By Nadav Eyal
Who’s left? Russian and Chinese large government companies (that will enjoy the regime’s preference; they don’t care about image or civil and human rights), the Germans (who had a tight and quite dirty affair with the Iranians until very lately) –and maybe some other European countries... quite obviously, the economic bonanza following Iran’s comeback to the family of nations will skip the major Western states.
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
15 November 2013
It was a good week for the Prime Minister – but a bad one for the country. Israel again emerges as isolated and one whose influence on the United States is steadily fading.
1. This passing week was good for the Prime Minister Netanyahu. Yes, the New York Times called him hysterical, the Israeli media reported in astonishment on the breaking of all the rules1 between Washington and Jerusalem, and the public criticism of the public feud with John Kerry – surged. But Netanyahu positions himself as a defender of the Israeli interests in the face of dangerous indulgence and the conciliatory attitude of the U.S. administration.
For indeed, in Israel, it’s always easy to sell to the public that the Obama White House is soft and conciliatory, so what if in fact, the Iranian nuclear program was advancing almost unhindered during George Bush's term. But the Israelis will buy any bluff about Obama the bleeding heart – that same Obama who has eliminated Osama and now is accused of aggressive use of drone bombings.
Either way, since there’s no agreement with the Iranians, and Netanyahu is taking part in a public and global debate about its nature – he has had an excellent week. The problem is that Israel has had a terrible week. It was revealed in its weakness in the Middle East – a country falling out with its great patron – to the extent that its Prime Minister publicly confronts America’s Secretary of State. A country whose influence on the United States seems to increasingly diminish; after all, if Israel was strong, influential and coordinated, there would be no need for all this public quarrel.
Looks like Israel was indeed “surprised” – something that its opponents didn’t believe was possible – given the “intimate” relationship between America and Israel. Of course, Israel is again internationally portrayed as an isolated, rigid, and uncompromising country, in the same club with Saudi Arabia – Iran’s traditional regional and religious rival, for reasons more related to the Sunni-Shiite hatred rather than for really practical reasons.
Israel’s position no longer sounds like it is a part of the Western coalition, but as someone defined (also in the world media) as “Iran’s arch-enemy,” Tehran’s nemesis. The ability to influence in such a case wanes and turns into a Greek chorus of gloomy prophecies and threats. The problem is that all the threats are empty; the Prime Minister knows perfectly well that if an agreement is reached in Geneva soon, no matter what its details, Israel won’t be able to attack Iran. It’ll be just unable to do anything openly. Jerusalem will have to grit her teeth and wait – perhaps, years. According to her mindset, that will be too late.
Remember that “all options are on the table?” So it’s not true any longer. Unless the negotiations fail absolutely, end up in an explosion and possibly, a renewed radicalization in Tehran. In light of the lines of the arrangement taking shape, could it be that there are decision makers over here [in Israel] holding fingers? Not to be denied.
2. This week was bad not merely for Israel’s standing, – but actually, for the prospects of reaching a settlement with Iran, too. The worst thing that can happen at a sensitive stage of negotiations has already happened – mutual recriminations. John Kerry was very busy this week, and all in all – not in a particularly positive way. The wrangling with Netanyahu only played into the Prime Minister’s hands, and at the same time, the U.S. Secretary of State decided that it would be a good idea to also argue with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Tweeter enthusiast, Javad Zarif.
With his one hand, Kerry ran a battle of titans with the Prime Minister, who claims that the crystallizing arrangement is very bad – while with the other hand, he bothered to explain that the Iranians were the ones to withdraw from the proposed agreement at the last minute. Most unfortunately, this is only half truth – and pretty lame half truth. The truth is that amazingly, the P5+1 powers have come to Geneva being more concerted with Tehran than among themselves.
So when the negotiation progressed nicer than it had been planned, there suddenly erupted disagreements between the British, the Americans, the Germans and the French. They dealt both with the Arak reactor, but also with the monitoring mechanisms and the removal from the use of the second-generation centrifuges. Almost a full day of discussions turned into a barren time, because the Iranians got to wait until the French close the story with the Americans. All of a sudden, the West had to change its mind on part of the points of agreement, and when they arrived at the phase of wording, it took some extra time before Europe and the United States have reached an agreed formulation.
