Strike inevitable as Iran mocks World Powers

With an interim agreement reached and signed in Geneva between the P-5+1 and Iran on Saturday, the US Government seems content while subsequent events clearly indicate Iran is not planning on keeping its end of the bargain leaving Netanyahu no option but to order a strike.

A couple of quick pen strokes signaled the sealing of the (interim) agreement in the early hours of Sunday after four long days of negotiations. Soon thereafter, near-euphoric headlines emerged around the world notifying the international community of this happening. Yet there is little to rejoice about.

Read the rest of the article at:

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Five Palestinians arrested for Jordan Valley killing

Housing minister says he will bolster settlement after retired IDF colonel Seraiah Ofer bludgeoned to death outside home by ax-wielding attackers

Troops combing the area next to the Brosh Habika vacation village Friday. (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Troops combing the area next to the Brosh Habika vacation village Friday. (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Five Palestinians were arrested Friday in connection with a suspected terror attack in the northern Jordan Valley in which a retired IDF colonel was bludgeoned to death overnight.

The arrests came after several hours of searches and roadblocks by security forces in the area, following the early-morning killing.

IDF Chief Benny Gantz called the attack “serious” and President Shimon Peres said “no one will rest” until the perpetrators were caught.

Officials initially said they were not sure whether the attack was nationalistically motivated or criminal in nature. However, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, “We strongly believe this was a terror attack.”

Seraiah Ofer, 61, was beaten to death by men wielding metal bars and axes outside his home in the Brosh Habika vacation village, which he owned and operated, at about 1 a.m. Friday.

Seraiah Ofer (photo credit: screenshot Channel 10 news)

His wife, Monique Mor Ofer, 51, managed to escape. She was lightly injured on barbed wire before reaching a nearby highway, where she flagged down a car for help.

The attack, coming on the heels of a number of isolated incidents over the past month, drew harsh responses from politicians.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, from the nationalist Jewish Home party, said in a statement Friday morning he would work to “enlarge and strengthen” settlement in the area.

“This is the proper Zionist response to a revolting murder,” Ariel said.

The home of Seraiah Ofer, where he was killed on Friday. (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

The vacation village, which was empty at the time of the attack, is located about five kilometers south of the settlement of Shadmot Mechola, in the northern Jordan Valley, a sparsely populated wilderness on the eastern edge of the West Bank.

Ofer and his wife reportedly heard noises outside the house, and when he went out to investigate, he was attacked by the men. Mor said the attackers, who used iron bars and an ax, spoke Arabic.

Monique Mor, whose husband was killed in a suspected terror attack, speaks to reporters from her hospital bed, October 11, 2013 (photo credit: Walla news screenshot)

Ofer had served as commander of the Gaza district and in elite combat units, Mor said. He moved to the area in the 90s to invest money in tourism in the area, and became a popular local figure.

He built the Brosh Habika vacation village six years ago over an old Jordanian base, the news website reported.

Ofer’s brother, Yitzhak Ofer, a pilot, was killed exactly 40 years ago — on October 11, 1973 — while flying a mission for Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel  (left) with the mayor of Ma’aleh Adumim Benny Kasriel during a ceremony in the tract of land known as E1, located between the large West Bank settlement and Jerusalem, in April. (photo credit: Flash90)

Ariel said Ofer was a personal friend of his, and one of the best officers in the IDF.

“Ya-Ya was always the pioneer,” he said, using Ofer’s nickname. “He was like that in the IDF and he was like that in the settlement enterprise, leading many behind him to settle in the Jordan Valley, which he saw as of prime Zionist importance.”

Israel has responded to terror attacks by upping settlement activity in the past, most recently in late September, when the defense minister allowed settlers in Hebron to move into a disputed home following the killing of an Israeli soldier, Gal Kobi, thought to be from Palestinian sniper fire.

Ariel and other politicians also called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop Palestinian prisoner releases and rethink peace talks with the Palestinians in the wake of the murder, which came on the heels of a shooting of a 9-year-old girl in the Psagot settlement outside Ramallah on Saturday. Noam Glick was lightly injured in that attack.

