Iran Reformers – Talks will Succeed: Netanyahu ‘not Influential,’ like Iran Hardliners

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

How did Iranian politicians react to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s anti-Iran speech to the US Congress?

Iran’s first woman vice president, who has the Environment portfolio, Masoumeh Ebtekar, is in Paris these days and she spoke with AFP about the Netanyahu address.

“I don’t think,” she said, that the voice of Netanyahu “has very much weight.” She said he was trying to derail an accord, “but I believe that more reasonable pressure groups on both sides want a solution.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s charge that Iran is a danger to the world, she said that to the contrary, “the present threats in the region, the radicalism, extremism, terrorism . . . all of that makes a solution, and a more important role for Iran, all the more necessary.”

(She means that Iran is the major foe of al-Qaeda and ISIL, the two radical extremist groups that many Sunnis in Iraq and Syria have joined or allied with.)

She said that the important thing was that sanctions on Iran be lifted, calling them “unjust and illegal.”

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who heads the powerful clerical Expediency Council and sympathizes with the reformers in Iran, teased the Iranian hard liners that they “have become ‘unanimous’ with Netanyahu, according to Fars News Agency as reported by BBC Monitoring.

Rafsanjani said, “On the other side Netanyahu provokes Barack Obama and on this side, Delvapasan [those who reject the nuclear talks] say that we will disclose some secrets. We do not know what secrets they are talking about… they [Iran negotiators] are working hard and we are about to reach an agreement [with the West], but when they return to the country, instead of welcoming them, Delvapasan say things that should not be said.” Rafsanjani’s remarks angered arch-conservatives in parliament.

Speaker of the House Ali Larijani, a hard liner, said that Netanyahu’s speech was riddled with contradictions. First, he depicted Iran as a dangerous regional power that bestrode the whole Middle East. But then he said that if the UN Security Council plus Germany made peace with Iran, Israel would be able to attack Iran all on its own. If the latter was true, Larijani appears to have been implying, then Iran couldn’t in fact be very powerful in the first place.

Ahmad Bakhshayesh of the Iranian parliament’s security commission was quoted by ISNA (trans. BBC World Monitoring) as saying: “By saying that if Iran and P5+1 come to an agreement, Iran will have access to a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu has humiliated P5+1, especially America.”

In short, most Iranians had difficulty taking Netanyahu seriously. They generally believed that Obama and the rest of the P5 +1 would marginalize the Likud leader. They were not worried by his bluster, finding it fantastical that he would attack them if he saw them as so powerful. For reformers, Netanyahu just sounded like one more Iranian hard liner.

Related video:

WotchitGeneralNews: “Khamenei Vows Firm Iranian Nuclear Stand, Warns on Gas Exports”

4 Things more Dangerous to Israel than Iran’s civilian Nuclear Enrichment

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s strident and continual harping on the alleged dangers of Iran to Israel’s security has become like an old song. Netanyahu has raised this issue repeatedly over the past 20 years, often predicting that Iran was as little as a year away from having a nuclear warhead. Decades later, it does not, and Israel is still there. Many observers believe that Netanyahu is performing as a magician does, trying to make the audience take its eye over the real sleight of hand by pointing in the direction of a distraction.

There are, in fact, more pressing dangers to Israel than Iran’s nuclear reactors,

Extensive and years-long investigations of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program by the International Atomic Energy Agency have never revealed any evidence that Iran has a parallel nuclear weapons program. Only a couple of years ago, the Israeli defense minister was publicly admitting that Iran had not made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program.

Iran is just doing what Japan, South Korea, Germany, Ukraine, Sweden and Spain have done– develop nuclear reactors to generate electricity. By doing so, Iran can save its oil and natural gas for export to earn foreign exchange instead of eating its own seed corn. None of the countries just mentioned, who have their own nuclear energy programs, has a nuclear bomb, and no one is particularly worried about them getting one. As the former Israeli defense minister admitted, Iran would have to kick out the UN inspectors before it could turn its civilian enrichment facilities toward bomb-making. No country under active UN inspection has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Here are genuine dangers to Israel, about which Netanyahu won’t be saying anything today:

1. Israel’s continued program of flooding its own citizens into the Occupied Palestinian West Bank is a serious war crime for which the country may yet be charged at the International Criminal Court. The illegal colonization of the West Bank sets the Muslim world, of 1.5 billion persons, against Israel. The Muslim world won’t be weak and ineffectual forever, and Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s future by constantly increasing the number of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land.

2. Israel’s continued de facto opposition to Palestinian statehood leaves Palestinians stateless and without the rights of citizenship, or indeed, any basic human rights– to their own property, to freedom of movement to hospitals or shopping, to water and other resources, to peaceable assembly and protest– in short, to basic human rights. This holding of the Palestinians as stateless chattel even as their landed property is being taken from them has deeply alienated European states and civil society from Tel Aviv. Sweden has recognized Palestine, and the French and Italian parliaments have called for such recognition on a short timetable. A third of Israeli trade is with Europe, and Israel depends deeply on scientific and technical exchanges with Europe, which could gradually be closed off as boycotts and sanctions spread.

3. Israel now has al-Qaeda on its border in the Golan Heights. The rebel Jabhat al-Nusra or Support Front, which holds the Golan, has declared allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda central. Mr. Netanyahu does not seem perturbed by this development, even though al-Qaeda is a brutal and highly destructive terrorist group that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians. In fact, the Israeli military has targeted the enemy of the Support Front in Golan, Lebanon’s Hizbullah, but hasn’t hit al-Qaeda with air strikes. If al-Qaeda is holding territory and it is bordering Israel, I’d say that is a security issue. Iran is very far away and has no plausible means of attacking Israel, and even in the unlikely scenario where it developed a bomb, would no more be able to use it than the Soviets were able to use theirs against the US. In fact, Israel is massively well armed by the US and has its own nuclear arsenal, and isn’t really threatened by a guerrilla group like the Support Front, just as it isn’t really threatened by Iran. What Netanyahu wants is continued Israeli hegemony, which Iran’s nuclear enrichment program threatens symbolically.

4. Syria and Israel share a long common border. Syria is in civil war and governmental collapse, and half of Syrians have been displaced from their homes, four million abroad. The potential for radicalization here is enormous, as the rise of ISIL demonstrates. Yet Israel has done nothing, repeat nothing, to ISIL. An organization that France and Britain see as an existential threat to Europe has elicited only yawns in Israel’s Ministry of Defense. If Syrian civil and ISIL aren’t a threat to Israeli security, it is hard to think of what could be.

These are the real security threats Israel faces, which are in the present. Netanyahu does not want to do the right thing with regard to the Palestinians, and he is unconcerned by the Syrian developments because he holds the incorrect theory that Israel is better off if the Arabs are busy with one another. Israelis of European background often seem blithely unaware that they are smack dab in the Middle East and that its troubles are their troubles. A normal state like Iran, which has fair order and a return address should it attack Israel, is much less a security concern than the 4 unpredictable issues above.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: Protesters clash with Israeli troops near West Bank separation barrier

What does Iran think of Netanyahu’s Interference in Talks?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes a bid to thwart President Barack Obama’s foreign policy toward Iran, the Iranian press is reacting to the wrench Netanyahu is trying to throw into negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program. For some odd reason, US mass media are almost never interested in what critics of the US are saying; it is almost as if there is an unwritten rule of American journalism that you don’t allow the ‘enemy’ to have a voice. But I don’t think good journalism on the Iran negotiations can be done if one is only quoting the American side. Iranians, of course, like Americans, are divided on the nuclear negotiations:

Reformers and moderates remain hopeful that Obama will prevail against the far right wing Israeli Likud Party and what Iranians call “extremists” in the US Congress. (It should be a wake-up call for US congressmen when Iranians think they are the extremists).

The hard liners in Iran don’t care, since they do not believe that Obama is negotiating in good faith to begin with. They point out that the US sanctions on Iran are arbitrary and by fiat, and have no basis in international law, and that Iran is being made to bend over backwards to please Washington just to get back to a normal situation. That is, they don’t think Iran is really gaining anything here. Indeed, some want reparations for the damage the US has done the Iranian economy.

According to BBC Monitoring, Piruz Mujtahidzadeh wrote in the moderate newspaper, Iran “The USA and Tel Aviv have strategic relations, and they will not change regardless of any disagreement that may at some points occur between the two sides. Defending Israel’s security and ensuring its survival were an essential principle for the US presidents. The different views that the Obama and Netanyahu have regarding Iran dominate the two countries’ current relations. Despite Netanyahu’s opposition [to Iran’s nuclear deal] … Obama intends to solve Iran’s nuclear programme in the final years of his tenure. Therefore, he will strongly stand against the Congress’s extremist currents who have close ties with Tel Aviv. Hence, Israel’s destructive efforts against Iran will have no impact on the White House’s policy whatsoever.”

Mujtahidzadeh, then, believes that Obama really wants the agreement with Iran as part of his presidential legacy, and that he will find a way to sideline Netanyahu. But being realistic, he doesn’t expect the prime minister’s speech to do lasting damage to the US-Israel relationship.

BBCM writes that Hamed Hoshangi of the reformist I’temad has been following the Obama administration’s hard ball with Netanyahu, translating his op ed: “In an unprecedented attack against the Israeli prime minister on Wednesday [25 February], US Secretary of State John Kerry said: We should not forget that Netanyahu encouraged the then President George Bush to attack Iraq in October 2002. … John Kerry is forced to attack Netanyahu directly amidst the Israeli prime minister’s opposition to Washington’s policy in the Middle East and his opposition to continuation of the [nuclear] talks with Iran given that the possibility of reaching an agreement over [Iran’s] nuclear dossier has entered a serious stage…. It seems that disagreements among a group of US Democrat politicians over Netanyahu’s intense involvement and his attempts to shape a policy for Washington have entered a new dimension, and the powerful Jewish lobby in the USA is facing serious problems with regard to support for Netanyahu.”

