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Benjamin Netanyahu

Tag Archives | Benjamin Netanyahu

Iran is Driving the Bus, so Why is the West Celebrating?

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Supreme Iranian leader Khameini spent much of last week lambasting the U.S. and Israel, as the Iranian negotiating team worked their magic in Geneva.

Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Given the rhetoric spewing from Tehran, it was hard to tell that Ahmadinejad was no longer president. The P5+1 negotiating team didn’t seem too concerned, however, being hell bent on sealing a deal with Tehran — even one that required only cosmetic concessions from Tehran.

It is hard to understand what all the celebrating in the West is about. Simply that there is an agreement where there had been none? The Iranians should be doing the celebrating — and they are.

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Saudi, Israeli and French Anxiety over U.S.-Iran Rapprochement

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As US-Iran rapprochement inches toward at least partial consummation in Geneva, I wish to offer a few observations. The Iran nuclear weapons threat has always been a McGuffin, an excuse for various powers to advance an anti-Iran agenda.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Chief among the usual suspects is, of course, Israel under PM Netanyahu. If the Israeli government is able to spin Iran as a nuclear (almost) capable existential threat to Israel, then Israel can make an absolute claim on US sympathy, support, and protection. If Iran returns to good relations with the United States, the US will arguably become less willing to bear the sizable political, diplomatic, and economic cost of deferring to Israel’s priorities—on the Palestinian question, on regional security, and its obstinate refusal to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal and integrate it into the international arms control regime.

The other regional power most interested in thumping the Iran-threat drum is Saudi Arabia. However, I would argue that the high-profile anti-Iran stance of the Kingdom (probably symbolized but not necessarily created by the notorious Prince Bandar) has little to do with the threat of “Iran hegemonism” (a canard frequently retailed in the big-name press) and a lot to do with Saudi Arabia’s decision to go pro-active against the popular democratic agitation expressed by the Arab Spring uprisings by supporting conservative Sunni theology and governance, not just in Shi’ite inflected countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, but also in nations like Libya (where Saudi Arabia and its creature, the Gulf Co-Operation Council were the primary motive force in demanding intervention against Gaddafi) and Egypt.

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The Assassination of Yasser Arafat

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From the first moment, I did not have the slightest doubt that Yasser Arafat was assassinated.  It was a matter of simple logic.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the South Lawn of the White House. Source: Clinton Library

On the way back from the funeral, I happened upon Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Knesset for the nationalist Arab Balad party, who is a highly qualified doctoral pharmacist. We exchanged views and came to the same conclusion.  The findings of the Swiss experts last week only confirmed my conviction.

First of all, a simple fact: people don’t just die for no reason.  I visited Arafat a few weeks before it happened. He seemed in reasonably good health. Upon leaving, I remarked to Rachel, my wife, that he seemed more sharp and alert than during our last visit.  When he suddenly became very ill, there was no obvious cause. The doctors at the French military hospital, to which he was transferred at the insistence of Suha, his wife, and where he died, conducted a thorough examination of his body. They found no explanation for his condition. Nothing.  That by itself was very strange. Arafat was the leader of his people, the de facto head of a state, and one can be sure that the French doctors left no stone unturned to diagnose the case.

That left only radiation or poison. Why was no poison detected at the autopsy? The answer is simple: in order to detect a poison, one must know what one is looking for. The list of poisons it almost unlimited, and the routine search is restricted to a small number.  Arafat’s body was not examined for radioactive polonium.  Who had the opportunity to administer the poison?  Well, practically anybody.  During my many visits with him, I always wondered at the lax security precautions.

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With Iran Negotiations Ongoing, Is there Still a Risk of War?

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“So there should not be a shred of doubt by now…When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” – President Obama, address to AIPAC

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifying before the House Armed Services Committee

Is Israel really planning to attack Iran, or are declarations about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike at Teheran’s nuclear program simply bombast? Does President Obama’s “we have your back” comment about Israel mean the U.S. will join an assault? What happens if the attack doesn’t accomplish its goals, an outcome predicted by virtually every military analyst? In that case, might the Israelis, facing a long, drawn out war, resort to the unthinkable: nuclear weapons? Such questions almost seem bizarre at a time when Iran and negotiators from the P5+1—the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—appear to be making progress at resolving the dispute over Teheran’s nuclear program. And yet the very fact that a negotiated settlement seems possible may be the trigger for yet another war in the Middle East.

