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Right turn for Israel?/ An Insider on Iran's nuclear plans

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Update from AIJAC

January 22, 2013
Number 01/13 #04

The theme of most Australian media coverage of the Israeli election taking place tonight, Australia time, is that Israel seems to be shifting towards the right. This Update contains two attempts to challenge this conventional wisdom - as well as a unique eyewitness report from an Iranian regime insider about Iran's nuclear plans.

The first piece is by Gil Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post, who looks at the actual sources of support for the strong showing expected from the right-wing Jewish Home party and its leader Naftali Bennett. He notes that the surge for Jewish Home has very little to do with its hardline stances on the peace process with the Palestinians -  which the party has generally avoided focusing on in the campaign -  and a great deal to do with Bennett's image as a "charismatic, young hi-tech millionaire" who served in an elite military unit and speaks Hebrew slang. Hoffman also notes that the actual left-right balance is expected to be almost the same as in the last election, and in all likelhood, the next Israeli coalition will have more seats from the centre-left than the current one. For the rest of his analysis, CLICK HERE.

Next, American analyst, author and columnist Lee Smith notes that contrary to media claims, Israeli voting intentions have little to do with opposition to a two-state resolution, and cites polls showing such a resolution remains overwhelmingly popular even among adherents of right-wing parties. Instead, Smith argues, Israeli voting reflects scepticism about a two-state resolution being possible any time soon, and a belief that there is little Israel can do to affect this based on the experiences of the last 20 years. He also notes that the Netanyahu government's disagreements with the US Obama Administration largely reflect the fundamentally different ways the two countries see the conflict, its amenability to resolution, and its regional effects. For Smith's argument in full, CLICK HERE. Making some similar points about the conclusions Israeli have drawn from recent peace efforts is former American official Douglas Feith.

Finally, this Update offers a unique account of Iran's nuclear intentions from a source which had access to some of the internal deliberations of the regime's leader - Ahmad Hashemi, who served as a translator for the Iranian Foreign Ministry for more than four years, before being dismissed and forced into exile because of his involvement with the reformist Green Movement. Hashemi describes statements and meetings he witnessed in which Iranian leaders candidly admitted that the goal was a “holy Islamic bomb”, despite their repeated public claims that their nuclear efforts were purely for power generation. He also has some eyewitness descriptions of Iran's illegal chemical weapons efforts with North Korea, and offers advice about how to deal with Iran's denials and stalling during nuclear negotiations. For all that this former regime insider has to say, CLICK HERE. Two further excellent pieces on Iranian negotiating policy in the nuclear talks come from Israeli strategic analyst Michael Seagall and Iranian-born author Amir Taheri. 

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Analysis: The rightward shift that didn’t happen

By GIL HOFFMAN
Jerusalem Post, 18/01/2013     

The new Bayit Yehudi supporters do not back the party because of its hawkish stance, but because its leader is a charismatic, young hi-tech millionaire, who served in the Sayeret Matkal and speaks Hebrew slang.
 
Hundreds of members of the media from around the world started coming this week to cover Tuesday’s Israeli election.

Based on what has been reported so far, the foreign press parachuting in will seek interviews with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, and attempt to portray the election in general and the success of Bennett and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu specifically as an indication that Israel is moving rightward.

But a true analysis of the race indicates that such shallow impressions are far from true.

First of all, Bennett’s achievement in building Bayit Yehudi from three seats to the 13 predicted in Friday’s Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll came because he succeeded in attracting votes from the Center and many young, first-time voters.

The new Bayit Yehudi supporters do not back the party because of its hawkish stance on the Palestinians and the fate of Judea and Samaria. Bennett, who received good advice from his strategist, makes a point of avoiding talking about the Palestinians, who were never an issue in this election, or the settlements, which only became an issue when Netanyahu tried to use pronouncements about the West Bank to take votes away from Bennett.

The new Bennett backers support Bayit Yehudi because its leader is a charismatic, young hi-tech millionaire, who served in the elite Sayeret Matkal General Reconaissance Unit, speaks Hebrew slang, and knows how to relate to Israelis from many different backgrounds.

The things seen as the most consensus issues in the United States are motherhood and apple pie. In Israel, motherhood is championed and apple pie is too often pareve and tasteless, but the equivalent consensus concepts are hi-tech and Sayeret Matkal.

While Netanyahu is expected to win the race by a landslide, his Likud Beytenu has dramatically fallen in the polls. The Right bloc has remained around the same 65 seats it won in the last election, not gaining any support at all from the divided Center- Left.

