September 27, 2012:
It's the season of speeches at the UN. As some of what has been going on coincided with my preparations for and observance of Yom Kippur, I will need to back-track a bit before moving forward. And forward is where I truly want to go (see the last of this posting!).
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually spoke twice at the UN this week. He kicked off his visit with an address on Monday at a UN session on the rule of law -- itself a travesty of everything fair and reasonable. And his comments there were every bit as vile as might have been expected. He said that Israel had "no roots" in the Middle East. "We don’t even count them [Israelis] as any part of any equation for Iran,” he declared. "They represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated." Eliminated.
Read: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad describes Israel as an annoyance that can be ‘eliminated’
This should have elicited denunciation by every Western democracy and a determination to fully ostracize him. But such was not the case. Of course.
In point of fact, when the president of one UN member speaks about the "elimination" of another UN member, he should not be provided with a UN podium at all:
Among the principles of the UN, as outlined in its Charter, Chapter I, Article 2 (1), "The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members." (2) "All Members...shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter. (4) "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat...against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."
But, hey, who pays attention to all of this?
When Ahmadinejad spoke at the General Assembly yesterday, the delegations of only three nations were absent. That of Israel, of course. They would have stayed away in any event, but were additionally observing Yom Kippur. Canada's delegation was in the hall but left when Ahmadinejad came forward to speak -- and bravo to them for doing this.
The US was not present at all, having made the announcement in advance that it would not be attending. On the one hand, the reason given for why the US would not be present was quite excellent.
Explained a spokesperson for the US Mission to the UN: "Over the past couple of days, we’ve seen Mr. Ahmadinejad once again use his trip to the UN not to address the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people but to instead spout paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel."
This is to the point I made above, precisely! But then there was more:
"It's particularly unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadinejad will have the platform of the UN General Assembly on Yom Kippur, which is why the United States has decided not to attend."
So what does this mean? That "repulsive slurs" against Israel are tolerable when it is not Yom Kippur? I was left scratching my head, and feeling an unease with this rationale.
In past years, some European delegations left the hall when Ahmadinejad spoke, but not this year. They were not adequately incensed by his "elimination" comment to boycott his speech, and didn't find anything sufficiently offensive within his speech yesterday to motivate their departure. Not the UK, not France, not Germany. They all stayed, in spite of the appeal by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor that "all countries" boycott the speech.
I don't want to belabor it at any length. It contained mostly high-flying rhetoric that I find gag-inducing. This introduction will suffice as example (if you can stand it, and with emphasis added):
"Coming from Iran, the land of glory and beauty, the land of knowledge, culture, wisdom and morality, the cradle of philosophy and mysticism, the land of compassion and light, the land of scientists, scholars, philosophers, masters of literature, and writers...I represent a great and proud nation that is a founder of human civilization and an inheritor of respected universal values. I represent a conscious nation which is dedicated to the cause of freedom, peace and compassion, a nation that has experienced the agony and bluer times of aggressions and imposed wars, and profoundly values the blessings of peace and stability."
This from the biggest promoter of terrorism, radicalism and unrest on the face of the globe. If only some of those delegations that had opted to remain had guffawed when he said this.
Suffice it to say there was more, insulting to the West...
Israeli President Shimon Peres said that with his speech Ahmadinejad demonstrated an ignorance not only of Israeli history -- by saying that Israel has no roots here, but also Persian (that is, Iranian) history. Fact is, it was the Persian king, Cyrus, who permitted the Jews to return to their land 2,500 years ago, after their first exile. Peres sent Ahmadinejad a letter via the UN, informing him of this history. Cute.
Let us turn next to the UN speech of US President Barack Obama, which was delivered on Tuesday, before Ahmadinejad spoke.
Appropriately enough, Obama began with a tribute to slain US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. But there was so much wrong with what he said in the context of this issue.
Even now, he talks about a transition to democracy in various Middle East countries, when the evidence in one country after another is that radical and repressive regimes have taken control in places where there have been uprisings. In the context of democracy, he declared, "...those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others." And with this he segued into a discussion of what happened in Libya (emphasis added):
"That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well."
This is seriously and troublingly disingenuous. On September 19, Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, testified that:
"I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy..."We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda's affiliates; in particular, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."
You can see my posting discussing this in greater detail: A Change of Tune?
What is more, sources have told Fox News that (emphasis added):
"US intelligence officials knew within 24 hours of the attack on the US Consulate in Libya that it was a terrorist attack."
According to "two senior U.S. officials" cited by Fox, "the Obama administration internally labeled the attack terrorism from the first day in order to unlock and mobilize certain resources to respond, and that officials were looking for one specific suspect.
"In addition, sources confirm that FBI agents have not yet arrived in Benghazi in the aftermath of the attack."
