Posts Tagged ‘Ahmadinejad’

Obama’s Answer to Iran

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

That didn’t take long.

One day after Iran announced a nuclear deal with Turkey and Brazil — a transparent stalling effort designed to ward off international sanctions aimed at curtailing its nuclear program — the Obama administration has announced its own deal with the other major powers, including Russia and China, to go ahead with tough new sanctions.

It’s a draft plan. But, still, for those of use who care about Israel and Middle East stability, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement today is nothing short of huge.

As the negotiations on the draft resolution were in their final hours on Monday evening, a senior administration official said that one of the most critical sections of the proposed sanctions were modeled on a resolution passed last year against North Korea, after its second nuclear test. That resolution authorized all nations to search cargo ships heading into or out of the country for suspected weapons, nuclear technology or other cargo prohibited by previous United Nations resolutions …

Other elements of the sanctions resolution are aimed at Iranian financial institutions, including those that support the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The corps is responsible for overseeing the military aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. But it has also played a central role in suppressing protests against the government, and the Obama administration is betting that the organization is now despised by a large enough portion of the Iranian public that the sanctions may be welcomed by part of Iranian society. That is a big bet, however, because the corps also runs large elements of the country’s infrastructure, including its airports.

The deal, struck with the veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council (France, Russia, China, and the U.K.) plus Germany, is the Obama administration’s answer to Iran’s not-so-subtle high stakes gamesmanship.

Mrs. Clinton said the new offer [with Turkey and Brazil] would still leave Iran “in clear violation of its international obligations” because it “is continually amassing newly enriched uranium.” She also criticized what she called the “amorphous timeline for the removal” of the low enriched uranium. Reading the terms, she said, “that could take months of further negotiation and that is just not acceptable to us and to our partners.”

To those critics who say that sanctions will not hurt or deter Iran, I would ask: Why, then, is Iran going to such great lengths to undermine them?

As the Times reports:

Iran has been working mightily to ward off new sanctions, sending its foreign minister to the capitals of countries sitting on the Security Council to make the case that the sanctions amount to an American conspiracy to deprive Iran of its right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Maybe you saw this photo of a Ahmadinejad in today’s Times, raising the V for victory sign after inking the deal with Brazil and Turkey. If Obama and Clinton succeed in getting these sanctions through the United Nations, it will be the end of Ahmadinejad’s smirking.

An ‘Unbreakable Bond of Friendship’

Monday, April 19th, 2010

A good friend of mine in Israel sent me a powerful column this morning by Haaretz political columnist Ari Shavit, “An Open Letter to Netanyahu: Act Before It’s too Late.”

It’s a moving, personal missive. In it, Shavit argues that on the eve of Israel’s 62 Independence Day, the state faces an existential crisis like none other in its history.

Mr. Prime Minister, here are the basic facts: The grace period granted the Jewish state by Auschwitz and Treblinka is ending. The generation that knew the Holocaust has left the stage. The generation that remembers the Holocaust is disappearing. What shapes the world’s perception of Israel today is not the crematoria, but the checkpoints. Not the trains, but the settlements. As a result, even when we are right, they do not listen to us. Even when we are persecuted, they pay us no heed. The wind is blowing against us.

The zeitgeist of the 21st century threatens to put an end to Zionism. No one knows better than you that even superpowers cannot resist the spirit of the times. And certainly not small, fragile states like Israel.

Shavit argues that Israel has been abandoned by its allies, including the United States, and stands at the precipice of war with Iran, besieged. “The sense that once again, we must meet our fate alone.”

You are a hated individual, Mr. Prime Minister. The president of the United States hates you. The secretary of state hates you. Some Arab leaders hate you. Public opinion in the West hates you. The leader of the opposition hates you. My colleagues hate you, my friends hate you, my social milieu hates you.

