Sunday, July 19, 2015

Don't let Netanyahu finish Iran nuke deal. Instead make it the start

NETANYAHU scare tactic misfired.  So will he try again?

THE international agreement under which the Iranian government renounces the production of nuclear weapons and allows international inspection, in return for which it gets a relaxation of sanctions, is a major achievement for US President Barack Obama.

It is a humiliating setback for Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. From getting Tel Aviv children to crouch under desks in air raid drills, to treating the UN General Assembly as children, Netanyahu has done everything to whip up fear and hysteria about a supposed Iranian threat.  We were told Iran was near to having the bomb, and planning to use it, even though Israel's own intelligence chiefs doubted this was the case. Past remarks by former Iranian president Ahmadinejad about erasing the Zionist state were interpreted with the help of Israel's friends in the media as meaning the Iranians were intent on a nuclear Holocaust.

It would not take more than elementary knowledge of geography to realise that any such use of nuclear weapons against Israel would destroy al Aksa and slaughter large numbers of Muslims, leaving Palestine a radioactive wasteland rather than a homeland to which Palestinians could return.

But logic does not figure much in war psychology.  The threat from Iran was to be used not only for unity at home, circling the wagons, and stilling Jewish dissent by evoking a supposed new Hitler; but to let Israel pretend to the world it is the victim, threatened with annihilation, even as its bombs rained down on Gaza and Lebanon, and its government prepared new ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.

Besides which, Israel remains the one nuclear power in the Middle East, neither admitting nor denying it, but not allowing international inspection, nor allowing nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu the right to travel and speak abroad.    

Under the deal secured with Iran, its government agreed to:
  • Halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity.
  • "Neutralise" its stockpile of near-20%-enriched uranium.
  • Not install any more centrifuges (the machines used to enrich uranium).
  • Allow international inspection of nuclear facilities. 

See also:

In return the six states which took part in the Vienna talks with Iran will:
  • Not impose further nuclear-related sanctions.
  •  Suspend certain sanctions on trade.
  • Transfer $4.2bn (£2.6bn) to Iran in installments from sales of its oil.

In response to a complaint by Netanyahu that Iran was being "rewarded" with billions of dollars, opponents pointed out that Iranians were merely being allowed to receive the money they have earned, unlike the billions which Israel receives in US aid.

In Tehran suburbs, ordinary Iranians who have been suffering the effect of sanctions in scarcity, job losses, and price inflation, were celebrating the good news this Eid.
In Washington, President Obama said the deal “will make America and the world safer and more secure”. He used his weekly address to Americans on Saturday to build support among voters, ahead of a vote in Congress and against Republican opposition.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who took part in the Vienna talks, told Parliament on Wednesday that "no agreement with Iran would have been enough for Netanyahu. Israel prefers a permanent state of standoff (with Iran)."  Hammond, due to discuss the deal with Netanyahu, added  the Israeli prime minister would try to undermine the deal through influence with the US Congress, but predicted this would fail. He said he was hopeful that the UK and Iran could reopen their respective embassies before the end of this year. 

While Netanyahu has been pre-occupied with the supposed threat from the Islamic republic in Iran, Western powers have shown increasing alarm at the real threat from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant", ISIL, or Da'esh. Whatever suspicions there were that the US and Saudis might sponsor Sunni and Wahabbi militancy as an asset, this ruthless and well-armed force has threatened the Saudi regime and carried out massive attacks on Egyptian forces in Sinai. And while Netanyahu and his mouthpieces could only attack ISIL in propaganda crudely lumping Hamas and Hizbollah together with this new barbaric force, we know that Hizbollah, an Iranian ally, is fighting ISIL in Syria, and that ISIL has threatened boastfully to destroy Hamas.

It was revealed this weekend that RAF pilots are flying combat missions against ISIL forces, not only in Iraq but in Syria too. Many people on the Left and in the peace movement have protested that this goes against the vote in Parliament last year not to intervene in Syria. But what we might note here is that back then the government wanted to go to war on Syria and oust President Assad, whereas now British forces are being deployed on the same side as Assad's backers, Iran, which also has forces fighting ISIL in Iraq.

Philip Hammond is not the only European Foreign Minister telling Netanyahu to calm down and behave. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German broadcaster ARD in an interview on Wednesday that "this is a responsible deal and Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way.”

In Israel too, though Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners and the "opposition" Labour Party might be drawn behind him, not everyone agrees. More than one said Netanyahu had already alienated the US government and continuing to interfere in Congress would only make things worse.

Veteran political columnist Akiva Eldar writes:

'A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, who has been closely following the Iranian issue in recent years, discussed with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity Israel’s ability to influence ratification of the agreement by its signatories. “Bibi [Netanyahu] knows full well that the agreement was signed between Iran and six [world] powers, and not just with the US,” he said. “Everyone understands that Russia, China and Germany will not sign off on what Congress does.” He described Netanyahu’s opposition to Obama as “uncontrollable and political,” and that he is convinced that the prime minister’s moves in Congress will fail, as did the Israeli attempt in 1981 to thwart the sale of advanced warning AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

“I will tell you something that they don’t tell you in the Foreign Ministry,” the official said. “The agreement looks good to anyone not engaged in governmental public diplomacy. That includes the [military] chief of staff and many senior officials in the intelligence community. We understand that the Iranian threat has been deferred for a far longer time than we ever imagined in our rosiest dreams, with minimal danger for Israel.”

'He added, “Not only that, the agreement creates superb opportunities, which must be and can be used, if done correctly, of course. For instance, Iran will have a vested interest in maintaining calm in the near future, and Europe and the United States can be used to pressure it to rein in Hezbollah in arenas where it operates against us — on the Golan Heights and abroad.” '

Whatever Netanyahu and his sponsor in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson, are able to do by meddling in Washington, hopefully Britain and others - not least China and Russia - will make it clear that they are sticking by the Vienna agreement and not going to tolerate an Israeli war threat or a return to sanctions.

Here in London, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament welcomed the deal and said it showed how tensions in the Middle East could be reduced by diplomacy.

I'd take things further.  The best way to make this agreement hold, and convince Iranians and everyone else they've made the right move in renouncing nuclear weapons is to be consistent.
Make the war-torn Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone, as Mordechai Vanunu has long urged, removing this sword of Damocles from hanging over all its peoples, as part of aiming for a peaceful world for everybody.

Cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

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