Hoshangi thinks that the Israel lobby (it isn’t properly called a Jewish lobby) may well end up being weakened within the Democratic Party by Netanyahu’s antics.

Hasan Hanizadeh of the reformist newspaper Arman wrote about Congressional sabotage of the talks, saying (BBC Monitoring):

“Disputes between the US Congress and White House will definitely affect nuclear talks. On the other hand, the Zionist regime’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has explicitly stated that this regime will never allow Iran and P5+1 to reach a comprehensive agreement, even if this results in Israeli-US confrontation. Although his remarks include aspects of election propaganda and are made for domestic use, they indicate that there is complete coordination between the Zionist regime and some extremist members of the US Congress … Barack Obama, who is in sharp disagreement with Netanyahu, is also trying to prevent [Israeli party] Likud’s victory through achieving a comprehensive agreement with Iran … If America does not meet its commitments against Iran by the 10th of month of Tir, 31 July, it will certainly be condemned by public opinion, because Iran has met all its commitments.”

Hanizadeh, then, sees a coordination between the far right in Israel and in the US. But he also seems to think that Obama is attempting to interfere in Israeli electoral politics by doing a deal with Iran that will weaken the extreme nationalist Likud Party of Netanyahu. He believes, in any case, that Iran has been entirely forthcoming in the negotiations, and if they do fail, people will blame Obama rather than Tehran.

Likewise, BBCM translates a report of the hard line Risalat , that takes the talks seriously but does not think the Iranian side is asking for enough:

“What has not been considered in [nuclear] talks between Iran and P5+1 member states is the issue of the financial damage that they [the West] inflicted on Iranians and public funds. … Iran should come up with some serious financial issues and calculations [during the talks] and also ask the other side in the talks for compensation for the damage . . .”

In contrast, BBC Monitoring says, the conservative Hemayat wrote yesterday that US sanctions will not be reduced under any circumstances, and that Washington is only pretending to negotiate:

“Sanctions are based and planned on the colonialist ideology and its total removal can only be expected if one of following two conditions is realized. First, Iran’s complete surrender to excessive demands of the enemy; second, the West’s total surrender to Iran! Since neither is possible, this friction is likely to continue. In other words, sanctions have not been imposed to remove them or discuss their abolition. The enemy’s rhetoric and promise on lifting sanctions are nothing but deception.”

Iranian commentary on this issue seems on the whole somewhat hopeful, and shows awareness of the fissures in Washington and the discomfort of many Democrats with the ways in which Netanyahu is attempting to undermine their party’s and their leader’s policies toward Iran. Some think the episode will change US relations with Israel, while others question whether that is really possible. They see the GOP obstructionists in league with Netanyahu as “extremists.”

Related video:

WotchitGeneralNews: “Iran’s Zarif Says Netanyahu Trying to Undermine Nuclear Talks”

Frmr Israeli Intel Head: Netanyahu’s Clash w/ Obama ‘Intolerable’, Risks end of US UN Veto

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Meir Dagan, the former head of Israeli intelligence, has long been on the outs with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Now he is actively campaigning for the Israeli electorate to dump him as prime minister in the upcoming elections. Soon after leaving office four years ago, he broke longstanding protocol to retail the story in public of how he and other security officials vetoed a hare-brained scheme by Netanyahu and former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to attack Iran.

I wrote in June of 2011:

“Netanyahu appears to have forced out Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli spying agency Mossad, whose departure coincided with that of the chief of staff, the head of domestic intelligence, and other key security officials. Dagan, having become a civilian, promptly went public, lambasting Netanyahu for refusing to make peace with the Palestinians while it was still possible.

Dagan went on to accuse Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, of grossly exaggerating the threat from Iran, calling a strike on that country “stupid idea that offers no advantage.” He warned that it would provoke another rocket attack on Israel by Lebanon’s Hizbullah, and perhaps by Syria as well– i.e. it could lead to a regional conflagration.

The back story that has emerged in the Israeli press is that Barak, who is a notorious war-monger and adventurist, had gotten Netanyahu’s ear and pressed for a military strike on Iran. Dagan and all the other major security officials stood against this foolhardy plan, and managed to derail it. But Dagan is said to be concerned that virtually all the level heads have gone out of office together, and that Netanyahu and Barak may now be in a position to revive their crazy plan of attacking Iran. Moreover, they may want to attack in September, as a way of creating a crisis that will overshadow Palestinian plans to seek membership in the United Nations.

Dagan and other high Israeli security officials appear to believe that Iran has no present nuclear weapons program. That is what Military Intelligence Director, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, has told the Israeli parliament. Kochavi thinks it unlikely that Iran would start up a military nuclear program.”

