Netanyahu says he would consider meeting with Rouhani

Two days after excoriating Hassan Rouhani as a wolf in sheep’s clothing who lies about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and 10 days after he instructed Israel’s UN delegation to leave the General Assembly hall rather than hear Rouhani speak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would “consider” meeting the Iranian president, in comments published early Friday.

Netanyahu, speaking to National Public Radio as part of a media blitz while in the US, said he would question Rouhani on Tehran’s nuclear program, which the Israeli leader has called to be completely shut down.

“I don’t care about the meeting. I don’t have a problem with the diplomatic process,” Netanyahu said to NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

“I haven’t been offered. If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he clarified. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the [nuclear] enrichment.”

He also called Rouhani, considered a relative moderate, the “least bad” candidate of those who were allowed to run in Iran’s June presidential elections.

Netanyahu told NPR that Iran’s overtures toward a deal with the West to curb its uranium enrichment were “hogwash,” but said he would be “delighted” by a “real” deal, according to excerpts published by NPR. The full interview was to air on Morning Edition later Friday.

In his speech to the UN on Tuesday, Netanyahu had depicted Rouhani in withering terms, and set out what he said was the Iranian president’s strategy: “First, smile a lot. Smiling never hurts. Second, pay lip service to peace, democracy and tolerance. Third, offer meaningless concessions in exchange for lifting sanctions. And fourth, and the most important, ensure that Iran retains sufficient nuclear material and sufficient nuclear infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time it chooses to do so. You know why Rouhani thinks he can get away with this? I mean, this is a ruse. It’s a ploy… Because he’s gotten away with it before, because his strategy of talking a lot and doing little has worked for him in the past.”

A week earlier, the prime minister instructed the Israeli delegation to exit the General Assembly hall before Rouhani addressed the forum — the only country to do so. Later, facing criticism at home, including from inside his own coalition, Netanyahu said he was vindicated. To have the Israeli representatives in the hall listening to Rouhani’s speech, he said, “would have given legitimacy to a regime that does not accept that the Holocaust happened and publicly declares its desire to wipe Israel off the map.” As Israel’s prime minister, he said, “I won’t allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations charade by a regime that denies that Holocaust and calls for our destruction.”

Aides to Netanyahu had no comment on the prime minister’s remarks about meeting Rouhani. Those around Netanyahu said that the question about a meeting was hypothetical, and stressed that the prime minister’s stance on Iran, its ambition to destroy Israel, and the duplicity of its outreach to the West was unchanged.

Meanwhile Thursday, Netanyahu made his first effort at direct outreach to the Iranians, giving an interview to BBC Persian peppered with Farsi sayings.

In the BBC interview, he said the ayatollahs’ regime was responsible for the harsh sanctions and socioeconomic situation they are enduring.

“I would welcome a genuine rapprochement, a genuine effort to stop the nuclear program, not a fake one, not harf-e pootch [‘nonsense’ in Farsi]. We are not sadeh-lowe [‘suckers’ in Farsi],” said the prime minister.

Jerusalem, which enjoyed friendly relations with Tehran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has made efforts to avoid any contact with the Iranians, with Netanyahu ordering the Israeli delegation to leave the United Nations plenum when Rouhani spoke there on September 24.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu warned the United Nations General Assembly about Rouhani who, he said, was trying to charm the West while nuclear enrichment, widely believed to be for military purposes, continued in Iran as it did under his predecessor.

“[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes — the wool over the eyes of the international community,” he said.

Israel sees an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat and has lobbied the world to keep pressure on Tehran, though the US has recently made moves to open negotiations for lifting sanctions in exchange for concessions on the nuclear program.

Attempts at detente between the US and Iran, which cut off relations in 1980 following the Islamic Revolution and hostage crisis, reached fever pitch late last month, with US President Barack Obama speaking to Rouhani in a historic phone call. Rouhani rejected requests by Obama for a meeting, though, with officials saying the Iranian leader’s schedule did not allow for it.

On Wednesday, Rouhani responded unequivocally to Netanyahu’s UN speech, promising to continue what Iran insists is a peaceful nuclear program with “full power.”

“Israel is upset to see that its sword has gone blunt and Iran grows more powerful day by day,” Rouhani told reporters in Tehran, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Since the speech, Netanyahu has been engaged in a PR offensive, giving interviews to a number of Western news outlets designed to present Israel’s position on Iran.

Speaking to NBC Wednesday, Netanyahu dismissed the notion that Rouhani was freely elected, saying Iranians would topple the regime if they could.

“These people, the Iranian people, the majority of them are actually pro-Western,” he stated, adding, “But they don’t have that. They’re governed not by Rouhani, they’re governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression.”

On Wednesday night, meanwhile, Netanyahu spoke to American Jewish leaders at a closed media event, telling his audience that Rouhani’s charm offensive was not proving as successful as many observers assume.

Netanyahu said press coverage of the Iranian leader’s efforts to woo the West — notably in a UN speech 10 days ago, and a series of media interviews — might have exaggerated the effect it had on the public.

The prime minister also rejected critics who said his policies on Iran and the Palestinians isolated Israel, and said his stance on Iran is closer than many might imagine to that of many worried Arab states in the region.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday that Netanyahu was presiding over “intensive contacts” with unnamed Arab and Gulf leaders to form a new alliance against Iran, amid fears that the US would be duped by Tehran in the nascent diplomatic process.

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Netanyahu in Persian: We’re not suckers

PM interviews for Persian BBC, peppers talk with Persian idioms, says Iranian people pay heavy price for military nuclear program

“We’re not SADEH-LOWH (suckers in Persian),” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his first-ever interview to a Persian-language media outlet.

In the interview for the Persian-language BBC channel Netanyahu said that If Tehran gets nuclear weapons, the Iranian people will never be set free from tyranny and will live enslaved forever.

Netanyahu presented Iranian President Rouhani’s memoir, “National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy,” from which he cited excerpts which he claimed prove Iran’s president has previously led a policy of deception against the West, so that Iran could advance its nuclear program unimpeded.

Netanyahu said he will welcome diplomatic attempts to block Iran’s nuclear program, but not fake effort, which he called, in Persian, HARF-E POOTCH (nonsense).

The BBC Persian channel is aired in Iran, despite the regime’s attempt to remove it from the airwaves. According to the BBC, the channel is watched by some 12 million viewers a week.

In the interview, Netanyahu addressed the Iranian people directly and claimed that Iran’s ayatollahs are responsible for the severe sanctions leveled against Iran and the dire economic situation in the country, due to its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu also stressed the “historical friendship” between the Jewish and the Persian nations which he said held close relations until the Islamic Revolution.

The prime minister insisted the Iranian people pay a heavy price for the military nuclear program which its regime claims it doesn’t have and stressed that  wants a diplomatic solution, but it has to be a real and comprehensive one.

He added that he believed the Jewish and Iranian peoples can be friends if the Iranian regime was toppled.

Poll: Two-thirds of Israeli Jews back unilateral Iran strike

Poll comes days after Prime Minister Netanyahu tells U.N.: “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone” • Most Israelis do not believe talks can put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions • Netanyahu deemed by far most fit for leadership.

Israelis say that if necessary their country should launch its own strike on Iran

Israelis say that if necessary their country should launch its own strike on Iran

Should the need arise to attack Iran, an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews would support a unilateral Israeli strike even without international support, a new Israel Hayom-New Wave Research poll shows.

According to the poll, 65.6 percent would be in favor of such a move and 21.8% would oppose it. Some 12.5% had no opinion. This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly that Israel would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, and that “if Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

The poll, conducted on Oct. 2 using a representative and random sample of 500 Hebrew-speaking Jews aged 18 and over, had a margin of error of 4.4%.

Asked to rate Netanyahu’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly this week, 51.4% said it was “good,” and 10.9% said it was “not good.” 37.7% had no opinion.

A majority of respondents — 84% — said they did not believe the talks with Iran could convince Iran to abandon its military nuclear program. Only 6.6% said this would be the outcome, and 9.3% had no opinion.

Asked whether they believed that U.S. President Barack Obama would deliver on his promise to consult with Israel on the issue of Iran, 46.9% said they did not believe the U.S. president, while 38.4% said they did. Some 14.7% expressed no opinion.

Asked to rate who is most qualified to serve as prime minister at present, a vast majority of 52.7% chose Netanyahu, 8.1% named Labor Party Chairwoman and Opposition Leader MK Shelly Yachimovich, 7.6% said Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, 6.6% said Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, and 2.9% said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Some 22.1% of respondents expressed no opinion.

 

The end of the Iranian fantasy

For a week, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani peddled a rosy picture around New York, and the world applauded • Until Netanyahu came along and brought everyone back down to earth • The world was reminded that Iran is an extreme nation that seeks mass destruction.

Iranian Americans protesting outside the White House against warming relations with Iran

Iranian Americans protesting outside the White House against warming relations with Iran

Ever since Iranian President Hasan Rouhani gave his address at the United Nations General Assembly last week, the world has been living in some kind of fantasy. At the Iranian movie festival in New York, Rouhani managed to sell the world on a romantic comedy in which the Iranians and the rest of the world live happily ever every after. If it wasn’t about an Iranian nuclear bomb and an existential threat to Israel, it could have been rather funny. And if it weren’t for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own U.N. address this week, the Iranian movie could have just kept on running.

Netanyahu was the last speaker at this year’s General Assembly. Some say that he really did come too late. To borrow terms from the field of social psychology, Rouhani won with the primacy effect, while Netanyahu won with the recency effect.

The prime minister’s advantage lies in that he concluded the assembly. He could see that there wasn’t a single righteous man among the assembled world leaders who would tell the Iranians the truth. On the contrary, Rouhani was able to meet with almost every official he wished to meet with, and thus proved once and for all that Iran is not at all isolated. He was even the one to dictate the level and quality of his contact with U.S. President Barack Obama: It began as a planned casual meeting accompanied by a handshake, as he himself admitted, during a luncheon hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but ended up being a phone call just before he returned home to Iran.

Iran became the world’s, rather than just Israel’s, problem a long time ago. Nevertheless, Israel’s prime minister looked to his left and to his right and saw that among all the speakers there was not one who could communicate a sharp, clear message to Iran. There was not one whose speech reflected a historic perspective or any genuine concern. There was not a single person who stood up and said “the emperor Rouhani has no clothes.”

Therefore, on Tuesday, it was up to Netanyahu to assume the unpleasant task of putting an end to the Iranian fantasy. Netanyahu undoubtedly took the complex responsibility upon himself to bring us all back down to earth, which is hard and cold, just like the reality of the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu was left with the task of exposing that what Iran is actually offering is lies in exchange for diplomatic relations, and lies in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Netanyahu understands that though the world is no longer what it was, Iran is still the same Iran. When it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, it really doesn’t make any difference to Netanyahu whether the president in Iran is named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hasan Rouhani. In a serious speech, devoid of gimmicks, Netanyahu tried to tear the mask off the face of the Iranian president and burst the bubble. He described Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Judging by the responses in the world, Netanyahu succeeded in this extremely unpopular mission. Netanyahu, the party pooper, not only managed to return home safely, he even managed to bring the world back down to earth.

He didn’t come to win any popularity contests

“A nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East wouldn’t be another North Korea. It would be another 50 North Koreas,” the French weekly Le Point quoted Netanyahu’s speech. A Canadian radio station chose to emphasize Netanyahu’s remark that “Israel will stand alone” in the face of Iran. The British BBC network opted to underscore the Rouhani angle while Sky News went for the quote “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.”

The headlines in the American media were many and diverse. ABC stressed Israel’s resolve not to allow Iran to achieve military nuclear capability, while the Los Angeles Times chose to remark on the Israeli warning against Iranian deception, whose smiles are aimed only at lifting crippling sanctions and not curbing the nuclear program. Netanyahu’s 33-minute-long speech yielded a plethora of headlines.

The Al-Jazeera website decided to highlight Netanyahu’s warning not to trust Rouhani. On the whole, the media in the Gulf states enjoyed Netanyahu’s speech immensely. It would be a lie to say that the warming relations between Tehran and Washington were a cause for celebration in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates.

In his speech, the prime minister mentioned how the important newspaper The New York Times failed in its analysis of the nuclear situation in North Korea. The prime minister, we’ve established, didn’t come to the U.N. to win any popularity contests. He came with one objective: to openly put all the facts on the table. The following day, The New York Times wrote that the Israeli prime minister was sabotaging Obama’s efforts to reconcile with Iran.

One must admit that Netanyahu’s speech was up against some tough competition in real time: the menacing budget standoff that ultimately led to the shutdown of the U.S. government. This was the issue that was on the minds of the American public more than anything else this week. It is safe to assume that even during the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama at the Oval Office a day before the prime minister’s speech, each leader had a slightly different set of priorities: one was thinking about the looming shutdown perpetrated by the Republicans, and the other was thinking about shutting down the Iranian nuclear program.

Credit without guarantees

“I think Netanyahu’s speech was a terrific speech,” Massimo Lomonaco of the Italian ANSA news agency told me this week. But he confessed that the world is occupied with other problems at the moment. In Italy, for example, the locals were more concerned with the no-confidence vote against Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, which ended up failing.

“I don’t really think that the Italian public is especially worried about what is going on in Syria or Iran,” Lomonaco said. Officials in Jerusalem are well aware of this, and though Netanyahu’s speech was directed at the media as well as public opinion, it was mainly directed at Obama, other world leaders and also Iran, where it was received loud and clear.

Rouhani, who, until Netanyahu’s speech was the star of the General Assembly, touched on Netanyahu’s comments on Wednesday during a cabinet meeting. “That an aggressive regime in the region names Iran with coarse language is the cause of our happiness,” Rouhani told reporters in Tehran. He gave Netanyahu’s speech a lot of attention, and it appeared that this time, his eternal smile was prompted by irritation rather than pleasantry.

Rouhani gave himself a lot of credit in Tehran this week. He boasted how Iran, with its sober policies, had prevented regional war, and how he received five letters from Obama asking him to meet in New York during the General Assembly — invitations that he said he rejected. Rouhani even explained that the conditions were not ripe for a face-to-face meeting because of the “dark” atmosphere that still surrounds American-Iranian relations and because a decades-long crisis cannot be resolved in a matter of days.

There is no doubt that Netanyahu’s speech came right on time. The world was being blinded by Rouhani, even though we have all already seen this movie with the “liberal” Mohammad Khatami, who was elected president of Iran in 1997 and served in that role until 2005. Back then people were talking about Khatami in the same kind of terms, as though he was some kind of Mikhail Gorbachev who would bring about the Iranian version of glasnost (freedom of speech, increased openness).

Even though that never happened and even though Iran never did away with its nuclear program — they only put it on hold when the Americans landed in Iraq in 2003 — Khatami, and now Rouhani, received, and continue to receive a lot of credit from the West. Credit without any guarantees.

That is precisely the reason why Netanyahu felt he needed to expose Rouhani’s true nature. Netanyahu knows full well that very few people in the world, if any, have read Rouhani’s book, published in 2011, in which he openly describes how he tricked the world when Iran completed building its nuclear infrastructure in Isfahan while simultaneously exchanging soothing words with the European negotiators.

The prime minister’s objective wasn’t only to warn, expose and lay blame, but also to alert the world to the looming dangers. The world, Netanyahu knows, really wants to extricate itself from crisis, even if the solution is nothing more than fantasy or perception. That is why many media outlets ran articles urging the West to lift the economic sanctions and boost Rouhani’s position against the Iranian conservatives and against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Netanyahu came to the U.N. to clarify and remind the world that Rouhani, who accompanied the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to exile in France, and returned with him as a victor to Iran, was not fighting against the conservatives and the religious institution — he was a part of the religious institution.

Netanyahu also wanted to remind the world exactly how that same Rouhani served as his country’s national security adviser at a time when Iran was involved in global acts of terror, all the way from Buenos Aires to Beirut. How much could Rouhani have changed? Netanyahu wondered. It is not pleasant for Western ears to hear the truth, but that was the objective of Netanyahu’s speech.

Netanyahu wanted to caution against leaving Iran with even the most minimal ability to enrich uranium. “There are those who would readily agree to leave Iran with a residual capability to enrich uranium. I advise them to pay close attention to what Rouhani said in his speech in 2005,” Netanyahu said.

“A country that could enrich uranium to about 3.5 percent will also have the capability to enrich it to about 90 percent. Having fuel cycle capability virtually means that a country that possesses this capability is able to produce nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu quoted Rouhani, adding that “This is why Iran’s nuclear weapons program must be fully and verifiably dismantled.”

It didn’t take long after Netanyahu’s speech for Iran to prove that it is exactly the same Iran that it always was. In the middle of this past week, Iran’s parliament convened to reiterate the country’s right to enrich uranium. Iran’s deputy foreign minister did say that his country would be willing to discuss the “level of enrichment,” but he added that this time, unlike the period between 2003 and 2005, there was no chance that Iran would suspend its enrichment program.

You don’t need to be an expert to know that Netanyahu is right. Incidentally, even his political opponents back in Israel agree with Netanyahu’s analysis of the Iranian regime and the new Iranian formula — lies in exchange for diplomatic relations.

In order to understand Iran’s strategy of deception we may need to go back to one of the speeches given by Khamenei, Iran’s strongest man and the successor of Ayattollah Khomeini. Khamenei, as the French newspaper Le Figaro revealed, invoked a new phrase — “heroic flexibility” — in reference to a form of wrestling. Khamenei explained that in this sport, the player must display flexibility toward his opponent in order to ultimately defeat him with “red lines that must not be crossed.”

Khamenei further explained that the conditions under which Iran would agree to forge closer ties with the U.S. have not changed. The U.S. must relinquish its dream of replacing the Iranian regime, as former U.S. President George W. Bush once wanted, and it must build a relationship in which both sides benefit, on the nuclear side too. The Iranian regime is willing to do anything to achieve their goal, even at the cost of changing their tone, and that is precisely what is new in the republic today: Rouhani is sweet talking, unlike Ahmadinejad who spoke aggressively and was not open to compromise.

The Islamic republic has made great strides in its nuclear program, and has even installed new centrifuges in its enrichment facility in Natanz. But the West’s sanctions are heavily burdening the Iranian economy, and the isolation is beginning to take a toll.

Tehran is reading the regional map rather accurately. Iran has chosen to present itself as the responsible adult in the region and help the Americans resolve the crisis in Syria. In Washington, there are those who believe that this warming of relations with Tehran, if it doesn’t bring about a drastic shift in Iran’s policy, at least it will help the Shiite republic become less of a rogue state. Netanyahu’s great advantage is that beyond his exceptional oratorical skills, he now has a new coalition that will help Israel reveal Iran’s true face to the world.

Temporary bliss

In conclusion, one could say that this week in New York started out in Farsi but concluded in Hebrew. Also, by some coincidence, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday that the head of the Iranian cyberwarfare unit was mysteriously murdered. If true, this report will join a long list of previous reports of mysterious assassinations of high-ranking Iranian officials, over which the Iranians were especially bitter last week in New York.

Netanyahu’s speech generated a lot of responses, particularly in Tehran. Following Rouhani’s response, Iranian Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Hassan Fairouz issued a response of his own, referring to Israel’s and the U.S.’s much-repeated phrase, “the military option is on the table,” saying that it was antiquated and rusty and that the table was a rickety one. He too, like his president, said that Netanyahu’s remarks were cause to rejoice. It is safe to assume that in this, too, the Iranians are lying. One thing is clear, however: Netanyahu has managed to stress the Iranians out. Israel, of all countries, at this complicated juncture, was wise enough to keep its cool.

“If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” Netanyahu said in his responsible address, which aimed to urge the entire world to continue combating the Iranian nuclear bomb.

Netanyahu’s truth speech comes in stark contrast with Iran’s massive deception. The Iranian lie is being distilled in the centrifuges. That is the danger of which Netanyahu wanted to remind the world.

 

‘We are not Arabs. We are Christians who speak Arabic’

Many of Israel’s Christians feel that their history, culture and heritage have been hijacked by Muslim Arabs in the region, while they feel a much stronger link to Israel’s Jews • The Jewish state is the only place where we are protected, they say.

Rally for Israel by Christians in New York

Rally for Israel by Christians in New York

It was not just any conference. Even the word “historic” would not do it justice. This was nothing short of the shift of an ancient paradigm.

For a long time we had grown accustomed to thinking about the Middle East as an Arab region. But this region, the vast majority of which was actually originally not Arab, was conquered in the seventh century by tribes hailing from the Arabian Peninsula. They imposed their religion, their culture and their language on the indigenous population, and to top it all off, claimed ownership of the land in the region.

But the social and diplomatic firestorms currently raging around us have begun to chip away at this monolithic point of view among various ethnic groups, whose identities are actually different than the ones we have lazily attached to them, and their voices are beginning to be heard loud and clear: “We are not Arabs,” they are saying. “We are Christians who speak Arabic.”

At the “Israeli Christians: Breaking Free? The advent of an independent Christian voice in Israel” conference in Jerusalem, one after another, Israeli Christian representatives took to the stage and greeted the audience with a “moadim l’simcha” (“times of joy” – a common Jewish holiday wish of good tidings). The first speaker was the Rev. Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Nazareth and spiritual leader of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum. Naddaf is an impressive man, who speaks in a reserved tone, but is nonetheless articulate and resolute. “I am here to open the public’s eyes,” he said. “If we want to refrain from lying to our own souls and to the general public, we must say clearly and unwaveringly: enough!”

“The Christian public wants to integrate into Israeli society, against the wishes of its old leadership. There are those who keep pushing us to the margins, keeping us the victims nationalism that is not our own, and of a conflict that has nothing to do with us,” he said.

Naddaf spoke of the Christian roots, planted deep in this land since the dawn of Christianity. This is where Jesus Christ’s doctrine first emerged. The Christian faith, he said, came out of the Jewish faith and its biblical roots. As far as Naddaf is concerned, what happened in the seventh century was an Arab invasion from which the Christians also suffered. He added that he wasn’t very proud of the Christian crusades either, and distanced himself from them.

He surveyed the dire situation currently faced by Christians in Arab states, and said that the realization that Israel is the only country in the region that protects its Christian minority has prompted many Arabic-speaking Israeli Christians to develop a desire to contribute to the state of Israel. That is how the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum came to be.

Naddaf quoted the founder of the forum, Maj. Ihab Shlayan, as saying: “The Christians will not be made into hostages, or allow themselves to be controlled by those who wish to impose their nationality, religion and way of life upon us. We will not agree to hide behind the groups that control the streets. We want to live in Israel — brothers in arms and brothers in peace. We want to stand guard and serve as the first line of defense in this Holy Land, the Land of Israel.”

“We have broken through the barrier of fear,” Naddaf went on to say. “The time has come to prove our loyalty, pay our dues and demand our rights.” He spoke about the death threats that he and his friends face, and added that despite the hardships they continue forward “because the State of Israel is our heart. Israel is a holy state, a strong state, and its people, Jews and Christians alike, are united under one covenant.”

Naddaf was followed at the podium by Lt. (ret.) Shaadi Khalloul, the spokesman of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum and an officer in the Israel Defense Forces Paratroopers Brigade. Khalloul, a scholar who studies the history of the Christian faith in the region, spoke about the eastern Christian identity that had been stripped of his people. Over the last three years, he has fought Israel’s Interior Ministry over recognition of his community as Aramaic Christians.

We are “B’nei Keyama,” which means allies in Aramaic, he said. He has nothing against the Arabs, but it is simply not his identity. It is especially problematic for him because being associated with the Arabs pulls him into a conflict that is not his own, entirely against his will.

Khalloul said that the way to integrate into Israeli society was through military service in the IDF, which he described as a melting pot, but also through education. It turns out that Israel’s Christian population is not educated in their own history, only the history of the Arabs and of Islam.

“The typical Christian student thinks that he belongs to the Arab people and the Islamic nation, instead of speaking to the people with whom he truly shares his roots — the Jewish people, whose origins are in the Land of Israel.”

Adding to that point, Rev. Naddaf stepped in and said, “It is unthinkable that our children will be raised on the history of the Nakba and on the hatred of Jews, and not be taught their history.”

It was no coincidence that Khalloul chose the Aramaic word for allies to describe his people. In his view, Israeli Christians are not mercenaries, as they might be perceived, but in fact allies. “We want to defend the holy land alongside the Jews,” he insisted. He mentioned the Christians’ support for the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in the 1947 UNSCOP Committee. In a letter to the committee at the time, the Maronites rejected any reference to the land of Israel as Arab land.

Khalloul said further that global Christianity supported them, but refrained from making the support public because of the fact that Christians in the Middle East are hostages in the hands of Islamic forces.

Remarking on the ongoing debate surrounding the issue of a Jewish-democratic state vs. a so-called state of all its citizens, Khalloul said that he preferred a Jewish state that takes care of all its citizens over a state governed by all its citizens, without a Jewish identity.

“Several decades ago, 80 percent of the Lebanese population was Christian,” he recalled, “but the 20% Muslim minority imposed their Arab identity on them and many of them left. Today, only 35% of the population is Christian.”

Syria, too, he added, is comprised of Christians and Kurds who are not Arab. “Where is the respect for these groups? For their history and their culture?” Only in a Jewish state, he concluded, will different groups be given the right to exist.

Naddaf then interjected and said, “That is not just [Khalloul’s] opinion. The entire forum shares this view.”

The last representative to take the stage was Capt. Bishara Shlayan, whose initiative to establish the Christian Israeli Party was first reported in Israel Hayom this past July. Following the report, Shlayan was bombarded with responses from all over the world.

“We were raised on Arab political parties,” he said, “the communists, and then the National Democratic Assembly. In time, I realized where these Arab parties were taking us — only against Israel.”

He said that Islam was imposing itself on the Christians in the region. Thus, for example, the ancient “Miriam’s Spring” evolved into the “Nazareth Spring.” In his youth, he had received a red flag, he recounted. But today, he sighed, “our children are being raised on the green flag, on anti-Israeli culture.”

“We need to create a different culture,” he continued. “We need to hand out Israeli flags to every child. Education begins here. You enter a school in Nazareth, and you will not see a single Israeli flag. They don’t recognize it. You will only see Palestinian flags.”

Shlayan is well aware of the claims that Israeli Christians are not afforded all the rights to which they are entitled. “That may be,” he said, but “you have to begin by pledging loyalty to your country and serving it. I believe that.”

All the above is only part of what was said at the recent conference of the Liaison Committee of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel.

The Christian communities’ march toward the heart of the Israeli consensus has an iconoclastic significance. It is reminiscent of Abraham’s smashing the idols and thereby smashing certain thought conventions and patterns. It is important not only on the inter-faith and theological level; it is also important to Israel’s efforts to prove our rights to the world. Parts of the Christian world see us as the crucifiers of the Palestinians, even though this could not be further from the truth. Therefore, when the Israeli Christians stand by the State of Israel and declare that this is the Land of Israel and not Palestine and that Jews did not steal this land but rather returned home as the Bible prophesied, it has immeasurable significance.

We, as a society and as a state, must embrace these courageous people, who spoke from the very deepest recesses of their hearts. We must help them, provide for them and integrate them into our society. And no less importantly, we must protect their lives. Our lives and our future depend on it.

“Palestinians cannot be trusted with real peace”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, who was party to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for over 20 years, has a disillusioned view of the peace process • “Chance of achieving peace are slim. Differences on core issues have only grown,” he says.

A caption from Stand With Us in Israel referring to the need for Palestinians to 'reall' want peace

A caption from Stand With Us in Israel referring to the need for Palestinians to ‘really’ want peace

Nine months. That’s the amount of time the people running the American-sponsored talks between Israel and the Palestinians allotted for reaching a peace treaty. If a permanent agreement is reached, Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel will eat his hat.

But if you ask Dekel, who for two decades closely followed the various attempts to hold talks with the Palestinians, the chance of that happening is slim. So he supports the idea of an interim agreement with the Palestinians, as do formerly high-ranking figures such as Yossi Beilin.

Dekel has been following the talks with the Palestinians from up close for many years. Today he is the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Recently he presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a 1600-page book summing up all the talks that have ever taken place between Israel and the Palestinians.

From 2007 to 2009, Dekel served as the head of Israel’s negotiating team in Ehud Olmert’s government. Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak appointed Dekel after he left the Israel Defense Forces at the rank of brigadier-general, after having served as the head of the Strategic Planning Division in the General Staff’s Planning Directorate. Before that, he served as the chief of staff’s assistant for diplomatic agreements. There really is such a position — it is filled by the army official responsible for the peace talks, and his job is to provide the security-related perspective, which is an essential part of any peace agreement. Before that, Dekel served as head of the Research Division in Air Force Intelligence and as the IAF’s representative in discussions about peace agreements.

“Oslo started with a progressive approach of stage-by-stage progress,” Dekel says in a special interview. “It didn’t work. Ehud Olmert changed the approach. He came along and said, ‘Enough working on the process. Let’s work on the question of the conclusion, the question of the final-status agreement. Let’s decide what we want in the final-status agreement, and then we’ll see how to get there.’ That was the idea of the Annapolis summit: to discuss the final-status arrangement while continuing to move forward according to the road map.