There was a war in Gaza during the election campaign, which inevitably creates a rally-around-the-flag effect of patriotism that could have moved Israelis rightward.

Before that, there were thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians and four years of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to come to the negotiating table. That also could have understandably made Israelis more hawkish, but polls indicate that it hasn’t.

So the way the foreign media should be summing up the election so far is that Israel has apparently not gone Right, against all odds.

But the true test of which direction Israel will take is the coalition that Netanyahu is expected to form. Unlike last time when he formed a coalition with one Center-Left party and four parties on the Right, Netanyahu is expected to form a government with two Center-Left parties this time: most likely Yesh Atid and Kadima.

The outgoing coalition has five seats from the Left.

The next one is expected to have 15.

If that happens, the foreign press will have to parachute back to Israel to report on how Israel did not end up moving rightward and why their reports before were so wrong.

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Far-Right Israeli Electorate?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Israelis haven’t become radicals. They’ve just abandoned a delusion.

By Lee Smith

The Tablet, January 16, 2013

Of all the questions about next week’s Israeli election—is the Labor party and the left finally finished; is Naftali Bennett the new poster boy for the right wing; will the new Knesset actually pursue a policy of annexing the West Bank—the one thing that there seems to be consensus about is that the next Knesset will be most radical right-wing government in the history of the Jewish state. According to the commentators, the new government will guarantee an end to the Arab-Israeli peace process and will set Israel on a collision course with the United States.

Well, not so fast. According to one recent poll, 67 percent of Israeli voters support a peace deal with the Palestinians. Even on the right, a majority said they back the prospect of two states for two people, with 57 percent of Likud supporters backing such a deal and 53 percent of those likely to vote for Bennett’s Jewish Home Party also favoring the two-state solution.

Still, as much as Israelis want peace with the Arabs, they are skeptical of that happening anytime soon. Israeli voters are as rational as voters in any liberal democracy—and in this case, Israel is a liberal democracy that has come under repeated attacks from its neighbors.

The popular belief that Israeli public opinion is moving radically to the right “is profoundly untrue,” said Dan Schueftan, a visiting professor at Georgetown who advised Israeli prime ministers from Yitzhak Rabin to Ariel Sharon. Instead, they’ve adopted the central paradigms of both the left and the right. “Most Israelis are very pessimistic about reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians, and the Arabs in general. This is a core paradigm of the right,” Schueftan told me. “And yet a majority is willing to reach a compromise that would partition the land into two states for two people. This is a core paradigm of the left. They’re not saying we don’t want peace, but that even if they make concessions they don’t think it will lead to peace.”

Israelis haven’t abandoned the dream of peace; they’ve faced reality and are refusing to continue to pay lip service to an illusion. “The last 20 years have seen a process of depolarization,” said David Hazony of the Israel Project. “Go back 20 years, and you had a peace camp that believed peace was just around the corner. The other camp believed that there was no partner for peace, and since there was no one to talk to and we have a right to land, we should just take anything. But a series of events took the wind out of both camps, like the Rabin assassination, disengagement, the Second Intifada,” he added.

If the second Lebanon war and two wars in Gaza marked disillusionment with the peace process, then Netanyahu’s 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University promoting the two-state solution marked, at last, the acceptance of the idea in the political mainstream. Netanyahu, for all the criticism he gets in the international press, should get credit for leading even the Israeli right into philosophical acceptance of the two-state solution. And perhaps Bibi’s infamous bluster has had its purpose. While his belligerent rhetoric unnerves his many critics, including world leaders, it’s helped keep Israel out of armed conflict. He has presided over more economic success and less war than almost any other Israeli leader in history.

With Netanyahu, Israeli politics have reached a state of equilibrium, at least internally. On the major security issues like the Palestinians and Iran, the Israeli electorate has reached a broad consensus, and there is little within the system—right-wing or left-wing—that can affect it at this stage. The question is how that consensus, embodied by the prime minister, will interact with external forces, especially the Obama Administration, and particularly as Israel decides how to handle Iran.

