This is the Middle East after all, and muscle flexing goes a long way. A very long way.
This is not Europe. Today, as I was reading this very interesting Washington Post op-ed by 3 former US ambassadors to Ukraine, I saw yet another great example of how the two regions are so vastly different – in terms of perceptions of strength.
The Russians have sent forces into Ukraine, and are even blocking Ukrainian ships from docking at their own port. And what advice do these gentlemen offer in their op-ed? Restraint. And they are right. In the context of that conflict, restraint is important. It also shows strength, because you are letting the other side fall into the trap of starting the war, even at the expense of seeing foreign troops enter your country.
But not here. Not in the Middle East. Another sovereign nation send forces into your territory? If you don’t react then you are seen as weak. The worst option is not responding militarily to such a move, even if it means that you are seen as the one who started the conflict. And once you are perceived as being “weak” then all sorts of things could happen. Your neighbours might start challenging you. And if you are a dictatorship, then your public could start thinking:”our tough leaders? they are not as tough as we thought”. And before you know it they may start challenging your rule domestically.
What does all this have to do with Obama?
In Europe, he may be seen as being cautious and clever by not showing his military and economic teeth in a more hostile manner, but in the Middle East, he will be seen as “weak”. As the man who blinked twice. Or worst, someone who may not be a reliable ally in case you are under attack.
George Bush did very little when Georgia was attacked by Russia in August 2008. But that didn’t impact his image in this region, because he was perceived as being strong by his allies. Why? Because of his preference for the military option, which he showed on many occasions.
There are those in the US Congress who want to impose additional sanctions against Iran.
I am against such an idea. Iran has promised to implement the Geneva nuclear deal and we see that it has already started implementing its obligations. Punishing Iran for taking positive steps will push them away from moderation in the negotiations. Why would someone want to cooperate if they are punished for it?
Imposing new sanctions now will also say to the Iranians that the P5+1 is not an honest partner. After all, according to the new deal signed between the two, the P5+1 has promised not to impose new sanctions during the interim agreement. A deal is a deal. It’s equally bad when and if the US breaks it, as it is if Iran breaks it.
Don’t get me wrong, sanctions have been very successful in changing the Iranian regime’s nuclear stance. But now that they seem to be bearing fruit, we should give an opportunity for Iran and the P5+1 to show that they are both sincere and are willing to follow their promises with action. If Iran does not deliver then it would justify tougher sanctions.
Obama is also against new sanctions being passed at this moment. He wants to give diplomacy a chance. This morning his position was supported by two senators in a New York Times op-ed.
And now former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has joined them. Gates is a very respected man in the US Defence establishment. He is the only secretary of defence to serve under two consecutive presidents who represented opposing parties as he served under both Bush and Obama. His words are worth listening to.
12 of November is Hassan Rouhani’s birthday. He turned 65 today.
And with minutes to go before the end of his birthday, he got a present from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The present came in the form of a tender for the construction of 20,000 settlement homes by the Israeli government.
This is surely going to put more distance between the state of Israel and its biggest and most loyal ally, the United States. This something which Iran has wanted for many years, but could never accomplish on its own. But Rouhani does not have to worry as Netanyahu is inadvertently doing the job for him and the supreme leader. And judging by Netanyahu’s past, this will not be the last time.
So this year, Rouhani can expect quite a few birthday presents.
Relations between the Obama administration and Netanyahu are about to get worse. Much worse.
First is the peace process with the Palestinians. It seems that the Obama administration is seriously angry at the recent decision by the Netanyahu government to build 1700 new homes in the settlements. Kerry’s comments showed this yesterday when he warned that unless we reach a deal, a 3rd intifadah could erupt. This has angered officials inside Netanyahu’s office. Their response was:
Israel, said one official, would not “give in to the intimidation tactics” of the secretary, and would not compromise on its vital security needs.
Then there are differences over Iran.
It is my strong belief that the tensions and serious differences between Obama and Netanyahu over the settlements is influencing their dealings and relations with regards to Iran. Judging by his statements today, Netanyahu feels he is being pushed by Obama on the Palestinian issue, so he is pushing back on the Iran file. And he will continue to push back by getting his allies in the Congress to pass new sanctions against Iran, thus scuppering a possible nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran.
The Likud and the Democrats have historically had a tenuous relationship. Bill Clinton and Netanyahu had a very difficult and at times bad relationship. Obama and Netanyahu have had a tough relationship. Their frayed relations could be about to hit its lowest point.
It seems that Rouhani has just scored his first big foreign policy win. I am sure he is hoping that Israel builds more settlement homes. They seem to be doing wonders for Iran’s plans and wishes to drive a wedge between the US and Israel.
There is much talk about removing Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile as part of a proposal which is being put forward by the Russians.
Fine. But what about his biological weapons?
What exactly would be the point of taking away his chemical weapons and leaving him with his biological weapons which he could use in a future date against the Syrian people?
There is valid reason to be concerned about his biological weapon making capabilities. According to an article published on the 4th of September in The Washington Post:
A report prepared for Congress this year by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Syria possesses a “longstanding biological weapons program,” adding that parts of it “may have advanced beyond the research and development stage, and may be capable of limited agent production.”
The fact that Putin has come forward with an offer shows that he believes that America could attack his ally Assad, and he does not want that.
This gives Obama leverage.
My suggestion: president Obama should use this leverage and go for a deal which ensures that Assad not only dismantles and delivers his chemical weapons stockpile and infrastructure, he does the same with his biological weapons. Such an opportunity may not come around again, for Obama and for the Syrian people.
The Iranian government has claimed on numerous occasions that sanctions can’t influence its nuclear policies and will not do so in the future.
However, its own behaviour tells a different story.
My latest article explains: