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IRAN and all that.

Local and Global

In todays post I bring you two apparently distinct articles. I say “apparently” since the first deals with the Iran-Israel Stand-off  while the second deals with a parochial South African issue. But despite these apparent differences, they both reflect the multi-dimensional struggle facing Israel. Geographically the struggle takes place globally, regionally and locally in different countries around the globe. It assumes different forms depending where we engage with it. Regionally it involves propaganda but always some element of violence from stones to nuclear-tipped missiles. Globally Israel is engaged in convoluted diplomatic manuvers arising out of strategic and ideological interests of the various protagonists whilst locally it usually means public relations warfare designed to isolated and weaken it.

The first article deals with the potentially existential threat posed by Iran and the current diplomatic games being played by the various parties. More specifically it explains the anxiety around the American stance in negotiations. The second by Ben Levitas states forthrightly that the broad Jewish community of South Africa objects to the increasingly hostile stance being taken by the ANC-led Government towards Israel in a conflict remote from any important strategic interest of this country. Such partisanship divides the South African community and alienates much of the Jewish community. Levitas argues this is election politicking of the worst kind.

They are both worth reading. The net is replete with informative and pertinent information and debate concerning the Middle East and the role of Israel in its political ecology.  These two article are a tiny sample of the whole and it is hoped that in the new site under construction, you will be able to engage more deeply in the many facets of a core conflict defining much of our current global ideological debates.

Mike Berger

Why a bad deal on Iran is a nightmare scenario

The high diplomatic drama surrounding the P5+1 talks with Iran generated a remarkable sight in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned to the cameras and pleaded for US secretary of state John Kerry not to sign the deal. He called it a ‘historic mistake’, arguing in effect that it would allow Iran to get closer to a bomb and relieve sanctions, all at the same time.

With not all members of the P5+1 satisfied with the text, Netanyahu got his wish for now, but negotiators will reconvene on 20 November. Kerry and Netanyahu have spent dozens of hours discussing this issue in recent month, so why has it come to this?

The difference is not about what Iran is up to. Israel, the US and the major EU powers share the assessment that Iran’s programme is intended to give it the capacity to build nuclear weapons at its time of choosing. Nor it is about basic strategy. Israel and the Western capitals agree that Iran with a bomb would be disastrous for regional security and the non-proliferation regime. Israel would much prefer Iran to concede without a shot being fired, and helped rally the US and Europe to create genuinely punishing sanctions, which brought Iran to the table.

The differences are over what is a tolerable final outcome – which the US and other powers have not yet defined – and the process to achieving it.

The P5+1 and Iran are negotiating a two stage deal, with the weekend talks focussed primarily on the initial confidence building measures. This interim deal is Netanyahu’s most immediate concern. The idea is that Iran will stop producing 20 per cent enriched uranium (which can very quickly be turned into weapons grade), allow more inspections, and not activate new centrifuges enriching to 3.5 per cent. In return Iran gets sanctions relief, which US officials call “limited, targeted, and reversible”, but which includes freeing up overseas assets and relaxing trade restrictions worth tens of billions of dollars. This is supposed to pave the way for a final deal in six months.

Netanyahu believes the relaxation of sanctions will not only give Iran critical economic breathing room, but disrupt the momentum of ever increasing pressure which is vital for forcing Iran to climb down. What Iran is being expected to give in return is seen by Israel and other sceptics as wholly inadequate. During the six months when the final deal is supposed to be negotiated, Iran can keep enriching uranium to 3.5 per cent. Under the original draft it could also continue to develop the Plutonium reactor at Arak – one of the issues which triggered French objections. In this deal, nothing will be permanently decommissioned in the first stage. That means if there is no deal after six months, Iran can immediately resume suspended elements of its programme, including thousands of new, advanced centrifuges which could convert the 3.5 per cent uranium to weapons grade within weeks.

So a significant crack will be put in the wall of sanctions, in return for which the nuclear clock will merely be slowed, rather than stopped. This is why Netanyahu calls it the ‘deal of the century’ for the Iran, and a ‘historic mistake’ for the world powers.