“There’s a decent chance that as the new secretary of state, John Kerry will try to get negotiations going on the peace process, and I don’t think the president will tell him not to try,” said Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser to George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. But, Abrams argued, since Kerry will have a lot on his plate and will quickly see that there’s not much room for movement on the peace process, he’ll likely move on. However, Abrams added, it would be a different situation “if the U.S. were to strike Iranian nuclear sites and thereby eliminate Israel’s greatest security threat. It would change the whole Middle East, and in the aftermath of such a strike, then the administration might try to get something going on the Israeli-Palestinian front. It would be quite a demonstration of U.S. power, and lead to a very different situation than if nothing happens or if the Israelis attack.”

But it appears that the Obama Administration is no more ready to strike Iran or to support an Israeli strike in its second term than it was during the first. Indeed, with the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, some fear that the White House may be moving in the other direction, toward a grand bargain with Tehran—as Hagel has previously suggested. “Let them think about the substantial carrots of improved relations, not just the sticks, and there may be a deal to be had,” he wrote in 2008. Hagel has opposed not only military action against Iran, but even sanctions. Moreover, if Abrams believes that an Israeli-Arab peace deal might come out of a strike on Iran, Hagel sees it the other way around. “The core of all challenges in the Middle East remains the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict,” Hagel said in 2006. According to this view, resolving the Israeli-Arab crisis makes everything else possible.

This notion—often called linkage—still holds tremendous force among many American policymakers. But most Israelis believe, understandably, that it is not in their power to solve the region’s most pressing issues. No Israeli policy is going to help Mohamed Morsi feed Egypt, or stop the civil war in Syria, or convince the Iranian regime to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Hence the increasing possibility for yet another showdown between Obama and Netanyahu. This dispute between the United States and Israel, said Dan Schueftan “is the product of the unrealistic belief that you can reach a permanent peace with the Palestinians under the prevailing circumstances, and the bizarre proposition that if you reach such an agreement it will make a major contribution toward stabilizing the Middle East.”

The issue then is not that Israel has moved to the extreme right—it has broadly come to accept one of the longtime tenets of American Middle East policy insofar as it recognizes the desirability of a two-state solution—but that Israelis and Americans view the conflict in fundamentally different ways. For American policymakers and many pundits, it’s as if the Oslo Accords never failed and the Second Intifada never happened. For Israeli voters who have lived through suicide bombings and rocket fire from Gaza and southern Lebanon, next week’s elections are about a sovereign electorate that prizes its prosperity and security.

Lee Smith is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

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Don’t be fooled: Iran wants the bomb


Ahmad Hashemi

Times of Israel

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili recently said his country has agreed to resume talks on its nuclear program later this month. At the same time, the IAEA and the international community, particularly the European countries, have stepped up efforts to revitalize the futile negotiating process. During my four and a half years as an employee of the Iranian foreign ministry, I learned beyond doubt, that my country’s participation in talks is purely a stalling tactic. Having fled to Turkey to seek political asylum, I know that I’m far from the first Iranian to try and warn the world of Tehran’s determination to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

It was almost a decade ago that the People’s Mujahedin, Iran’s leftist opposition in exile, first revealed the clandestine nuclear activities carried out by the regime, providing the exact addresses of some of the facilities, and letting the world know about the Islamic theocracy’s true ambitions for acquiring nuclear bombs. Since then, Iran has attended dozens of negotiating rounds merely to convince naïve politicians and dewy-eyed peaceniks that it is telling the truth. Within this context, Tehran maintains that it is trying to use diplomatic means to prove that Iran is merely working to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in order to meet increasing domestic energy demand as it runs out of fuel. Iran likewise exploits the matter at home, whipping up populist nationalism with leftist-style demagoguery that depicts its nuclear program as a cardinal matter of national pride.

But a lie remains a lie, whether it is repeated ceaselessly in international forums or broadcast all day to the Iranian masses. While at the Iranian foreign ministry, I served as interpreter for visiting dignitaries, diplomats and officials. I paid close attention to public proclamations and official statements. And I was present at inner-circle conversations in which a number of high-profile Iranian officials made no secret of their intention to go atomic. I personally witnessed the following examples:

In April 2005, after organizing several meetings in his office at the Discernment Council headquarters, I was invited to a meeting at the home of Mohsen Rezai, the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council and a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) during the Iran-Iraq war. I was invited in my capacity as a founding member of of the short-lived Islamic Association for Students and Academicians (IASA, which was dissolved the next year), together with Ruhollah Solgi, the IASA secretary general. (Today, Solgi is the governor of Aran va Bidgol County in the Isfahan region.) We were asked to come and exchange views on the overall situation on the upcoming presidential election campaign in which Mr. Rezai was preparing to run as a presidential nominee.

