Sketching out a red line for stopping Iran’s nuclear program

Sketching out a red line for stopping Iran's nuclear program

Update from AIJAC

28, 2012
Number 09/12 #05

This Update takes us to New York, at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Taking centre stage is a headline grabbing speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu following the predictably defiant, caustic and offensive anti-Israel speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas once again announced a renewed effort to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority at the UN to non-member observer state. The gathering also offered US President Barack Obama an opportunity to speak out on US foreign policy ahead of November elections, while Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi had his first turn at a UN podium. Finally, for Australia, this session was fraught with import, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech before the plenum culminating her government’s intensive effort to secure Australia’s first temporary seat on the UN Security Council since the 1980s.

First up is Jerusalem Post political analyst Herb Keinon, who analysed Netanyahu’s controversial decision to use of a poster depicting a cartoon bomb as a prop during his speech – a decision that was derided by some of his political opponents in Israel. Keinon wrote that Netanyahu’s use of the prop was orchestrated showmanship intended to create a visual that would be picked up by newspapers and television – more than sound bytes ever could. “He ensure[d] that a picture of him drawing a red line on a sketch board illustration of a bomb will be on the front page of numerous newspapers Friday morning. And that was the prime minister’s goal at the UN: to make clear to the international public what he means when he says a red line.  The best way to do that is to lug a sketch board, a graphic, and a squeaky red marker into the UN to literally illustrate a point,” Keinon wrote. For more of Keinon’s analysis, CLICK HERE.

Other good, short takes on Netanyahu’s speech come from Jonathan Tobin at Commentary and Haviv Rettig Gur at the Times of Israel.

Next up is another analysis by Haviv Rettig Gur, this time on Abbas’ UN speech. Gur picks up on the language used by Abbas as an indication of what the Palestinian leader hopes to achieve by upgrading the status of the Palestinian delegation to the UN. “[Abbas] used his speech before the United Nations to offer a condemnation of Israel and Israeli policies that sounded more like a legal brief before the International Criminal Court [ICC] than a diplomatic address or negotiating position. And that’s no accident,” Gur wrote. The ICC, which Gur noted has been focused on war crimes cases in Africa, has been looking for opportunities to add to its caseload allegations of crimes elsewhere in the world. The PA plans to use an upgrade in Palestinian status to non-member observer state in the General Assembly as standing to lodge criminal cases against Israel in the ICC, Gur wrote. For more of his analysis, CLICK HERE.

Another good analysis on Abbas’ speech is from the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh, who claimed it could easily have been written by a Hamas speechwriter, “Abbas is trying to convince the international community that the peace process is dead and that the only solution lies in imposing a solution rather than reaching one through negotiations.” Also see Robert M. Danin from the US Council on Foreign Relations, who interprets Abbas’ speech as a challenge to the US to reprioritise the Palestinian issue on its agenda – or else there will be consequences.

Finally, Barry Rubin, analyses US President Barack Obama’s UN speech, which, Rubin says, adopted his predecessor George W. Bush’s “neocon” tone in the speech, which bore little semblance to either Obama’s policies or the current situation in the Middle East. Regarding Obama’s statement that the United States has “supported the forces of change” in the Arab Spring, Rubin wrote: “The implication is that Obama believes that all change is good; that nothing can be worse in the region. This is a very dangerous conclusion, especially about the Middle East. It is not a strategy, but merely a tossing of the dice in a casino where the dice are very crooked indeed.”  According to Rubin, Obama created the impression that the US has been supporting progressive, Western values in the region, and protecting the rights of women and minorities. Yet “he has done virtually nothing for those forces,” Rubin noted. For more of Rubin’s insights, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

  • Adam Chandler at Tablet Magazine and Ray Takeyh at the US Council on Foreign Relations on Ahamdinejad’s strange, rambling speech.
  • While, equally strangely, the US cites Yom Kippur (and not Ahmadinejad’s repeated calling for the elimination of Israel) as its excuse for not attending the Iranian president’s speech.
  • The Financial Times reports on how Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi used his UN speech to attack Israel.
  • Behind the Australian newspaper paywall, Greg Sheridan writes about why he thinks Australia has the UN Security Council seat all sewn up, while Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop slams the government’s handling of its campaign for the seat, saying it sacrificed key policy interests, like support for Israel.
  • At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson and Dennis Ross discuss their soon-to-be-released study “How to Build U.S.-Israeli Coordination on Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout”.
  • An article by Reuters looks at a potential problem regarding any possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities – the fate of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who may be nearby.
  • Will Musa Abu-Marzuq succeed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal?
  • Former US Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller says the people who blame Netanyahu for the lack of a peace agreement with the Palestinians are wrong.
  • Jonathan Tobin writes that, despite former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent acquittal on some of the worst corruption charges laid against him, more charges remain and his chances for a political comeback are slim.
  • Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
    • Sharyn Mittelman writes about the media’s readiness to publicise Jewish conspiracy theories with reckless abandon.
    • In his latest Media Week column, Allon Lee looks at the warm welcome anti-Israel writer Ilan Pappe received in the Australian media.
    • Or Avi-Guy reports on the latest confirmation by a senior Gazan Hamas official that Gaza is neither occupied nor under siege by Israel.



PM unorthodox in conveying red line point


Analysis: Netanyahu turns UNGA into an “Intro Nuclear Physics” class; some will dismiss bomb graph as a juvenile gimmick.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assumed a professorial role and – turning the UN General Assembly on Thursday into an “Intro to Nuclear Physics” class – illustrated through the use of a rudimentary graph where a red line needs to be drawn during Iran’s bomb-making process.

“Where should a red line be drawn?” Netanyahu asked, taking out his pen in the GA. “A red line should be drawn right here,” he continued, drawing with a thick red line toward the top of a simply sketched bomb.

“Before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb,” he said, continuing his answer of where that line should be drawn. “Before Iran completes a second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb, before Iran gets to a point where it is a few months away, or a few weeks away, from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.”

Some will dismiss the bomb graph as a juvenile gimmick. One blogger unfavorably predisposed to the prime minister, for instance, tweeted, “Oy vey on Netanyahu’s diagram of cartoon-like bomb.” And then again, she wrote, “Netanyahu secret plot to make Iran leaders keel over with laughter? Is he mocking himself?”

No, he was neither mocking himself nor aiming his drawing at the Iranian leaders. Gimmick or not, the chart served one purpose – and it served it successfully – getting people’s attention.

The annual UN General Assembly is a show. Speaker after speaker rises to the podium to give lengthy, dry speeches on their take of the world’s problems. Generally, nobody but the media in the speaker’s own country cares a whit about what their leader said.

Had Netanyahu sufficed with the basic lesson on bomb making that he gave, few would have paid attention. His words on enriched uranium and explosive devices would have been forgotten tomorrow. His chart, and the point his chart was used to illustrate, will be remembered – and that was the purpose of his trip to the US and his speech.

When Netanyahu decided late last month to travel to the UN and talk to the General Assembly about Iran, the question some asked was why? Why go? Who was his audience? Was he really going to the GA, a forum stacked up against Israel, to try and convince anyone in that hall? Had not all of the leaders sitting there heard all the arguments before? Did anybody really believe he was going to reveal some new intelligence information, triggering a world-wide “wow” moment with some new, astounding revelation?

No, he went there to appeal directly to international public opinion, but to do so he had to get that public’s attention. The world was not exactly tuned in at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time to live streaming of Netanyahu’s address to the UN.

How could Netanyahu, using a turn of phrase US President Barack Obama employed this week to discuss Israel’s protestations about Iran, stand out from all the background noise at the UN. How could he set his speech – and the message he wanted to convey – apart from that of Obama, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? Simple, through the use of props. Netanyahu loves props, and has used them repeatedly during major presentations to grab attention. At a press conference in April to mark three years of his government, he drew a tree on a sketch board to illustrate the twin storms of economic crisis and revolutions buffeting the state.

At his AIPAC speech in Washington in March he waved an exchange of letters from the World Jewish Congress to the US War Department during the Holocaust to prove a point that ultimately, Israel needed to rely on itself. And at the UN in 2009 he unfurled the original blueprints of Auschwitz to blast the UN for allowing Ahmadinejad – a Holocaust denier – to speak.

Netanyahu broke no new ground in his speech to the UN on Thursday. In fact some of what he said, for instance about the clash between modernity and a medieval frame of mind, he said in 2009 in the very same UN hall.

And Netanyahu probably didn’t convince any minds sitting in the hall.

But he did ensure that a picture of him drawing a red line on a sketch board illustration of a bomb will be on the front page of numerous newspapers Friday morning. And that was the prime minister’s goal at the UN: To make clear to the international public what he means when he says a red line. The best way to do that is to lug a sketch board, a graphic, and a squeaky red marker into the UN to literally illustrate a point.

The illustration – and the image of the prime minister with his pen – will remain in the mind far after what he actually said is forgotten. And that is one way to sear an idea into people’s minds.

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At the UN, Abbas’s rhetoric offers a taste of the legal campaign to come

By Haviv Rettig Gur

The Times of Israel

September 28, 2012

In the initial responses to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the United Nations General Assembly Thursday, most pundits zeroed in on language dealing with the possibility of rekindling negotiations with Israel.

But Abbas did not take the UN podium — to general applause that interrupted his speech several times — in order to return to negotiations. Rather, he used his speech before the United Nations to offer a condemnation of Israel and Israeli policies that sounded more like a legal brief before the International Criminal Court than a diplomatic address or negotiating position.

