“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” – Hamlet
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani smiles his way through the current nuclear negotiations, Tehran’s campaign of terrorism also continues at full tilt. At the very same time that Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was warning of Iran’s nuclear treachery and deception, an Iranian vessel flying under a Panamanian flag was sailing in the Red Sea with a cargo of deadly missiles bound for Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Within hours of Netanyahu’s keynote speech to AIPAC in Washington, Israeli naval commandos boarded the ship in a daring operation before dawn.
Gen. Gantz referred to the Iranians as ‘pyromaniacs’ whose fingerprints could be found all over the region.
Israeli intelligence had been closely monitoring the ship’s voyage for days and nights. Unknown to the captain and crew, the Iranians had filled the hold with Syrian made M-302 surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 200 kilometers. Equipped with a large warhead, the missiles could have rained havoc of the cities of Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva, as well as hitting Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona. They were destined for the Islamic Jihad, Iran’s closest ally in Gaza. (Hamas and Iran have been at odds due to Iran’s military backing of Syria’s President Assad.) The pre-dawn operation was carried out without casualties among the Israeli commandos and the seventeen-man crew, after the captain had consented to an Israeli search at sea. In paying tribute to the commandos and the Mossad intelligence service, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said the operation had been carried out ‘to perfection’.
In exposing Iran’s latest attempt to supply illegal weapons to terrorists, Gen. Gantz referred to the Iranians as ‘pyromaniacs’ whose fingerprints could be found all over the region. He was obviously alluding to Iran’s repeated attempts to smuggle more weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which already has a huge arsenal of missiles aimed at the Jewish state. In this case, the Iranians had first transported the missiles to Iraq in order to muddy the waters. This raises questions about the new Iraqi regime’s role. As for Prime Minister Netanyahu, he had been informed of Iran’s latest missile vessel before he left for the U.S. and had approved the decision to intercept it in the Red Sea.
Sanctions on Iran have already collapsed?
“The sanctions against Iran have already collapsed. Iran has preserved its nuclear weapons capability, it is no longer isolated diplomatically…and the economy is improving daily. Iran has every reason to be satisfied with the nuclear accord it signed last November…”
So while President Hassan Rouhani was smiling his way through the current nuclear negotiations, the Iranian terrorism continues at full tilt. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon used the opportunity to describe how Rouhani was duping the world while Iran refuses to dismantle any of its nuclear weapons program. In fact, Yaalon declared: “The sanctions against Iran have already collapsed. Iran has preserved its nuclear weapons capability, it is no longer isolated diplomatically, foreign states and businessmen are lining up to sign new trade deals, and the economy is improving daily. Iran has every reason to be satisfied with the nuclear accord it signed last November. However it is still not too late for the Western leaders to smarten up!!” My impression from the tenor of Yaalon’s cryptic remarks was that if and when Israel might have to decide on going it alone against Iran, I have no doubt where Yaalon will stand. By the way, if any of Israel’s friends in Turkey or elsewhere still had any questions about why Israel needs to enforce a naval blockade of Gaza, maybe Iran’s latest caper will convince them.
Iranian ICBM’s for California
“Keep your eye on the ball – it’s the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran!” This was Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s message to AIPAC, the U.S., and the rest of the world. Iran is pulling a fast one in its drive for nuclear weapons, despite the current negotiating process. However, Israel was not falling for it- Netanyahu would not only stop Iran from acquiring A-bombs but would also prevent it from becoming a threshold nuclear state. Netanyahu listed the various components that Iran had developed for building nuclear weapons: the heavy water reactor, the centrifuges, the secret underground nuclear site, and the stockpile of enriched uranium that were not required for peaceful purposes.
Tehran might make its breakout in the future when the world was preoccupied with some other international crisis, such as it is today in Ukraine.
Netanyahu cautioned that Tehran might make its breakout in the future when the world was preoccupied with some other international crisis, such as it is today in Ukraine. He told his American audience they could soon be included in Iran’s nuclear crosshairs because the Iranians are busy developing ICBMs that will be capable of targeting the East Coast of the U.S. and even California. Tehran already has an arsenal of conventional missiles with a range of 1,000 kilometers that can deliver a nuclear warhead to Israel. His conclusion: no country in the world has a greater interest in diplomacy working against Iran, but only if it leads to the total dismantling of its nuclear weapons capability. On this issue, the Israeli leader criticized Obama’s strategy of easing the sanctions, which had brought Tehran to the table in the first place. But the U.S. President and the Israeli Prime Minister agreed to disagree, at least until the American diplomatic effort has run its course.
Recognize the Jewish state!
Was it absurd that while the Palestinians demand Israeli recognition of a Palestine for Palestinians they refuse to grant mutual recognition of Israel for the Jews?…”Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state of Israel is not a condition for peace – it is the very essence of peace…”
If U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission is to go anywhere then the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish state. This was Netanyahu’s challenge to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. In his words: “I am ready for an historic peace with the Palestinians, but they must recognize Israel as the Jewish state. There may be a territorial issue but the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute.” Was it absurd that while the Palestinians demand Israeli recognition of a Palestine for Palestinians they refuse to grant mutual recognition of Israel for the Jews? On this question, Obama and Netanyahu do see eye to eye – the U.S. leader has repeatedly referred to the ‘Jewish state of Israel’. In a recent article, Dr. Einat Wilk, a former Labor Member of Knesset, explained why it is so essential: “Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state of Israel is not a condition for peace – it is the very essence of peace. Once the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, they will finally be accepting that in creating the State of Israel, the Jewish people have come home. In doing so, the Palestinians will signal the to world, to Israel and, above all else to themselves, that they are finally ready to part with a false future in order to build a real present: one in which both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people can live in peace as free people in their own sovereign states – one Jewish, one Palestinian”. Is this not the litmus test for the question of whether the Palestinians are truly ready to make peace with Israel? So long as they refuse to recognize the Jewish state, as referred to in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, they will be repeating their historic decision not to accept a peaceful resolution and raise the suspicion that after they establish their Palestine they will renew the ‘ armed struggle’ against Israel, on one pretext or another.
Recognizing the Jewish state would be crossing the Rubicon for the Palestinians. So far President Abbas has not shown the will to do so, and it remains in doubt that he ever will. It would mean that the remaining Palestinian refugees, and the more than four million of their descendants, would not be returning to Israel, and an end to their demand for ‘the right of return’. But at present what’s at stake is whether Israel or the Palestinians will be blamed for torpedoing the Kerry mission. Despite the recent diatribes against Kerry by some Right wing politicians in Israel, the U.S. draft proposal supports Israel on this issue.
Build only in settlement blocs?
So if the fate of the Kerry mission now hangs in the balance, what, if anything, did Netanyahu offer Obama? The U.S. leader made it abundantly clear in the Bloomberg interview that he wanted something concrete, not just rhetoric. And if the U.S. President has placed the onus on Bibi’s shoulders, the Israeli Prime Minister should have given Obama something he can offer to Palestinian President Abbas later this month. Netanyahu would be wise to listen to Dan Meridor, a former Likud Cabinet Minister who also served as a close aide to Menahem Begin, Israel’s PM who made peace with Egypt. Hard-liner Begin actually implemented a ‘moratorium’ on building new West Bank settlements during the peace negotiations with Egypt in order not to embarrass Anwar Sadat. Two years ago, Netanyahu under U.S. pressure, called a ten-month halt to settlement building, but Abbas refused to even come to the conference table. Previously, Netanyahu declared he would not implement another settlement freeze. However, Meridor suggests a compromise. It is generally accepted that three main settlement blocs on the West Bank would remain part of Israel in a final agreement. Obama himself has supported the idea by referring to ‘land swaps’ between Israel and the Palestinians. Meridor proposes that Israel now commit to not building outside of the settlement blocs that are destined to be within the future Israeli border. It makes sense. This would be an important Israeli concession in order to advance the negotiations beyond the April deadline. In any event, Abbas is due to confer with Obama in the White House on March 17th to give his side of the story. The U.S. President will also be pressing the Palestinian leader to make a contribution to keep the Kerry mission alive. The outcome remains in doubt.
Obviously, neither Netanyahu nor Abbas wants to take the blame, if Kerry is forced to throw in the towel. In his AIPAC address, the PM heaped praise on Kerry in an attempt to ameliorate the harsh criticism leveled at the Secretary by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and several Right wing backbenchers in the Knesset. Obama evened the score by berating what he called Netanyahu’s ‘aggressive settlement policy over the last couple years’ and international fallout for Israel if the Kerry mission folds. Despite their lack of personal chemistry, Obama and Netanyahu do have some things in common in addition to their highfaluting rhetoric – they have a penchant for ‘kicking the can down the road’. But Bibi was also painfully aware that giving Obama too much in the White House could arouse a firestorm back in Jerusalem among his Right wing coalition colleagues.