Rezai’s home was located in the Shahrak Shahid Daghayeghi Complex at the outskirts of the Lavizan forests in northeast Tehran. We went to a spacious, concrete villa on the last block of the fenced in and tightly patrolled neighborhood, which provides housing primarily for IRGC officers and other high-profile officials.

When we arrived, Rezai was busy meeting various military and political figures, including generals from the IRGC. At this private meeting in his house, while castigating former reformist president Khatami for his compromising approach towards the West, Mohsen Rezai strongly advocated the idea of acquiring nuclear bombs for “deterrent purposes.” He referred to such a weapon as a “holy Islamic bomb” needed to defy the bullying approach of global arrogance. Mentioning that even Khomeini approved of acquiring an atomic bomb to safeguard the interests of Islam during Iran-Iraq war, he argued that everything is allowed for the sake of Islam, including using WMDs and the mass killing of civilians.

The A-bomb and Iran’s National Security Council

In early 2012, Ali Bagheri, the deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was meeting his Indian counterpart at a dinner reception at India’s embassy in Tehran. While we waited for the Indian official, who had been delayed in traffic, to arrive, I heard the Iranian foreign ministry’s director for Europe and America, Ahmad Sobhani, ask Mr. Bagheri about the Supreme Leader’s latest views on the 5+1 negotiations. Bagheri replied that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remained adamant and increasingly convinced that “we should expedite our efforts and diversify our secret facilities to achieve our goal before it is too late.”

North Korea’s contribution

In early February 2012, I was present at a confidential meeting at which Iran’s deputy head of the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation was negotiating with the North Korean ambassador in order to obtain nuclear technology for Iran in exchange for financial support.

The chemical weapons precedent

In my foreign ministry position, I interpreted at meetings between my country and international chemical weapons inspectors. The Iranian side, known as the Escort Team, included officials from the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Intelligence, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Industry. They met with representatives from the Hague-based chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, known as Inspection Team.

I was present throughout these encounters, which included a Pre-Inspection Briefing prepared for the visitors by Iran, on-site visits at chemical production plants, and summation deliberations and conclusions.

I witnessed Iranian involvement in the mass production of chemical weapons at a variety of installations including Pakshooma, Arak Petrochemical Complex and in particular the Shahid Meisami Complex located in the city of Karaj, which were designated as producers of chemical material for civilian use, such as detergents, but were also producing chemical weapons for the Defense Industries Organization, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Defense.

I interpreted as the Iranian defense officials misinformed and deceived the inspectors. With such a history of producing weapons of mass destruction in the form of chemical weapons, why should anyone believe that Iran is not intent on producing an atomic bomb?

Another futile round of talks

All previous meetings between Iran and the 5+1 failed because Iran was never serious about curbing its nuclear programs. After seven years, the West and particularly the Obama administration are still hopeful that they can achieve progress through negotiations. Tehran may have slowed down tactically, but undoubtedly, as the former commander of Iran’s revolutionary guards Mohsen Rezai once said, “Iran’s long-term policy and strategic vision is to acquire a holy Islamic atomic bomb.”

Only a real and result-oriented negotiation with a specific agenda with the Ayatollahs, smarter economic sanctions, more unified diplomatic isolation around Iran, and actual support for the demands of the Iranian people may bring real change.

Using a well-known concept in Shiite jurisprudence known as the expedient or altruistic lie, Iranian officials are perfectly willing to lie when it comes to their intentions and programs. The enlightened nations would do well to understand the religious underpinnings of Iranian diplomats’ big lies in contrast with European negotiators. Once the extent of the deception is understood, the question should be not whether Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful but rather when and how the program can be safely terminated.

Ahmad Hashemi, was born in Qom in 1977. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at the University of Tehran and has a Master’s Degree in American Studies from the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations. In January 2008, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an English, Turkish and occasionally Arabic interpreter. When the popular uprising began in 2009, he was actively involved in the pro-democracy Green Movement protests. For this and other reasons, he was summoned and dismissed from his job in May 2012. From early May 2012, he began to contribute articles for the leading reformist dailies such as Shargh and Etemaad newspapers. Because of his classified information with regard to some of the regime’s proliferation programs, Ahmad Hashemi says he was subject to constant threats, mental torture and restrictions. He fled his country and currently is seeking political asylum in Turkey. In his work as a writer and freelance journalist, he contributes to Persian-language and international media.

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