“Again Palestinians are translating our desire for peace as weakness and are answering with murder,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud party said Friday morning.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told Israel Radio he blamed the attack on Palestinian incitement, and called on the government to reconsider peace talks and the freeing of prisoners.

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Palestinian television he saw any refusal to free prisoners as freeing him to go to the United Nations Security Council to lodge complaints against Israel.

Report: Palestinian suspects arrested in Psagot attack

Palestinian media report that IDF units in al-Bireh have arrested brothers Majd and Ala Adawi • Yisrael Glick, the victim’s father: I hope they are not exchanged in some deal • Glick: Noam is still in hospital, will require psychological healing.

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Palestinian media reported on Monday that Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Israeli security personnel had entered the city of al-Bireh, adjacent to the settlement of Psagot, where they arrested two brothers, Majd and Ala Adawi. The two are suspected of involvement in Saturday night’s attack on 9-year-old Noam Glick outside her family home.
According to reports, toward evening 12 IDF jeeps entered the Palestinian city of al-Bireh and carried out their arrests close to the municipal courthouse. IDF soldiers conducted searches of several houses in the area and ultimately arrested the two brothers. Neither of the brothers resisted arrest, nor did their neighbors interfere.

As previously reported, a hole was found in the fence surrounding Psagot, but for many hours security forces could not find the shooter due to many variables surrounding the incident. Among these, it is still unclear what weapon the man used to attack Noam.

“We hadn’t heard of this, but if it is true, we are not surprised,” said Yisrael Glick, the father of Noam, who is still hospitalized at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. “From my familiarity with the army and with the Shin Bet security agency, this was to be expected. I just hope this doesn’t all end with their release as part of some deal. We know that the attack on Noam was not personal. The terrorist wanted to hurt an Israeli citizen. He didn’t care who. This is a national matter, and we are sure the IDF and Shin Bet are doing everything in their power to preserve our security.”

Noam’s parents hope that she will be released from the hospital in the coming days. “Noam still has to undergo psychological healing, and that is the more difficult part,” said Glick.

Ovadia Yosef, outspoken spiritual leader of Israel’s Sephardi Jews, dies at 93

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 1920-2013

A child prodigy born into poverty in Baghdad, the former chief rabbi was a lenient religious authority who forged the increasingly hardline Shas political party.

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Ovadia Yosef, an outspoken rabbi who combined religious and political leadership into a role as one of the most powerful religious figures in Israel’s history, died Monday. He was 93.

Yosef, who was vocal and active even as he ailed in recent years, was hospitalized repeatedly as his condition worsened.

The Baghdad-born rabbi will be remembered for building the support of traditional Jews from Arab countries, long marginalized in the Israeli political system, into a powerful political machine in the form of the Shas party, a key power-broker in the Knesset.

One of Yosef’s sons is currently the country’s chief Sephardi rabbi, a role Yosef himself held in the past. But the elderly scholar has no clear successor, and some experts expect his death to throw Shas, whose appeal has always been largely based on the rabbi’s authority, into turmoil that could jeopardize its future.

Beyond his large circles of followers and students, Yosef will be remembered by many for his sharp tongue, which became less restrained as he aged. He once famously referred to Yossi Sarid, a leftist MK, as “the devil,” recommended 40 lashes for smokers, and pilloried non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Once a political moderate, in 2010 he called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “evil” and suggested a plague should strike Palestinians. That comment earned him a condemnation from the US State Department.

But in the world of Jewish law and practice, Yosef will be remembered most for his role at the forefront of adjudicating almost every issue over a period of nearly six decades. His stance was often relatively liberal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at the bar mitzvah of party chairman Eli Yishai's son, in February 2011. (photo credit: Ilia Yefimovich/Flash90)

It was Yosef, for example, who ensured that the widows of hundreds of IDF troops killed and missing in action in the Yom Kippur War would be able to remarry, even if their husbands’ bodies were not recovered. While some rabbinical leaders believed that there was no choice but to declare those women agunot, or women who are “chained” to a marriage because a husband’s whereabouts cannot be determined, Yosef provided the legal rationale for allowing them to remarry.

Yosef was unique among ultra-Orthodox religious leaders in his handling of the quandary of “shemita” — a Biblical precept according to which farmers are forbidden to work their land every seventh year. Observing the practice is impossible for modern farmers and would cripple the agricultural economy. Yosef supported an arrangement whereby Jewish farmers can sell the land to non-Jews, usually Muslims, putting the land officially under non-Jewish ownership and allowing work to continue. Of the range of current legal opinions on how to integrate the tradition into a modern economy, Yosef’s interpretation stands out as the most liberal.

The complicated discussions in which Yosef engaged in order to push through these and other groundbreaking decisions appear in the hundreds of books and articles that he authored, many of them based on lectures he gave in synagogues and yeshivas around the world. In 1970, Yosef was awarded the Israel Prize in Rabbinical Literature for his seminal work of legal decisions, “Yabia Omer.”

A prodigy born into poverty

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was born in 1920 in Baghdad, Iraq, and emigrated with his family to Jerusalem in 1924.

Despite the family’s poverty — and the long hours young Ovadia spent helping his father, who supported the family as a peddler — Yosef was recognized as a child prodigy by Jerusalem’s elite Sephardi rabbis. He wrote his first published Torah commentary at age 9, and at 12 began studying at the prestigious Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where he learned Torah and Talmud with study partners far older than he and became close to the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Ezra Attiyeh.

In 1937, Attiyeh assigned Yosef to give Torah lectures to members of a Persian synagogue in Jerusalem. In a pattern that would become a hallmark of his career in Jewish law, members of the congregation rejected Yosef’s teachings because he presented a legal point of view that differed from that of the famed Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Haim, known as the “Ben Ish Hai.” Haim, who died in 1909, was considered the premier legal authority in much of the Sephardi world at the time. But Yosef contended that the sage’s rulings were more stringent than necessary.

It was an argument that Yosef would make throughout his career. Yosef contended that for Sephardi Jews the decisions that mattered were those of the 16th-century legal work known as the Shulhan Arukh, and in his halachic decisions the rabbi would review decisions on related issues in the past to determine how the Shulkhan Arukh would have ruled on the question at hand. The final decision was often more moderate than the ones promulgated by the students of the Ben Ish Hai.

In the 1940s, Yosef penned a series of books in which he specified his dispute with the Ben Ish Hai’s point of view on each point of Jewish law. But Yosef postponed publishing the series for more than 40 years, until 1998, at least in  part because of his fears over the controversy they would engender. Indeed, several of the top Sephardi rabbis in Israel criticized Yosef for his position.

At age 20, Yosef was appointed a dayan, a judge in a religious court, and went on to head the Sephardi Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. By 1945 Yosef was known throughout the Jewish world and received daily requests for advice and guidance.

At around the same time, he became close with members of the Irgun, the armed group headed by Menachem Begin. Several of Yosef’s brothers joined the group, and some Irgun members have said Yosef himself participated in its activities, including helping Begin and others escape the clutches of British police by dressing them as rabbis. Yosef also became acquainted with other Zionist leaders, including Shimon Peres, with whom he had a long friendship.

In 1947 Yosef moved to Egypt and headed the Jewish community’s religious court. He remained there for three years, during which time he found himself at odds with lay leaders of the Jewish community, whom Yosef felt were lax in their observance. He returned to Israel in 1950.

In the early 1960s, he established a yeshiva in Jerusalem specifically to train Sephardi youth for for the rabbinate. In several of his writings, Yosef bemoans the fact that Sephardi students were forced to attend Ashkenazi yeshivas, where he felt they were considered second-class students and were trained to make legal decisions in a manner not consistent with Sephardi tradition.

A lenient religious legal authority

Yosef became the country’s chief Sephardi rabbi in 1972, and was involved in several groundbreaking legal decisions. During his tenure, large numbers of Soviet Jews arrived in Israel, many of them married to non-Jews or without clear proof of their Jewish heritage. Yosef was able to ensure that many of them were accepted as Jews, or were able to convert under the auspices of the rabbinate. In perhaps his most dramatic decision from the period, Yosef ruled that the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia were indeed Jews. As such, they qualified for assistance under the Law of the Return, and as a result, the entire community was airlifted to Israel over the following three decades.