Dagan’s beef with Netanyahu is apparently not personal. The prime minister helped the former head of Mossad get a liver transplant. Dagan affirmed, “I have no personal issue with the prime minister, his wife, his spending and the way he conducts himself. I’m talking about the country he leads.”

Netanyahu clearly believes that he can openly side with the Republican Congress against President Barack Obama without facing any consequences at all. Dagan sees a danger that the next time the UN Security Council wants to condemn Israel for violating international law, Obama will decline to use his veto to stop sanctions.

Israel is in violation of large numbers of UN Security Council resolutions regarding its treatment of the stateless Palestinians, the status of Jerusalem, etc. etc. That Iraq was in violation of UNSC violations was given by the Bush administration as a grounds for invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iran’s economy has been deeply harmed and its oil exports cut from 2.5 mn b/day to 1.5 mn b/day as a result of UNSC sanctions, along with those of the US. Israel, in contrast, as been held harmless from Security Council condemnation and sanctions by the US veto, which has been exercised every single time the UNSC tried to condemn or sanction Tel Aviv, regardless of the merits of the case.

I have argued that any US president, including Obama, could have long since resolved the Israel-Palestinian conflict by simply declining to exercise that veto, and allowing the Israelis to be pressured into making peace by the UNSC. I think the PLO would make peace tomorrow if it could get 1967 borders and an end to Israeli land grabs, and that the real obstacle to a settlement is Israeli expansionism, which the US veto de fact encourages.

Israel is also facing significant challenges from the UN in another way. Palestine has been granted non-member observer state status there by the General Assembly. It has signed the treaties and instruments necessary to joining the International Criminal Court and gaining standing to sue Israel over its creeping annexation of Palestinian territory beyond the generally recognized 1949 armistice lines. The Rome Statute of 2002 under which the International Criminal Court operates forbids colonization of other people’s territory, prohibiting

“The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory;”

If Palestine sues in the ICC, it seems to me certain that Israel would lose. The PLO seems increasingly to be moving in this direction.

So Dagan sees a world where Israeli military action like last summer’s attack on Gaza was almost universally condemned; where Palestine may successfully take Israel to the ICC (where the US has no veto), where boycotts of Israel could grow; and where an angry US president might start declining to veto all UNSC resolutions against Israel.

Dagan said in an interview, as reported by The Guardian,

“As someone who has served Israel in various security capacities for 45 years, including during the country’s most difficult hours, I feel that we are now at a critical point regarding our existence and our security.

“Our standing in the world is not brilliant right now. The question of Israel’s legitimacy is up for debate. We should not erode our relations with our most important friend. Certainly not in public, certainly not by becoming involved in its domestic politics. This is not proper behaviour for a prime minister…”

“An Israeli prime minister who clashes with the US administration has to ask himself what the risks are. On the matter of settlements, there is no difference between the two [US] parties. And even so, they provide us with a veto umbrella. In a situation of a confrontation, this umbrella is liable to vanish, and within a short time, Israel could find itself facing international sanctions.

“The risks of such a clash are intolerable. We are already today paying a high price. Some of them I know and cannot elaborate.

“I would not have confronted the United States and its president. Netanyahu may get applause in Congress, but all the power is in the White House. What will Netanyahu gain by addressing Congress? I just don’t understand it. Is his goal to get a standing ovation? This trip to Washington is doomed to failure.”

I think it is undeniable that by making Israel a partisan GOP issue, Netanyahu risks undermining the bipartisan consensus in favor of knee-jerk support of Tel Aviv’s vast land thefts from the Palestinians.

Whether Dagan is exaggerating the risks Netanyahu is taking or not, it is significant that many figures formerly in high positions in the Israeli security sector are openly coming out against Netanyahu, whom they clearly see as unhinged and flaky and a danger to the future of Israel.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Newsy World: ” Intel Leaks Suggest Rift Between Netanyahu And Mossad”

Leonard Nimoy’s Last Wishes for Israel and Palestine

Reprint edn. in honor of the passing of Mr. Nimoy, who inspired a generation.

Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, speaks out as a Jewish American in favor of a two-state solution and a divided Jerusalem.

Nimoy said,

‘ “I reach out to you as someone who is troubled to see the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continue apparently without an end in sight.

“In fact, there is an end in sight. It’s known as the two-state solution–a secure, democratic Israel as the Jewish State alongside an independent Palestinian state. Even Israel’s nationalist Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has come to see this as the shape of the future. The problem is how to reach that end point. It’s something we should be concerned about–not only as world citizens, but as Americans.

“You might recall the episode in the original Star Trek series called, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Two men, half black, half white, are the last survivors of their peoples who have been at war with each other for thousands of years, yet the Enterprise crew could find no differences separating these two raging men.

