerate the threat and, by comparison, appear more moderate, much like the Saudis now have a “moderate” image despite their abysmal record on human rights).
GAZA WAS very much on my mind this week as Israel marked one year since Operation Protective Edge and 10 years since the withdrawal/ disengagement/expulsion. (The term depends on your view of it, and possibly how far you were from a family who lost their home there.) Ten years after Israel took every Jew out of Gaza (even disinterring the dead in Jewish cemeteries), you cannot take Gaza out of the Israeli psyche. As with the Oslo II Accord that preceded it, the rockets followed in ever increasing range.
Those who scoffed at the possibility that rockets from Gaza would reach nearby Ashkelon stopped laughing long ago. Ten years, three mini wars, and some 10,000 rockets later even the most liberal residents of Tel Aviv know what it’s like to have to run for shelter in a rocket attack. And they don’t like it.
Looking through pictures of the summer of 2005 for a photo essay I was compiling, I was distressed not only by the anguish and trauma of those who lost everything and the pain on the faces of the soldiers and police officers who had to remove them from their homes and communities. I was also upset by the labeling. Not only produce from “the settlements” has labels.
So do the people. Image after image of crying children was accompanied by captions describing them along the lines of “A Jewish settler girl...”
A child is a child. A toddler is not a settler. And “settlers” are human beings, too.
US President Barack Obama was criticized for pushing for an agreement with Iran even at the cost of leaving American citizens prisoners there.
Israel will never be out of Gaza as long as the Palestinians are holding Israeli captives: the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who fell last year, and, reportedly two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and a Beduin man whose name has not been released for publication.
The Palestinians have had a de facto state in Gaza for the last 10 years. Look what they have done to it and think what could have been had they tried to build it up instead of attempting to pull Israel down.
To the North, very few Israelis have illusions about what would have happened had the Golan Heights been transferred to Syrian hands (as the UN still demands now and again).
The best response to the Iranian deal that I’ve read was by Yediot Aharonot journalist Yoaz Hendel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rhetorically asked: “How can you compensate a country, my country, against a terrorist regime that is sworn to our destruction and is going to get a path to nuclear bombs and billions of dollars to boot for its terror activities against us?” The answer, suggests Hendel – a former Netanyahu aide – is to seek recognition of the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel, recognition of the settlement blocs, and military aid.
Israelis have reason to doubt Mogherini’s statement that the Iranian deal “was really a complete success.”
We’re still troubled that Kerry is only now disturbed by the signs that Iranian policy hasn’t changed and it won’t. But at least some good might come out of it. The more the Iranian sanctions are lifted, the less Israel can risk being caught with its defenses down. Wait and see doesn’t work if you’re in such a hurry to conclude a deal you don’t look at what’s going on around you.