Tuesday 15 October 2013

Rouhani - First respect him and then suspect him.

1) We need to understand the new direction of the West in confronting their  international problems in the wake of the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq followed by the debacles in Libya and Syria. We, on our part have to face a different future not keep living in the past when our cards were more powerful in influencing the policies of the West in the Middle East. Then our interests were almost identical with those of the Americans and we sang from the same hymn sheet. Times have changed and we need to adapt to the new situation.

2) Nothing can illustrate our lack of understanding better than the behaviour of our government in the United Nations. We are undermining our friends and losing their trust rather than bolstering their stand in the renewed cold war irrupting in Europe and the Pacific. To leave the UN Assembly when Rouhani delivered his address, was a mistake  of the first degree. Yaeer Lapid's public chiding of Netanyahu was mild. Dany Danon, another Minister, declaring  that he would ensure the failure of our negotiations with the Palestinians was appalling. Our Government looks like it lacks cohesion and clear direction which is harming our future standing in the region and confusing our supporters. We should stop self congratulatory rhetoric which is becoming too much of a recurrent theme.

3) We insulted the Iranian people instead of exploiting Rouhani’s new approach slanting it to serve our purpose. We denied him the chance to address us publically. Respect, Dignity and Face are very important in the East. Fight an oriental if it suits you but don’t insult him showing him disrespect. Diplomacy is a make-belief art and a game. We can play it to exploit  the cracks appearing in our enemies' change of tone and try to widen it.   We should have shown respect towards Rouhani. Sitting to listen carefully and respectfully  to him could have given us a better platform to appeal and address the Iranian People over his head. Instead we appeared to spoil the delicate game that Obama believed he was playing as much on our behalf as on the Americans'.
4) Rouhani was more crafty than Netanyahu. He appealed to the Jewish people over the head of Israel's Government. He was exploiting the very approach that should have been taken by Israel. The Yom Kippur War was primarily a political failure anchored in a mistaken military assessment of our enemies. Our military might is again breeding arrogance and blinding our people.  We need to grasp that things are changing in the West whose governments are under great pressure from their anti Israel public and that unfortunately includes even  Germany recently despite the unwavering support by Angela Merkel. Netanyahu should have learned the lesson when President Hollande complained at the time that his joint visit  to Toulouse' Synagogue  was exploited by Netanyahu for the latter's home election campaign. And let us not forget the off the recorded whisper between Obama and Sarcosi voicing their exasperation at Netanyahu's tactics.

6) President Obama might not be the weak president that some commentators in our media in Israel portray him to be. It is only that he realises that America is economically too weak to afford itself wars abroad following Afghanistan and Iraq. But he is still the elected President of the most powerful country in the world today. Netanyahu has to understand that.  The thrust of Obama's stated address to the United Nations is two prong. Settling the Israeli/Palestinian issue and resolving the Iranian nuclear impasse. These are the two places where world leaders' attention were directed to join him in finding solutions. As for the Syrian crisis  Obama realised that he has to treat it as a side issue rather than  tackle it head on and clash with the Russians.

7) After the debacles in Libya and Egypt  Obama began to understand the mosaic of the Middle East. Turkey and Iran have been going through social transformations for the last century. As a result their populations are divided between on the one hand the modernity of Atatuk in Turkey and Pahlavi in Iran and on the other hand the rising Islamist reactions of Erdogan and Khamenaei. Recently these reactions were accentuated by a new open confrontation between  Shiaa and Sunni Islam. The undercurrent rivalry of five centuries between the  Ottoman Sunni Empire with the Shiaa Persian Empire has revived and is now bubbling.  But  both countries today have comparatively stable regimes and they realise that they have to find mutual accommodation of coexistence vis-à-vis the West. They are non-Arab Muslim countries in our region and we cannot afford to lose both of them. Our conflict with our Arab neighbours is less significant to them against their internal problems and is expressed by them in lip service verbal echoing of the Arab stereotype  pronouncements. Lately the Americans are trying to find a balance between them But on our part we must take every opportunity to address the moderates amongst them directly rather than concentrate on attacking their  governments.  

8) No doubt that Israel needs to be and be seen to be strong. However what is needed is not just a  strong well prepared army. Strength is relative. Israel's strength needs to be its ability to protect its borders from outside dangers and to create peaceful co existence of its fractured society inside. Realities cannot be faced with semantics. A slogan of a Jewish Democratic State cannot ring true in an Israel with a substantial Arab presence today that would swell into a future majority were we to keep the West Bank within Israel's Borders. Solutions not wishful thinking are called for. On my part, I tried on the pages  of my book “Israel: State or Ghetto” (and in my Hebrew book: Hametsiut Machtiva) to encapsulate my analysis of the 3 Major Problems that have been facing us crying for resolution and offered realistic  solutions. 1) A clear defendable borders,  2) A practical electoral system to ensure the cohesion of our citizenry and 3) A rehabilitation of our tattered  image abroad.

9) And just before  the second Lebanon war of 2006 in my address to the Oxford Union (Chapter 6 )  I analysed factually the struggle of Shia and Sunna for power in the region to the extent that won me the final vote at that night’s debate, but more importantly it won me the admiration of Professor Ali Ansari a close associate of the Rafsanjani faction in Iran. He went out of his way to tell my wife and later confirmed by email to me that as he put it, he bowed to the quality of my analysis and the wisdom of my approach. It is worthwhile to read this address which demonstrates a model of how to present our case and even our thorny case for keeping our nuclear option and win without insulting our  enemies and all that while not conceding an inch.

10) Soon after the second Lebanon war I analysed in the same book (ch 7 Debacle in Lebanon)  the precariousness of our relationships in the region and beyond, while discerning the signs of a coming  renewed Cold War. Here we are sandwiched between Arab hostile states neglecting our relationship with the two non-Arab real powers in the region, the Sunni Turkey and the Shia Iran. We are a small Jewish enclave in a sea of Arabs. We need the two non-Arab countries to set them up as our allied dams against the turbulent Arab sea. The history of the last 500 years would help us to understand better the background of the Arab relationship with their non Arab Muslins in the region.

11) The swell of anti Israel sentiments in the streets of Europe fed by a powerfully orchestrated Palestinian public relation machine is quickly changing into anti Jewish and Anti Semitic. It will soon spill over to the wider public of the United States. I say wider in order not to compress the US public as we often do into New York and Washington. It is this fear that  should inform our first and most important policy to settle our borders with the Palestinians with the dual objective of  securing the future survival of Israel and changing  its image in the world. Once our borders are agreed and settled Israel then will become as it was meant to be, the de facto last refuge of the Jewish people rather than a Masada like militarized camp where voluntarily the entire Jewish population of the world kraal themselves together into a tiny strip of land surrounded by 400 million Arabs raring to repossess it.  Geography and Demography should guide our politics and wisdom should guide our negotiations with the Palestinians. At the heart of our stance during the negotiations should be that in a final settlement  Jews can live in Palestine in the way that Arabs now constitute 20 per cent of Israel living as equal citizens within its borders. 

12) And as if we have not enough what with our internal divisions and external dangers a new problem as  worrying is now beginning to surface. A fault line is developing  between the messianic convictions of the militant ultra nationalistic ideologies in Israel and the progressive  pragmatic views of a growing segments  of  the Diaspora. This is a  gratuitous future threat  to our very existence as a united Jewish People.  Letting this gap between Israel and the Diaspora widen will weaken and may lead to destroying a unity which we have maintained for a century. Herzl's Altneuland needs to meet midway the Golden Medinah.  

Aharon Nathan, 15 Oct 2013