The American brokered peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians:
It would seem that only a miracle could salvage the current attempt by Secretary of State John Kerry to bridge the gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Then again, this swath of middle-east land is the birthplace of miracles, so anything is possible…if one believes in miracles. Maybe David Ben Gurion was right when he once opined, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”
Well, maybe, but miracle workers seem quite absent from the cast of characters engaging in middle-east peace efforts. It seems both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas know exactly what positions to voice to scuttle peace talks and they seem to be making a full-throated effort to do just that. Netanyahu simply lays bare new settlement plans and Abbas simultaneously opines that acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State is a non-starter.
Netanyahu cites the Beit El settlement bloc, which he now wants to keep, as a pivotal place in Jewish history; the place where Jacob, in the book of Genesis, dreamed of a ladder to heaven. Abbas will, we expect, counter with the Muslim certitude that Mohammad ascended to heaven from Jerusalem on a white horse from the Dome of the Rock, at which point Netanyahu, we suppose, could counter that the rock which the Dome crowns is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. The reader gets the point. Both sides seem preoccupied with stumbling blocks rather than bridges.
To make matters worse, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, not to be outdone by his Prime Minister, was quoted in the press as calling Kerry “messianic” in his quest for a peace deal and then added, “The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” And this is what passes for confidence building in the Middle East.
From where we sit, there can be no peace, and there will be no peace, until both sides evidence an internally motivated desire for peace. Not only will the Palestinians not agree that Israel is to be recognized as a Jewish State, few will even concede that the objective of a peace treaty would be to end the dispute. And, we suspect, that Netanyahu could not survive politically, if he disavowed any further claims to land in Samaria and Judea, i.e., the West Bank.
So, all in all, not a good week for American diplomacy on the banks of the River Jordan.
The Iran Track:
Now, here is where things really get interesting. Later today (Sunday, January 26th) Americans will be able to watch a remarkable interview with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which was conducted earlier this week by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, during the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. We got a sneak preview of the interview. During this astounding interview, Rouhani looked Zakaria directly in the eye and stated that Iran would not dismantle any of its existing centrifuges “under any circumstances.” He made no pretense of preserving wiggle room as diplomats invariably do. It was a shot across the bow. The centrifuges, all of them will remain. And as for Iran’s heavy-water reactors (from which Plutonium can be reprocessed); they will continue to operate, says Rouhani. Immediately following the interview, Zakaria referred to the Iran agreement as “a train wreck.” Rouhani was unequivocal, leaving himself (quite deliberately, we suspect) no room to back down.
A study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) concluded that the number of Iranian centrifuges needs to be reduced to 4,000 from the 20,000 currently spinning away in order to eliminate the ability of Iran to quickly produce the highly enriched uranium needed for a bomb.
The ISIS report accepts that Iran, with the remaining 4,000 centrifuges, would still maintain the ability to continue producing nuclear fuel at low levels for civilian use (which the Iranians claim is their only objective).
Well, that would seem to be something everyone could agree to; everyone, that is, except the Iranians. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was, shall we say, unambiguous in his interview with CNN, which preceded the Rouhani interview. “We did not agree to dismantle anything,” he said.
It gets worse. Zarif told CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto that terminology used by the White House to describe the agreement differed from the text agreed to by Iran and the other countries in the talks — the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany. ‘The White House version both underplays the concessions (made by Kerry) and overplays Iranian commitments,” Zarif insisted. Which raises an interesting question. Just who is doing the spinning for domestic consumption, Zarif or Kerry?
The reader will recall (see our essay, The Iran Deal: A Pause and a Promise – December 1, 2013) that the nuclear agreement with Iran, negotiated by Secretary John Kerry, calls for Iran to scale back its nuclear enrichment program, and discontinue development of its heavy water nuclear reactor. It was a weak deal to begin with, but this week it descended from weak to, essentially, stillborn.
We think this was a devastating moment for American diplomacy. Remember, Iran already has a substantial supply of material that has been enriched to levels from which they can quickly leap to weapons-grade stuff. They are promising not to do that, but that’s what we have, a promise. And in return for that promise we have blinked. We have begun to dismantle the very regimen of sanctions that brought Iran to the table. Already, our allies, no longer constrained by sanctions, have rushed to begin doing business with Tehran. The sanctions will not be easily re-imposed.
Now, as we have opined in the past, we believe the capability to weaponize their already enriched uranium is the primary purpose of their secretive, deeply buried and highly fortified nuclear program, which the UN and, everyone including the United States, Saudi Arabia, all of the Gulf States, Israel and the rest of the world acknowledges.
Back in December, when we last addressed this issue, we expressed concern that what was a very weak agreement rested solely on a promise that Iran would retreat from its nuclear weapon aspirations. Iran has no peaceful need for 20,000 nuclear enriching centrifuges, nor, does it seem, do they have much need for heavy-water reactors capable of producing spent material that can be reprocessed into plutonium. They got a very good deal in their negotiations with Secretary Kerry. So why this finger in the eye to our Secretary of State?
Well, you can bet, the Iranians know exactly what is going on in the US Congress. There is bi-partisan support for legislation that would re-impose sanctions in the event the Iranians back away from any provisions in the interim agreement. President Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation because it would cramp his diplomatic maneuvering, such that it is. He really won’t have to do that because Harry Reid will never let it come to a vote. The Iranians are demonstrating what will be perceived in the region as great strength in the face of the Great Satan.”
Rouhani, we believe, figures he can’t lose. Actually, he probably can’t. He’ll test Obama to see if he would really veto new sanctions legislation, assuming Harry Reid ever let such legislation come to a vote. It really won’t make any difference to Rouhani whether President does or doesn’t veto new sanctions legislation, because he can argue that he is following the precise letter of the actual agreement, if not the spirit of the agreement. Meanwhile, Rouhani emerges as a giant among incredibly weak leaders throughout the Islamic Middle East.
In less than a year, we will have the final mid-term election of the Obama Administration. With ObamaCare providing no wind for his sails, it seems the President is betting heavily on Kerry’s Mid-East gambit. It doesn’t appear to be a winning bet.