Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unintended Consequences of Sanctions on Iran, Israel's Nixon

Thomas Friedman
Kathleen Parker
Dana Milbank
Nadav Tamir

"Time is running out for the United States to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program." - Alireza Nadar
“As we say in Hebrew, things look different from there than they do from here,” - Isaac Herzog

Lots of interlocking stories today. The US Congress approved sanctions against companies that would help Iran get gasoline, which is 40% of its budget. Just 4 hours after this announcement, Iran tested its first long-range missile, with the capacity of reaching Israel and US bases in the Gulf. Parts came courtesy of Russia and North Korea...: "Neither Israel nor the United States have ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row. Tehran says its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes and has vowed to retaliate for any attack."

Alireza Nader, in an article in Foreign Policy, argues that these sanctions will just solidify the Revolutionary Guards stranglehold on the Iranian economy and end up punishing everyone else, the worst thing you need to have happen to the current protests against the regime: "Iran is attempting to privatize state-held enterprises. Although this is supposed to be a competitive process, the Guards have managed to use their political influence and national security powers to sideline most private competitors. Sanctions on gasoline would not only hurt consumers, but damage businesses and companies that have struggled to compete with the Guards' economic expansion. With a virtual stranglehold on the state, the Guards would be able to bypass sanctions through their access to government gasoline reserves and the coffers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration. Their competitors will not be so lucky.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has lived under U.S. sanctions for the past three decades. These sanctions have hindered Iran's ability to expand its economy and meet the demands of a growing, and restless, population. But many of Iran's economic woes are due instead to government mismanagement, ineptitude, and corruption. The cost has been less borne by the Iranian government, which relies on oil exports for most of its revenue, than by the educated and professional classes... And Iran's international isolation has only empowered the ruling elite, who have no desire to see the masses subjected to Western influences that could culminate in a "velvet revolution." So, we may be killing off the Green Revolution and making the hard-liners in the government more obstinate about continuing their nuclear program, screw you, oh western infidel dogs, we do not bow to your pressure... We may also be locking Israel and Iran into a death dance, escalating the threats to one another and provoking a third world war. Oh, so that is what the significance of 2012 is all about in the Mayan Calendar, that nuclear missiles will have killed everyone and there will no longer be anything resembling civilization on our planet. I guess we don't need to worry about climate change in this scenario...

a couple of comments from the al Arabiya website:

What Iran had really demonstrated by the firing of its Selji 2 missile is not just its missile power: it is pure backbone! Every country, when threatened relentlessly should show its enemies what is in store for them if they dared to scratch it. Why not the Arab nations cooperate with Iran and form a front to defend the entire Middle East?   - Yaseen P V

I have to wonder about the basic intelligence of the Iranian regime. Not that I haven't wondered before, but when they're so adamant about the peaceful nature of their nuclear program, why test a rocket that can deliver warheads to so many western targets? Do they not see that this will harden resolve against them and perhaps turn their remaining allies away? Are they that stupid? Well yes, apparently so. Countries that rattle their sabres usually get stabbed.  - Forester


The Palestinian Liberation Organization has extended the presidency of Mahmout Abbas until elections can be held god knows when. His term was to end in January, and with all of the bickering with Hamas, it would be forever until a replacement can be found. Not that they are planning to sit down and talk with Israel anytime soon, and with Israel setting a 10 month ban on building in the West Bank, right now would be the opportune time.

But Abbas is trying another tack, which seems silly. He is trying to demand the UN and other international bodies to put pressure on Israel: "The Palestinians will demand a United Nations resolution declaring that all lands seized by Israel in 1967 are occupied territory because of stalled peace talks, which will only resume if Israel halts settlement building, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday.

"We will say to the Security Council that we want a resolution based on previous resolutions that the occupied territories are the lands occupied in 1967," Abbas told his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

"Israel accuses us of acting unilaterally but they act unilaterally every day," he added, during a meeting of the umbrella organization aimed at deciding whether to extend parliamentary and presidential mandates past Jan. 24, when they run out and with no new elections set. "Why are we doing this? Because the negotiations have stopped. Why have they stopped? Because Israel cannot stop the settlements or recognize international law." I think he needs to suck it up and plop his weathered old butt at the negotiating table...

the israeli nixon...

Israel last month agreed to a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank after months of American pressure, but the Palestinians have said it is not sufficient for restarting peace negotiations.

But Israel has said that it will meet with the Palestinian reps without precondition, anytime, anywhere. This is such a far cry from what Benjamin Netanyahu said when he was first elected, or even over his long diplomatic career. It has a lot to do with the pressures of problems and the growing pragmatism it takes to resolve those problems, something that Barack Obama is seeing also. The job has changed Netanyahu: "After a long career supporting Israeli settlements in occupied land and rejecting Palestinian statehood, Mr. Netanyahu said last June that he accepted the two-state idea. Three weeks ago, he imposed a 10-month freeze on building Jewish housing in the West Bank, something no Israeli leader had done before. Settlers are outraged, and Mr. Netanyahu is facing a rebellion in his party. Together with his removal of many West Bank checkpoints and barriers to Palestinian movement and economic growth, these steps went well beyond what many ever expected of him."

He is being seen as a traitor to his Party by some, or the best hope for a peace by others, like Israel's President: "Shimon Peres, Israel’s president and a longtime two-state advocate, said he sought to serve as Mr. Netanyahu’s sounding board and occasional guide. He said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu wanted to cut a deal with the Palestinians but was worried about his political base.

“Calling for a two-state solution was an ideological breakthrough,” Mr. Peres said of Mr. Netanyahu. “He wants to be the man that makes the peace. He is not sure about the cost of it. He wouldn’t like to find himself in a situation where he makes peace and discovers in the morning that he doesn’t have a majority for it. That’s his dilemma.”

Freezing the new building isn't all what Hamas wants, it wants a total freeze on existing units and in East Jerusalem, also, before it will sit down to talks. On an international level: "... aides and analysts say the prime minister’s highest priorities are keeping warm relations with Washington and checking Iran’s nuclear development and regional ambition. The United States believes that it will be easier to stop Iran if Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu rejects that linkage, saying once Iran is stopped it will be easier to make peace with the Palestinians, since Iran supports anti-peace elements, like Hamas."

If Benjamin Netanyahu can become sucessful in hammering out a framework for a two-state solution, he may become lionized as a savior of the Palestinians, much like Richard Nixon has been popularized by the Chinese when he stopped his fervid anti-Communism rhetoric and visited China, opening up diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries. He has created a 10 month window of opportunity, it remains to see if it can become an advantage towards Middle Eastern peace.

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