In Israel’s domestic politics, Iran deal is a gift for Netanyahu


Maybe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be thanking the Obama administration for the Iran deal.

Netanyahu called Tuesday’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program a “stunning historic mistake.” He says it’s going to endanger the Middle East.

But within Israel, the deal looks to be a political godsend for the prime minister.

A few days ago, Netanyahu’s narrow, two-seat majority in Knesset faced trouble. Last week, he warned his coalition partners that he would have to renege on budgetary promises he made when they formed the government in May. In response, a coalition lawmaker threatened to force another election — just four months after Israelis last went to the polls.

Now, the Iran deal appears to have given Netanyahu a new mandate to lead. Isaac Herzog, leader of the Knesset opposition and chairman of the center-left Zionist Union party, reportedly may join Netanyahu’s coalition, forming a unity government to fight the agreement and counter any subsequent Iranian threat. With Zionist Union’s 24 Knesset seats, the narrow, 61-member coalition would become a broad, 85-seat government.

Herzog and Netanyahu met Tuesday night to discuss the deal, and according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Herzog said he “would do his utmost on behalf of the security of the State of Israel in the new situation that has been created.”

This isn’t the first time opposing parties have come together in the name of national security. Just ahead of the Six Day War in 1967, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol formed a national unity government with his right-wing rivals to present a united front against Israel’s enemies. The next day, Israel went to war; this time, analysts say, Israel could be hard-pressed to take military action and will lobby the U.S. Congress to reject a deal before contemplating a strike.

Some of Netanyahu’s rivals have blamed Netanyahu for failing to block the deal or improve its terms. Yair Lapid, head of the opposition centrist Yesh Atid party, called for the prime minister’s resignation. He alluded to another military campaign, comparing Netanyahu to Prime Minister Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur war, which Israelis largely view as a debacle.

But Israelis look to be siding with Netanyahu on this one. A poll Thursday by Israeli Channel 10 found that 69 percent of Israelis oppose the Iran deal, while 74 percent believe it won’t stop Iran from getting the bomb. Only 10 percent of Israelis support the deal. Sixty percent say Israel should lobby Congress against the deal, while 33 percent favor military action to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon — with 40 percent opposing a strike.

The country is split on whether Netanyahu erred or acted wisely in his campaign against the agreement, with 37 percent placing him at fault and 34 percent supporting him. But the vast majority of Israelis buy Netanyahu’s main argument: that this is a bad deal that will fail in its goal. And if he succeeds in attracting Herzog and padding his coalition, he won’t need to worry about his approval ratings for a while, anyway.

Iran nuclear talks extended a week


Iran nuclear talks have been extended a week past their deadline for a final deal.

The talks, which were to have reached an agreement by Tuesday, were extended to July 7, Marie Harf, a State Department strategic expert attending the talks in Vienna, said on Twitter.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, are leading the teams in the Austrian capital. Both have described the negotiations in positive terms.

Zarif returned Tuesday from consulting with leaders in Iran.

“I am here to get a final deal and I think we can,” Zarif was quoted as saying by Al Monitor.

A deal would exchange sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapon.

Israel objects to the emerging deal, saying its terms will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state and increase its ability to disrupt the region.

Obama to Iran’s people: ‘Best opportunity in decades’ to pursue different future with U.S.


President Barack Obama, in a message to Iran's people and leaders on Thursday, said this year represented the “best opportunity in decades” to pursue a different relationship between their two countries.

Obama said nuclear talks between Iran and Western powers had made progress but that gaps remained.

“This moment may not come again soon,” Obama said in his message celebrating Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. “I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully – an opportunity we should not miss.”

Iran and six world powers are seeking a comprehensive agreement to curb Iran's most sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for a gradual end to sanctions against Tehran. The powers aim to complete the framework of a final deal by the end of March and reach a full agreement by June 30.

Western powers and their allies suspect Tehran of wanting to create an atomic weapons capability. Tehran denies that and says its nuclear ambitions are purely peaceful.

The talks have raised concerns among U.S. lawmakers that the White House will cut Congress out of any deal and will treat Iran too lightly.

Obama said in his message that “the days and weeks ahead will be critical. Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain. And there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution.”

“My message to you – the people of Iran – is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek,” he said, adding: “This year, we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries.”

Obama said Iran's leaders in the talks had a choice between keeping their country on the current path of isolation and sanctions or putting it on the road to more trade and investment with the rest of the world.

“This is what’s at stake today,” Obama said. “And this moment may not come again soon. I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully – an opportunity we should not miss.”

Iran, six powers meet on steps to carry out nuclear deal


Iran and six world powers began expert-level talks on Monday to work out nitty-gritty details in implementing a landmark accord for Tehran to curb its disputed nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions.

The preliminary accord is seen as a first step towards resolving a decade-old standoff over suspicions Iran might be covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons “breakout” capability, a perception that has raised the risk of a wider Middle East war.

Officials from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met at the Vienna headquarters of the U.N. nuclear agency, which will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the interim deal.

The outcome of the meeting is expected to determine when Iran stops its most sensitive nuclear activity and when it gets the respite in sanctions that it has been promised in return.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it would have “some involvement” in the discussions, which are expected to continue on Tuesday. Media were barred from the floor where the meeting, held under tight secrecy, took place.

The talks are aimed at “devising mechanisms” for the Geneva accord's implementation, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted by state Press TV as saying. Iranian nuclear as well as central bank officials would take part, he said.

Western diplomats said detailed matters not addressed at the Nov. 20-24 talks in Geneva must be ironed out before the deal can be put into practice.

These include how and when the IAEA, which regularly visits Iranian nuclear sites to try to ensure there are no diversions of atomic material, will carry out its expanded role.

A start to sanctions relief would hinge on verification that Iran was fulfilling its side of the accord, they said.

The deal was designed to halt Iran's nuclear advances for a period of six months to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the standoff. Diplomats say implementation may start in January after the technical details have been settled.

Scope for easing the dispute peacefully opened after the June election of a comparative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranian president. He won in a landslide by pledging to ease Tehran's international isolation and win relief from sanctions that have severely damaged the oil producer's economy.

ARAK REACTOR

Diplomats caution that many difficult hurdles remain to overcome – including differences over the scope and capacity of Iran's nuclear project – for a long-term solution to be found.

In a sign of this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed the powers on Sunday to take a hard line with Iran in negotiations on a final agreement, urging them to demand that Tehran abandon all uranium enrichment.

A day after President Barack Obama deemed it unrealistic to believe Iran could be compelled to dismantle its entire nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu said Tehran should have to take apart all centrifuges used to refine uranium.

Israel sees Iran, which has repeatedly said it seeks only civilian energy from uranium enrichment, as a mortal threat. Iran says it is Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, that threatens peace.

Under last month's pact, Iran will halt the activity most applicable to producing nuclear weapons – enrichment of uranium to a higher fissile concentration of 20 percent – and stop installing components at its Arak heavy-water research reactor which, once operating, could yield bomb-grade plutonium.

In the Vienna talks, government experts will also discuss details of which components Iran is not allowed to add to the Arak reactor under the deal, as well as issues pertaining to the sequencing of gestures by both sides, the diplomats said.

Officials from the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers, were also at the meeting.

Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

After Geneva, Iran’s nuclear deal remains a conundrum


Last month’s nuclear deal with Iran has set off a cacophony of pro and con acrimony pitting public officials, academic experts and pundits against one another.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the interim accord a “historic mistake.” The Wall Street Journal headlined columnist Bret Stephens’ commentary that Geneva was “Worse Than Munich.”  Proponents took quite a different view.  Speaking to the country the evening of the deal, President Barack Obama declared “diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.” Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the accord “realistic” and “practical.”

The divide is no sanctimonious dust-up, but a genuine difference of opinion over the best strategy to halt Iran’s suspect nuclear program. The president’s stance — the hope that good-faith negotiation, however difficult, coupled with the continued application of the most onerous sanctions can resolve the issue — butts against the argument that negotiations and minimal sanctions relief simply oxygenates a regime on its last legs and riddled by economic and political dysfunction. In this latter view, now is not the time to sit with the Iranians. As famed human rights activist Natan Sharansky put it in the Wall Street Journal, now is the time to be firm and resolute. Both attributes, he argues, brought down the Soviet Union and can bring down Iran as well. 

However, history finds that both positions don’t quite compute. The fact remains, all courses of action mark a bet. Contrary to Sharansky’s portrait, Washington’s effort to bring down the Soviet Union marked a mixture of engagement and isolation. Even as Moscow’s union began to crack, the United States kept the lines of communication open. In the end, talking did not prevent collapse.    

But then there remains the other talk history. Here is where North Korea becomes the Iran-like poster child Netanyahu repeatedly reminds the international community about. And, indeed, the story is unsettling. In 1994, Washington and Pyongyang entered into an understanding known as the Agreed Framework. Under the accord, North Korea consented to freeze nuclear operations and eventually dismantle the suspect Yongbyong nuclear reactor. In return, the United States assisted in the provision of heating oil for North Korea, while assembling an international consortium to build two nuclear power plants. Then, in 2005, Pyongyang agreed to go further and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. A year later, it exploded its first nuclear device.    

This rather poor precedent for diplomatic success has multiple antecedents. Israel proved to be the first. During years of construction, the Israeli government represented to Washington that it intended the Dimona reactor to be a civil nuclear research enterprise. President John Kennedy didn’t buy it and committed himself to stop it. Correspondence between the young president and the wily David Ben-Gurion became testy, only to fall away with the assassination of the American leader.    

In South Asia, the United States went beyond talk to stop two nuclear programs by applying economic and military sanctions against both India and Pakistan, only to find that it had to shelve the effort against Islamabad as a greater priority — Pakistan’s importance in getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan — took precedence. For India, U.S. sanctions proved more a nuisance and were entirely lifted during the George W. Bush administration. 

Cases where diplomacy proved more effective — Taiwan and South Korea toyed with the nuclear weapons option — reflected the heavy reliance each placed on the American security blanket. Washington’s clear message: Alliances will be in jeopardy if allies proliferate.

Clearly, Iran is no South Korea or Taiwan, but neither is it North Korea. As Wendy Sherman, Washington’s lead Iran negotiator, put it, Iran is “a different time, different culture, a different system.” The result: Where North Korea sees isolation necessary for regime survival, Iran sees trouble. Evidently the goods of the good life attract many Iranians, and the leadership sees them as necessary for regime survival. But the good life is not sustainable if oil exports, accounting for three-quarters of the country’s total, shrink under the pressure of sanctions from 2.3 million barrels a day to 1 million barrels. Nor is there a good life for many with inflation running at 50 percent and unemployment at 25 percent.  While international sanctions are not the sole cause of Iran’s economic malaise, they evidently have been onerous enough to bring Iran to the bargaining table to sign on to the Geneva Accord.

It is worth noting what a change this is. Although the recent bargaining has drawn much attention, it was not a de novo but the culmination of a decade-long effort that commenced in earnest in 2003, when European negotiators attempted to talk Iran out of enrichment. While there remains debate about possible missed opportunities in these and later talks, the dragging of time the negotiations allowed permitted Iran — like North Korea — to expand its nuclear venture dramatically. The question today is whether the costs of this effort have now come home to roost to force Iran to curtail its nuclear activities.

Implementation of the interim agreement will be the first test. True, it does not eliminate Iran’s weapons breakout capacity, but it does curtail the known enterprise. Significant is the rollback of Tehran’s 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile, something the international community has been striving to achieve for years. Iran also will cap its low-enrichment stocks and limit operation of its 19,000 centrifuges to the 10,000 operating today. While not ideal — ideal would be the cessation of all enrichment mandated by the Security Council — it is better than the alternative, continued unabated operations.

Arguably less impressive is Iran’s commitment not to commission the Arak reactor during the next six months, an objective it was not likely to fulfill in any event, although the agreement to halt production, testing or transfer of fuel or installation of reactor components will slow the plant’s completion.

Finally, the interim agreement expands the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) verification, allowing daily visits to enrichment sites. But here the news looks better on paper than it actually is. The IAEA already monitors Fordow and Natanz with cameras and periodic visits. However, “managed access” to centrifuge production and storage sites mark a first, giving international inspectors a far better overview of Iran’s future centrifuge capacity. Other concessions granted IAEA in separate negotiations — allowance to visit a uranium mine, heavy water production plant, access to information on all research reactors, plans for additional enrichment plants and laser enrichment — still do not get to the core of the nuclear watchdog’s effort to unravel what Iran is up to.

