Despite some good articles by Yossi Melman in Ma’ariv, Barak Ravid in Haaretz and former Mossad Head Efraim Halevy in Yediot Ahronot, the Israeli media is filled with scare headlines and disinformation about the framework agreement with Iran, and the anti-Obama spin being promoted by Prime Minister Netanyahu with his confrontational media tactics in cahoots with his Republican allies in America, with ample funding from Sheldon Adelson. In the piece below, I pose an alternative to Netanyahu’s tactics, following my participation a week before the Israeli elections in a fascinating and important conference in Berlin hosted by the Arms Control Department of the German Foreign Ministry, and organized by the Academic Peace Orchestra initiative of the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt.
Instead of theatrical confrontation tactics, how about talking directly to the Iranian people, and also quietly to President Obama? That’s what the senior Saudi representative at the Berlin conference told me they do, which they say is much more effective in expressing their interests. And I must say that it’s not every day that I have an opportunity to talk with Saudis, one a young academic researcher who likes to listening to Mizrachi Israeli singers like Sarit Hadad and Ofra Haza on You Tube, and the other a veteran senior diplomat and intelligence expert.
I also met Iranians at this conference, as I conveyed in my latest article at The Times of Israel:
. . . In an exchange with one of the Iranians, I said that one of the primary reasons that all Israelis share anxieties about Iranian intentions is the fact that President Rouhani’s government has not done what is necessary to assure the Israeli people that the statements made by former President Ahmadinejad about “eliminating the Zionist regime” and his Holocaust denial, do not represent Iranian policy.
His response included the following points: 1) The Iranian leaders no longer use the term “Zionist regime” when describing the country, but simply say Israel; 2) President Rouhani signaled a desire for a different relationship with Israelis and Jews in general when he issued a greeting for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year; 3) He has called the Nazi crimes against the Jews “reprehensible”; 4) He has had a very positive attitude towards the Jewish community in Iran.
What President Rouhani should say to Israelis
My response was that with all due respect, this was not enough. What was needed was direct communication from President Rouhani and the other Iranian leaders to the Israeli public, saying that we respect and recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist. What they oppose is not Israel, but the Israeli occupation beyond the 1967 borders, and Israeli military threats against Iran. Some of the Iranians understand this, but say that such statements are not yet possible at this stage.
This is where my challenge comes to Netanyahu’s Iranian policy. All he seems to be able to do is to warn about potential threats eminating from Iran. In contrast to that approach, I agree with former Mossad head Ephraim Halevi, who said after Rouhani’s election that the Prime Minister’s description of the Iranian President as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” was a strategic mistake, and that his total rejection of any possibility of a change in the Iranian approach was wrong.
What Netanyahu should say to Iranians
What Netanyahu should do is to say that Iran and Israel have common interests as two major non-Arab states in the region, they were once allies in the early days of the State of Israel, and they could be allies once again. Israel is not an enemy of the Iranian people, and we are ready to engage with the Iranian leadership, since we recognize Iran’s right to exist. The Prime Minister should issue a positive challenge to the Iranian leadership, not just threats.
Netanyahu would also be justified in putting the issue of Iranian financial and military support for Hezbollah and Hamas as a threat to Israeli security on the table as well. However, he would be in a much better position to do so if he would announce a freeze on settlement activity and a serious readiness to negotiate a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based upon a two-state solution on the basis of the1967 borders, with mutually agreed upon land swaps.
The Prime Minister is fully aware of these encounters between Israelis and Iranians. One of the participants in the Berlin conference on March 11-12 was Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff, the Deputy Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, in charge of arms control affairs. And none of the Iranians who participated in the talks over the past five years could have attended without the knowledge and support of elements within the Iranian regime. . . .