Hillel Schenker

Bibi’s Folly, Iran and the Congress

If Michael Oren were still Prime Minister Netanyahu’s envoy to Washington, this would not be happening. Although I have major problems with Oren’s “Two-State Situation” non-initiative as published in the Wall Street Journal last week, he was on target when he joined 4 other former Israeli Ambassadors to the U.S. in a joint interview in Yediot Ahronot two weeks ago declaring their opposition to Netanyahu’s speech before the two houses of Congress scheduled for this coming Tuesday, March 3rd.

Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s Envoy to the Republican Party

The “original sin” of this sad folly, which could easily have made it into a revised updated version of Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly”, was the fact that Netanyahu appointed Ron Dermer, a former Republican activist to be Oren’s replacement, essentially to be not the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. but rather Netanyahu’s envoy to the Republican Party.

As Bar-Ilan University Prof. Eytan Gilboa, one of Israel’s foremost academic experts on the U.S. said at a conference organized on Thursday by The Israel Council on Foreign Relations, “Netanyahu should never have appointed Dermer to be ambassador to the U.S.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner and the new March of Folly

Prof. Shlomo Avineri said at the same conference that if Netanyahu is supposed to be an expert on American politics, he should understand that going against protocol and bypassing American President Obama and the Democratic minority in Congress to organize a speech, was guaranteed to arouse both Presidential and Democratic opposition to the move, guaranteeing that the problematic Menendez-Kirk Iran Sanctions bill will not get the additional Democratic support necessary to override a presidential veto.  And isn’t that the presumed reason for the speech, to mobilize support for the threat of further sanctions?  This analysis led Prof. Avineri to conclude that “the only reason for the speech before Congress is to guarantee a few more votes for Netanyahu from his base constituency in the Israeli elections.”

Meridor: “Iran has the feeling that its nuclear program is totally transparent

There is no doubt that preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons is a worthy and important goal. Not only for Israel’s sake, but also to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the region, since both Saudi Arabia and Egypt will not stand idly by if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons. However, if this goal can be gained via negotiations, rather than uncertain military action, isn’t that preferable?  We do not yet know whether an agreement between the P5 + 1 and Iran will be achieved, but we do know, as incoming Israeli Council on Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy said at the same conference, “Iran has the feeling that its nuclear program is totally transparent”, because of the effectiveness of IAEA daily monitoring and the various intelligence services.

As Prof. Avneri said, agreeing with former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi, when the new Iranian President Rouhani issued a Rosh Hashana New Year’s greeting, sending a signal to world Jewry, the West and Israel of the desire for a different approach from the Holocaust-denying former President Ahmadinejad, wouldn’t it have been wiser if Prime Minister Netayahu had welcomed the gesture instead of belittling it, and then added but more steps are needed to build trust?

There are rumors that it was Netanyahu and Republican Party patron Sheldon Adelson who suggested the ill-fated Congressional speech to Dermer, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and the Prime Minister.   I don’t know if these rumors are true, but are a few more votes in the Israeli elections really a good enough motivation for what Prof. Gilboa calls “the worst crisis in the history of American-Israeli relations”?

(l to r) Prof. Eytan Gilboa, Council President Dan Meridor and Prof. Shlomo Avineri at the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations, Thursday, February 26, Jerusalem

The NPT Review Conference & Nuclear Proliferation

And one more point, the five year NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review conference will convene in New York from April 28 to May 9.  On the agenda will be the decision at the previous NPT Review Conference in 2010 to “convene an international conference on a nuclear and weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East”, which so far has not been convened.  The issue of all weapons of mass destruction in the region is on the table, and it will not go away.  Given the current regional reality, and common interests between Israel, the moderate Sunni Arab states, the League of Arab States and even Iran, against the Islamic State (ISIS), shouldn’t it be clear that one of the building blocks for guaranteeing that Iran will not seek nuclear weapons could be forward progress towards the building of a regional regime for peace and security, which has to include progress towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and could also include movement towards a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the region?

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv