The 15th of Av ensures Topsy-Turvey apropos Iran

It is just one of those weeks when nothing seems the way it was or should be. There is a fine line between love and hate and sometimes it is not clear which is love and which is hate. Definitely the full moon of the 15th of Av was influencing. Perhaps attempting to replicate the Korean peninsula initiative US President Donald Trump said he was ready to meet his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, “any time they want to” with “no preconditions” and “I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet.”  The statement caught Israel by surprise but it was the full moon of the 15th of Av so it was understood.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not exactly of the same opinion as Trump and continues to reckon there should be some conditions. Judging by previous differences of opinion between Trump and his staff, it means that Pompeo’s days are numbered in this job. Pompeo was clear from the day that he took office setting 12 conditions for talks with Iran in May, which were dismissed by Tehran. He insisted that the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, and can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation. Trump’s statement runs counter to having these conditions met before negotiations. So, Pompeo has “no plans for any engagement with Iran” at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum that will also be attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Trump maybe getting old or he may be on the way to be trained as a diplomat. He clearly said he doesn’t wish to meet “from strength or weakness, it’s an appropriate thing to do.” But like any ambiguous statement it leaves the door open for the other side, in this case Iran, to set out clearly the conditions for any meeting. So, it was of no surprise that Iranian officials leaped at the opportunity to remonstrate Trump.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said engaging in negotiations with the “current America” is next to impossible. He elaborated that although a military confrontation between Iran and the United States is out of the question, the Islamic Republic is ready for such scenario. This was echoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Trump “should learn well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all war.” Such terminology was last voiced by Saddam Hussein, former President of Iraq and he is no longer there; a lesson that should be learned about making such statements.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the head of the influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy set his own condition for meeting with Trump; a US return to the nuclear deal, which would bring an end to the economic uncertainty, would be needed before Tehran could think of negotiating. Not to be left out Hamid Aboutalebi‏, adviser to President Rouhani, interjected his conditions “Respecting the Iranian nation’s rights, reducing hostilities and returning to the nuclear deal are steps that can be taken to pave the bumpy road of talks between Iran and America.” Reformist lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian questioned negotiating with Trump, calling him “untrustworthy” and “If this negotiation (is) carried out in any form, then it will be considered as surrender and the Iranian nation will not surrender.”

But the full moon of the 15th of Av was not be sidelined. Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a senior cleric and member of the influential Expediency Council and a former aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Trump’s suggestion should not be categorically rejected “It should be discussed in the Supreme National Security Council” and “we have to contemplate.”

Russia was also influenced by the full moon of the 15th of Av that made it all Topsy-Turvey apropos Iran. Anatoly Viktorov, the Russian  ambassador to Israel was clear that Iran has a crucial role in counter-terrorism efforts in Syria and that this is legal under international law being “fully legitimate according to the UN principles and the UN charter.” In a rare statement about his own country the Russian envoy expressed frustration at Russian weakness that although Moscow can talk to its “Iranian friends” about a full withdrawal from Syria as Israel demands, it “cannot force them” to do so.

Not to be outdone by the rookie diplomat Donald Trump, he also sat on the fence, stating that he was not sure if Russia was “okay” with Israel’s airstrikes on Syria. He murmured “We are not okay with any forced action. We cannot agree with all actions that are taken by the Israeli government.” Yet in the same voice he took sides with Israel noting the agreement with Israel to allay concerns regarding the situation in southern Syria, saying, “No non-Syrian troops should be in the southern de-escalation area.” Does he really know where all the “From Russia with love” troops are stationed?

The last word must go to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel who said “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out… and dance in the vineyards.” And what would they say? “Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for yourself…” (Talmud, Taanit 26b) Go forth Bibi and see what the Middle East and the foreign powers can arrange for Israel to celebrate.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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