UN apathy, Iranian intransigence

UN apathy, Iranian intra

iran missile khomeini 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
iran missile khomeini 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Goldstone report on the findings into its investigation of Israel's conduct during Operation Cast Lead, and the criticism it evoked, demonstrated once again the inability of the UN system to contribute constructively to conflict resolution in the Middle East. It would be timely to hold an investigation in to why the UN system as a whole was largely irrelevant in preventing the crisis in Gaza in the first place and not assisting Israel, a member state, in curbing sustained and persistent aggression against its civilians. Judge Richard Goldstone did not genuinely deal with this key element of aggression by Hamas and its persistent efforts to undermine the cease-fire that began in the summer of 2008 or with Hamas's primary responsibility in defining the nature of this conflict. Hamas directed its attacks exclusively to kill and maim Israeli civilians, fighting behind Palestinian civilians and having deeply embedded its attack capabilities in the entire civilian infrastructure of Gaza. The central responsibility for militarizing the civilian infrastructure in Gaza rests on Hamas. Even when Hamas had the opportunity to fight IDF soldiers on the battlefield, its operatives continued to hide in their bunkers, coming out to launch rockets only during the humanitarian pauses in IDF operations for the provision of supplies to Gaza. These flaws and omissions are central to the Goldstone report and define its irrelevance in analyzing this conflict in a meaningful manner. Having done nothing to prevent this crisis and by not adopting any objective and impartial tools of analysis, the UN system should at least have the integrity to reject the Goldstone report in its entirety. It cannot profess to have a solution for a problem it does not understand. ONE FACT remains clear and should not be blurred by the Goldstone controversy. In recent months, the rocket firing has largely ceased. While Israel must always be sensitive to its standing in the international community, that cannot be the only measure of how it must defend and preserve its security. If the rocket fire has decreased markedly, it is because of the range of measures that Israel has taken on the ground, having exhausted all other alternatives. In that sense, the events in Gaza should be viewed in a wider regional context. Israel did not seek this war in Gaza just as it did not seek the war in Lebanon in 2006. Both conflicts were similar in that Hizbullah and Hamas developed a model of confronting and attacking Israel from within their own respective civilian infrastructures. Both organizations are financed, armed and trained by Iran, which is in a critical phase of its military nuclear program. In addition Hamas and Hizbullah were promoting an extremist and radical agenda, not only against Israel but also against the Palestinians and moderates in the Arab world. By seeking to undermine key regional interests and stability, there was much more at stake than two intense but localized conflicts. In these circumstances the nature of Israel's response in Lebanon and Gaza in the face of such blatant provocations was critical to its deterrence. In both cases, Iran had a clear interest in embroiling Israel in hostilities that would divert Israel's and the international community's attention away from Iran's advancing nuclear weapons program. THE DRAMATIC revelations in recent days of an additional Iranian covert enrichment plant near Qom underline several critical factors. Iran's determined efforts to develop a military nuclear capability continue at an intense pace. It continues to conceal significant activities in the nuclear realm that contribute to its military potential. Iran still blatantly ignores several mandatory resolutions of the Security Council to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency. These factors and others demonstrate that Iran's nuclear program is the major national security threat of our time for the region and beyond. Israel cannot afford to adopt the apathy of the UN system prior to the Gaza crisis and Goldstone's tools of prejudged analysis in relation to this threat and how it impacts Israel as it did in Gaza and Lebanon. It should be noted that at this time, both Hamas and Hizbullah are behaving with greater caution and are not so quick to take actions that could provoke an Israeli response. We should not be complacent that this restraint will remain in place over time, but this could be increasingly significant as Israel faces the evolving Iranian nuclear threat in the immediate future. Ultimately, Gaza and Lebanon, while significant, are not strategic issues of the first order for Israel. Dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat is. That is where Israel must continue to focus its attention. It is also in that context that the respective outcomes of the Second Lebanon War and Cast Lead in Gaza should be assessed. The writer is a senior diplomat in Israel's Foreign Service who served until recently as Deputy Chief of Mission in Israel's Embassy in Washington and is a former member of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board for Disarmament Affairs