the traveler's Blog

the traveler

the traveler
Columbia, Maryland, USA
November 03
VP of everything
I am an avid photographer and traveler living in the Washington DC area. My photo is obviously not me, because I am a white male and not a monk, and is one of my favorite pictures from a trip to Myanmar.


MARCH 8, 2012 7:47PM

Why Netanyahu is acting tough - now of all times

Rate: 6 Flag

It seems almost counter-intuitive that Netanyahu, who is a smart politician, talks tough just at the time when it seems that the rest of the world and Iran might actually talk.

Not being much of a politician myself, I thought this.  On a political front, Israel is pretty well isolated and has nothing to lose, no friends to alienate by acting tough.   What everyone else, every other government that is, would like to see is Israel shut the hell up and let the Iran thing quiet down.

But then there is always that real chance that, without Israel threatening attack,  talk would happen and, under lesser pressures, those at the table who don't want confrontation would back off from their stance about Iran having nuclear capacity, hoping that it would never come to that.

So, Bibi is holding everyone's feet to the fire. 'Get in there and make this happen or we will do something.'  

 Whether he means it or not, I have no idea but Iran as a nuclear power in the middle East is a terribly unstabling situation. 

No sensible person is concerned that Israel would actually use a nuclear device but the thought of Iran, a state that sponsors terrorism, with the capacity to deliver/lose/misplace a nuclear device into the hands of actual terrorists is something that should make everyone lose sleep.




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midlle east, politics

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I welcome comments but, having suffered through some pretty vitriolic attacks I will not tolerate abuse, either of myself, other writers or the subject. No warnings.
Stick to the subject and civility or you're gone.
There's no question about the fact that Netanyahu's rhetoric constitutes an outlier regarding a stance towards Iran. But as I've said before, such talk increases the chance of an accidental confrontation.

well Iran has as much or more power in this situation than Bibi does. Ahmadinejad could always say clearly that his rhetoric about Israel was never an aggressive act, he could allow the inspectors to see all they want and he could be part of the process.
The Palestinians justify suicide bombers by saying that they are fighting with the best weapons they have; well, perhaps Netanyahu has his own best weapon - a truculence and aggression to force the situation to some progress that talk hasn't before.
RE: the situation in Iran

Ahmadinejad is the Iranian equivalent of George W. Bush. Hardly anyone in the official corridors likes him at all, and the recent round of elections was all about getting his faction the hell out of government. Ayatollah Khameni is much more of a rationalist than Ahmadi, and he is the one who would theoretically have his hand on the nuclear button if Iran had a nuke -- which it doesn't have.

Given the disparate nature of Iranian government, there are great difficulties in maintaining a consistent policy. Some factions within the Iranian government are capable of acting directly opposite the wishes of the Supreme Leader, the Supreme Council, or the legislature.

All of this instability would of course be strong arguments against
allowing Iran to possess nukes.

I think that Netanyahu's chief ability to be a consumate fly in the ointment is that there are a huge number of issues that could be advantageously discussed with Iran, not only by the US, but by Israel itself.

Remember, that for decades Israel had the closest relations with Iran, not only under the Shah, but during the time of the ayatollahs. I think it was the Labor Party in Israel that started the ill-fated campaign against Iran. In my opinion, that was about as wise as America's anti-drug policies.

Do not downplay the need for fruitful discussions and negotiations with Iran. I believe that ultimately, that approach has a much better chance of changing the regime in Tehran than the ravings of Netanyahu.
I agree that it feels like negotiations with Iran have a chance to succeed.

One point: I don't think a nuclear Iran would be as bad as people think; they are I think sane enough to believe in self-preservation, and they know that using a nuke would be a sure way to incinerate a significant portion of their country.

But if Iran gets a nuke we would have a proliferation situation in the middle east, with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and perhaps others wanting to join the club. This seems like the greatest danger.

Plus Israel, even though it is in a position of strength, has to deal with the unique psychology of a people who endured and survived the holocaust. The presence of a nuke in Tehran would be like a constant threat of a portable holocaust in a can. So there are several reasons why the idea of a nuke in Iran's hands is worse than the actuality would be.

In the negotiations there must be carrots and sticks, and the stick must be a credible threat. I think Netanyahu and Obama are playing good cop/bad cop now. It doesn't matter whether Netanyahu is actually planning to bomb Iran; it only matters that Tehran believes he will go through with it if they don't act, and that Tehran sees it to be a clear advantage to be cooperative and abandon it's weapons grade enrichment program.
It seems that there is some agreement that, agreed upon or not, Bibi's stance is providing needed pressure to move towards discussions.
All the more reason to pursue no holds barred, open, frank, wide ranging talks with the Iranians.
I went to high school w the man; his dad was a visiting prof in Philadelphia in the mid-60s. The guy has never been other than what he appears to be now, for better or no.

onl says,
"Ahmadinejad is the Iranian equivalent of George W. Bush."
Is there any better reason to be very afraid right now?
"onl says,
"Ahmadinejad is the Iranian equivalent of George W. Bush."
Is there any better reason to be very afraid right now?"

While that is partially amusing, it is only a slur that doesn't really hold up to any closer inspection.
Ahmadinejad's patrons get a lot of mileage out of claiming that A's statement about Israel was mistranslated. That may be correct but he has seen how his statements were taken and has had multiple opportunities both to clarify his position and decry the Israel bashing of the other Iranian politicians. The fact that he has left this ambiguous allows every side to make whatever claims they want, contributing to the instability of the situation.
Ahmadinejad could cool the situation but won't so Bibi does what he can to force the rest of the world to step in.
Thank you, Jeff and JW for commenting.
The mistranslation is one thing. The statement that Israel's regime should be obliterated (as opposed to the country) has come from multiple independent sources, some with religious justification. The Holocaust denial conferences weren't accidental. The sponsorship and arms supplies to Hezbollah and support of Hamas aren't accidental either.

