Friday, August 24, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 8/24/2012: New York Times Debate on Israel Attacking Iran

From DG:
1) Room for Debate -Supporting Israel

In its ongoing feature, Room for Debate, The New York Times now asks Has Support for Israel Hurt U.S. Credibility? 
The contributors are Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Michell Dunn, Daoud Kuttab, Daniel Gordis, and Dylan Williams. For the full answers and association of the authors check out the links.

The U.S. Can Still Pursue Peace by Aaron David Miller
Both are wrong. The reality is that the pro-Israeli community in America does have a powerful voice but not a veto. And a strong American president with a smart strategy and buy-in from the Arabs and Israelis can trump domestic politics every time.  
Miller argues that American support for Israel does not diminish America's influence in the Middle East.

America Has Shown Which Side It’s On by Rashid Khalidi
Israelis know it. Palestinians know it. The whole world knows it. The absence of any American sense of fair play where Palestinian-Israeli issues are concerned is no secret. In fact, it will keep the U.S. from ever being a disinterested intermediary in the Middle East. 
Well I wouldn't have expected anything else.

Israel and the U.S. Are Natural Allies by Daniel Gordis
In Palestinian discourse, even the Temple is “alleged.” Compare that stance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politically risky acknowledgement of Palestinian rights to a sovereign national homeland. The peace process is utterly dead not because of America’s values, but because of the Palestinians’. Only when American presidents of both parties insist that the Palestinians take responsibility for their future will we know that America has gotten serious about playing a constructive role in the Middle East. 
This is the best answer. It turns the question around. The problem isn't American ties with Israel as assumed by the questioner, but the failure of the United States to live up to its principles.

 Obama’s Fumble Cost the U.S. Its Standing by Michelle Dunne
Thus an ill-considered effort to gain greater influence in the Middle East by distancing the United States from Israel left the president in a position in which Israelis neither love nor fear him. Arabs, to boot, are extremely disappointed in Obama and inclined not to take him seriously. If Obama wins a second term, he will have to try to rebuild his credibility in the Middle East. Meanwhile, whether or not to strike Iran, or to support Israel in doing so, is not a decision that the United States should back into simply because the Obama administration has mishandled Israel.  
Dunne got the sequence of events wrong in the previous paragraph, but insists that it's the daylight the Obama administration put between it and Israel that hurt America's influence.

Obama’s Promise, Broken Time and Again by Daoud Kuttab
Obama’s backsliding began three months after the Cairo speech. After having demanded a total Israeli settlement freeze, the U.S. president buckled under pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and left the Palestinian leader hanging. 
Kuttab defends Abbas's instransigence and of course blames the Israel lobby. Obama eventually got a more extensive freeze than any previous president had gotten and Abbas still refused to negotiate until the  freeze was nearly over. This is cynical and misleading.

An Ally to Israel, but Not Unquestioning by Richard Land
America can exert significant influence in the Middle East and may be the only “honest broker” with sufficient trust from both sides and the power to make any agreements reached enforceable. 
However, the Islamists who want to erase Israel’s existence will forever find America unalterably opposed to their goal.  
Land's arguing that the United States needs to be an honest broker and seems to be saying that it is and has been.

Pro-Israel Groups Limit the President’s Options by Dylan Williams
Some U.S. pro-Israel advocacy groups whose policy positions are now markedly to the right of most American Jews are leveraging decades of political relationships to convince policy-makers that no progress can be made on the Israeli-Palestinian front until all concerns over Iran’s nuclear program are fully resolved. The result is to tie the president’s hands, taking powerful diplomatic options off the table that could significantly enhance multilateral pressure on Iran.
This is kind of interesting. Does the title suggest that J-Street (Williams' organization) is not pro-Israel? Williams' argument is a straw man. As former General Yaalon tweeted yesterday, "Anyone who thinks there's a connection between the Iranian issue and the Palestinian issue is mistaken and misleading."

Of seven essays, only three argued America's alliance with Israel hurt American interests. Williams doesn't argue it that crudely. He said that pro-Israel Americans were supporting actions that hurt both Israel and the United States. Of course that implies that if the United States doesn't change Israel's course of action, then Israel and the United States will suffer. So he isn't arguing like Khalidi and Kuttab that supporting Israel is always wrong, just if it's the current government of Israel. Still it's interesting that the three essays that argue that supporting Israel is inimical to American interests come from the two anti-Israel activists plus the one "pro-Israel, pro-peace" advocate.

It's actually a better result than I would have expected from the New York Times. Only one participant though argued that the Times was asking the wrong question. Maybe I should just be happy that a clear majority argued "no."

