The original sin of Israel’s birth has scarred it for life and it remains incapable of finding an identity that would meet basic democratic norms. Its neighbourhood in West Asia has had no option but to accept its truculent presence. All international law has to be rewritten, if necessary, to ensure Israel’s state of exceptional nationhood. The United States’ nuclear deal with Iran signals that the burden of carrying this exceptionalism is becoming too heavy to bear.
Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the P5+1-Iran Nuclear Deal was brusque and bitter as he called it a “historic mistake”. Since, Israel would not be obligated in any manner by the deal and would have the world know it had the means to defend itself, therefore there were no surprises. Nor were there any in the subsequent spectacle of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby that wields enormous financial clout, stepping up with vows to kill the deal in the US Congress. Although former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is aspiring for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, defended the deal — though in an undertone — when she said that as US President, she would deploy every weapon to “compel rigorous Iranian compliance” and demand verifiable evidence of the “rollback” of Iranian nuclear plans. The conspicuously visible element here is a declaration of loyalty to the AIPAC.
Netanyahu had given ample forewarning that no deal preserving a vestige of Iranian sovereignty would be acceptable, brazenly wading into political partisanship in March and addressing US Congress in a deliberate affront to President Obama’s investment in the talks. Netanyahu reached for Biblical analogies and invoked a sinister Persian viceroy’s plot against the Jewish people from two-and-a-half millennia back. He then segued into a weird diatribe more strident in its Islamophobic tone than recent appearances before the UN General Assembly. “The emergence of the Islamic State (IS) militia as a malevolent new presence in the West Asian region did not make Iran a potential ally of the West,” he said. There was a “deadly game of thrones” underway, in which there would be “no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.” Rhetorically, these were a clear overture to the most extreme elements in the US and Israel.
Then facing a tense electoral battle at home, Netanyahu pinned his hopes on retaining the loyalty of the fanatical right wing that is now mainstream in Israel. As polls neared, he warned about a sinister leftist conspiracy to depose him, before playing his final card and vowing that a Palestinian state would never become a reality under his watch.
It was that pivot to the extreme right that transformed a losing position into victory. Later, Netanyahu put together a narrow majority in Israel’s parliament that was in alliance with the most reactionary elements, mirroring in many ways the Republican Party in the US. This is the ideological fraternity that could deliver Israel from its feverish paranoia over the Iran Nuclear Deal.
The template Israel had in mind was undoubtedly the punishing regime that the US and UK — with an acquiescent Security Council failing to offer resistance — imposed on Iraq. It was a policy of regime change pursued through a disarmament agenda, which led by its own inexorable logic, to the invasion of 2003. Republicans in the US remain unrepentant at the dissimulation, but Democrats are visibly suffering buyer’s remorse. And the plain fact about the Nuclear Deal is that the IAEA would be permitted “managed access” to all sites if concerns were to arise about undeclared nuclear activities.
Though the implication of the term “managed access” is modest since every sovereign state is guaranteed the right to safeguard sites vital to security, even here Iran’s rights have been severely abridged. If reasons advanced for denying access are considered inadequate, the parties to the deal would decide by majority vote. Even the worst-case scenario sketched by Israel — of a gang-up of Russia, China and Iran preventing inspections — would be far removed from realms of possibility.
A specific worry that Israel vented through its captive media platforms involves the covert Parchin military base, southeast of Tehran, “suspected of being the centre of Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.” And here IAEA inspections—recorded in periodic reports to the board — reveal a ruthless distortion of facts. As recorded in a 2006 report, the IAEA “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited [at Parchin]” and an analysis of numerous environmental samples gathered “did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations.”
Iran’s ‘Prior Nuclear Work’
An ostensible failure in the deal to insist that Iran “must come clean on its prior nuclear work” is another of the Israel lobby’s grievances. Here again, the factual record of inspections paints a rather different picture. Most such inspections have followed declarations by Iran that it intends to pursue nuclear fuel cycle activities as is its entitlement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The matter became contentious from about 2003 with reports that Iran had imported uranium compounds through the 1990s without reporting them. Iran’s response was that quantities imported did not exceed the technical definition of “an effective kilogram,” the threshold at which reporting to IAEA became obligatory. Once this discrepancy was cleared, as the IAEA reported in June 2003, Iran fully accounted for the material except for minute traces that were quite possibly, lost due to technical issues with the storage process.
Though there was no evidence that Iran had achieved uranium enrichment even remotely within reach of a bomb, the response of the UN Security Council, which exercises ultimate oversight, was to severely abridge Iran’s entitled activities. Heavy water production, for instance, is not classified as an activity subject to NPT safeguards but is under strict monitoring in Iran.