Let's assume that Iran has zero intention of nuking Israel. This whole climate of threatening Israel is intentional but may actually not be about Israel, or at least wasn't initially. What we do know about area politics is that there is a contest between Muslim fundamentalism and more secular-based governments, with the latter understanding that internal fundamentalist movements will overthrow them if they gain enough power. Iran, as the major power in the area looking to export fundamentalism and gain influence as a result, needs a way to reach the man on the street in multiple countries. Taking on Israel accomplishes this; because of how long all these regimes have used anti-Israel propaganda to keep their populations focused away from how badly their governments were screwing them, they created climates where Iran's efforts enjoy some success. (Oops.) Though the Turkish government doesn't have a need to distract their own population in the same way, they do want to gain influence in the area, and the flotilla accomplished this using a milder form of the same strategem.

But now, there's a problem. The Iranians have started pushing buttons without sufficient reflection on their consequences. The Israelis always take major threats seriously because, as far as they're concerned, the Holocaust was in part a consequence of not doing so; the other big lesson they learned was not to depend on anyone else to save them. Nukes is a big threat; Israel has a history of reacting pre-emptively to this particular threat, both in Iraq and in Syria; and Israel doesn't believe in betting its survival on the hands of another country, even if that country is the US.

That just about guarantees an exercise in brinksmanship. Israel is getting close to the point where they think the risk of not attacking Iran is greater than the risk of attacking Iran. Not especially rational, given the fact that nukes used on Israel would kill a whole lot of Muslims, presumably making first nuclear use by Iran unlikely, but some may still make that calculation.

The Iranians are playing with fire here. I hope they know when to back off.
Read Trina Parsi's books to get a truly comprehensive history of US-Israel-Iran relations. Iran's current conflict with Israel is pretty much a pure balance of power equation politically. Ahmadinejad is getting exiled to the far corner of the Iranian government before the screen door hits his ass on the way out.

Ayatollah Khameni is an old power hungry neocon, much like Dick Cheney. However, Khameni is substantially more realistic than Ahmadinejad, who believes in the 12th Iman bushwa. And remember, Iran has a substantial Jewish population to this very day that is thriving.

And as far as power differrentials, Israel is by far the superior military force. And it now has the implicit support of the Gulf Coast states. And so far, I don't see Israel taking advantage of this position.

Saber rattling might feel good, but give diplomacy a chance. After all, that is the most popular position both in Israel and the USA. And a policy of containment for Iran is a worthy foreign policy goal -- one that worked quite well for as long as the Soviet Union existed.

My advice is, relax a bit. It might actually do some good. No need to feel you have to bargain from a position of hysteria. Much better to bargain from a position of quiet self-confidence.

I think you misinterpret what stance. I am not for any saber-rattling or any war. I was just ruminating on the possibility that Bibi's statements are not posturing but just a ploy to push the other nations - and Iran - towards talks.

He is doing what he can, sort of an aggressive charge display, to get everyone energized about what could possibly happen.
The problem with using a threat of violence as a coercive tool is that you have to be prepared to go through with it in case your adversary calculates that you are bluffing.

The US did this with Saddam Hussein twice, and both times he remained confrontational rather than doing what seemed to be in his own rational self-interest. I think Arab tribal tradition made it impossible for him to back down and survive.

It seems very important to Iran psychologically that the US is not seen as taking an identical stance with Israel, but must be seen as much more conciliatory and willing to compromise with Iran, and to be in a position to give Iran some guarantees of security from Israeli attack in exchange for a true verifiable disarmament or abandonment of nuclear ambition.

This is why the GOP chest-thumping and attempting to undermine Obama is so incredibly damaging to the US and Israel. They need to give Obama some latitude if negotiations are to succeed; Iran must see Israel as truly threatening, and the US as giving it a face saving way out of the dilemma.

If you gang up and totally corner an scared animal they become truly dangerous.
'This is why the GOP chest-thumping and attempting to undermine Obama is so incredibly damaging to the US and Israel. They need to give Obama some latitude if negotiations are to succeed; Iran must see Israel as truly threatening, and the US as giving it a face saving way out of the dilemma.'

totally agree
It strikes me that Jeff's statement that the Iranians could use an American guarantee of no Israeli military action if they submit to nuclear inspections or actively reject developing nuclear armaments may not be true. If the Iranians really open up to inspections and stop behaving like they're developing nuclear weapons, the Israelis would no longer have a reason to attack, so it would be a moot point.
The Economist, imo the best English language news magazine by far, has a discussion on this subject in a recent issue and covers these exact same points - with the same degree of hopeful un-knowingness.

So no matter who we are, we all hope for the best - some calm in the Mid-East on this matter and an example that propels Israel and the Palestinians to talk and eventually settle.
The geo-political situation in the middle east has taken quite a turn, what with Turkey distancing itself from Israel and playing as the new and preminent actor in the region; Egypt careening toward a "moderate" muslim brotherhood "theocracy" what Israel has left are the pavid kingdoms of the arabian peninsula that will only provide moral support, some intelligence and maybe money; Isarael is also mum on Siria, if the rebels were to eventually oust Assad (not a friend of course but mindful on balance of terror), yet some other fundamentalists might gain power....what's left other than saber push for real negotiations? very dangerous...or maybe for real action he will wait and see if dear friend Mitt gets elected....omg!