A dangerous new alliance is forming in the region, joining Israel with Saudi Arabia and the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, thus merging the almost bottomless wealth of the Arab oil kings with the powerful and sophisticated Israeli army. Divided by religion and history, this confederacy of strange bedfellows is united by its implacable hostility to Iran. Reducing tensions is an anathema to those who want to isolate Teheran and dream of war as a midwife for regime change in Iran. How serious this drive toward war is depends on how you interpret several closely related events over the past three months.

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Avigdor Lieberman Cleared of Corruption Charges

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Israel’s former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been cleared of corruption charges by a court in Jerusalem. Mr. Lieberman will now return to the cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced. The pair are key allies. The charges related to his alleged involvement in the promotion of Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus.  A guilty verdict had threatened to shake up Israel’s ruling coalition. Mr. Lieberman, 55, who stepped down after the charges of fraud and breach of trust were filed, heads the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party.

He had denied all counts and told reporters after the verdict that, after 17 years of allegations, “I want to put this chapter behind me”.  His party ran on a list with Likud which narrowly won general elections in January. Since his resignation, Mr. Netanyahu has served as interim foreign minister, keeping the post open. In a statement, the prime minister told Mr. Lieberman: “I congratulate you on the unanimous acquittal and am happy about your return to the Israeli government so we can continue working together for the good of the people of Israel.”

Interior Minister Gideon Saar and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told Israeli media that they now expected Mr. Lieberman to return to the foreign ministry. A justice ministry spokesperson told the BBC that Israel’s attorney general had not decided yet whether to appeal against the acquittal. It has 45 days to announce its decision.

Prosecutors had accused Mr. Lieberman of intervening to promote Zeev Ben Aryeh, the former ambassador to Belarus, to a post in Latvia. They argued it was a reward for a tip-off about a separate criminal investigation he was facing.  If he had been convicted and sentenced to more than three months in prison, he would have been be forced to give up his parliamentary seat. The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the court’s decision could have profound implications for Israeli politics.

Barring an appeal by the attorney general, it clears the way for Mr. Lieberman to return to the position of foreign minister. Our correspondent adds that although he has been dogged by accusations of corruption during his career, this was the first time he had faced charges that could have excluded him from political life.  One of Israel’s most outspoken politicians, Mr. Lieberman was born in Moldova and was one of the million Israelis who emigrated from the former Soviet Union. To the right of Mr. Netanyahu politically, he has been a staunch critic of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Torpedoing the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Talks

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As Western powers prepare for another round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, powerful and wealthy opponents—from the halls of Congress to Middle East capitals—are maneuvering to torpedo them.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

At stake is the real possibility of a war with consequences infinitely greater than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany—the so-called “P5+1”—sit down with Iran’s negotiators in Geneva on Nov. 7, those talks will be shadowed by an alliance of hawkish U.S. Congress members, an influential Israeli lobby, and a new regional alliance that upends traditional foes and friends in the Middle East. The fact that the first round of talks on Oct.15 was hailed by Iran and the P5+1 as “positive” has energized opponents of the negotiations, who are moving to block any attempts at softening international sanctions against Teheran, while at the same time pressing for a military solution to the conflict.

Current international sanctions have halved the amount of oil Iran sells on the international market, blocked Teheran from international banking, and deeply damaged the Iranian economy. The worsening economic conditions are the backdrop for the recent election of pragmatist Hassan Rowhani as president of Iran. Hassan’s subsequent efforts to move away from the confrontational politics of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears a signal that Iran wants to peacefully resolve a crisis that has heightened tensions in the region and led to everything from the assassination of Iranian scientists to the world’s first cyber war.

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The Iran End Game: Nuclear Non-Ethics in Action

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The latest UN General Assembly gatherings have served to reiterate the grand spectacle of what is wrong, and in some ways right, about world politics. The usual players have turned up to make a scene.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly. Source: FARS

We have a vibrant Brazilian leader Dilma Roussef scolding the United States for its surveillance fetish. We have a bobbish Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani wishing to make his mark. And there is the large question mark over what is to be done about Syria.

President Barack Obama is seen to be in a bother. There is the issue of government shutdown at home. The Syrian outfoxing, even if exaggerated, was notable enough to get those on Capitol Hill huffing about American inadequacy. At the United Nations, the President has found himself having to insist he did, in all earnestness, want to bomb Syria, which is another example of how one good violation of international law deserves another. Now, he is insisting that the Assad regime hand over chemical weapons with speedy urgency. In this heady ride on the carousel of bad events, Obama needs a deal – fast. Iran, the great detractor, might just be an option, though its President may well prove too wily for the plodders of the American empire.

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Iran Ready for Nuclear Talks, says President Rouhani

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he is prepared to engage in “time-bound and results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear programme. He told the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York that sanctions against Iran were “violent”.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly. Sarah Fretwell/UN

He also welcomed Syria’s acceptance of the Chemical Weapons Convention and condemned the use of such weapons. Earlier, US President Barack Obama said he was encouraged by Mr. Rouhani’s “more moderate course”. He told the General Assembly that the diplomatic approach to settling the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme must be tested. Mr. Rouhani, who was elected earlier this year, has pledged a more open approach in international affairs. Iran is under UN and Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme. Tehran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes but the US and its allies, including Israel, suspect Iran’s leaders of trying to build a nuclear weapon.

President Rouhani said the “so-called Iranian threat” was imaginary. “Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region,” he said. “Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions. Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme.”

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Obama Welcomes U.S.-Russia Syria Chemical Weapons Plan

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US President Barack Obama has welcomed an agreement between the US and Russia under which Syria’s chemical weapons must be destroyed or removed by mid-2014 as an “important step.”

President Barack Obama talks with Amb. Samantha Power in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

But a White House statement cautioned that the US expected Syria “to live up to its public commitments.” The US-Russian framework document stipulates that Syria must provide details of its stockpile within a week. If Syria fails to comply, the deal could be enforced by a UN resolution. China, France, the UK, the UN and Nato have all expressed satisfaction at the agreement. In Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday that China “welcomes the general agreement between the US and Russia.” “This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased,” he said. However, there has so far been no reaction from Damascus.

In the White House statement, President Obama said that the US-Russian deal “represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria’s chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed.” However the president warned that while the US would continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to ensure that destruction-or-removal process was verifiable, there would be “consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework.” “If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act,” he said. The Pentagon has backed up the president, saying on Saturday that America was still in position for military strikes.

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A Dangerous Game: Israel, Syria and U.S. Air Strikes

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The Times of Israel reacted strongly on Friday to the UK’s vote against joining America in punitive air strikes against Syria’s Assad regime: “Perfidious Albion hands murderous Assad a spectacular victory” thundered one headline, denouncing what founding editor David Horovitz called a “perfect storm of political ineptitude, short-sighted expediency, and gutlessness.”

Watchful: Israel faces Syria across the Golan Heights. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Elsewhere, as speculation of the form and timing of a possible US military intervention in Syria gathered pace, editorials talked up the moral rectitude of action against Syria while at the same time cautioning readers about the dangers this posed to Israel’s security as emphasised by a comment from Syria that: “If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn.”

“There can be no passivity when a coterie of evil powers hurls deadly threats at Israel in the context of a struggle in which it is uninvolved,” opined the Jerusalem Post. Israel has generally avoided any entanglement in the uprisings and political changes of the Arab Spring. This avoidance of internal Arab politics has been wise, reducing the chance of getting sucked in and issues being reframed in the classic Arab-Israeli conflict paradigm. Though most Israelis – as expressed in Ha’aretz and Yedioth Ahronot – undoubtedly share Obama’s and Cameron’s conviction against the use of chemical weapons, it is clear that an Israeli punitive strike would be too provocative to consider. When Israel has perceived its vital interests as being threatened by the Syrian civil war, however, they have reacted.

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Turkey’s Unsustainable Middle East Politics

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President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

‘Confused’ may be an appropriate term to describe Turkey’s current foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel in particular. The source of that confusion - aside from the appalling violence in Syria and earlier in Libya – is Turkey’s own mistakes. The Turkish government’s inconsistency regarding Israel highlights earlier discrepancy in other political contexts. There was a time when Turkey’s top foreign policy priority included reaching out diplomatically to Arab and Muslim countries. Then, we spoke of a paradigm shift, whereby Ankara was repositioning its political center, reflecting perhaps economic necessity, but also cultural shifts within its own society. It seemed that the East vs. West debate was skillfully being resolved by politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, appeared to have obtained a magical non-confrontational approach to Turkey’s historic political alignment. ‘The Zero Problems’ policy allowed Turkey to brand itself as a bridge between two worlds. The country’s economic growth and strategic import to various geopolitical spheres allowed it to escape whatever price meted out by Washington and its European allies as a reprimand for its bold political moves – including Erdogan’s unprecedented challenge of Israel.

Indeed, there was a link between the growing influence of Turkey among Arab and Islamic countries and Turkey’s challenge to Israel’s violent behavior in Palestine and Lebanon, and its rattling against Syria and Iran. Turkey’s return to its political roots was unmistakable, yet interestingly, was not met by too strong an American response. Washington couldn’t simply isolate Ankara and the latter shrewdly advanced its own power and influence with that knowledge in mind. Even the bizarre anti-Turkish statements by Israeli officials sounded more like incoherent rants than actual foreign policy.

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Can Erdogan Deliver with Israel?

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Although the restoration of ties between Israel and Turkey is welcome news for both countries, it is premature to gauge how close Jerusalem and Ankara will become given their continued conflicts of interest.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Source: Foreign Policy

The ‘thaw’ in bilateral relations is likely to be slow, with the two countries’ divergent objectives in Palestine and Syria remaining an obstacle to significantly warmer relations. Nonetheless, as the Syrian crisis continues to threaten the security of all the Levantine states and the Iranian issue continues its slow boil, greater cooperation should be expected between the two. The rapprochement is real; the question is, does it matter?

From Israel’s perspective, improved ties with Turkey help to alleviate the plethora of security concerns arising events of the past two years – ranging from the change of leadership in Egypt, to the Egyptian/Iranian rapprochement, to growing concern over the stability of the Jordanian Monarchy., to an Iran that is increasingly assertive and defiant of the West, to the consolidation of power by Hamas in Gaza, and the ongoing stalemate in peace talks with the Palestinians. Israel has a full plate of security issues to contend with, none of which either appear to be easing or are likely to dissipate in the near term.

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President Obama in the Middle East

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Pete Souza/White House

Photos from President Barack Obama’s three-day trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. While in the Middle East Obama met with several of the regions leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and give an address to Israeli youth in Jerusalem. The trip however is unlikely to jumpstart the stalled Arab-Israeli Peace Process.

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Benjamin Netanyahu weakened following Elections

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“The Israeli public wants me to continue leading the country and it wants me to build a coalition that would create three major changes domestically: more equal distribution of the national burden, affordable housing, and change in the system of government.” – Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at his office in Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition narrowly won. Darren Whiteside/EPA

It was the incalculable element – would Israel veer more broadly to the right, or would that course be checked by various political elements to the centre? The money was on a good showing by orthodox and nationalist forces that would push Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition into an even more extreme position on compromise (or non-compromise) with the Palestinians. Instead, the political commentators were baffled. Benjamin Netanyahu won the narrowest of victories for his right-wing bloc (his own Likud-Biteinu grouping getting 31 seats), assailed by a good showing by Yesh Atid, party whose slogan is “We’ve come to make a change.”

These results come in the aftermath of huge social justice demonstrations that marked Israel’s agitated political landscape 18 months ago. For some reason, these were neglected in the political analysis. The indignation that was registered had various targets: the increasing costs of living (rents and house prices), costs of transport, childcare, fuel. As one student leader, Itzik Schmuli, told a rally in Tel Aviv that September, “We are the new Israelis. And the new Israelis want only one simple thing: to live with dignity in this country.” Those forces have not vanished.

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Iran’s Inroads in Latin America

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Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama would instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the US-Mexico border, cutting fences and ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear according to the new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with sinister agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions, for evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”

It is as comical as it is untrue. But “The Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act,” which as of Dec. 28 is an official US law, is not meant to be amusing. It is riddled with half-truths, but mostly complete and utter lies. Yes, Iran’s influence in Latin America is on the rise. However, by US standards, the expanding diplomatic ties, extending trade routes and such are considered a threat to be ‘countered’ or per Forbes magazine’s endless wisdom, ‘confronted.’

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