Reading Bibi’s mind

A penny for Bibi's thoughts on Hasan Rouhani? Lawrence J. Haas hazards a guess...

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How will Netanyahu deal with Rouhani?
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Lawrence J. Haas
On 21 June 2013 08:54

Oye.

Didn’t I, as Israel’s prime minister, already have enough problems? Let’s see:

Syria’s most radical rebels are gaining strength among the opposition to Bashar al-Assad, so they’ll be better positioned to turn their guns on us after they topple him. Meanwhile, the Golan Heights is growing more dangerous as al-Assad threatens to convert his problems into an anti-Israeli regional affair.

Turkey remains in turmoil as Recep Tayyip Erdogan showcases his authoritarianism for all the world to see, as well as his anti-Semitism as he seeks closer ties with the genocidal Hamas. Maybe President Obama now understands why I was so reluctant to make that solicitous phone call to him.

The Palestinian Authority, with which I’m supposed to negotiate peace, is so dysfunctional that it can’t even keep a prime minister in place for more than two weeks. But, even if Rami Hamdallah changes his mind and withdraws his resignation, that won’t speed things up on the peace front.

After all, Abbas still isn’t preparing his people for the compromises on all sides – including his – that a reasonable peace agreement would entail. That’s why I told the Israeli Presidential Conference this week that peace ultimately depends on “the willingness of the Palestinians to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.” And, whatever Abbas feels in his heart, he can’t deliver a united Palestinian government that wants peace (or, a peace under which Israel would still exist).

Now, I’ve got a new problem – and it’s not a small one.

I face the dangerous combination of a seemingly reasonable new Iranian president in Hasan Rouhani and Western gullibility about the new possibility of a nuclear deal that his election will supposedly bring.

When it came to Iran and its nukes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was my best weapon; the lunatic I could parade before the world and keep Western eyes focused on the prospect of a madman with an atom bomb.

I knew, of course, that Ahmadinejad was not authorized to launch a nuclear attack on us (despite his threats to “wipe Israel off the map”), that real power in Iran rests with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But, hey, when you’re facing a genocidal threat and need international help, you use whatever tool you can find.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. The sanctions were never strong enough to ignite an uprising that would threaten Khamenei’s rule, so Tehran kept making nuclear progress and Ahmadinejad kept laughing in our face.

Obama tells me privately what he says publicly – that “all options are on the table” for Iran’s nuclear program. Yeah, right.

Obama’s so eager to reduce America’s footprint in the region, so anxious to avoid military action, that he let al-Assad slaughter tens of thousands of people before reluctantly agreeing to send “light” arms to the rebels. Now, I’m supposed to believe that, to prevent Iran from going nuclear, he’ll bomb its nuclear sites? Really?

The same goes for the Europeans. I thought that we’d finally convinced them to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Now, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Czech Republic have gone wobbly, so the European Union remains paralyzed.

Well, if the Europeans won’t take that simple step, then they won’t see the obvious danger of an Iran – Hezbollah’s key state sponsor – with nuclear weapons. And if they can’t make that connection, they won’t see the need for military action to prevent it, whether from us or the Americans.

That’s why Rouhani is so dangerous.

Western leaders who show no sign of following through on threats to prevent Iran from going nuclear “no matter what” would love nothing more than to cut a deal with a moderate-sounding Iranian president – a deal that they could say solved the problem even if, in reality, it came with loopholes and escape hatches.

In America, the mainstream media labeled Rouhani a moderate before the election and hailed his victory after it. When, after his win, he said he wanted to reduce tensions with Washington, the New York Times trumpeted the news. The Washington Post said he’s “predisposed to diplomacy and pragmatism.”

But, make no mistake: with his soothing words comes a fierce loyalty to Iran’s continued nuclear progress.

Rouhani has helped drive Iran’s nuclear pursuit since the 1980s, visiting China and Russia to seek their assistance, heading Iran’s nuclear negotiations with Britain, France, and Germany from 2003 to 2005, bragging that negotiations enabled Iran to make more progress on its nuclear programme than otherwise, and noting that countries like Pakistan that developed the bomb gained stature on the world stage.

Besides, all the analysis of Rouhani is beside the point as long as the Supreme Leader supports the nuclear pursuit.

In the end, as I told Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, this week in Jerusalem: “wishful thinking is not a substitute for policy.”

Anyone still listening?

Lawrence J. Haas was Communications Director and Press Secretary for Vice President Al Gore. He writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs and is the author of “Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion.” Follow him on Twitter @larryhaasonline

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