Thursday, June 20, 2013

“Khaybar”—A Middle East Reality Check

...as difficult as it might be to focus the international press as well as liberal Jews on the historical record of the Palestinians and their political culture that makes peace improbable if not impossible, it may be just as important to broaden the discussion to that of the culture of the entire region. ...Palestinians have never found the will to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn ...
... a new blockbuster miniseries slated for broadcast ... in most of the Middle East tells us more about what the contemporary Arab world thinks about Jews than canned statements about peace intended for the Western press that peace advocates rely upon.
... there isn’t much doubt about the intent of people that made “Khaybar”—which centers on the historical conflict between early Muslims and Jewish tribes in the Arabian Peninsula during the Prophet’s lifetime:
In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, an Egypt-based daily news­paper, on January 16, Al-Jindy said, “The goal of the series is to expose the naked truth about the Jews and stress that they can­not be trusted.”
Commenting on the recent changes in the region, Al-Jindy described the importance of recognizing the parallels between “the era of the Khaiber battle” and “contemporary times.”
Al-Jindy also seemed to sug­gest that the series will have a global effect. “I think it is time to expose them [the Jews] even in America itself. I am confident that the United States will realize that it paid a high price for supporting them.”
Khaybar has resonance with those seeking to destroy Israel because the Jewish tribes of the Medina area were conquered, treated with great cruelty and eventually expelled from the region in the year 642. Al Jindy authored another miniseries with anti-Semitic context called “The Wandering Jew.” Its producers are hoping to repeat the success of another series based on the fraudulent “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” that was a huge hit during Ramadan a decade ago.
Rather than dismissing this as irrelevant to the discussion of peace, the popularity of such smears should send a chill down the backs of those who continue to argue that Palestinians and the Arab world are ready to give up their hundred-year-old war to eradicate the Jewish presence in the region. So long as Khaybar remains a safe theme for broad-based Muslim popular culture, we’re a long way from peace in the Middle East.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Don't be fooled by new Iranian president

From JPost, 16 June 2013, by HERB KEINON:
Israel concerned president-elect Rohani’s transition period will buy regime more time for nuclear drive.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrives at weekly cabinet meeting, June 16, 2013
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrives at weekly cabinet meeting, June 16, 2013 Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Swimming against the tide of “cautious optimism” that characterized reactions in key capitals to Iran’s election of Hassan Rohani as president, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday Israel was not “deluding” itself and advised the world not to get carried away by “wishful thinking.”
“The international community must not become caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting, in his first public response to Rohani’s victory.
“We are not deluding ourselves,” he said. “We need to remember that the Iranian ruler [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] at the outset disqualified candidates who were not in line with his extreme worldview, and from among those whom he did allow, the one seen as least identified with the regime was elected.
But we are still speaking about someone who calls Israel the ‘great Zionist Satan.’” Netanyahu said in any event it was Khamenei who determines Iran’s nuclear policy, and not the country’s president.
“The more the pressure on Iran increases, the greater the chances of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, which still remains the greatest threat to world peace,” he said.
In a reference to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, Netanyahu said he, too – like Rohani – was considered moderate by the West, yet he did not bring about any change in Iran’s “aggressive” policies.
“Over the past 20 years, the only thing that has brought about a temporary freeze of the Iranian nuclear program was Iranian concern in 2003 about an attack against it,” Netanyahu said, alluding to fears in Tehran at the time that the US, which had just gone into Iraq, might do the same with Iran as well.
“Iran will be judged by its actions,” Netanyahu said. “If it continues to stubbornly develop its nuclear program, the answer needs to be clear: stopping its program by any means.”
Netanyahu’s remarks – similar in tone to skepticism he voiced two years ago when protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square brought down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak – contrasted with more conciliatory statements made in other capitals, such as Washington.
...In an apparent nod to moderate overtures Rohani has already sent to the West, the White House said it remained “ready to engage...directly” with Iran so that its government could make “responsible choices” on its nuclear program.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, another key interlocutor regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, released a statement saying that she remained “firmly committed to working with the new Iranian leadership toward a swift diplomatic solution of the nuclear issue.”
Rohani, and how the West should deal with him, is certain to be one of the main issues on the agenda when Ashton comes to Jerusalem for talks on Thursday.
...one Israeli official said Jerusalem was concerned about what he described as the EU’s “default psyche” – which he described as “to engage.”
The official predicted a process whereby the EU will want to engage with the new Iranian president, but he will not formally take over his position until August, and then will certainly ask for more time to “get organized” and to name a new nuclear negotiator.
Israel’s concern... was that the EU’s reflex will be to give Rohani time. “But we don’t have time to give...because the centrifuges are spinning.” ... Jerusalem’s primary concern, and the reason for Netanyahu playing a “spoiler” role on Sunday, was that the world will want to focus on the illusion the elections created, and not the reality.
“There is a concern that there are people who will embrace something that is illusory, a fa├žade, just as in the past, when the Arab Spring started...It is important to have a reality check.”
...Netanyahu was urging the world to follow the events in Iran carefully and focus on the centrifuges, because whether or not they keep spinning will tell the real tale of whether there will be a change in Iran’s nuclear policy.
“The vote is a protest vote against the leadership...Our concern is that although the Iranians are fed up with their government, that does not necessarily change reality or affect the nuclear program.”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rowhani victory might buy Iran more time on nukes

From the Times of Israel, 15 June 2013:
...[Israel’s acting defense minister] Gilad Erdan (Likud), who is filling in for Moshe Ya’alon, said he feared [Hassan ] Rowhani’s win [in the Iranian presidential elections], and his reputation as a centrist and reformer, might lead the West to give Iran more leeway in diplomatic contacts over its rogue nuclear drive.                 
“There might be a temptation… to agree to another round of talks, and then another round. Meanwhile the centrifuges are still spinning,” said Erdan, who is also minister of Homefront Defense and Communications.
He told Channel 10 he was worried world powers might misconstrue Rowhani, because he is a cleric, as some kind of benevolent “spiritual” leader, who might change policies, when this was certainly not the case.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office issued a statement on the news from Iran expressing a similar sentiment.
“The president elect in Iran had been shortlisted by Ayatollah Khamenei, who has disqualified and removed candidates who did not conform to his extremist views. Iran’s nuclear program has so far been determined by Khamenei, and not by Iran’s president.
“After the elections, Iran will continue to be judged by its actions, in the nuclear sphere as well as on the issue of terror. Iran must abide by the demands of the international community to stop its nuclear program and cease the dissemination of terror throughout the world,” read the statement.
In similar vein, Iranian-born Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz said he believes the new president will not change Iran’s policy on its controversial nuclear program.
“The Iranian nuclear program will continue. We are not expecting any dramatic changes on that front. There will also be no change vis-a-vis Hezbollah and support [for the terror group] will continue,” said Mofaz.
At talks in Washington on Friday with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, Defense Minister Ya’alon had said the Iranian election would “make no difference,” because its results would be determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Khamenei will be the one to determine the identity of the next president. We have to be tougher with Iran on the diplomatic front,” Ya’alon said, calling for stricter sanctions. “It must be clear to them that the military option is on the table,” he said.
However, Iran expert Professor David Menashri from Tel Aviv University said Saturday the Rowhani victory was nothing short of an “earthquake.”
“This is a very significant development. Iran was not only wary of a repeat of what happened in 2009, but also of what has been happening in the Middle East since the Arab Spring began in 2011. The regime was not interested in a second round but surely it is surprised by the outcome. A week ago, no one would have expected it,” said Menashri during a Channel 2 discussion on the Iranian presidential election.
Although Rowhani is a cleric, “this is not about religion, this is about a ‘new way’ for Iran,” Menashri added.

Iran: "moderate" incumbent has precious little leeway.

From the Times of Israel, 15 June 2013:
Purple ribbons representing the [presidential] candidacy of Hasan Rowhani colored Iran on Saturday, symbolizing a surprise triumph for Iranian moderates over conservatives four years after the green reformist movement was snuffed out by the country’s clerical regime.
In his public speeches, Rowhani — himself a conservative Shiite cleric –promised Iranians change both domestically and abroad. But Israeli experts on Iran said on Saturday that with no control over foreign policy and with the country’s economic situation dependent to a great extent on international decisions, the new president has precious little leeway.
“An Iranian president largely serves as head of government for the supreme leader,” Raz Zimmt, a research fellow at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University told The Times of Israel. “He has  no real prerogatives in foreign policy and his ability to provide solutions on the central issue, the economy, is limited.”
Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s populist economic policies, coupled with crippling Western sanctions, have brought Iran to the brink of financial collapse. The official inflation rate is 32.3 percent (experts say it’s actually much higher) — the steepest in the last 18 years — and the rial, Iran’s currency, has lost half its value in the last year.
During a foreign policy debate between Iran’s presidential candidates, Rowhani made what was seen as a sharp critique of the current leadership’s bullheaded insistence on pursuing a nuclear program at all costs, noting, “It would be nice to see centrifuges turning, provided that the wheels of the country also turn.”
As secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (a position he filled from 1989 to 2005), Rowhani suspended the enrichment of uranium for two years, between 2003 and 2005. He was criticized for this during the election campaign, but repeatedly claimed that the decision was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei‘s, not his. The United States had just invaded Iraq, and the Iranian leadership was fearful of a similar fate.
On Friday, Rowhani brazenly declared that he was running “to boot out the extremists,” indicating to Western observers that unlike Ahmadinejad, he seemed to be set on change. But Meir Javedanfar, who teaches modern Iran at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, said that paradoxically Rowhani could be put to good use by Iran’s conservative decision-makers.
“They could have falsified the elections, but chose not to do so,” Javedanfar said in an interview. “Now the regime can use Rowhani to mend bridges with the West, because the cost of sanctions has become too high.”
Zimmt said that by falsifying the elections like it did in 2009, the regime would have risked another round of widespread protests, a price hardly worth paying considering that Rowhani‘s positions are not diametrically opposed to those of Khamenei.

What moves can the new leader undertake?

Rowhani can try to convince the supreme leader to engage in negotiations with the US, but cannot initiate such a move on his own, Zimmt said. Domestically, he will likely act to release political prisoners and stress the importance of freedom of expression.
On Thursday, Rowhani told the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that he aspires to mend relations with Arab Gulf countries and specifically with Saudi Arabia, which has viewed Ahmadinejad‘s Iran with deep suspicion.
Economically, Rowhani has a freer hand than in foreign policy, Javedanfar said; and he can roll back Ahmadinejad‘s policy of cheap government loans which caused a sharp rise in inflation.
One thing was clear on Saturday: The Iranian public wanted change, fearing the continuation of status quo or worse — a hardliner in the form of Said Jalili, the current secretary of the Supreme National Council and Khamenei‘s favorite.
“We won’t let the past eight years be continued,” Rowhani told a crowd last week. But his ability to deliver on that promise seems rather limited.