By Nadav Eyal
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
Here is a financial proposal from Tehran. The interest on deposits in the Iranian banks is 21 percent, good money. A brave Iranian citizen who has not hurried to change his money to dollars or gold could earn a nice yield. There’s just one problem: it’s not sure that the “rial” is worth something. And judging by the crash of the currency (about 15 percent in the last week alone), isn’t it true that an interest rate of 21 percent (annualized) is a poor compensation? Pathetic, like the efforts of the authorities to conceal and distort this reality – for example, by blotting out the word “dollar” from all the text messages sent in Tehran over the last weeks.
There are some who’ll recognize victory against the Iranian nuclear program only when smoke ascends above nuclear bases in Qom and Isfahan. The proponents of the military approach won’t get pacified even if the Iranians raise their hands and propose to convert the centrifuge containers into aquariums for tropical fishes and invite the Likud* youth to oversee the facilities. Those holding this position would argue, perhaps rightly, that the present regime can’t be trusted. Even an apparent concession on the nuke is merely a fraud attempt.
anyone else, the past week has been very important. Foreign ministers of the
European Union have taken this week one of the most aggressive steps the EU has
ever employed. In their imagination, the Europeans would like to see the
Iranian regime groaning under the economic distress and deciding, with no
choice, to turn to the program of nuclear disarmament in order to be reinstated
in the family of nations.
“We take from them so that we have what to give back,” a European observer told Maariv. This hope looks a little devoid of political foundation. The Iranian nuclear project is a consensus in Tehran, more or less as Dimona is a consensus in Israel. The clear strategic need gets accompanied by national ethos – one that rejects intervention of foreign powers and based on old-new nationalist ideas.
It’s hard to believe that there will take place the coveted address by the Iranian leader announcing that actually no, Tehran will not develop an independent nuclear capability. The chance that the sanctions are going to work, simply put, is not high. Especially when they are partial; it is not the fault of the European Union and the United States. Asia, thirsty for fuel, is unwilling to join the West in its harsh measures against Tehran.
Deadly Political Game
Seemingly, this is a picture of failure; however, the meaning of this week’s sanctions is much deeper. The drama of the EU embargo does not stem solely from the tremendous pressure that is applied on the Iranian economy, in practice, crushing it. The drama of the embargo does not lie in the quite imaginary scenario of a voluntary Iranian surrender. The international drama is implicit in the way Iran as a nuclear threshold state loses international legitimation, turns into an infected country, is put away into the international limbo of the damned.
Let’s assume for a moment that Iran, as the Prime Minister estimates, will go on with the nuclear development. And let’s suppose that the West, in response, will enhance the sanctions. The long-term significance would be Iran turning into the world’s most excommunicated country. It will retain the nuclear “threshold ability,” but the price it will pay will be a steady economic crash. This condition of escalation will only get worse, because the Europeans and the Americans won’t reconcile with the state of affairs where Asia and South America would benefit from the sanctions. Finally, all the holes through which Iran slips would seize up.
This extreme situation could end up in a real war; for instance, because of the closing of the Strait of Hormuz. It might also finish as a domestic political shift befalling Iran that would call for capitulation in the face of the West’s demands (like what happened in Serbia in the aftermath of the NATO bombardments).
One thing is not about to
happen, in the wake of the week’s goings-on: the European Union won’t remove
the embargo as long as Iran continues its nuclear build-up. The United States
won’t be able to make the Iranian life easier, unless it sees genuine progress
towards dismantling the weapons in Tehran. The sanctions are a fait accompli,
a greatly powerful political commitment. There is no return from these steps.
Till now, the Iranian story has been mostly talk; from this week on, we are
deeply seated in a deadly political game of ‘who blinks first.’ This is a game
that could lead to either escalation and clash, or a quail. There is no intermediate
The essence of this game, the new one, is determining the most negative scenario for the Iranians. They preferred one of two other alternatives: conducting sleepy negotiations until the warhead is ready, or an attack that would allow internal unity. Both these outlines, the quiet disregard and the effective offensive, have not come about. The Iranians are locked up between their economy and the boycott, between the nuke and their inner politics. Iranians are in a trap.
Gingrich of Once
And so Newt Gingrich, of the leading Republican candidates in the US primaries, wrote in 2005. “Israelis will face two existential threats if the war [the Israeli - Arab conflict, - N.E.] continues: first, there is a danger of growing isolation from the rest of the world as Israel's dominant military capabilities make it look like a bully and oppressor… Another generation of military reprisals, no matter how legitimate in terms of responding to terrorist killings of innocent people, may leave Israel dangerously isolated. Second, there is the real danger that those who are determined to destroy Israel will acquire weapons of mass destruction.”**
Very clean, realistic distinctions. Gingrich has remarked in the course of the campaign, in a notorious quote that the Palestinians are an “invented” people.*** Odd. The stances he expressed in a lengthy and very well argued article six years ago, are moderate like the white dove of peace. Yes, he is prominently pro-Israeli, and he presents strict preconditions before resuming negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand, some of his standpoints are more reminiscent of those of MK Zahava Gal-On**** than Tzipi Livni’s.
Time and again Gingrich speaks of the Palestinian people, the invented one, as for the American candidate today. There are compliments as well: “The Palestinians… were in some ways among the most international and most advanced people in the Arab world.” He also engages in encouraging the Palestinian Diaspora to “to invest in their ancestral lands.”
And That Concerns Sheldon Adelson How?
Gingrich elaborates the limitations that Washington should impose on Israel. “…a free hand in building a security fence does not mean a free hand to expand the Israeli settlements in a land grab. The U.S. government should become the protector of the Palestinian people's right to have a decent amount of land and to have continuous communications and travel between their [the Palestinian, - N.E.] areas.”
“The desire of some Israelis to use security as an excuse to grab more Palestinian land should be blocked by Washington even if that requires employing financial or other leverage to compel the Israeli government to behave reasonably on the issue of settlements. It is vital to our credibility in the entire Middle East that we insist on an end to Israeli [territorial, - N.E.] expansionism. It is vital to our humanitarian duty to the Palestinian people that we protect the weaker party from the stronger power.” Forcing expanding settlements to stop? American economic pressure? “Peace Now”***** wouldn’t have worded that better.
All of that was in 2005. His standing reminded then, in its balanced style, the stand of Reagan’s administration – with whom Gingrich worked and whom he sought to resemble. Over the years, Gingrich has grown more hawkish and rightist. His most generous contributor in the current campaign, according to the American media reports, is Sheldon Adelson, a good friend of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Adelson’s hawkish political outlooks are [well] known. Esteemed American (and liberal) website The Daily Beast wondered this week, in a long piece dealing with the relations between the two, about the fashion in which Gingrich’s views have transformed during the years. The Daily Beast’s headline was simple: “Is Gingrich's hard line on Palestine paid for by Adelson?” An evil question, no doubt.
(the 1st part)
**** Member of Knesset for a very leftist Meretz party; Livni is the head of centrist Kadima (oppositional to Netanyahu’s Likud)