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10/02/13

Israel, Achilles' Heel of Iran-US Diplomacy

By Ali Omidi, Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Isfahan-Iran (source: Iran Review)


President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speak to the press after a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office on September 30, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his diplomatic team presented a new image of Iran to the international community during their recent trip to New York [to take part in the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly], which was welcomed as positive by people of the world. In the meantime, the Iranian president also managed to introduce himself as a moderate and pragmatic figure to the world. Rouhani and [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif seriously defended Iran's right to enrich uranium on its oil within framework of international regulations. At the same time, they announced the new administration’s readiness to increase transparency over Iran's nuclear energy program and also to address major concerns of the West, again within framework of international regulations. In other words, they did not retreat from the basic principles which are adhered to by the Islamic Republic of Iran, but simultaneously managed to evoke admiration from their audiences by using logical arguments which were welcomed by the whole world. The Iranian president also took part in a televised interview with the US-based CNN news channel in which he gave a short message to the American people in English by saying, “I would like to say to American people: I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans.” By taking this measure, Rouhani greatly impressed the American people. As a result, the latest opinion poll conducted in the United States showed that three-fourth of Americans advocate the use of diplomacy in a bid to solve the existing problems between Iran and the United States.

It was also during this trip that the age-old taboo related to direct contacts between Iran and the United States was finally shattered. Zarif took part in a meeting with the foreign ministers of the P5+1 group of world powers in which the US Secretary of State John Kerry was also present. He also had a face-to-face conversation with his American counterpart. The presidents of Iran and the United States talked directly for a period of 15 minutes over phone. Both the Iranian and American sides have described the phone call between the two presidents as positive and constructive. Direct dialogue is considered as a requisite step for the settlement of diplomatic disputes among countries. This was the path which was also frequently taken by the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War period. The presidents of both countries have missioned their foreign ministers as well as relevant experts to provide grounds for the continuation of direct talks aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear issue followed by other important issues which are currently plaguing the relations between Tehran and Washington. But where the main problems lie? There is no doubt that there are certain countries as well as some political forces both in Iran and the United States which have never wished for the tension between the two countries to dwindle. The main problem, however, is efforts made by warmongering groups inside Israel as well as the Israeli lobby in the United States, which are trying to hamper a possible detente between Tehran and Washington. Although the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps [Mohammad Ali Ja'fari] criticized the phone call between Rouhani and Obama and described it as premature, the majority of political forces in Iran, including Major General Ja'fari himself, have thrown their weight behind the diplomatic approach which has been taken by Rouhani’s administration toward the United States.

However, the positive diplomatic atmosphere that has come about between Iran and the West following the direct phone conversation between Rouhani and Obama, has taken warmongering political forces in Israel, especially the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by surprise, and has pushed them into a purely aggressive position. Therefore, he has already started a diplomatic and media onslaught [against improvement of ties between Tehran and Washington] in his trip to the United States. Benjamin Netanyahu is also determined to do his best to undermine the existing positive atmosphere through his address to the UN General Assembly session and also during forthcoming interviews with various American news channels. The rightist prime minister of Israel is trying to convey a clear message to the General Assembly, the White House, the Congress and the American people in general: “Rouhani knows it well; he prides himself on how for ten years the West was deceived as talks were held with Iran as the country simultaneously advanced its nuclear program. The international community needs to examine Iran’s actions and not her words.” The greatest concern of Netanyahu is apparently the possibility that Barack Obama will use diplomacy to reduce tensions with Iran. In this way, he will be stripped of all the excuses in order to go ahead with his radical warmongering policies. In this regard, Netanyahu has been to some extent successful. The world was still thinking about the positive outcomes of the direct phone call between the presidents of Iran and the United States when Obama surprised everybody by saying during his meeting with Netanyahu that although the United States had opted for diplomacy and negotiation as the approach of choice for dealing with Iran, Washington will, however, “...take no options off the table, including military option.” This is why some countries and politicians that are parties to Iran's nuclear case have expressed concern over such negative impulses and have called for the continuation of the existing positive atmosphere between the two sides. One of these parties is Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who has indirectly slammed certain forces for making efforts to undermine the existing atmosphere. Ms. Ashton was apparently making an indirect reference to Israel and a number of the US Congressmen who are in cahoots with the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States and are pushing for the intensification of sanctions against Iran. The EU foreign policy chief also noted that the West should prove its goodwill and willingness [to find a solution to Iran nuclear issue] in all aspects in order to be able to both proceed with negotiations with Iran and expect Tehran to do the same.

In view of the current optimism which is rife in the diplomatic sphere, many believe that a new round of interactions between Iran and the West has already gotten underway and it is not possible for people like Netanyahu to be able to change its course on their own. However, Israel is still playing the role of Washington’s Achilles’ heel when it comes to efforts that aim to reduce tension between Iran and the United States. Of course, to introduce Iran as a bogeyman, the Israeli prime minister would need much more than the display that he put up during last year’s General Assembly session by drawing a red line to show where Iran's nuclear energy program should be stopped before the country would build a nuclear bomb!

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