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Entries in Benjamin Netanyahu (10)


Israel's Emerging Statesmen: Avigdor Lieberman and Natan Sharansky

israel-flag1As Enduring America tries to read the foreign policy of the Netanyahu Government in Israel (see Ali Yenidunya's post on the "economic track" of the new Prime Minister), Matt Benyon Rees of Global Post offers profiles of two key figures, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel:

Two Israeli politicians to keep an eye on

JERUSALEM — So, there are two eastern European guys, one from Ukraine and the other from Moldova.

One of them is on the short side and is a chess whiz who suffered through a Siberian labor camp for his uncompromising belief in democracy and freedom. Meet Natan Sharansky, who was picked this weekend by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The other is a beefy former nightclub bouncer who says nasty things about Arabs and is generally seen as just plain uncompromising. Meet Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who, it’s fair to say, is feared and loathed as a hardliner.

The two men couldn't carry themselves more differently and you don't have to be a longtime observer of Israel to know which one fits in better with the western diplomatic community and is most favored by America.

Trouble is they’re essentially the same guy.

Read rest of article...

Scott Lucas in The Guardian: Obama Administration's Battle over Iran and Israel

iran-flag8Since I wrote this for The Guardian, there have been further developments, notably Israel's stepped-up campaign to bump Washington into a hard-line Iran-first policy. The efforts have been more political than military, notably Tel Aviv's threat that it will not enter meaningful negotiations over Palestine unless the US commits to further pressure upon Tehran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck back yesterday, telling Israel to back off on the threat. That indicates that the Obama line of engagement is still prevailing within the Administration, as does the silence of Petraeus and Mullen over the last two weeks.

Forgive the somewhat dramatic headline, which led to a lot of irrelevant comments. The issue is not whether the US backs an Israeli airstrike but whether it suspends the gradual but clear move towards discussions with Iran.

To bomb, or not to bomb, Iran

Just over a month ago, President Barack Obama broke a 30-year embargo on US relations with Iran: he offered goodwill not only to "Iranians" but to the country's government. Speaking on the occasion of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, he said:

"I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It's a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbours and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace."

It's no surprise that this message, given a generation of tension between Washington and Tehran, has been challenged in the US. What's more interesting is that the greatest threat to Obama's engagement comes not from media sceptics from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal or the foundations now packed with refugees from the Bush administration or even the Middle Eastern institutes putting a priority on Israeli security. No, Obama's most daunting opponents are within his own administration.

Less than two weeks after the Nowruz address, General David Petraeus, the head of the US military command overseeing Iran and the Persian Gulf, offered a far different portrayal of Iran to a Senate committee:
Iranian activities and policies constitute the major state-based threat to regional stability. … Iran is assessed by many to be continuing its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, which would destabilise the region and likely spur a regional arms race.

The next day Petraeus's boss, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, visited the offices of the Wall Street Journal, which has taken a consistent editorial line against dialogue with the Iranian government. Far from supporting his president, Mullen told the newspaper: "I think we've got a problem now. ... I think the Iranians are on a path to building nuclear weapons." Not even past enemies were as menacing: "Even in the darkest days of the cold war we talked to the Soviets. … [But now] we don't have a lot of time."

What's going on here? There are clear political goals behind Obama's approach of dialogue rather than confrontation. The hope is that Iran will not challenge the US approach to Middle Easten issues, in particular Israel-Palestine and Israel-Syria talks, through its connections with Hamas and Hezbollah. An easing of political tensions in turn may remove the motive for Tehran to reverse its suspension of research and development for a nuclear weapons – as opposed to civilian nuclear energy – programme.

Yet there are also military benefits from a US-Iran rapprochement. As Obama's envoy Richard Holbrooke has made clear, a partnership with Tehran could ease the American burden in Afghanistan, especially as the troop surge is being implemented. Better relations could assist with the political transition in Iraq as the US draws down its overt military presence. Eventually, an Iranian renunciation of nuclear weapons would finally remove a significant strategic question mark in the region.

In part, the calculation of Petraeus and Mullen is that Iran cannot be trusted in these areas. For years, US commanders in Iraq have alleged that Iran has been backing the insurgency, and Petraeus has also claimed that Tehran has supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. In his testimony to the Senate committee, the general expanded this into a grand nefarious Iranian scheme:
Iran employs surrogates and violent proxies to weaken competitor states, perpetuate conflict with Israel, gain regional influence and obstruct the Middle East peace process. Iran also uses some of these groups to train and equip militants in direct conflict with US forces. Syria, Iran's key ally, facilitates the Iranian regime's reach into the Levant and the Arab world by serving as the key link in an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance and allows extremists (albeit in smaller numbers than in the past) to operate in Damascus and to facilitate travel into Iraq.

Still, in their public opposition to Obama's Iran policy, the military commanders are playing one card before all others: Israel.

Petraeus's threat to the congressmen was far from subtle: "The Israeli government may ultimately see itself so threatened by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon that it would take pre-emptive military action to derail or delay it." Mullen told the Wall Street Journal: "There is a leadership in Israel that is not going to tolerate" a nuclear Iran. This was a "life or death" matter in which "the operative word is 'existential'".

Are they bluffing? If so, it's a bluff that has been coordinated with Tel Aviv. Last summer, Israel asked for but did not get George Bush's support for an airstrike on Iran. It took only six weeks for the Israelis to revive the topic with the new Obama administration: the commander of the Israeli armed forces, General Gabi Ashkenazi, visited Washington with the message "that an Israeli military strike was a 'serious' option".

While Ashkenazi was told by Obama's political advisers to put his fighter planes away, the story of Israeli military plans continues to be circulated. Only last weekend, Sheera Frenkel of The Times was fed the story: "The Israeli military is preparing itself to launch a massive aerial assault on Iran's nuclear facilities within days of being given the go-ahead by its new government."

High-level Obama officials are fighting back. Aware that a frontal assault on the popular Petraeus would be politically dangerous, they have tried to curb the "Israel will strike" campaign. Vice-president Joe Biden told CNN that new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "would be ill-advised to do that". Perhaps more importantly, secretary of defence Robert Gates said last week that an Israeli attack would have "dangerous consequences". Reading that signal, Israeli President Shimon Peres backed away from earlier tough talk and assured: "All the talk about a possible attack by Israel on Iran is not true. The solution in Iran is not military."

So, for this moment, Petraeus and Mullen appear to have been checked. However, they and their military allies, such as General Raymond Odierno in Iraq, have been persistent in challenging Obama over strategy from Kabul to Baghdad to Jerusalem. It is their manoeuvring, rather than Tehran's jailing of an Iranian-American journalist like Roxana Saberi or even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speeches at UN conferences, that is Barack Obama's greatest foe.

Israel-Palestine: The Political Wreck on Netanyahu's Economic Track

Related Post: Israel’s Emerging Statesmen - Avigdor Lieberman and Natan Sharansky

netanyahu6Enduring America's Ali Yenidunya has dropped in on our partner website, Libertas, with a guest blog on the Israeli Government's new strategy on Palestine. His prediction? Prime Minister Netanyahu, trying to block a "two-state" resolution, is only making trouble for himself with an economics-first approach:

A month ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a conference in Jerusalem. In contrast to other high-profile meetings such as that last week with US envoy George Mitchell and in May or June with President Obama, this was a quiet affair. However, the Jerusalem Wealth Management Conference, featuring Netanyahu’s participation, was far from insignificant.

The conference’s concern was difficulties with investments in Palestine and Israel, both for individuals and for companies. Amongst those considering the matter were the Bank of Israel, the Ministry of Trade, the International Monetary Fund, the Association of Banks in Palestine, the US Embassy in Israel, the new Israel-Palestine Chamber of Commerce, and the PalTel (Palestinian Telecommunications) Group. Discussions were in three main panels: Israeli Inc. as a Grade A Destination, Israel's Investment Opportunities, and Investment in the Palestinian Economy.

This, however, was a conference with political as well as economic significance. It was no less than a forum for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strategy towards the Israeli relationship with Palestine. In his commitment to “economic peace initiatives”, he was also drawing the line against a political two-state resolution. Netanyahu was once again declaring that peace talks could focus on building the Palestinian economy and its governing institutions, but there was no need for them to engage other issues such as settlements, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and borders.

While there is no record to dissent from the gathered bankers, financiers, and investors to Netanyahu, the weakness --- possibly even the folly --- of his approach was clear. A progressive peace plan cannot be achievable merely through “investment”, strengthening the Palestinian economy and the economic relationship between Israel and the West Bank.

Read rest of article....

Durban II: The Conference Against Racism Gives Way to Israel Against Iran

crying-childAt the end of the Second United Nations World Conference Against Racism, here is one near-certain outcome: there will be no third conference.

Racism may be a subject which demands sincere and strong steps from every country in the UN, but once again it has been used primarily for realpolitik. This conference has been hijacked both by Iran or Israel with their stubborn and boundary-producing discourses, shaped by  their policies of "security".

This conference again demonstrates that we still have not learned how to put the common humanitarian values of the UN Charter into practice. While mistreated millions have been looking for a solution against racism and discrimination, leaders of these people are merely bringing the effects of that racism to a climax.

Let’s start from the Israeli side. After the delegates of 23 Europeans walked out during Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s speech, Israel wasted no time in framing the threat from Tehran. The Jerusalem Post reported that German soldiers, for the first time, took part in the March of the Living on Tuesday at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. So while Iranians have been 'sharpening their swords’, the West (of which a redeemed Germany is a part) has already showed "the main difference" between Western and Iranian mentalities by walking out of the conference hall. Iranians are the ones living on ‘the wrong side’ of the history.

The message was clear: even as German soldiers can walk with Israelis to show their sensitivity to the seriousness of the subject (Holocaust), it is certain that there are still some people (Iranians) who have not understood what Israelis feel and who are posing the greatest threat against Israel’s existence. Therefore, with the possibility of a new Holocaust, Israelis must do whatever is needed. After Ahmadinejad’s speech in Geneva proving how Tehran is full of hatred against Israel, it is Iran and not Israel constructing the ‘legitimacy’ of an Israeli pre-emptive strike against the source of the danger. ‘

Speaking at the March of the Living, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom framed the response of Israeli security, “Sadly, today we are again facing an existential threat just like that of sixty-four years ago, and I wonder if we have learned anything since then?” The Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Reuven Rivlin sent an impassioned letter to parliamentary counterparts abroad on Tuesday: "This time, Hitler has a beard and speaks Persian."

Indeed, for Vice President Shalom, Ahmadinejad is worse than Hitler:
Can there be anything more terrible than the methodical annihilation of a whole nation, burning their holy books, stealing their dignity as human beings, their hair and even their teeth, turning them into numbers, into soap, into ashes and dust at Treblinka and at Dachau? The answer is yes! There is something more terrible. It is even worse to do all those terrible things and then to deny them. Denial of the Holocaust not only desecrates the memory of the victims and wounds the survivors, it also denies the world the opportunity to learn the lesson of those events - a lesson we must learn again today, just as we had to sixty four years ago.

Shalom continued, “Iran represents a threat to the very existence of Israel, but not only of Israel! Iran represents a threat to the existence of the entire free world, and it is vitally important that we realize this soon.”

Thus, Tel Aviv is standing up for all "free" peoples against the greatest menace in modern history, “Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas - all these have become Iranian agents. Today, it is still Israel that is fighting the war against terrorism for the whole world, but today more than ever, the world must understand that these agents of Iran can reach them too.”

Here is the most subtly-designed paragraph of Shalom's speech:
The March of the Living is not only about the importance of paying our respect to the millions who were murdered and to show all those who seek to destroy us that we are stronger than any evil - it is also about lighting a beacon of warning for every person wherever he or she lives. This beacon of warning will ensure that the memory of what happened here will remain alive and that through that memory, the words 'Never Again' will truly be realized.

That "beacon of light” was an important symbol for the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption of imminent threats. As George W. Bush put it,   “America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” Moreover, the statement has deep roots in Jewish culture with the belief that the Jew would become a “light unto the nations” (la’goyim) or a beacon to the world.

Thus the UN conference is merely the backdrop for Israel to link both the hope of the "beacon of light" and the prospective doom in the "beacon of warning" to past horrors which are now imminent. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed, "We will not let the Holocaust deniers perpetrate another holocaust on the Jewish people. This is the highest responsibility of the State of Israel and of myself as prime minister."

Beyond this construction of the Iranian threat, however, there was an equally important --- if destructive --- process coming out of the UN conference. Put bluntly, President Ahmedinejad was setting out the exact same "security" framework as his Israeli counterparts.

Ahmadinejad succeeding in giving the "necessary" message to his countrymen. Iranians stood up against the European and American supporters of Israel in Geneva. Iranians have no fear of criticizing the ‘occupying’ Israel, ‘the real threat’ to the world. Thus, they are on ‘the correct side of the history’ and they must continue to be ‘the proud side of humanity’ against ‘ignorants.’

The Iranian President first set out the background of the Israeli threat:
Over the last centuries, humanity has gone through great sufferings and pains. In the Medieval Ages, thinkers and scientists were sentenced to death. It was then followed by a period of slavery and slave trade. Innocent people were taken captive in their millions and separated from their families and loved ones to be taken to Europe and America under the worst conditions. A dark period that also experienced occupation, lootings and massacres of innocent people.

Then Ahmadinejad brought this background into the post-1945 tragedy of Palestine:
Following World War II, they (Western powers) resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering and they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine. And, in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.

And the Iranian President Ahmadinejad then took the short step to the present day:
It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defending those racist perpetrators of genocide while the awakened-conscience and free-minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutalities and the bombardment of civilians in Gaza.

So, "racist" Israel, which has been "backed up" by Western countries, is the "threat’"against freedom and innocence. Israel is the country that has been "committing genocide". Ahmadinejad argued, “World Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religions and abuses religious sentiments to hide its hatred and ugly face.”

Who is going to act against this ‘racist regime’? Ahmadinejad continued:
Efforts must be made to put an end to the abuse by Zionists and their political and international supporters and in respect with the will and aspirations of nations. Governments must be encouraged and supported in their fights aimed at eradicating this barbaric racism and to move towards reform in current international mechanisms.

For Ahmadinejad, Iran is not the threat to the international community but its prospective leader, standing up against racism: "It is the responsibility of honorable representatives of nations to disclose these campaigns which run counter to humanitarian values and principles.”

In coming days and weeks, there will be much more in the international press on the prospect of Israel vs. Iran. Each side has stoked up the "threat" of the other, and each is vying for support in its just and right cause.

Yet, even if this confrontation does not end in military action, there is an even greater political cost that is emerging. The collapse of the UN Conference is only symptomatic of a wider collapse that leaves a vacuum. Tel Aviv and Tehran step up to "lead" because other countries and leaders, caught up in their political calculations, fail to do so. At Geneva and beyond, no one stepped up to restore the common cause for humanitarian values and against racism to the top of the agenda.

The criticism, in the end, is not that Israel and Iran have seized the "beacon of light" to control the "beacon of warning". It is that we let them.

Israel-Palestine: Obama Invites Netanyahu, Abbas, Mubarak to US

abbas1After yesterday's announcement that President Obama is inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (pictured) to Washington in May, we now know the US plan for Israel and Palestine in full.

Let's Talk. If Only for the Sake of Talking.

The visit of the Middle East trio to the White House follows last week's set-up discussions by US envoy George Mitchell in the region. After the talks, Obama will probably announce that he will go to Israel and the West Bank in June (a plan we recently revealed on Enduring America).

It is hard to see, however, what the US is achieving so far other than going through the motions. Even before getting to the detail of an Israel-Palestinian settlement, there are two not-so-small obstacles.

The first is the position of the Israeli Government. While Netanyahu went through the diplomatic motions in talking to Mitchell last week, in contrast to the hard-line image of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he pointedly did not accept the "two-state" formula pushed by the US. The Israeli position --- discussions should be on areas such as economic development and "security" rather than any notion of Palestinian independence --- is still being held.

US officials put out signals that Mitchell pressed Netanyahu to show some flexiblity, and no doubt those signals --- if only for public display --- will be repeated before the May talks. Even so, there  is the second obstacle: the uninvited but very visible presence of Hamas.

Of course, Obama could not countenance a White House welcome for Hamas leaders such as Khaled Meshaal or Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. What is more important is that there are still no indications of a discreet Washington contact, direct or through third parties, with the organisation. Instead, the US can probably hold to its own line that, as long as the Cairo talks fail to produce "Palestinian unity", the issue of Hamas at the table does not arise.

That means, however, that these are not talks on Israel and Palestine but, at most, on Israel and the West Bank. And it also means that the impression, if not the actual US policy, will be of a political strategy with Israel and Egypt to prop up Abbas --- whose term as President of the West Bank expired on 9 January --- as a "leader" even without significant movement towards a Palestinian state.