Those advocating the staged deal say President Rouhani and foreign minister Zarif need concrete benefits to empower them against the hawks back home, in order to conclude the big deal. By contrast the prevailing view in Israel, along with many other sceptics, sees Rouhani as ‘flesh and blood of the regime’, whose diplomacy is a tactic to reduce the pressure of sanctions, and who in any case answers to the Supreme Leader.

For Israelis, this whole process appears to show the US and other Western powers as too keen to get a deal, even a poor one, to get rid of the issue and avoid having to grapple with military options.  It is not only Israel that is deeply concerned. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are anxious about Iran cutting a deal with the US which leaves them with the capacity to get the bomb. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius also warned, on viewing the proposed text on Saturday, against the world being played for fools. So Israel is not the only one wanting a tougher line, but it has specific sources of anxiety.

First, Israel’s proximity to the threat heightens its sense of urgency. It feels most immediately threatened, both by the possibility of an Iranian strike and the regional impact of an Iranian bomb, which would empower Iran and its allies, and likely trigger a regional arms race. The possibility of radical theocratic regime having the power to annihilate the Jewish state, also makes Israel more ready to countenance the consequences of a military strike than the Europeans or the US. Though not all Israelis share Netanyahu’s apocalyptic view, the Prime Minister sees it as his historic mission personally, and indeed the very purpose of the Jewish state, to prevent a future Holocaust.

Second, there is a gap between Israel and the US in military capability, and therefore in room for manoeuvre. As Iran’s nuclear programme grows, the capacity for Israel to degrade it militarily diminishes. The US, with its far greater military capacity, would have military options beyond the point at which Israel’s window closes, and could possibly tolerate Iran closer to the threshold. The problem is, Netanyahu does not believe he can leave the military option in the hands of the US, especially after Obama went wobbly over Syria. He believes that if the international community fails to push Iran back from the threshold, it will be his responsibility to take military action whilst Israel still can. Israel’s worst fear is the P5+1 signing a deal that leaves Iran closer than it can live with to a nuclear bomb. This would make the decision on military action even more fraught. Israel believes it has the capacity to set the Iranians back a few years, but it needs international diplomatic support to stop Iran rebuilding afterwards.

The hiatus in the next two weeks will see an intense effort by Israel – and more quietly the Saudis and others – to get the P5+1 to toughen the deal, and avoid its worst nightmares being realised.

By TOBY GREENE | Published: NOVEMBER 11, 2013,


We are no longer placated by empty assurances –

As loyal South Africans, who have made a disproportionate contribution to the wellbeing of South Africa, I and my
colleagues at the Cape Board of the Zionist Federation, wish to voice our dissatisfaction with the consistent
attacks on Israel’s internal policies, and on it alone being singled out for failure to reach an accord with the Arabs.

The Minister from the Presidency, Collins Chabane’s assurances that “Government has not imposed a ban on
travel to the State of Israel by government officials”, made on November 6th, fly in the face of too many contrary
statements from the African National Congress and its alliance partners. These assurances are too little, too late
and do nothing to clarify or change the ongoing travel ban.

While acknowledging and supporting the statements that the main Jewish organizations have already made, I
wish to address the general climate of heightened intolerance which is directed at the only state that also
happens to be Jewish.

The level of invective can be expected to increase in the lead up to the national elections. It is clear that the tripartite
alliance, desperate to gain control of the Western Cape, and not loose Gauteng, is pursuing the large
Muslim vote, and prepared to forego the small influence that Jews would have.

Already in February 2012, the then Minister of Arts and Culture, speaking to the New Age Newspaper, said that the
government has “no problem with supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against
Israel.” While discouraging contact with Israel, the Department of Arts and Culture proceeded to sign a cultural
agreement between South Africa and “Palestine” and announced plans for South African artists and cultural
entrepreneurs to participate in the South African Arts and Culture Week to be hosted in “Palestine”. The Israeli
Minister of Arts and Culture, who happened to be visiting South Africa privately around that time, was not accorded
the same honours.

In mid-February, after a meeting was held in Cape Town with representatives of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies
and SA Zionist Federation, the Minister of Arts and Culture clarified that, “notwithstanding certain remarks
attributed to him by the media, neither he nor his government supported anti-Israel boycotts”.
Despite these assurances, in August 2012, South Africa’s deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ismael Ebrahim told
the City Press that South Africa was “discouraging” its citizens from visiting Israel.
“Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate
with Israel,” and “We discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process.”

In a tone consistent with the recent statements by Minister of International Relations, Nkoane Maite Chabane’s,
Ebrahim Ebrahim went on to say that South Africans should “scale down” economic ties with Israel, but claimed
that he was not advocating a full breakdown of relations between the countries. A planned trip to Israel by officials
from the KwaZulu-Natal province was cancelled due to these government guidelines.

At that time, Minister Rob Davies, had drafted legislation that would require products made in the “West Bank” to
be marked with a distinct label, to enable customers to differentiate between products that were made inside and
outside Israel. The intended wording of the legislation displayed the Minister’s inherent bias and agenda, as it
wished to label products from Judea and Samaria, as products originating from ‘Palestinian occupied territories’.

The BDS Movement recorded on December 21st, that “South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress
(ANC), at its 53rd National Conference, (in Mangaung) reaffirmed a resolution supporting the Palestinian Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign.” This declaration was made by Lindiwe Zulu, a special
advisor to President Jacob Zuma at that time, as it flowed from Resolution 39 (b), of the ANC’s October
International Solidarity Conference (ISC) and all its resolutions.

Marius Fransman, the other Deputy Minister of International Relations, in a Ramadan message to South Africa’s
Muslims, clearly aimed at winning the support of the Muslim vote in the Western Cape, where he is also the
leader of the ANC, stated emphatically that the government fully supported the Palestinian cause and its struggle
for independence. This Minister has subsequently, brazenly and dishonorably made a series of explicit anti-
Jewish remarks, which are currently being heard at the Human rights court. Shamefully, there have been no
official voices of disapproval from the government.

In October 2012, The ANC Chairperson, and former Deputy President, Baleka Mbete, reaffirmed the ANC’s
support for Sanctions and Boycotts against Israel, with a strong statement that she has been to Palestine herself
and that the Israeli regime is not only comparable but “far worse than Apartheid South Africa.”
During this time, Cosatu’s leaders, including Zwelinzima Vavi and the leadership of the Communist Party,
consistently called for boycotts of Israel and Israeli goods. At no time did the leadership of the ANC intervene to
distance themselves from these calls or to request that they be curtailed in any way.

With the recent visits of Ebrahim Ebrahim to North Korea and calls for closer relations between South Africa and
Iran, the disjuncture becomes all too apparent and irrational. Applauding Iran’s human rights record, while finding
fault with Israel’s, is delusional and insane. Limiting and restricting visits to Israel, while allowing and even
encouraging visits and contacts with Palestinians, is discriminatory and excludes entirely, exposure to the Israeli
narrative. This action implies that South African diplomats are not interested in hearing or being exposed to the
Israeli perspective.

As Jews we wish to state emphatically that we are proud of Israel and its significance in our lives. Since its birth,
Israel has struggled to survive in a hostile environment and this gives us hope and courage. Moreover Israel has
thrived and is a shining example and model for the entire region.

Israel has fought the colonialism of the Ottoman Empire and subsequently the British Empire, and succeeded to
restore Jews to their land. The bonds of Jews to Israel, go back to the beginning of history, and attempts by any
party to drive a wedge between Jews and Israel, will be resisted and are bound to fail. Such mendacious policies,
would be akin to trying to separate Muslims from Mecca and deserve to be treated with the same contempt. Such
policies are repugnant, hurtful and anti-Semitic.

Ben Levitas, By SA Zionist Federation, 13 November 2013 in Politicsweb


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