What Obama has done here is insulting to the memory of Chris Stevens and a disservice to the American people. Seeking -- still! -- to downplay the reality of the US confrontation with radical Islamist jihadists and the failure of his policy intended to reach out to Muslims, he continues to float a myth. And he rushes to disassociate the US from that film: it wasn't us, it was this one terrible film producer.
Much more to the point is the assassination of Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and Obama's campaign references again and again to his "victory" in this respect. Also to be noted is the fact that the attack took place on 9/11.
If he seems to have learned any lesson, it is with regard to the right of free speech in the US, which he now supported in this talk. The outcry that ensued after the attack and the administrations statements may have had a welcome effect here.
With regard to Iran, what Obama said seems, on the surface, headed in the right direction, but is sorely lacking in what is needed now. There is a vast difference between pre-election rhetoric and serious declaration of intent.
This is from his speech:
"...the Iranian government...Time and again...it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations... America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited...a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
Isn't this nice? But...
- Clearly America WANTS to resolve the issue through diplomacy. But this is wishful thinking because Iran has not negotiated in good faith at all and Obama darn well knows it. "Time and space to do it" -- itself a dubious proposition -- is a meaningless concept if all parties don't come to the table with serious intent.
- It is not true that a coalition of countries is "holding the Iranian government accountable." That's what is supposed to be happening, but it's not.
- After mentioning all of the ways in which a nuclear Iran would be a world risk, it is not enough to say that "the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Precisely WHAT will the US do?
There was considerable disappointment here in Israel that Obama spelled out absolutely nothing. He didn't say how much time there is before there is not "time and space" left. Or what the US will not tolerate with regard to Iran's nuclear development. In short, in this speech he shied completely from those "red lines" that Netanyahu has been consistently requesting (much more on this below).
Netanyahu has warned that Iran does not take US intentions to stop it seriously -- and Obama's speech here has done nothing to change this situation. Mere platitudes. In fact, Obama was so vague that he didn't even say, as he has in other venues, that no options have been taken off the table.
Before I move on, I share this exceedingly important piece by Andrew K. Davenport (an established expert in the field of corporate and banking activity in countries of security concern) and Ilan Berman (Vice President of the American Policy Council), "A Flimsy U.S. Sanctions Policy Towards Iran":
"...Given the advanced state of Iran's nuclear program and the growing possibility that third parties — namely, Israel — might resort to force to stop it, it stands to reason that the full arsenal of U.S. economic and financial sanctions would be deployed against the Iranian threat. Yet it has not been.
"The reality is that current sanctions policy is simultaneously extensive and flimsy. It amounts, in large part, to labeling a broad array of business activity as 'sanctionable.' But with the exception of a handful of cases, the actual sanctioning of violators has been markedly absent.
"Reporters and pundits alike have been complicit in ignoring this important distinction. Accordingly, it may come as a surprise to many that just about every piece of sanctions legislation and every executive order adopted over the past 16 years and advertised as 'tightening the screws' on Iran has offered an escape hatch that gives the president discretion over which violators are targeted and whether they are named and penalized.
"The result is that very few 'sanctionable' companies are ever actually penalized — or even identified...
"President Obama takes great pride in pointing out that his administration has levied the most extensive sanctions to date against the Iranian regime. Indeed it has; much more than its predecessors, the Obama administration has actively targeted Iran's energy sector...
"But enforcement has lagged far behind..."
The authors explain why this is so:
"More often than not, the most egregious violators are companies headquartered in countries that are close U.S. allies or represent key strategic relationships for the United States, such as China and Russia. Fully implementing U.S. sanctions would require the political will to persist through a temporary downturn in those ties.Read: A Flimsy U.S. Sanctions Policy Toward Iran
"President Ronald Reagan demonstrated such political will when he sanctioned Western European companies that defied orders not to supply U.S.-origin oil and gas equipment and technology to the Soviet Union for the development of its Siberian gas pipeline...
"Today such fortitude is strikingly absent. But at what cost?Obama's failure to fulfill his pledge to fully exhaust all non-military options regarding Iran suggests that the White House thinks the potential of sanctions to influence Iranian behavior is overblown and not worth the diplomatic consequences.
"The full enforcement of sanctions is a logical intermediary step before the use of force. The administration's failures on that front suggest that it views actual warfare as more palatable than ruffled diplomatic relationships with countries such as China, the primary violator of 'sanctionable' activity currently on the books. That, in turn, makes the likelihood of some sort of conflagration over Iran's nuclear program all the more probable."
Ignore this at your own risk. And take Obama's statement about the US "doing what it must" to stop Iranian nuclearization with a grain of salt.
Last today is the speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Last here only because it was just delivered a couple of hours ago. A stunning and highly successful speech, for which the prime minister deserves much credit. Facing down a hostile world, he made Israel's case.
The people of Israel live on, he declared proudly, and "the Jewish state will live forever."
He made a host of important points, regarding Jewish presence in the land for thousands of years, with a remnant always remaining during exile and the masses holding on to the dream of return: "Defying the laws of history, we did just that...We will never be uprooted again..."
He spoke, as well, about many of the wonderful things that constitute Israel today -- medical innovation, reaching out to help in international crises, etc. etc.
Then he went on to finger the world's greatest problem at present: The battle between modernity and medievalism, with the medieval forces of radical Islam -- the regime in Iran primary among them -- bent on world conquest. He, clearly, is not afraid to name the enemy.
He has no doubt that ultimately this fanaticism will be defeated. The question is how many lives will be lost before it is. The parallel he drew is to Hitler: had he been stopped sooner, many fewer would have died.
He has been speaking about Iran for 15 years, but now the hour is late. When it comes to the survival of his country it is not only his right, but his duty to speak out. And so is it the duty of every responsible leader who wants peace to speak out.
Sanctions will not work to stop Iran, nor will diplomacy. And it is dangerous to assume that Iran can be deterred in the way that secular Marxists were -- for here we are dealing with an irrational ideology.
Iran calls for the destruction of Israel on a regular basis; relentlessly put down protests for democracy inside the country; is participating in the slaughter in Syria; has abetted killing in Iraq and now in Afghanistan; turned Lebanon and Gaza into terrorist strongholds; and has established terror networks in over 20 countries.
All this is without nuclear weapons. Imagine Iran with those weapons.
In the last year, Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it is operating -- it is forging ahead at a rapid pace.
The only way to stop Iran peacefully is with A CLEAR RED LINE.
Such a Red Line does not lead to war, it prevents war, he declared, providing a number of historical circumstances in which this has been true -- including during the Cuban missile crisis.
There are three steps to Iran acquiring a bomb: The enrichment of uranium, which is what is detonated. The development of a detonator. And the assembly of the parts.
The only credible way to stop Iran is during the enrichment process, which is more difficult to achieve and visible. A detonator can be developed in a small workshop, which would be hard to locate, as would the facility to assemble the bomb.
Netanyahu did not point a finger at the US here, or accuse Obama of faulty reasoning. He was very smooth and actually voiced appreciation for the US at one point. But he was speaking to the Americans, who have argued that there is time because they'll know when the assembly is taking place (the US position being that there is no problem until Iran is about to assemble a bomb.).
Nonsense, Netanyahu is saying. We have some terrific intelligence, not least of all Israeli intelligence. But it is not perfect and things can be missed. The only credible way to stop Iran is during the enrichment process when we can know what is going on. Any other way is too risky.
How close is Iran to completing that enrichment process? he then asked. There are three stages to the enrichment. The first stage is complete. The second stage will take another year, at most, to complete. And the final stage will require only months.
And where should the Red Line be? BEFORE the second stage is completed.
He used a chart during this part of his talk, and drew a red line, and I will say that it appeared that this was drawn at the end of the second stage. But I heard what he said: Before the second stage is completed.
Credit: Israel News Agency
Credit: Israel News Agency
Prime Minister Netanyahu has made a strong and cogent argument for that Red Line. The question is whether nations of the world at large, and the US most particularly, were listening and whether they will be moved by his arguments.
It seems clear to me that this is Netanyahu's last shot at attempting to stop Iran without an Israeli attack.
If the world, and the US most particularly, does not head this request for a Red Line, then our prime minister is almost certain to decide to take on Iran unilaterally before that second stage of enrichment is complete. No one will be able to say he rushed to war; the responsibility will be on the heads of the leaders who were deaf to the warnings.
There are rumors of talks between Israel and the US on setting that Red Line. I will believe it when Obama announces the Line, publically and unequivocally, and not before. Obama's fear, of course, is that before the election if he sets such a line he will be seen as "war-mongering."
See Jonathan Tobin on this very issue of whether the world will take Netanyahu seriously (with thanks to Judith N.): Will the World Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?
I'll provide a video link once one is put up.
I have my issues on occasion with Netanyahu, and not infrequently feel frustrated by him.
But today I was deeply proud of him and let there be no one who accuses him of being without courage.
He spoke with self-assurance before the very same crowd that was willing to sit still for Ahmadinejad yesterday. And the very same crowd that had just given Mahmoud Abbas a standing ovation (I'll get to that). He was at his best.
You might want to consider letting him know how pleased you were with his talk:
A brief note: Immediately before Netanyahu spoke, the PA's Mahmoud Abbas was at the podium. His talk was particularly disgusting. He grossly distorted history and accused Israel of enormous offenses against a peace-loving PA. Letting it pass may be the wisest thing to do. If at all I take it on, it will be to set the record straight with regard to some of his more outrageous lies.
Actually, I rather like the way Netanyahu dismissed him: "You will never solve the conflict" he said, addressing Abbas, "with libelous speeches."
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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