Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran

6 March 2015

I watched PM Netanyahu’s address to the Congress. I also read the transcript. What he said on Iran was hardly different from his UN General Assembly speech of 29 September 2014. It was the controversial nature of his Washington visit, the approaching deadline for the p5+1-Iran talks and the “Obama-Netanyahu rift” that brought it to world’s attention.

The fact that the Israeli PM was able to address the Congress during a visit organized with no regard for diplomatic rules is evidence to American democracy’s profound attachment to separation of powers, a fundamental principal of democracy. The special relationship between Israel and the US and the weight Israel carries in the US are well-known. Yet, no matter how strong and deep a relationship may be, no other Western democracy would have knowingly allowed a foreign leader to challenge its government in its own parliament. In Turkey, separation of powers is unfortunately seen as an impediment to “effective government”.

The word “APPLAUSE” appeared forty-two times in the transcript of the Mr. Netanyahu’s address. Members of the Congress rose over and over again to give the PM a standing ovation. Whether this was a display of total agreement with him or a reflection of partisan politics can best be judged by Americans. But the standing ovations on this occasion may not reflect well on America’s global image because the US is expected to lead…

PM Netanyahu’s speech was designed to galvanize the Congress. In order to make his case on the need to contain Iran the PM said that Teheran was dominating four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a. He asked if Iran was gobbling up four countries right now when it is under sanctions, how many more it may devour when sanctions are lifted. But later, in arguing for more pressure on Iran for a better deal, he said it was a vulnerable regime. He was right about the risks of regional nuclear proliferation. But his failure to propose an alternative to what he called “a bad deal” did not escape attention. Even so, his address has placed a cloud over the P5+1-Iran talks and that cloud is not going to away soon regardless of the outcome. Secretary Kerry declared once again yesterday evening in Riyadh that “progress has been made but significant gaps remain”. The impact of the Washington visit on the positions of others around the table is also important since these talks are not a US-Iran-Israel trilateral exercise.

At present the Middle East is in chaos. Iraq, a regional counterweight to Iran in the past, is now struggling to remain united with Tehran’s help. Syria has become a battle ground. Damascus values Iranian support for its survival. The Ukraine conflict raises doubts about the level of cohesion among the P5+1 despite assurances. All of this gives Iran a stronger hand at the nuclear talks and causes the Israeli government concern. A nuclear deal should of course be solid. This is also in the interest of Turkey. But since forcing Iran into submission is not an option, combining increased breakout time with intrusive access and verification measures may provide a solution. This may not be best solution but one everybody has to live with under the present circumstances. Israel’s security, like Turkey’s, depends on a stable environment not further havoc.

PM Netanyahu said that Iran and ISIL are competing for the crown of militant Islam. Militant Islam may be a threat to Israel and a serious security concern for the West and beyond. But those who suffer the most from militant Islam are the millions and millions of Moslems aspiring to democracy, progress and modernity.

Although this was a speech about Iran the PM Netanyahu should have said something on the question of Palestine. An Israeli PM cannot address “the most important legislative body in the world” as he called the Congress and remain silent on the Palestinian problem. Failure to solve the question of Palestine serves the cause of militant Islam.

Even without Iran’s nuclear program Middle East politics were complex enough. Today the picture is more puzzling.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel agree on ousting President Assad. In varying degrees all three are concerned about the Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s reach in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel are against the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas which they see as its extension.

Turkey gives the Brotherhood every support and seems closer to Hamas leadership than Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel is trying to develop relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. It is trying to promote the view that a broader rapprochement with the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Turkey has burnt all bridges with Assad. Its relations with Egypt and Israel are at their lowest point with no ambassadors.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey say that ISIL is a terrorist organization but have not committed against it in full force. Their relationship is usually more complicated than it seems.

Jordan is being pulled in different directions. Lebanon is taking the brunt of the Syrian war.

Baghdad appreciates Iran’s help in combating ISIL but must protect its Sunni population from Shi’i militia.

The US and Iran are on opposite sides on the nuclear program but they are becoming de facto allies in the fight against ISIL. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are unhappy with Iranian involvement in Iraq.

To put it briefly, the region is as divided as ever.

But the most disturbing development is that people are now talking about “Sunni” and “Shi’i” blocs which means that it is not only ISIL which is pushing the region back to medieval times but also regional governments since they have failed to rise up to the challenge of sectarian strife. Ataturk introduced secularism in Turkey because he was ahead of his time. No other Middle Eastern leader dared follow him. If they had, today’s the Middle East could have been a different place.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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