Iran on agenda in US-Israel talksby Mohammad Amjad Hossain
DRUMS are beating every day for waging another war against Iran, as Iran has apparently frustrated Western powers with conflicting messages, barring the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from visiting suspected nuclear weapons facilities at Parchin military base near Tehran, just days after it had offered to revive suspended negotiations with Western countries. President Obama is also under constant attacks about his Iran policy vis-à-vis Israel, from Republican opponents including the presidential contenders.
Against the backdrop of this scenario Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had a tête-à-tête with President Barack Obama on March 5 at the White House, to discuss the pros and cons if Israel plans to go ahead with a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The meeting between the leaders of the two allies took place at a critical juncture of upheaval in the entire Middle East and North Africa, and the anti-American wave in Afghanistan (following the burning of Qur’an) and Pakistan (as a result of killing Pakistanis by CIA drones).
In the joint press briefing before holding talks President Obama laid emphasis on the bonds of relations maintained by the United States with the state of Israel and assured the hawkish Israeli prime minister of America’s unconditional support for Israel’s security. On the other hand, the president also underscored the necessity of preventing, not containing, Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The president, however, asserted that there was a window that allows diplomatic resolution of Iranian nuclear programs. In response, Netanyahu said Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself, against any threat.
In fact, the Israeli premier repeated exactly what the president told a huge gathering at the annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee at Washington DC on March 4. AIPAC is the powerful lobbying group of the Jewish community in America. At the conference President Obama explicitly defended himself by expressing his strongest support for Israel to date, including his opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and cited increased military aid to Israel, stronger intelligence sharing and tight cooperation on antimissile programs. The fact is that the Obama administration had walked out of UNESCO when Palestinians were admitted as its member, while Israel still remains a member of this international organization. The president received thunderous applause, several times, when he addressed the gathering. The president was introduced by none other than former prime minister and president of Israel Shimon Peres, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with President Yasser Arafat of Palestinian Liberation Organization, after the Oslo peace treaty. In his introductory remarks Shimon Peres said that Israel has a friend in the White House. His remarks obviously succeeded in containing criticism against President Obama by Republican presidential contenders. President Obama, who is facing re-election in November this year, said no Israeli government could tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction. Therefore, the president thinks that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is in the United States national interests.
During talks between the two leaders, the present situation in Syria, the hostile attitude of Egyptian administration following the overthrow of the pro-Israel and pro-America administration of Hosni Mubarak and Turkish relations with Israel came up for discussion. Obama has had tense relations with Netanyahu. He did not hold a joint press conference after meeting him in recent times, and on another occasion the President insisted that Israel should cease settlement construction in occupied territories. President Obama also reportedly told Israel on another occasion to negotiate with Palestinians on the basis of Israel’s pre-1967 borders along with negotiated land swaps. The prime minister of Israel did not appreciate such ideas. Now, peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians do not feature prominently in Obama’s agenda. On the other hand, this is the first time Netanyahu was given guest status at the White House and was officially entertained with lunch.
After holding official talks with the US president, the Israeli prime minister told a conference of AIPAC that ‘we have waited for diplomacy to work, we have waited for sanctions to work; none of us can afford to wait much longer.’ A defiant Israeli leader told the gatherings that ‘I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation. We would not talk about what Israel would or would not do’.
Latest polls in Israel, however, shows that majority of Israelis are opposed to attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel, with or without the help of the United States. While polls conducted by Pew Research Centre in America, as reported by the Washington Post of March 5, show that a narrow majority of Americans believe that the United States should remain neutral in a war between Israel and Iran. President Obama might have conveyed to the Israeli prime minister, at closed-door sessions, what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey conveyed to Israeli authorities recently — that Israel should consider giving the stringent international sanctions more time to work. According to a CNN report from Tehran, economic sanctions have already impacted Iran as the value of Iranian currency has gone down in relation to the dollar, while prices of imported goods are skyrocketing. A columnist in New York Times pinpoints international sanctions as clearly working as seen from soaring food prices and decreasing oil revenues. A full page advertisement in the Washington Post of March 5 by National Iranian American Council, which included names of a former general, a lieutenant general, two major generals, one brigadier general and two national intelligence analysts, made a fervent appeal to the president by saying ‘military action at this stage is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous — for the United States and for Israel. We urge you to resist the pressure for a war of choice with Iran.’
Having heard the arguments and counter arguments of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel, it is hoped that wisdom will prevail in the Obama administration, to coordinate with Western powers to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, and resolve this standoff on Iranian nuclear programs. The sooner this happens, the better it is for the President. We wish him luck on his continuing efforts to resolve this Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. Americans are no longer interested in another war. Enough is enough!
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former president of the Nova chapter of the prestigious Toastmasters International Club, writes from Virginia.
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