And that’s no accident.

Israel, Abbas said, is an international law-breaker that is “permitted to evade accountability and punishment” despite “its violations of international law and covenants.”

This lax enforcement of international law “represents a license for the occupation to continue its policy of dispossession and ethnic cleansing, and encourages it to entrench its system of apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

Abbas described Israel’s “illegal” policies in language taken directly from the texts and discourse of international law. The “occupying power” — a legal term repeated multiple times in the speech — has employed severe “illegal measures” against the Palestinian population, including hindering economic development and pursuing a policy of “racist settlement.”

In addition to “inciting religious conflict,” Israel “refuses to end the occupation and refuses to allow the Palestinian people to attain their rights and freedom and rejects the independence of the State of Palestine.”

In stark contrast, the Palestinians were presented in Abbas’s speech as patient and, above all, law-abiding, “a people that feels that, at the same time that they continue with their calls for their right to freedom and their adoption of a culture of peace and adherence to the principles and rules of international law and resolutions of international legitimacy, rewards continue to be illogically bestowed upon Israel, whose government pursues a policy of war, occupation and settlement colonization.”

The international community must “compel the government of Israel to respect the Geneva Conventions,” he insisted.

In April, the International Criminal Court, under then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, ruled that the Palestinian Authority did not fall under its jurisdiction as it was not a recognized state that could make itself party to the Rome Statute that established the court.

However, according to the ICC’s new prosecutor, Gambia-born Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s rejection was not permanent.

“What we have also done [in the April decision] is to leave the door open, and to say that if Palestine is able to pass over that hurdle [of statehood] — of course, under the [UN] General Assembly — then we will revisit what the ICC can do,” Bensouda said Friday in an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Indeed, she suggested that the ICC would not need to wait for another Palestinian request to begin investigating Israel. The original 2009 Palestinian Authority request to join the Rome Statute is enough to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its discretion.

“Palestine made a declaration under the [Rome] Statute acknowledging the jurisdiction of the court. As you know, this is one of the ways in which we can have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute,” Bensouda said.

The ICC has focused its investigations largely on leaders and crimes committed in Africa in recent years, leading to pressure from some quarters — including African leaders — to show that it isn’t prejudiced against Africa. The ICC, some observers believe, is under pressure to broaden its investigative agenda beyond the African continent.

With the Palestinians insistent on bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the International Criminal Court, a sympathetic General Assembly that rose to its feet for a standing ovation as Abbas left the podium Thursday, and an ICC with more than a passing interest in expanding its scope of investigation to new regions and issues, Abbas’s speech should be taken as a sign of things to come.

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Obama at the UN: A Speech That Had Nothing to Do With Either His Policies or the Real Middle East

By Barry Rubin

September 27, 2012

President Barack Obama’s UN speech is a fascinating document. The theme is this: absolutely nothing can go wrong with political change in the Middle East, and the United States helps moderate forces, defined as anyone who isn’t actively trying to kill Americans. The fact that some to many of those revolutionary forces favor killing Americans is outside his purview. And the fact that his policy has supported militantly anti-democratic groups far more than the (far weaker) moderate ones is airbrushed away.

That’s not to say there weren’t good-sounding formulations in his speech. Either due to a learning process, the impact of events, or — most likely — the immediacy of an American presidential election, the voters of which he is actually addressing, Obama hit some of the right notes. The problem is the isolation of this soaring rhetoric from his actual policies. That’s what’s important here — not the discussion about the video and its relationship to the rioting, which has drawn literally all of the attention in analyzing the speech.

(By the way, what’s really amazing and what no one has noted is that almost every word of the speech could have been given by President George W. Bush. Obama has totally accepted the dangerous “neo-conservative” approach to the region, despite the fact that this label makes his supporters foam at the mouth.)

In basic terms, Obama urged the world to support the good people and not the bad people. Why should the U.S. ambassador to Libya be killed? After all, Obama claims that “he supported the birth of a new democracy” and was allegedly in Benghazi to review plans for a new cultural center and a modernized hospital. “Chris was killed in the city he helped to save,” said the president.

Yet the most powerful force in the Middle East views his actions not as saving the city, but as delivering it to U.S. control.

The anti-American riots? Obama described them as follows:

An assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded — the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens. … Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.

That passage is unintentionally funny.

For decades, violence and intolerance have been central at the UN, and this will continue to be true. Indeed, the Obama administration has supported many of these forces of violence and intolerance, and in other cases not stood up to them. After all, the minister of railroads in Pakistan, a country which has received billions in aid from the Obama administration, has just offered a reward for murdering an American citizen without fear of any consequences for his regime. Amidst a thousand other examples, that gives a sense of the reality of the contemporary situation compared to Obama’s rhetoric.

