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Iran’s Nixonian Anti-Semitism, and What It Means for the Nuke Deal
Tablet Mag

Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has said that he asked for the publication of his book to be moved up specifically so it would intervene in the debate over the Obama Administration’s proposed Iran deal. Part of his effort has involved an effort to reopen a discussion about the nature of the Iranian regime. In one of his op-eds, published in the Los Angeles Times, Oren took aim at a statement President Barack Obama made in a May interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, regarding the anti-Semitism expressed by some Iranian leaders. Asked by Goldberg whether a regime that espouses such views can be counted on to be entirely rational, the president responded: “Well, the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.”

A number of writers quickly pounced on these remarks, arguing that they revealed a flaw in the president’s policy. “Obama believes that the Iranian government’s anti-Semitism is subject to the same rational cost-benefit calculus as any other aspects of a nation’s behavior, even if anti-Semitism is itself irrational,” wrote Armin Rosen in Business Insider, suggesting that this represented “a tension in Obama’s thinking that could prove fatal to his top foreign policy priority.” Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies even wrote that the interview shows that, “Obama will even defend anti-Semitism to spin his Iran deal.”

A more measured response came from Walter Russell Mead, who wrote that not only is anti-Semitism a uniquely distorting form of bigotry, but Obama’s answers on Iran were part of a broader failure to understand how non-Western leaders think. “President Obama has been singularly unsuccessful at understanding and dealing with foreign leaders who don’t share his world view,” wrote Mead. “President Obama tried to deal with both Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan on the basis of Western rationality. He failed in both cases to understand that these men were driven by very different visions and priorities from those President Obama assumed that all rational people share. He was wrong about them, and he appears to have similarly misread the Saudis.” While it’s certainly true that Russian, Turkish, and Saudi leaders define their interests in (sometimes confoundingly) different ways from Western interlocutors, it’s unclear why this should qualify as its own separate form of non-Western rationality. But this does get at the broader debate that these authors are attempting to reopen.

Oren believes that such a misreading characterizes Obama’s diplomacy with Iran. “The question of whether Iran, run by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his ayatollahs, is a rational state goes to the very heart of the debate over its nuclear program,” he wrote. Acknowledging that Israeli and American technical estimates with regard to Iranian capabilities “largely dovetailed,” Oren cautioned, “Where the two sides differed was over the nature of the Islamic Republic. The Americans tended to see Iranian leaders as logical actors who understood that the world would never allow them to attain nuclear weapons and would penalize them mercilessly—even militarily—for any attempt to try.”

“By contrast,” Oren continued, “most Israelis viewed the ayatollahs as radical jihadists who claimed they took instructions from the Shiite ‘Hidden Imam.’ ”

Oren raises a number of points that cry out for a response. First, as to this being at root a debate over Iran’s rationality, it’s helpful to think back to the release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which was greeted with considerable alarm among hawks who had been constructing a case for war against Iran over the previous few years. The NIE’s assertion that Iran had probably ceased work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 was bad enough, but equally if not more damaging to the hawkish view was the NIE’s assessment that Iran halting its nuclear weapons program in 2003 was “primarily in response to international pressure,” which “indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.” This, it continued, “suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.”

This remains the view of the U.S. intelligence community. Importantly, it’s also one shared by top Israeli security figures, if not its current government. “The regime in Iran is a very rational one,” Mossad chief Meir Dagan told CBS in 2012. Iran may not see things as Western governments do, but “they are considering all the implications of their actions.” “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people,” Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Ganz said in a 2012 interview explaining why he did not believe that Iran would ultimately choose to develop nuclear weapons.

Iranian leaders hold deeply offensive views of Jews, but any look at the history of the Islamic Republic doesn’t show that they are willing to risk national suicide to achieve the destruction of Israel.

Here we should note how Oren tries to steal a base with regard to differing U.S. and Israeli views. Regardless of what “most Israelis” may or may not think, the fact is that Israeli intelligence “largely dovetails” both with the U.S. view of Iran’s technical capabilities and with the U.S. view that Iran is a rational player, and disagrees with its own prime minister that Iran is bent on an apocalyptic suicide mission. Still, having established that Iran behaves according to a recognizable cost-benefit calculation, the question remains as to how Iran defines those costs and benefits and determines which costs are bearable to achieve which benefits.

In a 2009 article for the Brown Journal of World Affairs, national security analyst Andrew Grotto probed the question “Is Iran a Martyr State?” and found that such claims are unsupported by any evidence. “The martyr state view rests on bold, even radical claims about Iran’s goals and behavior that defy conventional expectations of states’ actions,” wrote Grotto, “[but] no government in recorded history has willfully pursued policies it knows will proximately cause its own destruction.”

“Given the novelty of the martyr state argument,” Grotto continued, “and how unequivocally its proponents present it, one would expect to encounter an avalanche of credible evidence. Yet that is not the case.” Finding both that “references are scarce in this line of writings, and certain references are cited with striking regularity,” Grotto determined that the “martyr state” view essentially rests upon a few op-eds and a report by a right-wing Israeli think tank, whose claims have been bounced endlessly around the Internet.

According to Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who spent years studying Shia theology in Qom’s seminaries, Ayatollah Khamenei is much more concerned with the here and now. “Not one of [Khamenei’s] speeches refers to any apocalyptic sign or reveals any special eagerness for the return of the Hidden Imam,” Khalaji wrote in a 2008 report, Apocalyptic Politics: On the Rationality of Iranian Policy. In the ideology of the Iranian Islamic Republic, “the most significant task of the Supreme Leader is to safeguard the regime, even by overruling Islamic law.”

It’s also worth noting that, even if Oren is right and Iran is a martyr state, this equally undercuts the argument being made by him, Netanyahu, and other opponents of the Iran nuclear deal that the P5+1 should simply walk away from the table and apply more sanctions pressure until Iran accepts a “better deal.” If Iran is committed, as a tenet of religious ideology, to obtaining a nuke, launching it toward Israel, and going out in a blaze of apocalyptic glory, no one has yet explained why Iran could possibly be deterred from this by continuing to inflate the price of chicken.

The added component of anti-Semitism provides a potentially more politically useful line of argument against a nuclear deal with Iran, forcing its defenders into an uncomfortable position of, in effect, arguing on behalf of anti-Semitism (on the assumption that there are writers out there unprincipled enough to claim such a thing). The argument here is that anti-Semitism is a uniquely problematic form of bigotry, one that prevents the holder of such views from experiencing reality in any normal way and therefore incapable of making sound judgments. “Jew hatred takes the form of a belief that conspiratorial groups of super-empowered Jews run the world in secret, cleverly manipulating the news media and the intelligentsia to hide the truth of their control,” write Mead. “Someone who really believes this isn’t just a heart-blighted ignorant boor; someone who believes this lives in a house of mirrors, incapable of understanding the way the world actually works.”

One can recognize that anti-Semitism is a particularly pernicious bigotry among bigotries, however, while still questioning whether holding such views makes any leader “irrational” by definition. And we actually have a way to test this theory very close to home, an example of not only of an anti-Semitic head of state, but one who actually had access to nuclear weapons: President Richard Nixon, whose obsessive conspiratorial suspicion of Jews has, thanks to his own Oval Office recordings, been exhaustively documented and would rightly prevent him from being elected in today’s America. Yet somehow, America and the world managed to survive him. Nixon made some good foreign-policy decisions (the opening to China) and some horrible ones (the escalation of the Vietnam War) but it’s unclear how, if at all, his anti-Semitism influenced his assessment of how these different policy choices would advance U.S. national interests as he defined them.

