Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 11/8/2012: New York Times Still Undermining Israel

From DG:

1) Spiking the ball

The New York Times reports Netanyahu Rushes to Repair Damage With Obama:
Mr. Netanyahu woke up Wednesday to find not only that his Republican friend had lost, but also that many Israelis were questioning whether he had risked their collective relationship with Washington.
“This has not been a very good morning for Netanyahu,” a deputy prime minister, Eli Yishai of the religious Shas Party, told journalists in Eilat. 
The prime minister, facing his own re-election fight on Jan. 22, did not directly acknowledge any missteps, but he rushed to repair the relationship. He called the American ambassador to his office for a ceremonial hug. He issued a damage-control statement declaring the bond between the two nations “rock solid.” He put out word to leaders of his Likud Party whose congratulatory messages had included criticism of Mr. Obama that they should stop.
I don't see anything in what's reported here shows "damage-control," simply maintaining a proper relationship. (After President Obama's exchange with Nicholas Sarkozy complaining about his relationship with Netanyahu, I don't recall articles in American papers about the need of Obama to "repair the relationship.")

If President Obama's support of Israel is as strong as he claims, his personal differences with Netanyahu shouldn't matter.

Of course this perception is a potentially big issue in Israel. In 1999 one of the contributing factors to Netanyahu's defeat was his alienation from the Clinton administration. I don't expect that the issue will resonate as strongly as Obama isn't viewed as friendly to Israel as President Clinton was. Effectively, the New York Times elevated an opposition talking point into a news story.

The fact that The Lede's anti-Israel blogger, Robert Mackey, piled on, suggests that the New York Times will be working hard in the coming months to undermine Netanyahu from across the ocean.

2) New flexibility?

The Washington Post reports Iranian ministry suggests openness to nuclear talks.
The Intelligence Ministry is viewed as a hawkish power center within Iran’s system but not a channel for expressing the Islamic republic’s foreign policy views. The findings in the report suggest that the ministry has a pragmatic understanding of the challenges the country faces, the cost it is paying for continuing uranium enrichment at current levels, the threat of Israeli aggression and, perhaps most important, a way out of the stalemate. 
Although the statement refers to Israel as the “Zionist regime,” it is otherwise devoid of the ideological tone that characterizes most ministry reports and that has been the Iranian norm for decades. Instead, the arguments in the 1,200-word report reflect many of the views agreed on by international advocates of a negotiated solution, namely that the potential destruction caused by strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities would set back the program by only a few years at most and that diplomacy is a preferred way forward. 
Ignoring the possibility of “imminent force,” the report says, would be an “unforgivable sin.” To avoid such a military confrontation, the report advises: “One of the options is to take diplomatic and political measures and use the potentials of international bodies, which is a necessary and less costly option.”
Curious, I checked the history of the Intelligence Ministry's website. I found this: Iran’s Feared Intelligence Ministry Launches Website. The date it was reported? October 19, 2012, roughly three weeks ago.

This report mentions a number of the features of the website: recruitment, safety tips. However, an Iranian journalist currently living in New York provides a different perspective:
“In particular, some of the sections of the website are trying to demonstrate that the Intelligence Ministry is concerned about the security of citizens, and is trying to make them feel psychologically secure," Mirebrahimi says. "I see it as window dressing because of my experience. The ministry doesn't access people’s information to protect them; on the contrary, I believe it exposes citizens to more risks.” 
Ebrahimi says that, when he was arrested in Iran, intelligence officials seized on his main tool as a journalist, his telephone book, and used it to make accusations and bring charges.
One opposition member in Tehran said in an email that he was even afraid to check the new website because “they’ve been behind the arrest of many of our friends. They monitor our online and [offline] activities.” 
The bylined reporter for the Washington Post story is Jason Rezaian, who according to his Twitter profile, is now the Tehran correspondent for the paper. Rezaian also contributedMisreading Tehran to Foreign Policy back in March.
Rafsanjani and Khatami's decision won them no fans in Iran's increasingly marginalized world of opposition politics. Khatami in particular has been branded a traitor by many reformists, and his decision to vote has been the subject of several biting political cartoons. What their votes did accomplish, however, was to ensure that both maintained their political heartbeats within the Islamic Republic establishment, which is currently the only show in town. 
As some Western and Israeli leaders hold out hope for a domestic uprising that rearranges Iran's political system, they seem unable to grasp this essential fact. Even in the face of severe economic and political isolation, no existential domestic threat is worrying the Islamic Republic's leadership as it did in the months following the 2009 presidential election. Air attacks on Iran's nuclear program, meanwhile, are viewed as a manageable inconvenience. 
Given Iranian leaders' calculations, their recent hard line toward negotiations with international powers should come as no surprise. We've got money, sanctions on our oil don't hurt us much as they'll hurt you -- and we're not shutting down our enrichment program, the logic goes.
It reads like he's promoting the regime's agenda.

I can't prove it, but I'd guess that the paper at the Intelligence Ministry's website is disinformation.

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