As part of its obligations under the July 14 deal, Iran will verifiably dismantle the vast bulk of its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and accept an obligation to not develop fissile material beyond a very modest enrichment level of 3.67%. Israel’s worry that the deal does not block Iran’s nuclear weapons quest “for decades” is evidently an outrageous falsehood. With elaborate safeguards and conditionalities in place, the deal completely eliminates the plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon and cuts uranium enrichment capacity substantially for a decade.
The New York Times on 17 July reported that AIPAC had set aside a budget of $20 million in an effort to defeat the Iran Deal. Following Netanyahu’s speech in March, Israel-firsters in the US Congress began manoeuvring to impose their will on the negotiations. President Obama retreated from an early threat to veto legislation abridging the executive privilege to conclude a treaty, subject to ex post facto legislative ratification. Desperate negotiations later a law was passed that allowed US Congress a limited window of time to vote the deal up or down.
Congress needs a two-third majority in both houses to beat the veto that President Obama has sworn to employ against a down vote.
The UN Security Council meanwhile went right ahead and unanimously ratified the Iran Deal. Even in the remote eventuality of a US congressional rollback, it would have no bearing on multilateral sanctions which would be removed in accordance with an agreed timetable. If increasingly bitter partisanship in domestic politics demands, the US may reimpose some form of sanctions. But the specifically nuclear-related sanctions that the US has over time conjured up are unlikely to add very much to those that originate in supposed concerns over terrorism and human rights.
Obama’s turn towards negotiations with Iran after decades of confrontation was an effort to change course in a region that has been plunged into a state of proliferating chaos by the overweening conceits of US power. Till the late-1970s, Iran and Israel were the two regional props around which US power gravitated. Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 knocked out one among those props, but Iraq fortuitously stepped into that breach, with the active encouragement of the Gulf Arab states and the US, to fight a decade-long war against Iran over territory and denominational loyalties. As the two sides fought, the US found a way of playing one side and then the other. But the blood and treasure it had spent in defence of the Arab Gulf states left Iraq with a sense of entitlement which when rebuffed, erupted in virulent hostilities against erstwhile friends. In August 1990, Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait, setting off a sequence of US military responses that have still not run their course.
Even after inflicting what the US claimed was a decisive defeat on Iraq, the impulse for vengeance was not exhausted. With other proxies in the region being weak and inept, the US embarked on a strategy of dual containment targeting both Iraq and Iran. By the late-1990s, this strategy was beginning to wear thin and global sympathy was growing for Iraq, still subject to brutal economic sanctions and whimsical bombing raids by the US and UK.
All possibility of a durable rapprochement vanished in 2001 with the return of the right wing to power in the US. In his first state of the union address to the US Congress in 2002, US President George Bush enfolded Iran and Iraq into his theological construct of an “axis of evil.” Faith had supplanted fact as the basis of policy.
Rapidly deteriorating on-ground situation soon became impossible for the US to ignore. With the explosive arrival of ISIS in 2014, the effort to keep a lid on rapidly escalating antagonisms and a malign new polarisation of regional forces was officially declared over.
There was no mystery about the emergence of the ISIS as a force that within days could seize control of vast swathes of territory within Iraq. It was foreseen almost to its last details. What remains to be revealed is Israel’s role in fomenting the chaos.
In 2003, well after the fiasco of the Iraq invasion had turned into a tragedy, a survey of EU countries found that a clear majority identified Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. It caused much outrage in Israel ergo resurrection of the old bogey of anti-Semitism. But the Zionist state’s angry and querulous reaction to the Iran Deal that has won almost unanimous world acclaim, underlines just how far it is adrift of world opinion.
In 2004, as he contemplated the horrors of Zionist extremism in Israel during Ariel Sharon’s premiership, Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, described the creation of Israel in terms that foreshadowed Netanyahu’s reaction to the Iran Nuclear Deal: a historic mistake. Speaking to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, he rebuffed all accusations of anti-Semitism as cheap and ugly hysteria from those “advocating for something…impossible to advocate for… (namely)…a Jewish state that does not acknowledge its own crimes.”
Others have considered the anomaly of the state of Israel coming into existence as an ethnic homeland based on colonisation and ethnic cleansing, at just the time the world was entering a phase of decolonisation. That original sin of its birth has scarred it for life and it remains incapable of defining its borders or finding an identity that would meet basic democratic norms. The neighbourhood has no option but to accept its truculent presence, which embodies the perennial prospect of instability. If necessary, all international law has to be rewritten to ensure that its state of exceptional nationhood is forever sustained. The US deal with Iran signals that the burden of carrying this exceptionalism is becoming too heavy to bear.