And so it is with the Iranian government. Its leaders hold deeply offensive views of Jews, but any look at the history of the Islamic Republic doesn’t show that they are willing to risk national suicide in order to achieve anything, whether it’s the destruction of Israel, the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s, or obtaining a nuclear weapon. As with Nixon, and unlike Adolf Hitler, there’s no evidence that hatred of Jews is so foundational to the Islamic Republic’s governing ideology that they would drop everything else to pursue it. (Indeed, shortly after taking power in 1979, as the Ayatollah Khomeini was in the process of wiping out political competitors and consolidating control of the revolution, Khomeini received a delegation of Iranian Jews and promised them protection.) None of this is to say that Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric should be ignored; it certainly shouldn’t. Iran should continue to be treated as a pariah and sanctioned until this threatening rhetoric, along with a whole range of other behaviors, ceases. But the nuclear agreement now being negotiated isn’t based on trusting that Iran won’t act upon its rhetoric, but on ensuring, through the deepest and broadest nuclear inspections regime ever created, that it can’t.

Vatican Signs Historic First Accord with 'Palestine'
by Arutz Sheva Staff

After recognizing PA as a 'state,' Pope Francis's supposedly apolitical Vatican signs treaty with 'Palestine' before it does so with Israel.

The Vatican on Friday signed an historic first accord with "Palestine," two years after officially recognizing the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a state.

The accord, a treaty covering the life and activity of the Church in Judea and Samaria, was the first since the Vatican made the controversial step of recognition in February 2013. It also recognizes the PA as having authority in eastern Jerusalem, the undivided capital of the Jewish state.

The treaty, which took 15 years of negotiations to complete, was agreed in principle last month and condemned by Israel as a setback for the peace process.

Signing international treaties unilaterally is a breach of the 1993 Oslo Accords which created the PA.

Israel's Foreign Ministry responded to the move, expressing its "regret regarding the Vatican decision to officially recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state, in the agreement signed today," spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.

"This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the PA to return to direct negotiations with Israel," he said. "We also regret the one sided texts in the agreement which ignore the historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and to the places holy to Judaism in Jerusalem."

"Israel cannot accept the unilateral determinations in the agreement which do not take into account Israel's essential interests and the special historic status of the Jewish people in Jerusalem," he added. "Israel will study the agreement in detail, and its implications for future cooperation between Israel and the Vatican."

The Vatican's recognition of "Palestine" followed a November 12 vote in favor of recognition by the UN General Assembly, although the Vatican is supposed to be an apolitical religious body.

Vatican officials have described it as reflecting the Church's desire to see the conflict in the Holy Land resolved by a "two-state" solution.

The PA considers the Vatican one of 136 countries to have recognized "Palestine" as a state, although the number is disputed and several recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

In contrast to its rush to sign accords with the PA, the Vatican has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1993 but has yet to conclude an accord on the Church's rights in the Jewish state which has been under discussion since 1999.

Last month, the Vatican declared that it would canonize "Palestinian saints," and during the pope's visit to Israel last May he made an unexpected stop at the security barrier between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Judea to pray at a section with "Pope we need to see someone to speak about justice. Bethlehem look (sic) like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine" spray-painted on it.

Persecution of Christians ignored

The agreement appears to ignore the fact that Christians have been systematically persecuted under the PA, which has caused the Christian population in Bethlehem to nearly disappear from 60% in 1990 to 15% last year.

According to Justus Reid Weiner of Hebrew University, in July 2012, a court in Jericho sentenced a Christian to a month of imprisonment for eating in public during Ramadan. "Five other people were also arrested for the same conduct. The chairman of the PA Supreme Court for Sharia Law stated: ‘We have to monitor the streets, and severely punish anyone who eats in public during Ramadan. This is the responsibility of the security forces…I call upon other non-Muslims to be considerate of Muslims’ feelings."

This is in sharp contrast to Western societies, where the majority is usually called upon to be considerate of the minority.

