“The evil that men do is remembered after their deaths, but the good is often buried with them.” — William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”
It is amazing how much Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (ZTL) has been slandered or obviously misrepresented after he died at the age of 93 in Jerusalem a few days ago. It is symbolic of the demeaning and libeling of Judaism —not just Zionism—by others nowadays; it also illustrates the media misrepresentations due either to partisanship or ignorance among many who know they will not be caught or corrected .
But it is also amazing how many Jews, particularly outside Israel, try to use Ovadia Yosef in their suicidal naivete.
Let me briefly explain.
Born in Baghdad in 1920 (how long ago and what a distant world that was!) Rabbi Yosef was recognized as a genius from an early age. He was a great teacher and jurisprudent. But he was far more than that.
I will summarize his achievements in five points.
First, Yosef gave peace a chance. At a certain point, he was really willing to take a dovish stance politically. But then, when it was clear that the Palestinian Arabs didn’t want peace, Yosef, like the majority of others in Israel—including Sephardic Jews as well as myself and many of my friends– realized it wasn’t going to work.
This is the most interesting point seen by many Israelis–though the Western media keep it a big secret so that there is not sympathy or understanding for their position.
In 2003 Rabbi Yosef wrote:
“I want to clarify my position with regard to Yesha [the West Bank settlements]. Not once have I thought that the Halachic [Jewish religious law] ruling which I issued at the time regarding ‘territories in exchange for peace’ is not valid and does not apply to the current situation. I had intended only a true peace, one in which Jerusalem and its surrounding neighborhoods would rest secure, in peace and harmony. But now we see that on the contrary handing over territory from our holy land endangers lives. We never intended such a peace. Therefore the Oslo agreement is null and void. For I am for peace and they are for war [Quote from Psalm 120] and we have no one to rely on but our Father in Heaven….”
“With much love, and one who seeks your well being with all my heart and soul; Ovadia Yosef.”
That is the obvious experience that changed millions of Israeli minds, making them sure that peace isn’t going to happen: the realization that handing over territory will not bring peace, that Arab states (and Iran or Turkey) will not accept Israel. The concept of ‘territories in exchange for peace’is not valid and does not apply to the current situation; or at least it can and will be reversed by Islamists.
Second, he developed a Sephardic (or Mizrahi) Jewish (Middle East) pride, identity and community and political institutions.
Third, toward the nation as a whole, he did much to integrate Sephardim into a successful national identity to produce a united people. In the 1980s, there was a really potentially explosive conflict between Jews of Eastern and Western origins such that you cannot conceive of something like it today.
Fourth, Yosef was very successful in preventing a wall from developing between more and less pious Sephardic Jews, particularly compared to Jews of European origin. It was a huge achievement that many take for granted.
A Jew with European origins will usually be either secular, Modern Orthodox, or Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox,” which is a meaningless term). Most Sephardic Jews are probably far more open. My son compares them to a spectrum like Conservative (Masorti, traditional) and “ConservOdox (Conservative-Orthodox blend).
Fifth, Yosef integrated the Sephardim into the country rather than keeping them in isolation. Most of the Haredim try to avoid army service and paid jobs. This is unthinkable for the Sephardim.
Now, what are the negatives? The first was that the political party he created, Shas, was very corrupt. Yosef trusted bad people to lead it. The defense was that the Sephardim, the last historically to get that chance, were just getting their fair share. The result was that there was a lot of corruption.
The second was that in his late 80s, Rabbi Yosef became impatient and angrier. He made statements that were intemperate at times toward his Israeli opponents and the Arabs. I might point out, without excusing those words, that the Arabs deliberately murdered thousands of Jewish children, women, and men in terrorism (with fewer than ten reciprocations?); yet Israel was ready to agree to a two-state solution in 2000. Jewish terrorists, very few in numbers, were punished by law; Palestinian terrorists were never punished by their groups or their government; indeed, they were not even delegitimized. On the contrary, they were held up as positive role models, as heroes.
Yosef never endorsed violence or terrorism. And also, as I said, he was just verbally tough against his Jewish opponents at times.
Now, the punch-line. What characteristic did the Western and Israeli media highlight after 93 years of a near-saintly life?
Of course, “anti-Arab racism!” (He also championed the immigration of Ethiopian Jews.)
And what does the mass media say about another famous religious leader, Shaykh Yosef Qaradawi, who has praised Hitler, advocated terrorism, genocide, violence, and revolution? He is often described as a moderate.
And what do the left-wing parts of the Israeli media do?
They pretend that Yosef never learned the lessons he voiced in his 2003 letter when he and many other Israelis realized that while they had wanted “true peace,” handing over land for peace didn’t work.
That, dear readers, is unfortunately why Israeli voters must act as they do. And that is why they are, unfortunately correct.
Israel was ready for a compromise peace but concluded correctly that it wasn’t possible because of the other side. It is the biggest secret in the Middle East — something the left tells lies about; the Arabs reject; and well-intentioned doves cannot admit.
Is Iran a Lunatic State or a Rational Actor? It is neither; it is a Rational Aggressor.
“One of the great unresolved questions of Barack Obama’s presidency,” says Time Magazine, “is whether he can peacefully resolve America’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear weapons’ program.“
One of the great unresolved questions of Barack Obama’s presidency is whether he can successfully resolve America’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear weapons’ program.
Time continues that the Obama-Rouhani handshake “would be the most important…handshake since the historic grip between Rabin and Arafat….””
Also wrong. Remember that while it has still not been admitted by the United States, that event 20! years later was a failure costly in lives. Israel must satisfy seemingly monthly American demands by releasing terrorists who murdered Israelis.
The handshakes of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with Hitler (the Munich agreement) and of the Nazi foreign minister and Stalin (the Nazi-Soviet pact) were also a historic grip, at the time peaceful but not ultimately successful.
Time continues, “It would only be a symbolic act, to be sure. But when it comes to international diplomacy, symbolism can go a long way.”
But it is not a mere symbolic act but the start of a foolish deal that Iran will break.
So is Iran a lunatic state or a rational actor? A hell of a lot more rational than U.S. foreign policy is today, as apparently has been the Muslim Brotherhood’s policy and trickery. After all, the UN just elected Iran as Rapporteur for the General Assembly’s main committee on Disarmament & International Security without Tehran having to do anything. And Obama will blame Congress for diplomatic failure if it increases sanctions. In fact diplomats doubt Iran will actually do anything anyway.
More politely, Iran is a rational actor in terms of its own objectives. The issue is to understand what Iran wants. Policy is always best served by truth, and the truth is best told whether or not people like it. Iran is an aggressive, rational actor.
Remember: The problem is not that Iran is eager to use nuclear weapons but that the Obama Administration is not going to apply containment properly and credibly. And that encourages Iran’s non-nuclear aggression and terrorism.
The hysteria over Iran, however, had also better get under control, even as the real, very threatening situation should be understood. Armchair theorists from far away may want to provoke a U.S.-Iran war. This is a bad idea.
The fact is that the history of the Iranian Islamic regime does not show suicidal recklessness. A key reason for this is that the leaders of Iran know they can be reckless without risking suicide. In other words, Iran did not face threats from the West commensurate with what Tehran was doing. Therefore, the risks it took were not suicidal. If apparently suicidal rhetoric does not produce suicide but serves a very specific purpose, that rhetoric is not in fact suicidal.
What, then, did Iran want?
Its basic goal was to be as powerful a regional hegemon as possible–including control over Syria and Lebanon. It would like to take leadership of all Muslims in the area. Today, however, it is clear that the Sunni Arabs reject Tehran’s leadership and will fight against it.
In other words, the ultimate extent of Iran’s zone of influence could only include part of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, southwest Afghanistan, Bahrain, and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. That is the maximum, and Iran is far from achieving that goal. And it will probably never achieve it.
Iran’s influence is limited by the location of Shia Muslims. Not all Shia Muslims favor Iran, and pretty much all Sunni Muslims oppose it. Therefore, whatever the outcome is in Syria–in other words if the regime wins–Iran will at most keep its current levels of influence. But if the regime wins, the Sunnis will hate Iran even more and will fight against it harder.
So Iran still wants to get the most power without fearing reprisal.
Nuclear weapons are a defensive shield to carry out conventional aggression.
As I’ve insisted for many years, it is increasingly clear that Iran will get nuclear weapons. We should start discussions in that framework. The recent brilliant decision of the Iranian elite–who is not only more ruthless but strategically smarter than Western leadership–to pick a national security insider, who is at best a slightly moderate extremist, as president guarantees it.
The question is only: when will Iran get nuclear weapons? The evidence seems to show that this is several years away. (It would be interesting if that development was too late to affect Syria’s civil war, and such will probably happen.)
Why will Iran certainly get nukes?
First, the West isn’t going to take strong enough action to stop it because the alternatives are deemed–perhaps accurately so–too risky. No surgical Israeli strike is going to stop it, and Obama will never support such a strike. Of course, there is a great deal of indifference about the potential victims and lots of greed about the money to be made from Iran. The sanctions may seem tough, but there are more holes than cheese. U.S. companies sensing profits as sanctions hopefully fall are chomping at the bit.
After Ahmadinejad, though, there is perhaps a better money-making climate. His successor will further soothe Western willingness to battle on this nuclear issue.
And of course they just don’t care that much about potential genocide in Israel.
Second, with international support at a low point, the logistical difficulties, and a U.S. president who is incredibly reluctant, Israel is not going to attack Iran to stop it from getting nuclear weapons. What Israel should and will do is to make clear it will attack Iran if there is any reason to believe that Tehran might launch nuclear weapons. It will build up a multilayer defensive and offensive system.
This is not mere passive containment but would mean assured massive retaliation.
Note that there is more than one potential victim of Iran’s nuclear weapons. People, including the Israelis, talk a lot about Israel. Yet the Sunni Arab states are increasingly involved in shooting situations with Iranian proxies. Unlike Israel, they won’t do anything and perhaps can’t, except to beg the United States to take strong action. But the U.S. won’t do so.
And of course everyone can just hope everything will turn out all right.
A rare piece of good news, however, is that before the “Arab Spring,” it was conceivable that Iran might become leader or hegemon of the Arabic-speaking world. Israel-bashing was an important tool to do so. Now the Sunni Muslims have their own successful–even U.S.-backed!–Muslim Brotherhood movement. They not only don’t need Iran any more, they fight against Tehran.
Pushed on the defensive with more limited prospects–and knowing the Israel card won’t work–Tehran has lots less incentive to stake its survival on that issue. The nuclear weapons arsenal isn’t intended for a big bang to get revenge on Israel, it’s intended to keep the current regime in power against a growing number of enemies.
Put bluntly, Iran won’t waste its nuclear weapons on Israel or, as they might put it in Tehran, to give Israel an “excuse” to attack Iran. No pile of quotes from Iranian leaders to the contrary changes anything.
The key factor is not an appeal to the “international community” to protect Israel. Israel’s power rests precisely in old-fashioned credibility and deterrence:
Only Israel can credibly destroy the Islamic regime. And the Islamic regime in Iran knows that.
Israel was so important in Iranian verbal declarations precisely because Israel could at one time be turned into a card that strengthened Iran’s appeal with the Arabs and the Sunni. Iran certainly had very few other cards. But the Sunni and Arabs don’t care about this, given the big change of the last two years. The Israel card–as shown by the Syrian regime’s failure with it–is worthless.
Note that while Iran has been the leading sponsor of international terrorism and poured invective out against Israel, Iran did not notably take any material action against Israel beyond terror attacks and its sponsorship of Hizballah, Hamas, and Syria–which were its allies at the time. Compared to Arab efforts in the second half of the twentieth century, this was not very much.
In other words, against Israel, the Tehran regime talked a big game but did relatively little.
On other issues, too, Iran did not act like a country bent on suicide. Against its Arab enemies, it did not take considerable risks. Iran could wage a proxy war against America in Iraq, because the United States didn’t do very much about it.
All of the above in no way discounts an Iranian threat. Yes, of course, Iran sponsored terrorism and sought to gain influence and to spread revolution. Yet it did not attack a single country in open terms of warfare. Remember, Iran was invaded by Iraq. And when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself was persuaded that the United States was entering the war against him, he quickly ended it, though he said that doing so was like eating snakes and scorpions; but that was necessary to preserve the regime.
Iran is the kind of aggressor who was once described by Winston Churchill as a thief who went down the street rattling doors to find one that was open.
