The Israeli Prime Minister Netanayahu manoeuvred himself in miscellaneous wriggles to undo the moves of his self-controlled rival Rouhani. Both were putting a lot on the line. But they shared one common objective: influencing the American Congress that runs the show nowadays.
Rouhani’s main goal is to delay the planned choke sanctions. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s goal is to encourage the Congress for harsher sanctions to capitulate Iran economy by suffocation.
How come Iran is surprisingly eager to make a deal, while Israel opposes the negotiations?
In New York, Netanyahu could not impress the public by saying Rouhani is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, nor his ‘pledge is to wipe Israel off the map’ was forceful.
The Prime Minister wants to maintain the status quo, due to internal, regional and international interests. This means retaining animosity between Iran and Israel, which will internally result in political advantages in a quite divided Israel. Regionally stressing the danger of a powerful Iran would ‘convince many Arab neighbours’ that ‘their enemy’ are not Israelis but Persians, argued Netanyahu in New York. He added that Israel ‘welcomes engagement’ with the wider ‘Arab world’.
Iran as an enemy unites Israel with the Sunni Muslim-countries. And internationally the mistrust between Tehran and Washington guarantees the unique privilege Israel has been utilizing from Washington for decades. Therefore, a constructive relation between Tehran and Washington is not in Israel’s interests. As paradoxical as it may sound, Netanyahu will make his effort to torpedo any nuclear deal between Obama and Rouhani.
In a controversial interview with BBC Persian Netanyahu spoke for the first time to the Iranian people and sympathised with them. ‘I think if the Iranian people had freedom they would wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections’. A wave of videos and pictures of Iranians wearing jeans and surrounded by Western music dominated the social media expressing their objection against Bibi’s ignorance. His lack of updated information and bossy attitude in that interview created rather antipathy than sympathy among proud Iranians.
In 2012, Netanyahu made a more serious blunder about Iran’s nuclear program. With the picture of a bomb on a graph in his hands he draw a redline that would illustrate the maximum amount of enriched Uranium that he would tolerate. Nevertheless he didn’t discuss the principle of enriching. Israel would punish Iran if the redline would be crossed. Apparently, Netanyahu didn’t realize that drawing a redline on the stage of the UN General Assembly implicitly validated the principle of enriching Uranium. Iran persevered its enriching activity till 20 percent, never exceeding the 200 kilogram of the redline. The right to enrich Uranium inside the country is what Iran is claiming for since 2005. In fact Israel acknowledged Iran’s rights!
A year later reasons Netanyahu that the only solution is zero-percent enriching. On the question whether Iran respected the 20 percent restrictions, he said: ‘Iran didn’t cross the redline. And that’s a fact’. Admitting the facts on one hand and on the other hand trying to convince the world for a total stop in enrichment, as the single solution for Iran’s nuclear standoff, makes him not credible.
Iran ready for negotiations
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Looking at Iran, all the necessary ingredients for a nuclear deal seem to be available: (1) Rouhani is an authorized negotiator; (2) Tehran is full of self-confidence; (3) Iran’s nuclear know-how is sufficiently developed; (4) the economical murderous sanctions work stimulating.
For weeks the influential clerics praised Rouhani among the Friday-prayers in the capital Tehran and the holy cities of Mashhad and Qom. With a resolute majority, 230 (out of 290) parliamentarians expressed their gratitude towards Rouhani’s diplomatic merits. Major General of the Revolutionary Guards Jafari and his predecessor Safavi stressed his policy, and the senior advisor on international affairs to the Supreme Leader, Velayati, welcomed Rouhani personally on his return from New York. Even the most sceptical Supreme Leader Khamenei spoke highly about Rouhani: “we support the diplomacy of this government”. There were a few comments but they hit the tactics not the strategy – maybe to help the diplomacy in creating margins for negotiations. The encouragement was not limited to the officials. The Iranian people responded also positive on this matter. Such “a relief after Ahmadinejad” still echoes in the (social) media.
And the Western Powers? With his refreshing rhetoric and cordial presence the media – from Fox-News to The New York Times – were content with the new Iranian President. The fact is that visiting United States consolidated Rouhani’s amorphous limits. As Rouhani sows, so shall he reap. His efforts yield direct profits: the planned sanctions to reduce oil-export at about zero barrels per day are for now postponed.
Tehran is swollen with self-confidence. While the entire Middle East has been in a state of uproar caused by the Arab revolutions, the regime successfully suppressed The Green Movement. Quite crafty the rulers canalised the protest movement of 2009 through the ballot box with Rouhani as the ‘desired’ result of 2013 elections.
Regionally, Tehran dominates the Shia governments in the region. Every power vacuum in the region is filled in by Iran. The controversial backing of Damascus delivers Tehran the inevitable position at the table of peace talks about Syria. A political solution without Tehran seems to be unreachable. The Shia Crescent that stretches from Bahrain to Iran, Iraq, Syria and South-Lebanon and influence Yemen and even oil-rich Shia parts of Saudi Arabia strengthens the Iranians in their confidence. The ayatollahs consider themselves as the hegemon of the Middle East.
Iran’s Nuclear Program crossed its point-of-no-return a long time ago. Under the recalcitrant government of Ahmadinejad the number of centrifuges multiplied by ten in eight years and thanks to 800 billon dollars in oil revenues. Besides the most difficult phase of enriching Uranium, up to 20 percent, was successfully accomplished two years ago. To use Shimon Peres inspired terminology: armies cannot conquer science. And the Iranian nuclear science can’t be annihilated even by bombs!
But how can Iran be contained?
The sanctions are a significant inducement to stimulate sustainable negotiations. But as of yet, they haven’t been able to force capitulation. Why? In the past two years Iran hasn’t tightened its military or nuclear expenses. In fact, despite the country’s economical problems caused by sanctions Tehran pumped more than 17 billion dollars into Damascus to support the Syrian regime as its “resistance front”.
An Israeli military attack on Iran is most unlikely. The red line proved to be unreliable. And more pressure by using sanctions? On that matter Israel has no direct influence.
Rouhani on the other hand calms down the situation. Since his presidency started he hasn’t talked about “the Zionistic entity” referring to official name for Israel. “We don’t seek a war with Israel” underlined his influential preceptor Rafsanjani in Iran. Rouhani accompanied by the only Iranian-Jewish PM gave interviews in New York. And finally according to his Minister of Foreign Affairs “the Holocaust is not a myth” anymore.
There is an eminent possibility that Tehran will bring along significant propositions during the negotiations to build trust. For example shipping its enriched uranium or strongly slowing down the enriching. But giving up its nuclear knowhow – as Tel-Aviv wishes – is out of the question. And for reaching a nuclear deal that would be pointless.