In cases involving converts, divorce and mamzerut — the status of a child born of a forbidden union, and who cannot marry someone who does not share that status – Yosef’s position was to seek out lenient solutions wherever possible in order to protect children. On numerous occasions, for example, Yosef was asked to rule on cases in which the children of a second marriage, whose parents’ first marriage had been conducted by non-Orthodox rabbis in the US and dissolved by a civil divorce, were seeking to be married by Orthodox rabbis, in Israel or abroad.

Under Jewish law, a child whose mother was not properly divorced from her first husband, and who was born of a union with a second man, is considered a mamzer, and not permitted to marry. Yosef’s solution was to declare the non-Orthodox marriage null and void under Jewish law, meaning that the first marriage and subsequent divorce were rendered inconsequential and the children of the second marriage were therefore not born of an illicit union and their status was unblemished.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef attends the wedding of the grandson of the Belz Rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Rokach, to Hana Batya Pener in Jerusalem on May 22, 2013. (Photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Yosef remained chief rabbi until 1983. The next year, he established the Council of Torah Sages, the body that would guide Shas as a political force in Israeli politics. The party has been a key player in almost every government since then, giving Yosef almost as much political influence as religious influence over Israeli life.

Shifting politics with Shas

The purpose of Shas, Yosef has said, is to do for politics what his yeshiva did for rabbinical students — to “restore the glory” of Sephardi Jewry. Just as the yeshiva championed “Sephardi rights” in the yeshiva world, Shas was to champion the traditions of Sephardi Jews in Israeli society.

As head of the Council of Torah Sages, Yosef was asked to rule on a number of political issues, such as whether Jewish law permits ceding land in peace agreements. In general, Yosef ruled that such decisions were the business of military experts: If they believe that handing over land will make Jews safer, then Jewish law supports doing so.

It was on that basis that Shas abstained in the 1993 vote to approve the Oslo Accords, which placed Gaza and Jericho under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. The decision cost Yosef the support of many on the religious right. By 2005, however, after the breakdown of the Oslo agreements and the terrorism of the second Palestinian intifada, Yosef’s thinking had changed, and he was vehemently opposed to the disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria that year.

Yosef often insulted those he disagreed with. One target of his ire was Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Responding to the fact that some of the Rebbe’s followers considered him the Messiah, Yosef said this was “heresy and idol worship. He has fooled those around him into believing he is a god.” (On other occasions, however, he praised the Rebbe and especially the activities of his movement in reaching out to unaffiliated Jews around the world.)

In a lecture in 2012, Yosef reiterated the religious edict against bringing cases to secular courts, calling the courts of the state “courts of non-Jews” who “hate the Torah.” In 1993, he called David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, “evil,” saying “there was none more evil than him.” More recently, Yosef called the Jewish Home party, a member of the current government that Shas saw as its chief rival in the recent Knesset elections, “a party of non-Jews” and “haters of Torah.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, left, with his father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef after results of the election for chief rabbi were announced (photo credit: Flash90)

Rabbi Benny Lau, who researched Yosef’s life for a bestselling book on the rabbi, said he admired Yosef for many years because of his bold legal decisions — but that in recent years Yosef’s legacy had been marred by the controversies surrounding his comments.

In a recent interview, Lau expressed hope that legacy could be rescued by Yosef’s son Yitzhak, now the Sephardi chief rabbi.

“Over the past 15 years, I have seen how a court has grown around the rabbi, not allowing anyone from the outside access — in essence taking control of the rabbi,” Lau said.

According to Lau, the politicians of Shas are at least partially responsible for many of the controversies, because Yosef is only responding to what they tell him. “It is heartbreaking to see how they control the rabbi,” said Lau. “I believe that Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef can truly ‘restore the glory’ of his father to its proper place.”

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.

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.

 

“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.”