“We had 12 committees at Annapolis that discussed issues such as the economy, infrastructures, environmental quality, border crossings, water transfer, various legal issues such as extradition agreements, and also the issue of the Palestinian prisoners. One of the committees even discussed the culture of peace. We reached agreements on all topics. Tzipi Livni coordinated all the teams’ work. She ran the talks very responsibly and seriously. She examined every issue thoroughly. She did not rush things. She did not promise things she could not commit to. At the same time, she built trust among the Palestinians; they saw that she was truly striving to reach an agreement with them. That was very important. It created a positive approach in the rooms where the meetings took place.

“The subject of Jerusalem wasn’t discussed in the teams. Olmert put it on the table at the end. A partition plan for the city was suggested that got to the level of street names. The basis of the Jerusalem partition plan was that the Jewish neighborhoods would be on the Israeli side, and the Arab neighborhoods would be on the Palestinian side. They suggested a partition of the Old City and the creation of a joint municipal agency. A special status was discussed for the Holy Basin that would include the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion and the City of David.

“The land would be managed by a third party. An international force would be established that would serve as a police force in the area. For example, the commander would be American and have two deputies, an Israeli and a Palestinian. The Waqf would keep managing the Temple Mount, and an international force would be in charge of security. Regarding sovereignty, a decision was made not to decide. Neither they nor we would give up sovereignty. We demand sovereignty over the place. Now, on the strength of our sovereignty, we give authority to a third party there.”

The result is well known.

“We accomplished nothing because the Palestinians decided to run away,” Dekel says. “The moment Olmert put the things on the table, with a generous proposal from our perspective, they decided to vanish. They didn’t want to say yes or no. They avoided saying no because they wanted to keep all the flexibility that Israel had put on the table.

“As much as we love to blame ourselves — and we do — the other side is as much to blame as we are that there is no agreement. At Camp David, too, in the talks between Arafat, Barak and Clinton and in the talks with Olmert, the other side refused to accept things in which we met them halfway. Every time it reached the testing point, the Palestinians decided not to make the hard decisions.”

Q: What about Olmert?

“Olmert took the whole package and wanted to play give-and-take with it. So we make territorial concessions, and they make security-related concessions. The Palestinians wanted to take Olmert’s proposal and break it up into the 12 committees that we established in Annapolis so they could benefit from Israel’s flexibility without having to give anything in return.”

According to Dekel, “The Palestinians didn’t want to close with Olmert. Later, they said that the reason they didn’t take the proposal was that Olmert didn’t stay on as prime minister, and the next prime minister was evidently going to be Netanyahu and not Livni. Regarding Netanyahu, they didn’t believe he would carry out the agreement that Olmert had proposed, so what would they gain by agreeing to Olmert’s proposal? A situation would be created in which the plan would be revealed and Mahmoud Abbas would be considered a traitor, since all the Palestinians’ flexibility would be exposed, and no agreement was reached.

“When the critical moment arrives where the tough decisions have to be made, they don’t have the courage, leadership or the drive to make those tough decisions. Then it’s easy for them to find some issue and get the process stuck on it, and gain what they can at that moment. Back in Olmert’s time, the Palestinians decided that they were going to play on the international court. They believed that there, it would be easier for them to gain much more.”

According to Dekel, the Palestinians say they have “natural rights to the land, and that they don’t need anything from Israel. They say Israel came from a position of strength, as rulers, with the strong army, but they come with a natural right. Now, with their right, they are coming to receive recognition from the international community.”

They’re still doing that today, aren’t they?

“Yes. Today, too, their purpose in going into the talks is to prove that Israel is not a partner, that Israel is not willing to move forward. Even now, we understand from the leaks on the Palestinian side that they’re saying Israel is not flexible enough and isn’t moving enough, in the talks, in the direction they want. This is an obvious trend whose purpose is to prepare the ground so that later, they will be able to come to the international community and say: ‘We tried, but Israel isn’t willing to move forward and reach an agreement, so go ahead and give us what we want.’

“I don’t see any chance that we will reach a permanent agreement. The gaps in the core issues haven’t narrowed from the talks in Olmert’s time to those in Netanyahu’s. They’ve only grown wider.”

Dekel is the one who coined the phrase “Anything agreed upon will be implemented” — the same motto uttered frequently by those known as “the Oslo people,” who, like Dekel, favor an interim agreement.

“It’s true that I’m the one who came up with that sentence, and people were angry with me when I said it then,” he says, and hastens to explain the idea behind it.

“The rule that governed the talks with the Palestinians during Ehud Olmert’s time was that nothing would be agreed upon until everything had been agreed upon. The idea on which this approach was based was to create flexibility in the negotiating room. What it really did was create stubbornness. My understanding is that to change a reality, you have to take steps that change that reality all the time. My idea says that if something was agreed upon — for example, today we can agree about water — why not implement it?

“The game where you’re not willing to make any concessions as long as there’s no permanent arrangement isn’t relevant. My approach, and that of those who were involved in past negotiations, is that the chance of reaching a final-status agreement is slim. Now, as long as there’s positive potential in the talks, there’s a chance to build an alternative.”

Dekel suggests looking at the possibility of an interim agreement or “independent step,” as he puts it.

“A final-status agreement will remain the final goal, but we need to decide that we’re going to change the reality in stages. Israel has an interest in the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders and in anchoring the two-state solution. So let’s get there, and we’ll catch up on the details later.

“There’s no need to determine the borders — just the principle of the borders. Tomorrow morning, we can establish a state for the Palestinians that includes more than 60 percent of the land in the West Bank without evacuating the settlements, with complete freedom of movement for them, as well as control of the area. It’s true that it isn’t completely a sovereign state, but it’s a significant leap from their current situation.

“While the concepts of ‘unilateral’ and ‘disengagement’ are unpopular, we must also plan unilateral measures as a relevant option. We’re busy with strategic planning in a changing environment. We can no longer plan something and figure out the goal as we go. The new policy has to be that at each point in time, you have to create as many options as you can that will anchor the main principle.

“Now the main thing is to protect Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and anchor the two-state solution. There is broad agreement on these two principles. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition agree on them, and there is agreement outside the coalition as well. After all, we’ve been trying unsuccessfully to reach an agreement for the past 20 years.

“It’s obvious that a permanent agreement is preferable, but if there is no chance of that, then we need to find a solution that is good for us. An interim agreement will anchor what is good for us. It makes no mention of the return of the refugees. There is no change in Jerusalem. We are keeping the settlement blocs in our control and deploying along the route of the security barrier. We are keeping the army deployed in the Jordan Valley. It’s true that the demands are endless, but a new situation has been created that the world will have to deal with.

“What will we accomplish by that? You are giving up land and making concessions on many topics, the conflict is continuing, the other side has made no commitment to stop what it is doing in the international arena and the conflict on the ground is continuing.

“The new strategic approach says: ‘Let’s take the tools we have and shape the situation without depending on what the other side wants. Staying in place is a bad thing because all you do is accumulate demerits without making progress toward your goals, with or without the other side.'”

Dekel adds that the process of unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip is not like the measures that would be taken in a unilateral interim agreement in Judea and Samaria — first, because there would be no evacuation of settlements; second, because the Jordan Valley would remain under Israeli control.

“We’re not making the border porous. We’re preventing the entry of arms and of people whom we don’t want to go inside the Palestinian state,” he says. “One way or another, we reserve the right to defend ourselves, and if we must take security-related measures within it, we will do so.”

Israel Security Agency reports dramatic rise in terror attacks

The Shin Bet says 133 terror attacks were noted in September, compared with 68 attacks in August • West Bank a hotbed for terror activity • Intelligence indicates a steady rise in terror organizations’ motivation to abduct Israeli soldiers.

israeli security forces

israeli security forces

 

The number of terror attacks and attempted terror attacks rose dramatically in September from August, a report by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) revealed Thursday. According to the Shin Bet’s data, 133 terror attacks took place in September, compared with 68 attacks in August.

The two most notable terror attacks were the murders of Israeli soldiers Staff Sgt. Gal (Gabriel) Kobi, 20, on Sept. 19, and Sgt. Tomer Hazan, 20, on Sept. 21.

The report noted that most terror attacks in the past month — 104 — took place in Judea and Samaria, compared with 68 terror attacks in the territories in August. Four terror attacks took place near the Gaza Strip border in September (compared with five in August), and 26 attacks took place in Jerusalem (25 in August).

The Shin Bet further noted that defense intelligence indicated that there was a rise in terror organizations’ motivation to abduct Israeli soldiers, especially across Judea and Samaria, to use them as bargaining chips in potential negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

“The effort to carry out abductions is a familiar one and it is directed by the terror organizations’ headquarters abroad, as well as by security prisoners incarcerated in Israel, who strive to use [such abductions] as a means to promote their release,” a statement posted on the Shin Bet’s website said. “Over the past few months, especially since November 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, a more focused effort has been made to that effect, especially by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Fatah.”

The Shin Bet said that since Operation Pillar of Defense Hamas has been promoting the abduction of Israeli soldiers “as part of its attempts to cement its position as the entity leading the ‘resistance’ and armed struggle against Israel.”

The Islamic Jihad, “whose operational leeway has been curtailed by Hamas in Gaza (as it attempts to maintain security in the Strip) is also in search of new operational theaters and is focusing on abduction as a means of promoting the release of its prisoners,” the Shin Bet said on its website.

“Fatah, which is wary of leaving ‘the Palestinian street’ to Hamas, is seeking to garner ‘bonus points’ that, as they see it, would counter Hamas’ achievements in the [2011] Schalit deal and Operation Pillar of Defense,” the statement said.

The Shin Bet’s report said, “There has been growing motivation among Palestinian terror groups to execute abduction attacks for the purpose of a prisoner exchange. The past few months have also seen a rise in the threat of abduction, which has manifested in the growing number of terror cells intercepted by Israeli security forces before they could set their plans into motion.”

According to the report, Israeli security forces have thwarted 37 abduction plots since the beginning of 2013.