Second, Iran sought to defend itself by threatening antagonists with total destruction and by obtaining the ultimate deterrence, nuclear weapons. This does not mean one should sympathize with Tehran since, after all, it sought nuclear weapons to ensure its defense while it continued aggressive policies.
Iran can also complain about American encirclement. Of course, if it did not follow the policies that were being practiced, there wouldn’t be a U.S. motive for any such efforts. The point, however, is that the claim that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons so it could destroy itself by attacking Israel is just not demonstrated.
Thus, Iran is not a demonic, crazed, kamikaze country. It is simply a typical aggressor who wants to have insurance against having to pay the price of such continued activity. North Korea and Pakistan sought nuclear weapons for the same reason, and it is working for them.
Let’s approach the issue in another way. Suppose Iran helped the Syrian regime win the civil war. Would the danger to Israel be increased? No, certainly it would not be from a nuclear standpoint. Assad would reestablish control over a wrecked and tottering country where the damage would take years to rebuild. But the problem is that Iran will be more secure in defending itself which means it will be more aggressive, but now with nuclear weapons.
The use of nuclear weapons loses whatever the possession of nuclear weapons gains.
Iran would be relieved at the Syrian regime’s survival but would not be better able to carry on a (nuclear) war against Israel. The Sunnis would be prepared to cooperate with the United States against Iran and even, covertly, with Israel up to a point. Indeed, the ability of Sunni Islamists to attack Israel would be reduced because of their obsession with the principal danger.
Again, I don’t want Assad to win in Syria. I believe that Iran is a threat. I think Iran will succeed in getting nuclear weapons. I don’t think the Tehran regime consists of lunatics who cannot wait to immolate themselves in a fiery funeral pyre. They want to stay in power for a long time. Israel has an alternative of preemption if necessary. But the United States will never help stop Iran’s getting of nukes.
This analysis should be conducted in a sober fashion. I believe, indeed I see clearly, that Israeli policymakers understand these issues. We should remember that Iran is not an insane state and that there are threats other than Iran in the Middle East.
The problem is not that Iran is eager to use nuclear weapons but that the Obama Administration is unlikely to apply containment properly and credibly. And then its version of containment might fail.
Turkish Reader: Haven’t you understood yet that the US does not care about whether a Muslim country is ruled by Sharia [dictatorship] or by secular [democracy] law as long as that regime is pro-American? Isn’t this U.S. interests “über alles”?
Me: Yes I do care. First, no Islamist government is really going to be pro-American or pro-Western. Second, it won’t be good for that country’s people. Why should I feel differently to handing over Czechoslovakia to Nazi rule or Hungary to Communist rule than Turkey to Islamist rule?
Already there are starting to appear evaluations of what President Barack Obama’s second term will be like. I think that even though the Obama Administration doesn’t know or have a blueprint, it is clear and consistent what the Middle East policy would be. It is a coherent program, though, as I say, it is not necessarily fully or consciously thought out. The plan would be for a comprehensive solution which will leave the Middle East situation as a successful legacy of the Obama Administration.
There are three main themes of this plan, though I’m not sure it has really taken shape. By 2016 they will all fail, and leave the West weaker.
The first is with Iran policy. The goal would be to “solve” the nuclear weapons’ issue by making a deal with Iran. One thing that is possible is that the Iranians just deceitfully build nuclear arms. The other possibility is that they will go up to the point when they can get nuclear weapons very quickly and then stop for a while. Probably either result will be hailed as a brilliant diplomatic victory for Obama.
This is how the nuclear deal is interpreted by Iran, in a dispatch from Fars new agency: “It seems that the Americans have understood this fact that Iran is a powerful and stable country in the region which uses logical and wise methods in confrontation with its enemies.” In other words, America is an enemy of Iran that has backed down. One thing Iran might get in a deal for “giving up” its nuclear ambitions would be something in Syria perhaps.
It is possible that this deal would be in the shape of an unofficial partition of Syria, with the Bashar Assad regime surviving in 40 percent of the country including Aleppo and Damascus; another 40 percent would be controlled by U.S.-backed rebels, mainly Muslim Brotherhood; and 20 percent would be a Kurdish autonomous area. I want to stress that I don’t believe that this would work and it would in fact be the object of another Iranian stalling technique and effort to gain total victory.
Iran wants primacy at least in the Shia world – meaning Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. It would just require Iranian patience if Iran is willing to devote extensive resources to this enterprise until it could seize the whole country. The U.S. probably won’t provide ground troops, which is understandable. And would the U.S. provide military and economic aid to an al-Qaida-Salafi–Muslim Brotherhood regime? At any rate, the Iranians would either develop nuclear weapons or simply get to the point where they could if they wanted to and then stop, knowing that they could do so at any time. Of course, this would ignore Israel’s security needs to some degree.
And if a nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t materialize, you can tell who will be blamed from an article entitled “A Nuclear Deal With Iran Is Within Reach, If Congress Plays Its Part,” in the prestigious magazine Roll Call.
The second theme would be an illusion that it would be possible to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a two-state solution but actually moving toward the Palestinian real goal which is an Arab Palestine. Period. Regarding this issue it is probable that both sides would stall. Only Secretary of State John Kerry believes otherwise.
The Israeli side would mount a strategic retreat by gradual concessions hoping that the Obama Administration would end before too much damage was done. It is clear, for example, that prisoner releases, the granting of economic benefits and the entry of more laborers would be among the concessions given. Of course, this would also relatively ignore Israel’s security needs.
Meanwhile the Palestinians will also stall and constantly flourish the threat that they will seek unilateral independence, which might result in more U.S. concessions. But it is unlikely that the United States will pressure the Palestinians much or criticize them, no matter what they do. In the classical formulation of President Shimon Peres, “We will give and the Palestinians will take.”
The point is that probably not much progress—which is really moving backwards–will be made on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Also of course the so-called “peace process” won’t affect any other regional issue positively.
The Islamists, Sunni or Shia, don’t want progress toward peace and will try to wreck it. That goes for the Muslim Brotherhood government in Tunisia and Gaza; the Islamist governments in Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, or the government and the rebels in Syria. In fact the harder the United States works on peace, the angrier they will be.
The third theme has to do with the Sunni Muslim Islamists. The theory is that this movement is the best protection against al-Qaida. But if that’s true why does the U.S. support the Syrian rebels when they form a united front at each opportunity to support al-Qaida? Similarly, while al-Qaida is much weaker in Egypt, the U.S has now backed the al-Qaida movement,by refusing to back the army coup and by failing to back the army’s war against Islamists, especially in the Sinai.
Case study Note:
“CIA Ramping Up Covert Training Program for Moderate Syrian Rebels”: The CIA is expanding a clandestine effort to train opposition fighters in Syria amid concern that moderate, U.S.-backed militias are rapidly losing ground in the country’s civil war. But the CIA program is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month, enough to help ensure that these militias don’t lose, but not enough for them to win. The CIA has trained fewer than 1,000 rebel fighters this year and has sent additional paramilitary teams to secret bases in Jordan in recent weeks to double that number. By contrast, U.S. intelligence analysts estimate that more than 20,000 have been trained by Iran and Hizbullah to fight for pro-Assad militias. (Washington Post)
Trick: The Islamist Syrian rebels have about 60,000 men from the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and al-Qaida! Moreover, the moderates could easily defect to al-Qaida with their weapons and who is going to do anything about it?
In other words that’s about 60 regime; 60 Islamist rebels and 2 “moderates.”
More subtly, Turkey has an Islamist government and it is the favorite ally of the United States in the Middle East.
To summarize, it is likely that the last three years of the Obama Administration are going to be spent pursuing these three failed themes.
–Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons or at least aggression and that it will fool naïve Americans. Iran will be strengthened; U.S allies will be weakened.
–On Israel-Palestinian policy likely no progress will be made toward a peaceful solution, but the Palestinians will try to make gains toward destroying Israel, although they would benefit more by grabbing a Palestinian state and then using it to strengthen (the two-stage solution). Instead they will lose their chance to get a two-state solution.
–And finally it is likely that the Sunni Muslim Islamists will let down the United States because, after all, they will never be pro-American. And they will intensify Sunni-Shia bloodbaths. So there will be much activity within the Obama Administration over the next three years and media reports will cheer it. As the Bard of Avon said, “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”