“But the antagonists were keenly aware of their differences–one man was white on the right side, the other was black on the right side. And they were prepared to battle to the death to defend the memory of their people who died from the atrocities committed by the other.

“The story was a myth, of course, and by invoking it I don’t mean to belittle the very real issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. What I do mean to suggest is that the time for recriminations is over. Assigning blame over all other priorities is self-defeating. Myth can be a snare. The two sides need our help to evade the snare and search for a way to compromise.

“The Middle East is only getting more tumultuous. The upheavals throughout the region show that what happens in the Middle East can’t help but affect us in the United States. This year, we’ve seen oil prices rise sharply and America become involved militarily in Libya. The cost to American lives and our economy continues to rise at a time when unemployment and deficits are sapping our country’s strength.” ‘

Nimoy’s letter is at Americans for Peace Now.

Relevant is this video of Nimoy speaking on the Jewish values in Star Trek:

The episode “Let that be your Last Battlefield” is here

5 Surprising Ways Iran is better than Israel

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

I think I’m one of the few Americans who has been to both Iran and Israel. I like both countries and have a lot in common with thinkers in both. I love What I know of Tel Aviv’s cafe culture and the searing honesty and high ethics of the Israeli thinkers I have talked to (so different from the strident and almost cult-like cheerleaderism of right wing Jewish Americans on Israel). It is said that Israelis’ favorite philosopher is Spinoza. I approve. Iranian intellectuals are less able to speak their minds in Iran’s unfree media than their Israeli counterparts (though there is a price to too much frankness in Israel, as well), but one on one they are also level-headed and clear-eyed. I suspect Iranians’ favorite philosopher is Rumi. If so, again, I approve. In fact, I think Rumi and Spinoza would have gotten along famously. Unfortunately contemporary Iran and contemporary Israel don’t get along at all politically, which sets the stage for the Washington melodrama planned for March 3, when Israel’s belligerent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will address Congress in a bid to undermine President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran on their civilian nuclear enrichment program.

Iran and European Jewry were both treated horribly in the 19th and 20th centuries by the major European imperial countries. Obviously, proportionally Jews suffered much more than Iranians did; about a third of Jews were murdered in the Nazi genocide. But Iran also suffered significant loss of human life and property. Tsarist Russia fought two wars with it in the early nineteenth century, and annexed from it substantial territory. Britain and Russia forbade Iran from constructing a railroad in the late 19th century, robbing it of a key tool of economic advance; that probably killed a lot of Iranians if you think about its implications. The British and the Russians opposed the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911 and helped make sure Iranians did not get liberty and a rule of law. Britain backed the rise of the Pahlevi dictatorship in the 1920s, if it did not in fact simply impose it. The US overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953 because it had nationalized the oil industry and imposed the megalomaniacal Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on that country. Ultimately Iranians, outraged at constant interference in their domestic affairs, overthrew the shah and instituted a revolutionary regime based on indigenous Iranian culture, especially religious culture. Although the Jewish response to the European genocide against Jews was not immediately religious (most Zionists were secular), over time religion has come to play a bigger and bigger part in Israeli life. In a sense, Israel and Iran are both reactions against European nationalism and imperialism, though Israel has now allied with the West, whereas Iran continues to oppose many Western policies.

The conflict between Israel and Iran is in part driven by their history with European repression. Israelis, mauled by European “Aryan” nationalism and its mass murder of Jews, do not want an enemy state like Iran to be in a position even to think about constructing a nuclear weapon. Iranians, oppressed by imperialism to the point where they couldn’t have a railroad until the 1920s, are damned if they are going nowadays to let someone else dictate to them how they make electricity.

It is natural that Westerners should find Israel more simpatico than Iran, given the Israeli government’s alliance with the West and Iran’s antipathy. But here are some differences between the two that are in Iran’s favor, which I point out just to balance out the unfair way the two are covered.

1. Iran does not have a nuclear bomb and is signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Despite what is constantly alleged in the Western press and by Western politicians, there is no evidence that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program; and, the theocratic Supreme Leader has forbidden making, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons. In contrast, Israel refused to sign the NPT and has several hundred nuclear warheads, which it constructed stealthily, including through acts of espionage and smuggling in the United States, and against the wishes of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. And, its leaders have more than once implied they are ready to use it; then prime minister Ariel Sharon alarmed George W. Bush when he intimated that he’d nuke Baghdad if Saddam tried to send SCUDs tipped with gas on Israel.

2. Iran has not launched an aggressive war since 1775, when Karim Khan Zand sent an army against Omar Pasha in Basra in neighboring Iraq. Though, whether that was a response to Ottoman provocations or actually an aggressive act could be argued. Who started a war is always a matter of interpretation to some extent, but if we define it as firing the first shot, then Israel started wars in 1956, 1967 and 1982. If the principle of proportionality of response is entered into the equation, then you’d have to say 2006, 2009, and 2014 were also predominantly an Israeli decision.

3. Modern Iran has not occupied the territory of its neighbors. Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 in a bloodthirsty act of aggression. Iran fought off Iraq 1980-1988. But after the hostilities ended, Tehran did not try to take and hold Iraqi territory in revenge. The UN Charter of 1945 forbids countries to annex the land of their neighbors through warfare. In contrast, Israel occupies 4 million stateless Palestinians, who are treated as any subjected, colonized population would be. Nor is there any prospect in my lifetime of those Palestinians gaining citizenship in their own state; they are going to live and die humiliated and colonized and often expropriated.

4. All the people ruled over by Iran can vote in national elections and even Iranian Jews have a representative in parliament. In contrast, of the 12 million people ruled by Israel, 4 million of them have no vote in Israeli politics, which is the politics that actually rules them.

5. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is not trying to undermine the Obama administration’s negotiations with his country, aimed at making sure Iran can have nuclear electricity plants but that it cannot develop a weapon.

Iran’s government is not one I agree with on almost anything, and it is dictatorial and puritanical. I wish Iranians would get past it and join the world’s democracies. Israel is better than Iran in most regards– for Israeli citizens it has more of a rule of law and more personal liberties. But just to be fair, there are some ways Iran’s policies are better than Israel’s.

Related video:

Euronews: ” US tensions with Israel increase over Iran’s nuclear programme”

Why Netanyahu’s Congress Speech will Fail: Iran Can’t be Stopped, only Monitored

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The conspiracy hatched by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to undermine President Obama’s negotiations with Iran over its civilian nuclear weapons program has a false premise that dooms it.

Many Republicans, and Netanyahu, believe that Obama is negotiating a bad deal with Iran that will allow Tehran to run a nuclear enrichment program that would always have the potential to be weaponized at any time the Iranian leadership chose to go in that direction.

Their premise is that instead of negotiating with Iran and putting various limitations on its enrichment program, the US instead could close down Iranian enrichment altogether.

That premise is completely and absolutely unrealistic.

The problem with centrifuge-based enrichment of uranium is that it is open=ended. You could use the centrifuges, as Iran says it is doing, to produce fuel for reactors at 5 percent levels of enrichment. But you could theoretically ramp up centrifuges to enrich uranium to the 95 percent typically needed for a nuclear warhead.

George W. Bush completely rejected Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program and refused to talk to Iran, instead menacing it by ordering US aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf. Every other week in 2007, veteran investigative reporter Sy Hersh wrote a story about an imminent US attack on Iran, based on what he was told by administration insiders, probably especially the Cheney network. But all of Bush’s bluster had no effect on Iran, which went on constructing centrifuges and expanding its knowledge of how to close the fuel cycle.

An Ostrich foreign policy can’t work here.

Nor could Iran’s enrichment program simply be bombed. Enough Iranian scientists and engineers know how to revive it that a bombing raid would only set it back a year or two.

A few years ago a US general testified that the only way to stop Iran’s enrichment program would be to do to it what the US had done to Iraq, i.e. to invade it, overthrow its government and roll up the enrichment program.

But note well that Iraq was a huge disaster for the US military. Iran is two or three times as populous and geographically much vaster– the equivalent of France, Spain and Germany. With the relatively small US military that now exists, a successful occupation of Iran is, to say the least, implausible. Moreover, the US is already deeply in debt and an Iran war would very likely be such a great drain on its economy over time as to endanger the soundness of its economy.

So, Iran can’t be bombed into submission. And, an invasion and occupation of that country is not a rational proposition.

Iran is going to be there, it is going to be a middle income country, and it is going to have a civilian nuclear enrichment program. I argued a year and a half ago that the US and the West could live with such a program if the inspection regime was sufficiently rigorous. No country under active UN inspection has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

The Netanyahu/Boehner belief that there is a military alternative to the Obama-Rouhani negotiations is simply incorrect. The deal Obama has laid out, and to which Iran seems willing to acquiesce, is that best we can do.

As for Netanyahu, he is a little unhinged on this issue and it is time to stop consulting him. We should all remember that he was a big cheerleader for the Iraq War., and presented false intelligence to the US Congress about Iranian enrichment, which was later discovered to have been contradicted by the assessments of Mossaad, Israeli intelligence.

Related video:

Bibi’s Bother: Friendship with US falls apart, leaks reveal lies on Iran nukes, popularity slumps

Syria: Daesh/ ISIL takes 150 Christians Captive as 3,000 flee to Hasaka

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Al-Nahar (“The Day,” Beirut) reported that dozens of Assyrian Christians have been abducted by Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in Hasakah Province, northeast Syria. Reuters later put the number at 150.

The abduction occurred after heavy fighting by Kurdish YPG commandos that included allied Christian fighters versus Daesh attackers in Hasakah Province. In the course of the battle, Daesh took the Assyrian Christian villages of Tal Shamiram and Tal Hermez, near the town of Tal Tamar.

Al-Nahar says that the ME minorities NGO Demand for Action reported that 3,000 Assyrians fled the Daesh advance,taking refuge in the largely Kurdish cities of Hasakah and Qamishli.

There are some 30,000 Assyrian Christians in Syria (pop. 23 million) and most of them live along the Khabur River in the northeast of the country. Likely about 5 percent of Syrians are Christian, though higher percentages are sometimes given; there is no census by religion.

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Northeast Syria is ethnically largely Sunni Kurdish but has small Christian enclaves. The Kurds there are mostly organized by the leftist Democratic Union Party. Kurds in that area were often deprived of citizenship in Syria by the Arab nationalist Baath Party. The Democratic Union Party’s paramilitary wing is the People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel in Kurdish, hence the acronym YPG). Although the YPG is largely Kurdish, it has picked up Sunni Arab and Christian fighters as well, since it is a bulwark against the Daesh thugs. The Christian paramilitaries, some of whom wear Jesus tats and are allied with the YPG include the Syriac Military Council and Sutoro. Both the YPG and the Christian forces are mixed-gender, with women fighters, an expression of left-leaning politics.


Radical Muslims in Libya who have declared allegiance to Daesh or ISIL last week executed 21 Coptic Christians, Egyptians who were working as expatriates. In Syria, Daesh has expropriated Christian property and burned churches but this is apparently the first time the terrorist organization has taken so many Christians captive.

In their communique, Daesh called these Christians “crusaders,” painting them as the aggressors and associating them with the American, British, and Australian Christian pilots who are bombing Daesh targets.

Ironically, the Assyrian Christians mostly came to the Khabur region of Syria after a massacre in 1933 in Iraq. There, as Iraq became independent of Britain in 1932, the small Assyrian Christian enclave near the border of French Syria made a bid for independence. Some other Iraqis saw them as foreign and as proxies for imperial Christian Britain. The Iraqi army massacred some 3,000 of them.

Assyrian Christians originally spoke Aramaic (some still do) and claim descent from the ancient Assyrians of northern Iraq (think Ashurbanipal). They typically belong to the Assyrian Church of the East (which follows the Nestorian branch of Christianity) or the Syriac Orthodox Church. Traditional Nestorians saw Jesus as man, not God, and declined to call Mary “mother of God.” In the 1400s, some Assyrians acknowledged the Pope and became a uniate branch of the Catholic Church; they are called Chaldeans.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

France24: “SYRIA – Dozens of Assyrian Christians kidnapped by Islamic State”

Renewable Energy skyrocketing, From Solar Mosques to Wave-Powered Naval Bases

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Here are some of the green energy good news stories of the past few weeks:

1. China put in a massive 21 gigawatts of new wind power in 2014, half of all the wind power installed in the entire world that year and four times as much as the US. China’s wind installations increased 40% over 2013. Lower oil prices are not expected to affect the continued rapid growth of renewables, since petroleum is mainly used in transport, not electricity production.

2. Turkey has announced that it will try to add 20 gigawatts of wind energy to its electricity production capacity in only 8 years. Turkey is taking this step in part because it has few hydrocarbons of its own, such that free fuel like wind is very attractive to investors there. In part, it is attempting to remain in line with European targets for green energy, since it is in the queue for European Union membership. (Although it is unlikely that Turkey will be admitted to the EU, it is good for Turkey to keep aiming at European standards.)

3. Australia has just opened the world’s first large-scale wave power facility. It will power a naval base.

4. The Jordanian government has announced its determination to install solar panels on the roofs of all 6,000 of the country’s mosques.

5. Germany cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 5 percent in 2014. The country increased energy efficiency, grew its economy, and increased the percentage of electricity generated by renewables from 25% to 28% year over year. One German state, Schleswig-Holstein,now gets 50% of its electricity from wind power. Germany also lucked out with the weather– 2014 was unusually mild. Still, the CO2 output would have declined even without this latter factor. In contrast, in 2014 the US increased its CO2 output over the previous year.

6. In the UK in January, wind turbines generated an impressive 14% of all the electricity used in the isles. Wind powered the equivalent of 8.7 million UK homes. On January 2, for a single day, wind provided almost one third of all the electricity generated in Britain. The UK has 12 gigawatts of installed wind capacity.

7. Denmark produced almost 40% of its electricity from wind in 2014, having doubled that figure in a decade.

Related video:

” Construction of the Largest Wind Farm in Southeast Asia ”

In New Gilded Age, Social Protest dominates Academy Awards Ceremony

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

If social and economic inequality were a mine, and if America were deep in this mine with a canary in tow, the canary would long since have expired. Some 400 billionaires have more wealth than the bottom half of Americans. We lived through a year of dramatic incidents underscoring the continued second-class citizenship of African-Americans. Women still don’t make as much for the same work as their male counterparts and their right to choice and control over their own bodies has been de facto curtailed by theocratic state legislatures. Gay people still face prejudice and resistance to same sex marriage rights.

The committed artists honored at the 87th Academy Awards took advantage of their bully pulpits to make an amazing series of eloquent statements on behalf of minorities and the discriminated-against. Referring to the controversy over the all-white nominees in acting categories, host Neil Patrick Harris quipped at the opening, ““Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — I mean brightest.” For all this hoopla about the overwhelmingly white, elderly and male character of the Academy voting members, however, the stage they provided to honorees was the scene of many poignant pleas for equality and decency.

Graham Moore won for his screenplay for “Imitation Game” (the story of how Alan Turing broke the Nazis’ communication code during World War II, saving countless Allied lives). Turing was later arrested for being gay and sentenced to two years of hormone treatment, which probably led to his suicide. Moore in his acceptance speech spoke of having been treated as the weird kid when young, and revealed that he had tried to commit suicide at age 16. He said:

“Here’s the thing. Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. I do! And that’s the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard. So in this brief time here, what I wanted to do was say this: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different , and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here… and so I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different and then, when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much!”

John Legend and Common performed “Glory” from the film “Selma,” bringing tears to eyes and provoking a standing ovation from the attendees. The song won an Oscar.

John Legend & Common performance Glory – Oscars 2015

Afterwards Legend said,

“We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country . . . We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real,” he said. “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

Referring to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where King and his followers were confronted by Selma police, Mr. Legend remarked,

“This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation but now is the symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social status.”

Patricia Arquette, who won “Best supporting actress” for her role in “Boyhood,” spoke up for gender equality:

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation: We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Likely, Arquette’s complaint referred in part to new revelations about unequal remuneration in her own industry. The hackers who attacked Sony Pictures last summer over the film, “The Interview,” leaked correspondence that male stars getting better pay than their female co-stars across the board. Charlize Theron, on finding out that she was to be paid substantially less than male co-star Chris Hemsworth for “Huntsman,” demanded and got a $10 million raise.

Alejandro González Iñárritu won for best director for “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” and the film won “Best Picture.”

At the end of his acceptance speech for “Best Director,” he briefly shouted out to “mi compatriotes mexicanos”– my Mexican compatriots. It wasn’t clear whether he meant all his fellow Mexicans, or he was playfully referring to his dear friends in Hollywood, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro.

But when “Birdman” won for best film, introducer Sean Penn attempted a joke: “Who gave all these Mexicans green cards?” The reference was that it was the second year in a row that a Mexican-American won for best director. The jest was poorly received on Twitter, though no one thinks it was meant in a negative way.

In his acceptance speech for best film, Iñárritu said he hoped Mexicans would “find and build a government that we deserve.” Mexico has been roiled in the past year by the disappearance of dozens of students and indications that they were murdered by police at the behest of drug smugglers, pointing to a web of governmental corruption that has finally become a matter of public discussion after being whispered for years.

Of his fellow Mexican-Americans he said, “I just pray they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones that came before and built this incredible, immigrant nation.”

The LA Times notes, “His speech prompted an outpouring of praise and pride for Mexico, with the hashtag #VivaMexico and Iñárritu trending on social media.”

Eddie Redmayne won best actor for “The Theory of Everything,” a biopic about astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). In his acceptance speech he spoke up for the ALS community.

Along with all these pleas for social justice and respectful treatment of women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, gays and the differently abled, one award provided the opportunity for awardees to speak up for us all. Laura Poitras won best documentary for “Citizenfour,” her film about Edward Snowden and his leaks. Poitras was joined on the stage by reporter Glenn Greenwald, who also played a central role in blowing the whistle on unconstitutional spying on Americans by the National Security Agency.

Poitras said in her acceptance speech,

“The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage and for the many other whistleblowers.” Snowden, in a statement released after the award was announced, said, “My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”

All Americans suffer when the government disregards the Fourth Amendment and violates our right to the privacy of our papers and effects. We have no idea how this information is being used, and there is reason to fear that it is being used in sinister ways. Even Orwell’s Big Brother was not as efficient at domestic surveillance as today’s NSA. In the absence of privacy, democracy cannot flourish. Most public people have secrets and can be blackmailed by security agencies to fall silent on key issues. Privacy is the cornerstone of individual dignity. It has been stolen from us by a government out of control.

There you have it, the most politically progressive Oscars ever, provoked by the sacrifices of Ferguson and many other such instances of racial injustice and by discrimination against a wide range of groups in US society. Artists do not have the levers of power the way politicians do, but they can influence public opinion. It takes courage for a performer to take a stand (there is a danger of losing half of one’s fans in an evening). We saw a lot of courage and a lot of high ethics last night. The ceremonies began with a musical duel between Neil Patrick Harris and Jack Black over the good Hollywood of art and ideals and the bad Hollywood of back room deals and backstabbing. The good Hollywood won last night.