“The Palestinian Land Law prescribes the death penalty for selling land to Jews. Various Christians have testified that it is also enforced if land is sold to Christians. Several Christian owners have been extorted to give up their land to Muslims. In practice, the legal system in the Palestinian territories provides them no recourse," said Weiner.

The jurist added: “Steve Khoury, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, said in May 2013, that Christians are facing continuous harassment. Due to this, many of them refrain from bearing crosses in public and carrying Bibles. He added that they are often told by Muslims to ‘Convert to Islam. It’s the true and right religion.’ Khoury’s church has been fire-bombed fourteen times."

“In December 2013," Weiner continued, "Samir Qumsieh, a Christian community leader from Beit Sahour near Bethlehem provided several examples of the intimidation the Christian community faces. He showed some examples of souvenirs sold by Christians around Bethlehem’s Manger Square, including t-shirts of the Church of Nativity which do not bear crosses as would be customary. On another occasion Qumsieh stated: ‘We are harassed but you would not know the truth. No one says anything publicly about the Muslims. This is why Christians are running away.’"

Khamenei: Iran will fight against US arrogance regardless of nuke deal
by Times of Israel staff

Supreme leader calls America ’embodiment of global arrogance,’ says challenging it is at core of Islamic Revolution

Iran will continue to fight the United States’ “global arrogance” whether or not the world powers and Iran reach a nuclear agreement, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday.

Speaking to a group of students in Tehran, Khamenei said Iran’s “fight [against] global arrogance is the core of our [1979 Islamic] revolution and we cannot put it on hold.

"Get ready to continue your fight against the global arrogance. The US is the true embodiment of the global arrogance,” said the Iranian leader in response to a student’s question about what would happen if the talks to curb the country’s nuclear program were successful.

At the annual al-Quds Day march in Tehran on Friday, hundreds of thousands shouted “Death to America,” burned American flags and displayed posters of President Barack Obama in flames.

Fighting the Arrogance is a Revolutionary principle. If it didn’t exist, we were not followers of Holy #Quran.

Talks between Iran and the US-led P5+1 world powers were seemingly stalled over major differences this weekend, with both the US and Iran threatening to walk away.

Diplomats said it remained unclear whether negotiators would be able to meet the Monday deadline, the fourth since the current round of talks began 15 days ago.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif met on Saturday with European Union foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini were conferring with other foreign ministers involved. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius are both in Vienna. British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond was expected later Saturday.

Any deal is meant to secure long-term and verifiable restrictions on parts of Iran’s nuclear program that are technically adaptable to make weapons in exchange for sanctions relief for Tehran.

The scope of access to UN inspectors monitoring Iran’s program remains a sticking point in the negotiations. The Americans want no restrictions while Iranian officials say unrestricted monitoring could be a cover for Western spying.

Another unresolved matter is Iran’s demand for a UN arms embargo to be lifted as part of sanctions relief, a stance supported by Russia and China but opposed by the US and some Europeans.

An Israeli report aired on Friday indicated that a deal had already been reached — with major US concessions — and is set to be signed this upcoming week.

Ehud Yaari, the Middle East affairs commentator for Israel’s Channel 2 television, said the deal was reached because the Americans “have made a series of capitulations over the past two to three weeks in almost every key aspect that was being debated.”

Yaari said that even those in the US who had supported the agreement with Iran “admit that it is worse than they thought.” Now, he said, the ball is in the court of Democratic lawmakers who have to decide whether to support President Barack Obama as he seeks to secure Congressional approval, or to join the vocal Republican opposition to an agreement.

One major concession, Yaari said, is the issue of inspections of Iranian nuclear sites, which has long been a sticking point in the negotiations. According to Yaari, the US negotiators have given in to an Iranian demand that inspections are “managed” — in other words, there will be no surprise visits, only those that are pre-arranged and approved by the Iranian regime.

There was no official response from the US on the Israeli report.
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