2) The secular settlers

Last week, Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times wrote a flattering portrait of Dani Dayan, A Settler Leader, Worldly and Pragmatic.
TOURING the settlements with Mr. Dayan is like attending a family reunion with a proud patriarch. At a plastics factory where Jewish and Arab workers take occasional field trips together, he said, “We are much less prejudiced toward Palestinians than Israeli society as a whole.” Leaving the college in Ariel, Mr. Dayan declared, “This is exactly what I want for Judea and Samaria: it’s a university that has some ideological tone, but it’s 21st-century, and it’s integral to the fabric of Israeli society.” Sampling robust reds at the Psagot winery, he mused, “This is my dream: to make a combination of mission, ideology, good life — that’s what makes life here permanent.” 
Standing on a lookout point in Elie, Mr. Dayan surveyed his empire, the red-roof settlements that dot the hills in every direction. 
“When I hear Israeli politicians say there are isolated settlements that should be removed, I know they have never visited here,” he said. “I got to fulfill the dream of 100 generations. Today, it’s a day-to-day fact.”
Dayan sees his residence in the Shomron as a factor in protecting his secular and cultured way of life.

I don't know if it's a coincidence but this week The Algemeiner interviewed Ayelet Shaked, who is secular but is running for a position in the Ha-bayit Ha-Yehudi primaries. (h/t Jewtastic) Ha-bayit Ha-Yehudi is the newest iteration of what used to be the National Religious Party. When asked how she would react to someone who objected to a secular Israeli's presence in the leadership of a religious party, this is how she responded.
YM: If one of them were to contact you, what would you say to him?
AS: First of all it’s his right and I respect that. Even though we may have different views we need to respect each other. Nevertheless I would tell him that if we want to have a large party to the right of Netanyahu, one that is based on the Bible and Jewish values, then the party needs to be opened to secular and traditional Jews that identify with the values of the religious Zionist community. 
I truly believe that if they open their heart and open their mind to cooperate with other people that share the same values, then we can have a big party. Otherwise the party will continue with three mandates.
3) Questions of Iran

A week and a half ago Shmuel Rosner published The analytical approach to deciding if you support an Israeli attack on Iran. Though I guess that Rosner is a skeptic about attacking Iran he seemed to have covered most bases.

Charles Krauthammer uses the Cordesman criteria to address some of the questions. Krauthammer begins his column with:
Either Israel is engaged in the most elaborate ruse since the Trojan horse or it is on the cusp of a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Given that an essential aspect of a strike on Iran is surprise, I've wondered the same thing. If Israel attacks Iran no one will be surprised (except in the context of the paradox of the unexpected hanging) and if the planes are detected while on their way, the attack would have to be aborted. However unlikely it is, it makes me wonder if Israel has a plan to disable or destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities without a direct military attack.

Krauthammer summarizes Cordesman's approach:
  1. “Clear U.S. red lines.”
    It’s time to end the ambiguity about American intentions. Establish real limits on negotiations — to convince Iran that the only alternative to a deal is preemptive strikes and to persuade Israel to stay its hand.

  2. “Make it clear to Iran that it has no successful options.”
    Either its program must be abandoned in a negotiated deal (see No. 1 above) on generous terms from the West (see No. 3 below), or its facilities will be physically destroyed. Ostentatiously let Iran know about the range and power of our capacities — how deep and extensive a campaign we could conduct, extending beyond just nuclear facilities to military-industrial targets, refineries, power grids and other concentrations of regime power.

  3. Give Iran a face-saving way out.
    Offer Iran the most generous possible terms — economic, diplomatic and political. End of sanctions, assistance in economic and energy development, trade incentives and a regional security architecture. Even Russian nuclear fuel.
Former head of Israel's military intelligence, Amos Yadlin (who also was one of the pilots who destroyed the Iraqi reactor in 1981) offers different criteria.

Only by framing a nuclear-armed Iran as an impermissible threat to the national interests of the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf can President Obama bridge this gap between Israeli creed and need. He must convince Israel, Iran, Russia and even Saudi Arabia that the U.S. military option is credible and effective.

A gesture directly from Obama could do it. The U.S. president should visit Israel and tell its leadership -- and, more important, its people -- that preventing a nuclear Iran is a U.S. interest, and if we have to resort to military action, we will.

This message, delivered by the president of the United States to the Israeli Knesset, would be far more effective than U.S. officials' attempts to convey the same sentiment behind closed doors. The administration should also take five immediate steps to convince allies and adversaries alike that military action is real, imminent and doable - which are key to making it less likely.Yadlin offers a total of five actions for the United States to take, but only agrees with Cordesman on the first about establishing a nuclear Iran as an American red line. That might be because Yadlin's focus is more about reassuring Israel than in challenging Iran.
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