Monday, September 30, 2013

'Winds of Munich' Blowing in the West

by Dan Margalit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. Two speakers ahead of him the representative from North Korea -- the country that has trampled all over its pledge to stop producing nuclear weapons -- will take the podium. 

By the time Netanyahu addresses the U.N., he will have spoken with U.S. President Barack Obama. It is likely that his conversation with Obama will not be an easy one; that he will suggest that the American president see past Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's good English and look for his actions instead, and that he will ask him to remember how deals with terror states, the likes of which are represented by the speaker that precedes him at the U.N., usually turn out.

The fact that Israel is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty is secondary to the fact that Iran, Syria, Iraq and Libya, which have signed it, have breached it. Not only will Obama struggle to reach a deal with the obstinate Iranians, he will soon learn that their signature it set in ice. 

The U.S. is not pushing to balance the Israel-Iranian equation by demanding that Israel subject the Dimona reactor to international supervision. Others do, including Israeli Jews. But Obama's speech at the U.N. linked the Iranian nuclear threat and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, whose very existence is encountering growing criticism from within Netanyahu's own coalition. 

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro explained to Channel 1's Ayala Hasson that Obama had stressed the importance of both issues without linking one with the other, but the connection was clear and it does not seem like Netanyahu would be able to sever it. All he can do is try to position the Iranian nuclear threat as the top priority among the region's other volatile issues.

The assumption that the Iranian threat cannot be resolved because the negotiations with the Palestinians are treading quicksand is not true -- quite the opposite. When the Iranian issue is resolved it would be easier to reach an understanding regarding the local conflict. Reality, however, has created a climate in which it would be hard for Netanyahu to present Obama with a concrete plan of action.

An idea was raised recently saying that Netanyahu should push for Obama to stipulate that any dialogue with Iran must involve a suspension of all centrifuge operation for the duration of the talks. The problem is that Israel had rejected a similar suggestion regarding a temporary moratorium on settlement expansion in Judea and Samaria for the duration of its negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu will therefore have to offer Obama a different stipulation to present to the Iranians.

It is doubtful, however, if the weary Western democracies are willing to lift a finger at this point. The "Winds of Munich" -- as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it regarding the Syrian issue -- are blowing across the West, which seeks to embrace Rouhani. Obama's phone conversation with him was made to look like an Iranian gesture. When the appease-at-all-cost approach dominates international diplomacy, no one wants to listen to serious arguments warning against the trap being set by the nations making up the axis of evil.

It is true that Netanyahu would have been wiser to instruct the Israeli delegation to the U.N. to remain in their seats during Rouhani's speech -- a gesture of sorts to his allaying (and more deceitful) rhetoric -- but that was a matter of decorum. The fact is that the danger has not diminished and Netanyahu's concerns and warnings are valid.

Dan Margalit


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