Obama says that the United States “has supported the forces of change” in the Arab Spring. But he does not evaluate these forces. The old regimes were tyrannical, but what will replace them? Well, to prove he doesn’t comprehend there is a serious battle within the “forces of change,” Obama actually said: “We again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop, and a new dawn can begin.”

A new dawn? Almost a century ago, revolutionaries were overthrowing the czar, widely viewed in the West as the world’s worst tyrant, and it was assumed that whatever happened would mark the beginning of a new dawn. Thirty years ago, those assumptions were repeated with Iran, where the world’s worst tyrant was supposedly being overthrown and the result had to be a “new dawn.”  Each of these events generated massive sufferings and several wars.

The implication is that Obama believes that all change is good; that nothing can be worse in the region. This is a very dangerous conclusion, especially about the Middle East. It is not a strategy, but merely a tossing of the dice in a casino where the dice are very crooked indeed.

Going all Abe Lincoln, Obama continued:

I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.

Well, perhaps, but what does that have to do with the actual existing governments? These words are a typical Western view that materialistic interests must triumph, rather than taking into account the power of ideology and the things regimes need to do to stay in power. In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s revolution, said that Western observers thought the upheaval in his country was about the price of watermelons — that is, about how best to achieve prosperity — and that this was ridiculous. One-third of a century later, the Iranian regime is still in power and still following Khomeini’s radical approach. Why should we not expect the same to be true in Egypt, and perhaps soon in Syria?

Indeed, his line in the speech parallels the old view of U.S. leaders: if Yasir Arafat and the PLO could only be given their own entity and offered their own state, turned into responsible politicians who have to fix potholes and provide jobs, there would be peace and stability in the Middle East. This formula has never worked anywhere in the region.

Whatever he truly believes, Obama’s publicly stated assumption is based on the wishful thinking of a community organizer rather than the hardheaded evaluations of a statesman:

Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent. In hard economic times, countries may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.

You mean like his policy of mobilizing people to hate the rich? But why shouldn’t they crack down and rally the people against perceived enemies, acting like he does but with the added violence and intolerance of those political cultures? Why does his thinking provide no possibility of that happening? Who is going to make them “resist the temptation” to be aggressive if there is no strong superpower that is going to hold them to account?

After all, this is a president who can praise the new Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Tunisia and Egypt; fall in love with the repressive, hate-inciting regime in Turkey; follow a policy greatly strengthening the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip; ignore the likelihood that he’s promoting the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Syria; and can then say:

It is time to marginalize those who even when not resorting to violence use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.

“Marginalize”? He has brought them to center stage. He explains:


Burning an American flag will do nothing to educate a child. Smashing apart a restaurant will not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job.

Of course, that’s the whole point. A leader who cannot bring economic recovery to his country after four years in office, for example, finds demagoguery to be a very useful alternative. That is all the more true in the Middle East. Burning an American flag indoctrinates a child into certain beliefs; smashing apart a restaurant makes people who have no jobs feel good.

At times, Obama’s statements read so differently in the Middle East that it is laughable:

In less than two years, we have seen largely peaceful protests bring more change to Muslim-majority countries than a decade of violence. Extremists understand this. And because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They do not build, they only destroy.

Well, no, in fact the smart extremists understand that they found a useful tactic for seizing power — and with the help of the United States. They want to go step by step now to build dictatorships and to wipe out everyone they don’t like at home and abroad. The ‘’less smart” extremists are too impatient, but their very impatience pressures their colleagues to go further and faster.

If one listened to Obama’s speech, one would think that this was a man who gave strong support to the opposition in Iran and to the moderate democratic forces struggling in Lebanon and Egypt (most U.S.-backed programs to help organize politically in Egypt went to the Muslim Brotherhood) and who backed those fighting for a Syria that isn’t an Islamist dictatorship.

Not at all. He has done virtually nothing for those forces. Nor has his government really done anything material to protect the rights of women and Christians in the Middle East. When he says, “Those are the men and women that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support,” it has no relationship with reality.

For example, Obama said:


Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision — a Syria that is united and inclusive; where children don’t need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed — Sunnis and Alawites; Kurds and Christians. That is what America stands for; that is the outcome that we will work for.

Meanwhile, his government is overseeing programs that distribute arms to either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists. It organized a Syrian opposition council dominated by the Brotherhood. It is guaranteeing a Syria in which Alawites and Christians will be massacred; in which Kurds will face an assault on their region; and which will not be united, inclusive, or non-scary for children.

As I have said, there are many fine sentiments expressed on Iran, Israel-Palestinian issues, economic development, minority rights, religious equality, and freedom of speech. Yet these points have no relationship with what this president has actually done in the Middle East. For example, he has not made a single effective action, backed by real power and pressure, to defend the rights of women or Christians, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States had military forces and potentially effective influence.

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