My latest column for New Matilda is about the relationship between Israel and Iran and the prospects for war:
The Israel lobby want to bomb Iran, but calmer heads can see plenty of reasons not to. This time the lobby may not get what it wants, writes Antony Loewenstein
Roger Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times, recently urged Obama to read Trita Parsi’s superb work Treacherous Alliance — The secret dealings of Israel, Iran and the US. Early in it, Parsi places in context the current fear-mongering over Iran’s supposed desire to obliterate Israel:
“Though the Iranian revolution was a major setback for Israel, it didn’t stop the Jewish state from supporting Iran and seeking to improve its relations with the Khomeini government as a counter to Israel’s Arab enemies. Ironically, when Iranian leaders called for Israel’s destruction in the 1980s, Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in Washington lobbied the United States not to pay attention to Iranian rhetoric.”
So what changed? The end of the Cold War and the event of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Parsi explains that, “strategic considerations that had put Iran and Israel on the same geopolitical side in the latter part of the 20th century evaporated. Soon enough, absent any common foes, Israel and Iran found themselves in a rivalry to redefine the regional order after the decimation of Iraq’s military.”
Parsi painstakingly reveals the process by which the Jewish state convinced much of the West that Tehran’s mullahs were irrational and prone to suicidal tendencies, despite the long-standing pragmatic decisions pursued by the Islamic Republic.
On that score, nothing has changed in nearly 20 years.
“Israel stands ready to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites” the London Times claimed last weekend. The story used largely anonymous Israeli sources and the message was clear: if America doesn’t join us, we will hit Iran anyway. An article in Ha’aretz is already talking about a “timetable” for military action. Sometime in 2010 is the new deadline (which in the past has been 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009).
The recent sentence of Iranian/American journalist Roxana Saberi for spying has added complications to the Obama Administration’s slight but significant overtures towards Tehran. However, many key players in America, Israel and Iran have too much invested in warming relations between the Jewish and Islamic states. From the other direction, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made similarly positive noises.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned Israel last week that any military action would not stop Iran’s nuclear activities and would merely embolden the mullahs to accelerate whatever program it has. Of course, Israel would never consider an attack without first asking for Washington’s permission, and a key Washington insider has claimed that an Israeli attack on Iran is highly unlikely as long as the Americans are in Iraq.
An intriguing angle to the growing diplomatic proceedings was a quote that recently appeared in Israel’s biggest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. The US Administration is allegedly talking about assisting in the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear “threat” in return for the evacuation of West Bank settlements. A conversation reportedly took place recently between the White House Chief of Staff and Obama confidante, Rahm Emmanuel, and a senior Jewish leader in Washington. Emmanuel is reported to have said: “Over the next four years there will be a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states and we don’t particularly care who will be the prime minister.”
Obama is apparently not playing by the same rulebook as George W Bush.
The idea that America can impose a settlement is fanciful, presuming that’s what Washington truly wants to do. Intense pressure can undoubtedly be applied to the Jewish state to evacuate the thousands of illegal colonies in the West Bank, but the new Benjamin Netanyahu Government is already baulking at entering into discussions with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, in Gaza they’re still suffering.
Thankfully, Obama’s main regional envoy, George Mitchell, has rejected their wish for the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state before negotiations even begin. The fact that Israel’s borders have never been set due to ever-expanding settlement should have made the wish moot. Furthermore, why should the Palestinians have to support the concept of a racially exclusionary nation that actively discriminates against Arabs and Palestinians?
Besides, as a US official said in response: “nations don’t recognise other nations as anything in particular. How a nation state defines itself is the business only of the country itself”. Netanyahu’s ploy is simply to buy time, something the Jewish Diaspora is seemingly willing to allow him to do.
The Australian Jewish establishment remains incapable of engaging with the issues maturely, preferring to offer slogans and Israeli Government talking points. Witness the example of Melbourne University academic Dvir Abramovich expressing in this week’s Australian Jewish News that after the recent visit of Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, Jews here were upset because of “the fibre of deep connection, loyalty and commitment to Israel means that any attack upon it resonates as if it were an attack on our sons, daughters and brothers.”
Yes, Abramovich’s feelings are hurt, which is clearly far more important than addressing the issues Halper raised, namely the apartheid system in the West Bank. Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf on his blog outlines the direction in which his country is heading, where the occupation and Arabs are invisible and examples of Jewish racism are a daily occurrence.
While the Australian Jewish establishment weeps over a country they infantilise, Ha’aretz has reported that Obama intends to push Israel to open negotiations with both the Palestinians and Syrians in an attempt to “restrain Tehran’s influence and contribute to the diplomatic effort to block Iran’s nuclearisation”. While the prospect of possible negotiations is obviously a good sign, we have been down similar paths before. Talks for the sake of talks. Negotiations that lead nowhere while colonies expand. And there is little chance that the divided Palestinian leadership will be prepared to demilitarise their territory in line with such talks.
Tragically, some of the loudest Jewish voices in Israel and America are almost begging for a military strike against Iran. David Samuels, a contributing editor at Harper’s, writes on Slate about a “rational argument” for an attack. “Who can really argue with the idea of trading the Iranian nuclear bomb for a Palestinian state?”, he asks. This is a curious way to frame the question. The “logic” that he presents for such a strike is that , apparently, “Israel would buy itself another 40 years as the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East.”
The fact that Samuels can write such irrational and racist tripe without once mentioning the word “occupation” shows that he believes the status quo of Israel as a coloniser of Palestinian land is acceptable. It is, as Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf blogs, symptomatic of the current Israeli mainstream:
“…Many people don’t think there is such a thing as ‘the occupation…Unlike the years before Oslo, almost nobody visits the West Bank anymore, and Palestinians don’t enter Israel. For most Israelis, the Palestinian problem is an abstract concept, almost imaginary. The drive from some Tel Aviv suburbs to the nearest Palestinian city takes about 10 minutes, but these are two separate worlds.”
Nobody can deny the vile anti-Semitism that exists within certain sections of the Iranian political elite (described yet again in a recent New Yorker feature by Jon Lee Anderson), but none of this has anything to do with the current standoff between the West and Tehran. This is all about power politics in the Middle East and who has the right to be top dog.
Ultimately no state has the right to act illegally or aggressively, something the Jewish nation has become particularly good at (as has Iran, at times). The current circus around the Durban II conference in Geneva, with Iran being placed at the centre of world evil, is merely continuing the charade.
A nuclear-free Middle East should be the goal of any negotiations, an outcome curiously absent from virtually all of the current debate.