Sunday, February 10, 2013

Arlene Kushner on Obama's Visit To Israel And Netanyahu's Coalition

From Arlene Kushner:
February 10, 2013

I had recently shared my assessment that Iran and Syria and not "peace talks" with the PLO would be the main items on the agenda when President Obama visits Israel. 

Now you might want to now see this article, "Barack Obama's visit to Israel 'will focus on Iran, not peace talks'" (emphasis added):
"...Israeli diplomats said talks with Benjamin Netanyahu would focus on Iran.

"'The peace process may be the subject that is initially emphasized in public but there are other issues on the table that must be addressed before the summer,' one diplomat said, alluding to Israel's spring deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium. 'The deal they will have done may be on the subject of war, not of peace.'

"'There are currently bigger and much more urgent issues to address than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,' one Israeli official said." 

What I've been reading is that Obama has wised up since his first term: he knows that there is not going to be a deal between Israel and the PLO, and understands that pushing on this too hard merely renders him foolish and will cause him to have to backtrack. 

Please, don't write to me telling me not to trust Obama.  I don't trust him, but this is not the issue here.  What is important is analyzing what Obama thinks is in Obama's best interests, for this is the critical factor in understanding how he's likely to play the situation.

As a result of the latest assessments of the situation, the prospect of pressure on our prime minister by Obama with regard to freezing settlements and the like seems diminished.

What also seems clear is that Netanyahu and Obama need to speak face to face on the subject of Iran.
Since Iran has been obstinate in its behavior and has rejected American outreach, it seems (speculatively) not beyond the realm of possibility that Obama would now be reassessing his position with regard to this country as well.


However, I make mention of this, which for me remains unconfirmed.  According to the JPost today, "unnamed officials" (whose own motivation and political orientation are unknown) told Army Radio that Obama is coming to warn Netanyahu not to take on Iran.

The urgency on Obama's part, say these officials, "is because in his speech to the United Nations in September, Netanyahu had flagged the spring of 2013 as a significant time in the context of the Iranian nuclear threat."

It is not for nothing that Netanyahu is talking about a unity government to take on the challenges ahead.

However, Obama would have to secure Netanyahu's trust, something he does not have at present, in order to convince the prime minister to "let me handle matters with the Iranians according to my understanding, and if necessary I will take action, we have capabilities that you do not."  

Read: Officials: Obama coming to Israel to prevent strike on Iran

Not a simple matter, as there is no issue on which Netanyahu stands firmer or has greater concern.  What would Obama have to do to convince Netanyahu to step down here?  That the US has capabilities -- including more powerful bunker-busters -- that Israel does not have is absolutely the case. We'd love to let the US handle this. 

But according to Obama's understanding? There's the rub. The US would let matters in Iran progress a great deal further than Netanyahu believes is either safe or advisable.  There is a genuine disagreement here.

So perhaps the question should be reversed:  What would Netanyahu have to do to convince Obama to truly act on Iran in a timely fashion?  We cannot rule out that quid pro quo possibility.


And while Obama may have wised up with regard to the possibility of securing an agreement between Israel and the PLO, there is nothing wise at all about the approach of Secretary of State Kerry.  It is Kerry who is most likely to be, shall we say, "bothersome" on this issue.  Thus does Aaron David Miller -- who served as an adviser on the Middle East for multiple administrations -- counsel, "Chill Out, John Kerry":
"The last thing we need (or Kerry needs) is another abortive effort to get talks going. The inconvenient truth is that if you put Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas in a room tomorrow, their talks would fail galactically. The gaps on the two least contentious issues (borders and security) are large; the divide on the identity issues (Jerusalem and refugees) are yawning."
Read: Chill Out, John Kerry Advice for the new secretary of state about Israeli-Palestinian relations


The findings, which were released last week, of an investigation by Bulgaria into the terrorist murders of five Israelis, plus the Bulgarian bus driver, in the sea resort of Burgas last July, point the finger firmly at Hezbollah:

The investigation uncovered the fact that a Canadian and an Australian citizen -- believed to be the bomb maker -- were involved, and that both had been living in Lebanon, since 2006 and 2010, respectively. 
Said Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Bulgaria's interior minister, "We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah."  He indicated that three of the people in the cell had fake driver's licenses that had been forged in Lebanon. (Emphasis added)

Read: Bulgaria Implicates Hezbollah in July Attack on Israelis

That Hezbollah was implicated was, of course, precisely what Prime Minister Netanyahu said from the beginning.  And also of course, the Lebanese immediately put this down as a report predicated on unreliable information.


The mind-blowing matter here has been the stance of the EU in the wake of these findings. Until now, the EU has not been interested in listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  It was widely believed that the Bulgarian investigation would turn the trick and convince the Europeans to change their position.  Bulgaria is, after all, a member of the EU.

Hah!  What we have seen instead is a model of perversity, cowardice, and lack of willingness to crack down on Hezbollah operations -- financial schemes, infrastructure, etc. -- within several European countries. As the NY Times (in the above cited article) explains,"...countries including France and Germany have been wary of taking that step, which could force confrontations with large numbers of Hezbollah supporters living within their borders."  (Emphasis added)

Or, as was explained in a JPost article (emphasis added):

"..the EU-observer, an online newspaper devoted to EU politics, reported that the union’s top counter-terrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, said responsibility for that blast will not necessarily qualify Hezbollah for the terror blacklist.

"'There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack,' he said in a comment that forces a double-take.

"No, de Kerchove said, it is not only 'the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration, it’s also a political assessment of the context and the timing.

"'You might ask, given the situation in Lebanon, which is a highly fragile, highly fragmented country, is listing it going to help you achieve what you want?' There will, indeed, be many inside the EU asking that exact question, foremost the French, who are fearful that if the EU places Hezbollah on the list, then Paris will lose its leverage inside Lebanon.

"Placing Hezbollah on the list, these same voices will argue, could lead it to pull out of the Lebanese government, something that could significantly destabilize that country at an extremely volatile time in the region."

Read: EU treats Hezbollah with its own logic


But let's look more honestly at the EU concerns.  There is fear of Hezbollah retaliation on their soil, or against their nationals.  And fear of loss of investment by Arab nations.

As the Jpost article explains (emphasis added):

"The irony is that not all the EU feels this way. The Netherlands, for instance, has placed the group on its terror list, and Britain has blacklisted the organization’s military wing.

But it is precisely against that phenomenon – splitting the organization into a military wing and a political one – that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday in responding to the attack by saying, 'there is only one Hezbollah, it is one organization with one leadership.'

"The Bulgarians may have opened the door to this type of division by determining that at least two of those involved in the attack were 'members of the militant wing of Hezbollah.'

"That could give the EU, which needs the consensus of all 27 member states, the wiggle room to ban part of the group, but not all of it.

"But that would, of course, only be a partial solution. Hezbollah, as The New York Times reported Tuesday, has thousands of operatives and supporters fanned out across Europe raising money.

"Declaring that the military wing is a terrorist organization will do little to hamper the activities of these fund-raisers, since they will always maintain that they are merely raising money for the 'good' part of the Lebanon-based organization."
Were Hezbollah, without those artificial distinctions, to be declared a terrorist organization by the EU, it would be forbidden to transfer funds from the EU countries to Hezbollah in Lebanon.


Such is the world with which we must deal.  A world filled with people -- fools that they are -- who are prepared to let the bad guys thrive, somehow imagining that they will be safe.

Iran has now announced that it is downgrading diplomatic relations with Bulgaria and recalling its ambassador, because Bulgaria had the temerity to name Hezbollah.  According to Tsvetanov, there were pressures put on him from within the country not to name Hezbollah.  Fear of repercussions is pervasive.


What must be noted, however, is that the US has taken a strong stand against the EU position.   John Kerry urged nations around the world but particularly in Europe, "to take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah."


I said I wouldn't write about the rumors surrounding the formation of the coalition here.  But I cannot resist mentioning this: Yair Lapid, who is totally without diplomatic experience, and wants a "two state solution," to boot, has been vying for the plum of Foreign Minister.

But according to Israel Hayom, as of today, Netanyahu has rejected this bid, and will be bringing back Avigdor Lieberman, once he has moved past his current legal difficulties.  According to Lieberman, this arrangement was set in place even before the elections and was made public.  As I understand it, in the interim, Netanyahu will serve as Foreign Minister.  Lieberman told the "Meet the Press" TV show yesterday that: 

"It is not possible to reach a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians...This [situation] is impossible. It is not possible to solve the conflict here. The conflict can be managed and it is important to manage the conflict..."  
We take what we can get here.


What portfolio will Lapid get?  Finance Ministry is frequently mentioned.  Not that he knows the first thing about finance, either.

Here is the major flaw in our coalition system.  Parties are enticed to enter the coalition via positions that are offered to them, as much as by platform positions.  This hardly guarantees that the most competent person will fill each major position.  I'm not sure exactly what Lapid's experience as a TV journalist qualifies him to do.  But he has 19 mandates.


Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, the beginning of the new month of Adar.  This is a month when we are meant to be happy:  "Mishe'nichnas Adar Marbin Be'simcha" -- when Adar comes joy increases -- we are told.  Two weeks from today is Purim, the silliest, most joyous holiday of the year.

In the spirit of silly, I provide this link, which will provide a variety of Mishenichnas Adar song versions.  Enjoy.

Silly and joyous can preserve sanity, I think.


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