The new formula was tougher than what was talked about in the discussion room, and the Iranians wanted to go home and see if they have the flexibility. Once they did so, the momentum began to vanish and deteriorate to the point of public recriminations. The process hasn’t died, but definitely been hurt. Even the publication this week regarding Khamenei’s business juggernaut worth tens of billions of dollars – oh, it’s interesting who could have initiated such an exposure, precisely in such a sensitive week – certainly did not help the already murky atmosphere. France has become the heroine of the Republicans in Washington. How big a difference from the dark days when Paris bluntly conflicted with the Bush administration around the Iraq war. Demonstrations were conducted across the United States against the French, America-haters – during which French wine was poured down the drain and a boycott of Dijon mustard declared. In U.S. Congress, the name of French fries was changed to Freedom fries. The past two weeks reflected a completely different trend: John McCain proclaimed that “Vive la France!”
Anyone who thinks that the French have suddenly found their abstract spinal cord may be disappointed, – they must be deeply impacted by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and the phrasing “impacted” also refers to economic impact. These countries are angry with Obama’s America – for it is ready to pull Iran out of its isolation. In the West, their options are limited: Britain is considered America’s satellite state; Germany has no voice in the Security Council; Russia and China appear to be on the side of Iran, at least for the moment. Who’s left, flexible as ever? Paris.
3. There’s no point to eulogize the chance for a deal. Tehran is very serious. In parallel with the comprehensive track in Geneva, it is also promoting its relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency that has been consistently whipping Iran with severe reports over the last years. The quiet accord Iran reached with the IAEA this week proves that the Iranians are determined to show that the change at their side is genuine. It’s correct that the agreement is limited and far from meeting the acute concerns of the West and Israel, – but it explicitly increases the supervision over the Iranians, and anyway the question is evidence of intent.
And the Iranians are making efforts to demonstrate that they are serious; so if the negotiation fails – this time, it won’t be possible to place the responsibility on them. Recently, a rally of neo-conservative elements was held in Tehran, near the American Embassy seized by the students 34 years ago. The slogan was “Death to America,” but the attendance has been far from impressive. The rally was primarily a reaction to the Tehran Municipality order to remove anti-American billboards (not all of them and not as a sweeping directive).
The struggle taking place between extremists and those who want an Iranian-American detente is very blatant. The Revolutionary Guards issued an official announcement this week asserting that “Death to America” is to remain the slogan of the revolutionary elite. The release stated that the “revolutionary hatred of Iranians” will continue to be “manifested nationwide with slogans of ‘Death to America’.”2
The question to be asked, naturally, is why the Revolutionary Guards feel the need to publish such a statement. The answer is quite clear and has to do with the wonderful atmosphere in the talks. The background of this ideological power struggle is the unclear health condition of the [supreme] leader Khamenei, who might be at death’s door/suffering from depression/taking drugs affecting him badly/healthy as an ox – no one in the West knows exactly.
4. Investors don’t need more than one little ray of light of hope for a settlement to start contemplating the colossal profits they are about to make from Iran’s return to the family of nations. A series of reports and commentaries in the global economic press is dealing with the opportunity presented by Iran – and the consensus is that we’re talking an extraordinary opportunity.
A huge country with tens of millions of young people, with tremendous energy resources, is suddenly being reopened. This is about a 450 billion economy – that which Obama’s sanctions managed to seal for the world and vice versa (with a limited degree of success).
The Reuters investigation published this week has explained how the sanctions only helped the spiritual leader Khamenei’s giant corporations take total control of the Iranian economy. These corporations will be happy, once sanctions are lifted, to also become stakeholders in international mega-corporations. Just like the Saudis deploy their wide nets in the United States and Europe – and this way, strengthen their political power as well.
This begs a question of who is going to benefit. One thing is sure: these will not anymore be the French, and apparently, not the Americans, either – with all due respect to the thaw – [they] won’t become the most significant foreign investors in the country. Who’s left? Russian and Chinese large government companies (that will enjoy the regime’s preference; they don’t care about image or civil and human rights), the Germans (who had a tight and quite dirty affair with the Iranians until very recently) and maybe some other European countries. The British, the Americans, and the French will try to get in – and in all likelihood, will stay outside for political and historical reasons.
In addition, they will suffer a harsh and unpleasant backlash from the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. The single advantage that can develop for their economies is a decline in oil prices, of the kind that would make industrial production cheaper. This is not to be belittled, but quite obviously, the economic bonanza following Iran’s comeback to the family of nations is to skip the major Western countries.
Original Hebrew article:
1. The original Hebrew expression means a sort of revolutionary change (in Jewish mysticism: Shevirat HaKelim [literally: shattering of the vessels], a process in the creation of the world)