The possibilities — what to do going forward — are known, Shavit writes:

Offer the Syrians the Golan Heights in exchange for ending its alliance with Iran. Offer Abbas a state in provisional borders. Initiate a second limited disengagement. Transfer territory into the hands of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to enable him to build a sane Palestinian state. Reach an agreement with the international community on an outline for partitioning the land into two nation-states.

Ultimately, he urges the prime minister — who he clearly respects tremendously — to change his approach:

Israel needs a courageous alliance with the Western powers. In order withstand what is to come, Israel must once again become an inalienable part of the West. And the West is not prepared to accept Israel as an occupying state. Therefore, in order to save our home, is necessary to act at once to end the occupation. It is essential to effect an immediate and sharp change in diplomatic direction.

It’s a powerful argument, coming from one of Israel’s leading thinkers: End the occupation to save the Jewish state — not because of demographics; not because it will end terrorism; not because it is risk-free — but so that Israel can face down Iran fully supported by the West.

Obama could help Netanyahu choose this path by visiting Israel himself, and by making more public statements like the one he released today, on the occasion of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day:

Minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, realizing the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland, the United States became the first country to recognize Israel. To this day, we continue to share a strong, unbreakable bond of friendship between our two nations, anchored by the United States’ enduring commitment to Israel’s security.  Israel remains our important partner and key strategic ally in the Middle East, and I am confident that our special relationship will only be strengthened in the months and years to come. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments over the weekend, praising Netanyahu, strongly urging Palestinian President Abbas to join talks with Israel, and calling on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians,” were also welcome.

More is needed.

I know, because I correspond with my friend in Israel nearly every day, that there is a true siege mentality in Israel right now. Iran has said repeatedly it wants to wipe Israel off the map, and it is actively seeking the nuclear weapons to do so. Sitting here in relative safety thousands of miles away, it’s easier for this threat to be intellectualized; our children are not threatened by a lunatic Iranian regime. In Israel, there’s not much room for nuance; the last time we heard talk like Ahmadinejad’s, 6 million Jews were annihilated.

Shavit is wrong about one thing, though. Obama and Clinton don’t hate Netanyahu.

It’s incumbent on the U.S. president and secretary of state to make him believe it.

Life is a Bridge

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I saw something this morning that at first confused me, then hit me in the guts.

I opened my New Yorker, turned to “Letter from Tehran: With the Marchers,” and noticed right away that there was no byline. I flipped ahead a few pages — was it at the end of the piece? — then back to the contributor’s page. The author of every other article was listed, along with a brief bio, but not this one.

Odd, I thought. In a magazine like the New Yorker, the author — what they do; what they’ve written — is almost always part of the point.

As I started reading, it became clear that the author was Iranian — knew it intimately enough to make observations like this, about two protesters:

Everything I have seen of Reza and Hengameh tells me that they are true democrats—for example, the relaxed way they have brought up their teen-age son, Mohsen. “We never obliged him to say his prayers or observe the Ramadan fast,” Reza told me once, “and now he does both, of his own accord.”

And it quickly became clear why the article was written anonymously:

On June 14th, two days after the election that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is alleged to have stolen from his main challenger, the reformist Mir-Hossein Moussavi, I hurried back to Iran from a trip abroad. The next day, the day of the AzadiStreet march, I had lunch with a journalist friend. In view of the election fiasco and the coverage that it had received abroad, my friend told me, the authorities were now trying to curtail the activities of the Western media. “If you want to write for a foreign magazine,” he said, “do it without a byline.” The authorities were refusing to extend the visas of most visiting foreign journalists; several Iranian journalists had been thrown in jail.

I blogged yesterday that “I (HEART) the Media“; this New Yorker article is another demonstration of why. Among other things, it contains the first anecdotal accounts I’ve seen that expose the election results as a sham. Who needs British think tanks, international monitors, or statisticians when you have this:

A change had also come over Mohsen, their son. The last time we met, he had been a typical teen-ager, sulky and monosyllabic. Now Mohsen seemed fully grown, an adult, and he participated enthusiastically in our conversation, which inevitably revolved around politics and the marches. Mohsenhad been active in Yussefabad on behalf of the local Moussavi campaign, standing on street corners and handing out leaflets. He had also run the Basiji gantlet, and had the bruises on his knees to prove it.

“Are you sure the election was a fraud?” I asked him.

Mohsen smiled ruefully. “Some of the boys from the campaign headquarters were at the local count, and when they came back that evening they were laughing and saying it was all over—Ahmadinejad had no chance. Then . . .” Mohsen shrugged, and his father said, “You should have seen this neighborhood. There was hardly a single Ahmadinejad poster. Only green. Only green! Of course it was a fraud. They stole the vote.”

The article makes the point that the protestors are not, as Ahmadinejad seems to want people to believe, limited to students and the educated class. Protestors are cut from a broad swath of society.

But to my mind, one of the most powerful moments in the piece is this one, near the end:

Ever since I’d known Reza, he’d made a point of not having a satellite dish on his roof. He distrusted the foreign television channels, and was content to watch Iranian state TV. During the recent election campaign, however, as state television praised Ahmadinejad endlessly, he had found it difficult to watch; it made him feel physically sick. He bought a satellite dish, so that the family can now watch the BBC’s Persian channel—or, at least, when it isn’t jammed. “It has shown us that everything we have been watching here, most of our lives, is full of lies,” he said.

“Give me an example,” I said, and he replied, “You know what they said on TV about yesterday’s march? They could hardly pretend it never happened, because it was all over the foreign channels and the Internet. So they announced that the rally had been organized by all four Presidential candidates, including Ahmadinejad, in the name of national unity!”

He said, “You can imagine what all this is doing to my father.” Reza’s father was a mid-level bureaucrat before his retirement, a few years ago. He adored Khomeini. He would have given his life for the Iranian Revolution. “You know what he said to me after he heard about the seven people who were shot last night? He said, ‘I regret everything I’ve done in my life.’ ”

Imagine, having such a misguided view of the world.

And yet …

I blogged the other day about how one remarkable aspect of this revolution for me, personally, is that it has — in one mighty swoop — transformed Iran from a nation of Jew hating evil-doers, into a nation of people. I’ve obviously never met Mohsen, but the description of him — its uncanny — it reminds me of my cousin Nate (“standing on street corners and handing out leaflets”), who worked his tail off in and around the streets of Philadelphia to elect Barack Obama.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Jon Stewart, for instance, sent Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones to Iran, prior to the election. Jones met a an elderly gentleman who knew the U.S. presidents, going back to Carter. He played American football on a grassy lawn with a group of kids. He interviewed a fashionista wearing Dolce & Gabbana and Adidas sneakers. (“Ah-dee-das?” Jones deadpanned.) A good-looking, flirty young couple admitted they were Daily Show watchers. (“Heh heh heh,” the guy said, imitating Jon Stewart’s imitation of George Bush.)

As it ended last night, Jason Jones — who went to cover the election, and wound up covering a revolution — said this:

“But as I watch what’s happening there now, I know that somewhere in that sea of faces are the same people I met. People who were gracious enough to take me into their homes, and schools, and coffee shops. People who indulge my asinine questions. People I hope will be safe, and not be harmed or arrested for the simple act of wearing green and wanting a voice.”

I watched, waiting for the punch line. But there was none. Not a trace of irony or sarcasm or mockery to be found. This, from the least sentimental reporter on the least sentimental television show in history.

“[You] spent ten days in Iran,” Jon Stewart told him, in studio, “and came back with amazing work and amazing pictures that revealed a certain part of Iran that I think many of us had never seen before.”

Last night, on my way home from a class about the Jewish thinker Soloveitchik, I called my dad to see how he was doing with my mom, who is recovering from a stroke.

“She’s a tiger,” he said, speaking about her will to get better.

One of the things my dad has always told us, in the tough times, is: “Life zigs and zags.” Last night, I told my dad that near the end of one of Soloveitchik’s works, one of the most brilliant theologians of our time concludes: “Man moves toward the fulfillment of his destiny along a zig-zag line.”

“All those years,” I told him. “You were really onto something.”

“Yeah,” he said, laughing, then quickly added: “And also, ‘Life is a bridge.'”

“Life is a bridge?” I said.

“”You don’t remember?”

“No,” I said.

So he began again:

Once upon a time, he said, there was a very wealthy man, determined to understand the meaning of life. He travelled far and wide, spending down his fortune, trying to figure out the answer. And then, one day, he learned of a Seer, a recluse, living high in the Mongolian Hills. The man began a long journey, spending his every last dime, searching for this wisest of men, until one day, high on the top of a mountain overlooking the whole of China, weak and hungry and depleted from his trek, the man finally found the Seer.

“Sir,” he said, “I’ve journeyed for months, spent my last dime to find you. Can you please tell me the meaning of life?”

The Seer looked out at the snow-capped peaks, closed his eyes. “Life,” he said, “is a bridge.”

“That’s it?” the man said. “Life’s a bridge?”

The Seer opened his eyes, looked up at the man, and said: “Life isn’t a bridge?”

Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Iranians have learned this in the past few weeks.

And so have we.

‘A Misguided Majority’

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

As I read Huffington Post’s live blogging of the violent crackdown going on at this hour against freedom-fighters in Tehran, I’m struck by a parallel to this week’s Torah portion.

Here, for instance, is a report from a BBC reporter:

Security forces were everywhere in central Tehran in the late afternoon and early evening.

As I spent a couple of hours driving around in heavy traffic I could see thousands of men, some uniformed members of the military riot squads, some units of revolutionary guard, and everywhere basijis – militiamen who look like street toughs.

The security men were deployed on every street corner, in long lines down the sides of the roads, and in all the main squares.

The basijis wore riot helmets and carried big clubs. It was designed to intimidate, and while I was there, it was working.

And here is a report from one of the blogger’s contacts in Iran:

You couldn’t imagin what I saw tonight, I walked down many streets(Vali asr, keshavars, amir abad, Fatemi, Shademan, Satarkhan, Khosro), and I was injured by tears gas, but the main thing : The big killer group, called “Basij”, weared our special military service group -“Sepah”- dresses and they were all armed , I saw by myself one of them had only around 15 years old!!!! and he had the shot order! I saw a girl injured by gon shot (in Amir abad St.)! and there weren’t enough ambulances . I walked through Shademan St. they start shooting , a young boy in front of my eyes murdered , and 3 other people were injured , there were also a big fight between people and Basij at Tohid Sq. 7 people was murdered there, I walked from my company to my home , It was taken 4 hours and I couldn’t be able to make a video , cause I was in the middle of war!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This week’s parsha is Sh’lah L’kha, from the Book of Numbers. It’s the story of the Israeli spies, one from each of the 12 tribes, who go out to scout the Promised Land. Ten return with stories about how the occupants of the land are powerful and numerous, striking fear into the hearts of the Israelites, causing them to doubt God. Only two — Caleb and Joshua — stand against the ten.

“Have no fear then of the people of the country,” Joshua says.

Here’s the midrashic interpretation:

“Joshua and Caleb risk their lives by acting with integrity and standing up to a misguided majority. In the end, it is the majority who will die in the wilderness and the people of integrity and courage who will survive to see their dreams realized.”

Let this ancient story serve as fair warning to Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and their band of violent thugs.

‘A Nation of People’

Friday, June 19th, 2009

How does the uprising in Iran look from my perspective, as a Jewish American?

Hundreds of thousands — by some estimates millions — of people protesting against a fraudulent election and a repressive regime? Thousands streaming through the streets in silent protest? A revolution facilitated by a Web site that gives users only 140 characters to make their point?

For nearly a week now, I’ve been contemplating how to respond, and I can’t get past one fundamental thing: The ire of the Iranian people is directed squarely at President Ahmadinejad, a madman with well-known and often articulated anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views.

Here are some of the Ahmadinejad quotes that are seared into the collective conscience of my Jewish community:

  • “The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land. As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map.”
  • “Israel is a tyrannical regime that will one day will be destroyed.”
  • “The real Holocaust is what is happening in Palestine where the Zionists avail themselves of the fairy tale of Holocaust as blackmail and justification for killing children and women and making innocent people homeless.”

This, and so much more.

I’m not naive enough to think that those people out on the street are somehow now embracing Israel. I doubt most of them have ever met a Jew — there aren’t many left in the country. This is clearly an Iranian uprising, with uniquely Iranian origins. But part of what the people are protesting against is Ahmadinejad’s totalitarian, anti-Democratic excesses, including his anti-Western sabre-rattling. It may not be linked, but they are risking their lives to stand against one of the world’s most notorious anti-Semites.

Before the election, it was so easy to imagine Ahmadinejad represented a monolithic Iranian viewpoint. When he said Israel would be erased, his was the voice of Iran.

Now, we see that Iran has another voice. And like everyone else, the Israelis are moved by what they hear.

“We are all revolutionaries here,” Bradley Burston writes in today’s Haaretz:

The people in Tehran’s streets have made it possible to begin to see past Ahmadinejad. I have to get used to Iran not as a cartoon bully, but as my neighbor. Not because they will go nuclear … though nuclear they may well go. But because it is a nation of people, as we are, not pawns in an increasingly obsolete revolution.

A nation of people. People who use cell phones and send tweets.

As much as we knew this before, if we stopped and thought about it, we see it now — we feel it — and that changes everything.

Obama Helps Tilt Lebanon

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

As I noted in my post yesterday, one of the most important things Obama did with his Cairo speech was to blunt the appeal of would-be terrorists throughout the Middle East. The Islamic extremists are reportedly getting nervous.

Now we have an election result in Lebanon — the American-backed Christian coalition defeated the Iranian- and Syrian-backed bloc that includes Hezbollah — which many experts are attributing, in part, to Obama’s speech.

For Middle East watchers, it was a surprising election result, defying the conventional wisdom that Hezbollah would win easily.

Here’s a news analysis today in the New York Times (“Hopeful Signs for U.S. in Beirut Vote”):

… For the first time in a long time, being aligned with the United States did not lead to defeat in the Middle East. And since Lebanon has always been a critical testing ground, that could mark a possibly significant shift in regional dynamics …

Reporters across the Pond are drawing a similar conclusion.

In the lead commentary on this morning, Simon Tisdall, writing for the British Guardian, concludes:

… The calmer, unconfrontational tone adopted by Washington on Middle East issues since George Bush trudged home to Texas appears to have struck a chord in a country that was teetering on the brink of sectarian civil war one year ago …

The result is a setback for Iran, which has sought enhanced influence via Hezbollah. And it confirmed Lebanon’s 2005 rejection of Syria as the master manipulator of its affairs, confounding suggestions that Damascus was inching back.

It’s not just the speech, of course. Analysts say the Obama administration laid the groundwork for the vote, with pre-election visits to Lebanon by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. And at the end of the day, all politics is still local. But it certainly looks like Obama’s speech may have helped tip the scales.

Will there be a ripple effect in Iran, were voters go to the polls Friday — a referendum on the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Most agree that the moderate challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, still has an uphill battle. But Moussavi did draw 30,000 supporters to an exuberant rally last month, an extraordinary event, as the Times reported, “because the supporters were not paid, given free food, bused in or ordered by their workplaces to attend, a tactic sometimes used by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s campaign.”

As Tisdall writes:

It’s possible that watching Iranians will be encouraged in their turn to go out and vote for reformist, west-friendly candidates in Friday’s presidential election. Lebanon may be just the beginning of the ‘Obama effect’.