By S P Seth
August 28, 2013
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for international affairs, reportedly said, “Rowhani is charming, he is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb”
Having occupied, divided, created apartheid-era Bantustans, and generally ruined Palestine, Israel is now turning its attention to Iran to rally the world, especially the US, against that country. This has been going on for a number of years because Iran’s nuclear energy programme, according to Tel Aviv, is an “existential danger” for Israel as well as a threat to global peace. Therefore, it is not just an Israeli issue, but also a global issue requiring a global response.
Israel does not accept the Iranian proposition that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. It believes that Tehran is actually working on a nuclear weapons programme and indeed is quite within reach of making a bomb, though there is no hard evidence to back it up. It would therefore like the US, its most powerful ally, to stop Iran from heading in that direction by destroying its nuclear facilities. If the US were squeamish about it, Israel would do this on its own with the US standing behind it if things were to go wrong. Short of actually attacking Iranian facilities at this point of time, President Barack Obama has said that the US would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. In other words, the US will keep all its options open including, if necessary, the military option, which is quite a tight undertaking but not entirely satisfactory for Israel.
Against this backdrop, Israel’s additional worry now is that Iran’s new moderate President Dr Hassan Rowhani might somehow be able to sway the US and its allies into constructive talks on the nuclear question. Rowhani has called for “serious and substantive talks” to break the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear programme. To quote Rowhani, “As the President of the Islamic Republic, I am announcing that there is the political will to solve this issue and also take into consideration the concerns of the other sides.” In other words, there is scope for compromise. But he also made it clear that Iran will not give up its nuclear programme for peaceful uses as provided under international regulations. According to Rowhani, “Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme is a national issue...we will not give up the rights of the Iranian people.” He added, “We will preserve our rights based on the international regulations. In Iran, nobody has said we will give up uranium enrichment, no one and at no time.”
But Israel, the US and its allies are aiming for Iran to give up its nuclear programme. And for that to happen, the US is banking on the harshest sanctions it can impose and force other countries in the world to do likewise to cripple Iran economically. In other words, it is engaged in economic warfare against Iran; there is no other word for it. The logic is that people’s economic hardship will turn them against the clerical regime and replace it with a more responsive (to US pressure) political order. And if that too does not work, there is the ultimate threat of military intervention (bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities).
But Israel wants urgent action to destroy Tehran’s nuclear programme. And it considers Rowhani an even bigger danger being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described him. Netanyahu warned a group of visiting US Congressmen against putting hopes in Rowhani as: “He knows how to exploit this, and yesterday he called for more talks. Of course, he wants more talks. He wants to talk and talk and talk.” He added, “And while everybody is busy talking to him, he will be busy enriching uranium. The centrifuges will keep on spinning.”
It is not just Netanyahu who is warning against Rowhani. It would appear that much of the Israeli state machinery has gone on the offensive. For instance, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for international affairs, reportedly said, “Rowhani is charming, he is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb.” And his advice to the US and the world reportedly is that Iran should be told unmistakably that it had only two choices: close its uranium enrichment programme or “see it destroyed with brute force” that, in his view, would take only “a few hours of airstrikes, no more”. And he was very dismissive about a possible Iranian counter-attack, which might involve firing “several hundred missiles” with “very little damage because we can intercept many of them.” Therefore, as far as Israel is concerned it is time to go after Iran with all guns blazing to destroy its nuclear facilities. Indeed, according to some press reports, the US response to an Israeli attack on Iran might be softening.
Iran’s new President Rowhani is aware of the dangers. He has said, “Unfortunately, the war-mongering lobby in the US is opposed to constructive [talks] and only protects the interests of the foreign regime [Israel], and often receives orders from that regime...” If such were the state of affairs, the only solution for Iran would be to surrender and junk its nuclear programme. This, most probably, is unlikely to happen.
But surely, there would be some policy makers in the US worrying about stoking another conflict in the Middle East, when the US is trying hard to extricate itself from Afghanistan and its Iraq war project went so terribly wrong, with the country hit by bombs all too often. If a recent article in the New York Review of Books by William Luers, Thomas R Pickering and Jim Walsh entitled ‘For a New Approach to Iran’ is any indication, there apparently is concern at some levels about the dangerous drift in US-Iran relations that have struggled since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
The article broadly favours a diplomatic path to deal with the nuclear issue, complementing it with a broader dialogue on a whole range of issues, involving the region. It rightly evokes Obama’s March 2009 message that said, “My administration is now committed to diplomacy...and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran, and the international community. ...We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” In the same way, Iran’s new president has announced, “... there is political will to solve this [nuclear] issue”, taking into consideration the “concerns of the other sides.”
The authors of the article have called upon their government to recall what President John F Kennedy said 50 years ago, in another context, urging his countrymen “not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.” This message is as apposite today in the context of US-Iran relations as it was in the era of the Cold War. But to pursue this course, the US will have to rid itself of Israel’s pernicious and self-serving influence on its foreign policy.
S P Seth is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia