It passes for diplomacy these days, but its hallmarks are pretense, illogic, and a self-serving posture. Not an aberration, it has become something of a widespread norm.
Prime Minister Netanyahu -- whom I am not accusing of being absurd in this context, but quite the contrary -- actually had the temerity to speak the truth with regard to the "negotiations" between the six powers and Iran. What he said was:
"...my initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie. It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition."
But Obama wasn't having it. The US, he declared, "has not given anything away." While he believed there was still room for diplomacy, he would not allow the talks to become a "stalling process."
"The notion that somehow we've given something away or a 'freebie' would indicate Iran has gotten something. In fact, they've got some of the toughest sanctions that they're going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don't take advantage of these talks."
But they indeed have gotten something: time. "...in just a few months..." What happens between now and then? And if the Iranians, who are masters of official absurdities, seem to be showing "progress" in the talks, will Obama push off the date of those tougher sanctions? Or if Iran demands, as part of "negotiations," that the world let up on sanctions before it can get serious about making its nuclear concessions?
In any event, I would point out that Iranian leaders have decided to "bite the bullet": Sanctions may be hurting them, but they have not budged one iota from their goal of nuclear development.
Carrying the ball further, US deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, declared:
"We believe the talks in Istanbul have been a positive first step, that there was a constructive atmosphere, that the Iranians came to the table and engaged in a discussion about their nuclear program."
Wow! Atmosphere. The Iranians engaged in discussion. But did he fail to notice that there were no concrete proposals? As a spokesman for Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) commented:
"We should not mistake positive diplomatic dialogue for compliance with UN Security Council resolutions."
Elliot Abrams in a Council on Foreign Relations piece, alluded to citation by a Western diplomat who declared:
"I don't think they would come if they weren't serious." Now there's an absurdity.
"I don't think they would come if they weren't serious." Now there's an absurdity.
Dore Gold has written a significant paper on this issue for Friends of Israel Initiative, which provides genuine clarity on a complex subject. He doesn't indulge in diplomatic jargon, but presents hard facts. I recommend that you read the entire paper; here I provide a couple of salient quotes (with all emphasis added):
"The clock is ticking on the Iranian nuclear program. Last December, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared on the CBS news program, Sixty Minutes, and declared that Iran could have a bomb within twelve months. Thus Panetta was suggesting that Tehran could become a nuclear power by the end of 2012. He added that the time frame might be shorter if the Iranians have 'a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.' If Panetta’s assessments are correct, then Iran’s best diplomatic strategy for 2012 is just to let the clock run out. The West will have to carefully deveop a counter-strategy to neutralize Iran’s likely course of action.
"...At the end of the Iranian negotiations with the EU-3 in 2005, Iranian negotiators actually disclosed their approach to their talks with the West. For example, the head negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, revealed that Iran had managed to exploit its negotiations with the West to complete its uranium.conversion plant at Isfahan, which produced the feedstock for the centrifuges in Natanz: 'The day we started the [negotiating] project there was no such thing as the Isfahan project.' His deputy, Hossein Musavian, was even more blunt on Iranian Channel 2 television: 'Thanks-*+"
Before leaving this subject, for now, I want to address one particular issue that disturbs me greatly -- for it is indicative of a way of thinking that is fairly pervasive. This is with regard to a carrot that is much too large, and a stick that is infinitesimal to non-existent.
Comments made by Chuck Freilich, a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, in a piece in the JPost suggest this thinking. While he makes other points as well, early in his article he says, "The US should be willing to offer Iran a generous deal..." And then, "For Israel, painful compromises -- such as acquiescence to Iran's long-standing relationship with Hezbollah -- are worth making if they achieve the over-arching goal of preventing a nuclear Iran."
Excuse me? The world has to give Iran something to prevent it from flaunting Security Council resolutions and generating a danger to peace in the world? Israel has to agree to tolerate Hezbollah, which is sworn to destroy Israel and is being massively armed and trained by Iran, and to turn a blind eye to that arming and training?
This is very dangerous stuff, the stuff of appeasement. And it doesn't even work.
I would handle "negotiations" with Iran something like this (however couched diplomatically):
"We are sick of your stalling, and are not prepared to permit you to proceed with your nuclear development. We are giving you four weeks in which to mull over our position. By the end of four weeks, if you are not genuinely prepared to do x, y, and z, we will launch a military attack to preclude that nuclear development. The choice is yours. Do not imagine that we will be deterred by excuses or threats. Let us know if you are ready to talk to us about how to facilitate what we are demanding."
But the world does not have the stomach to face down what must be faced down.
Recently I wrote about Professor Moshe Sharon and his theory of dealing with Muslims (the Iranians are not Arab) as in a bazaar.
Elliot Abrams, in his piece alluded to above, addresses this very matter:
"Note that the head of the U.S. delegation, Wendy Sherman, requested a private one-on-one meeting with the head of the Iranian delegation. As I write this, there are conflicting reports as to whether her request was accepted or rejected, but all accounts are very clear on one point: she was the one asking, not Saeed Jalili. This action ensures that the United States appears to Iran as a suitor, anxious for these talks to succeed–and apparently more anxious than is Iran."
This is precisely how it should not be.
The efforts to block the Flytilla are being considered a success: there was no disruption within the country, as very few people succeed in getting to Palestinian Arab areas. And there was no disruption in Ben Gurion Airport either, as not many people even made it to the airport. Israel has expressed appreciation to those airlines and airport police that blocked "activists" from coming in.
There was, however, one unfortunate incident that, in the interest of fair reporting, must be mentioned:
As news reports had it, Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade of the IDF, struck an "activist" from Denmark on the face with the side of his rifle, lightly injuring him. Initial reports had it that this attack was unprovoked.
The response from across the board here in Israel was one of criticism and distress -- "This is not the way IDF soldiers act!" -- and he was suspended from his position.
As it turns out, however, there is more to the story. Much more. Eisner, who regrets what happened, says he acted reflexively following two hours of sometimes violent provocation by some 250 Palestinian Arabs and foreign activists, who had persisted in trying to enter a forbidden military zone. In fact, the "activist" Eisner took a swing at had first attacked him, breaking two of his fingers.
Credit: IsraelNationalNews/Flash 90
Questions must be asked then regarding when and under what circumstances, if ever, a soldier has a right to hit back when attacked, and precisely who these "activists" were, who were prepared to engage the IDF in violence. So much for all the hype about people wanting to come peacefully, although of course the Danish "activist" declares his innocence, saying that "I wasn't doing anything."
And there's yet more to the story. This Danish "activist" is said to be an anarchist and is apparently a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a virulently anti-Israel group. And guess what? The ISM was on hand to video the incident and then selectively release a small segment of what had gone on -- carefully editing out the provocations that would be seen on a full video. The ISM released that edited video to news outlets and put it up on the Internet. That's the M.O. of ISM: generating bad press for Israel.
More distressing than what an organization that is a recognized enemy of Israel did, however, is what the response within Israel was at a variety of levels. The media accepted and ran with the story, showing the video without further checking -- and that video went viral worldwide. Furthermore, national leaders apologized for the incident without truly knowing all the facts. This reflects a regrettable pattern -- Israelis ready to show the world how good we are and thus accepting blame reflexively, before the entire story is known. (The very worst incident was with the Al Dura libel, but the question is whether we've learned anything from it.)
"We've gone mad" is how Maariv commentator Ben-Dror Yemini put it, and I would agree.
In its editorial on the subject today, "Benefit of the doubt," the JPost argues:
"Dedicated commanders such as Eisner, who have served our country with distinction, should have been given the benefit of the doubt -- at least until a thorough investigation is conducted.
"Eisner, in particular, has in the past exhibited heroism during wartime and sensitivity toward the Palestinian population. During the Sluki battle in the Second Lebanon War, he led soldiers in battle and helped extract a tank crew under fire. About a year ago, he helped a Palestinian woman give birth after which the baby underwent life-saving procedures under his command."
While in a piece Israel Hayom today, MK Danny Danon (Likud) wrote:
"It is time to wake up. Israel is in the midst of a new kind of war, in which delegitimization has replaced bullets, and provocations have replaced tanks and jets."
Now an investigation will be held and apparently Eisner has hired a lawyer who will seek to document the provocation and attack on his client. (Seems a full video does exist.)
Says , Hagai Segal, writing in YNet:
"...they must keep him in the army. Any other decision will constitute a grave blow to the face of IDF combat soldiers, the perpetual punching bag of all Israel haters."
Indeed, a reprimand and then a reinstatement or reassignment perhaps.
The JPost editorial reflects similar thinking:
"The ease with which these leaders [named] and others denounced Eisner conveys a mixed message to our soldiers.
"Instead of providing them with the trust and backing they so desperately need when confronting radical activists bent on disrupting public order, our leaders issued hasty statements based on partial evidence. This sort of response will inevitably undermine IDF soldiers’ confidence in their next confrontation with anti-Israel activists."
Well, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today in Jerusalem, but it never happened. Today was the day when 1,000 Palestinian Arabs in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike for improved conditions. Among their demands: the reinstatement of the right to earn degrees while in prison, so you understand how critical their situation is.
At any rate, Fayyad was reluctant to interface with Israel on this day, and cancelled at the very last moment. Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian negotiator, and Majid Faraj, head of PA General Intelligence attended the meeting in his stead. Fayyad was supposed to carry a letter from Abbas to Netanyahu, and one of these officials delivered it.
I will deal with the precise nature of this letter in a subsequent posting, such as it merits attention. Leaks about the letter indicate that it is nothing more than a review of perennial PA demands: '67 lines, no settlement building etc., with veiled threats regarding Israel's last chance for a two-state solution, which is interpreted as meaning Abbas is going back to the unilateral gambit.
Netanyahu has said he will respond promptly with a letter of his own.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.