So what does Iran get out of this? The benefits seem rather modest — a waiver in trade of petro chemical, gold and precious metal, automobile and civil airline parts in addition to the repatriation of some $7 billion held abroad that Tehran may attempt to leverage, still a relatively small sum considering the country’s economic needs.  

As we look forward, Iran’s compliance with the spirit and letter of Geneva’s interim accord will be a test. If Tehran fails the test, the more ambitious permanent agreement will never advance to signature. But even fidelity offers no guarantee, as U.S. and allied demands in the next round of talks reportedly will be much tougher: Closure of the heavily bunkered Fordow enrichment plant and dramatic reductions of operations at Natanz, allowing it just to produce enough low-enriched uranium to meet the country’s minimal civil nuclear needs. Dismantlement or conversion of the Arak nuclear plant to a far less threatening light water reactor. Granting the IAEA unfettered access to the totality of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Should these talks fail, waiting in the wings will be the Sharansky template to isolate Iran further. But it, too, promises no certainties of anything. Still, it may force the mullahs to make a difficult choice: One, accept the costs of economic sanctions, believing the country will adapt if it believes that maintaining a nuclear weapons breakout capability best assures national survival. The other, bend as little as necessary to P5+1 demands, hoping that tension relaxation will be sufficient to support the regime’s tottering economic foundation without undermining the hostility to the West and Israel the regime needs to justify its rule.

In the interim, the next round of negotiations will have to play out.  

Stay tuned.


Bennett Ramberg served as a foreign policy analyst in the Department of State, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration. His academic appointments included positions at Princeton and UCLA. The author of three books on international politics and editor of three others, Ramberg is best known for what many believe is the classic treatment of the consequences of military strikes on nuclear installations, “Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy” (University of California Press).

Opinion: A ‘nightmarish’ scenario for the Jewish State


When I visited Israel in the summer of 2012 and the American Presidential campaign was in full swing, my group met with an anonymous source who told us that the highest levels of the Netanyahu government, possibly including the Prime Minister himself, considered an Obama victory to be “a nightmarish scenario” for the Jewish State. Now, that nightmare has become a reality.

The P5 + 1 reached an interim agreement last week with the Iranian government, whose leader Khameini recently said, “Zionist officials cannot be called humans, they are like animals, some of them…the Israeli regime is doomed to failure and annihilation.” This deal will not dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and will only slow down its race to the bomb by a couple months, according to most estimates, as the Mullah’s will maintain their capability to enrich uranium. In return, the Iranians are getting major sanctions relief in the form of at least $13 billion now available to them. The tough sanctions regime, which took decades of tough diplomacy to build up, will now be shattered.

The Mullah’s in Iran are rejoicing. Iranian President Rouhani has proclaimed: “The results of these talks is that the 5+1…have officially recognized Iran's nuclear rights… the right to enrich [uranium] on Iranian soil is the right of the Iranian nation, and everyone can interpret it as they wish… The text states explicitly that Iran will continue to enrich [uranium], and for this reason I say to the Iranian nation that the uranium enrichment activity in Iran will continue as in the past… In this six-month agreement, our [uranium enrichment] facilities at Natanz, Fordo, the Arak [plutonium reactor], [the uranium conversion facility at] Isfahan, and Bandar Abbas [i.e. the Bushehr reactor] will continue their activity.” Supreme Leader Khameini added, “The absolute achievements of this initial agreement are official recognition of Iran's nuclear rights, and preservation of the nuclear achievements of the sons of this nation.” It has just come to light that Iran is planning to construct a second nuclear reactor in the province of Bushehr.

Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton calls this deal an “abject surrender” for the United States. Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens calls it, “Worse Than Munich.” Prime Minister Netanyahu calls it “an historic mistake…this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.” Naftali Bennett, Chairman of the Jewish Home Party in Israel warns, “If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal signed this morning.” Even Israeli left-leaning Tzipi Livni said, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us [Israel], but the entire world.” At ZOA, we believe this deal is our eras “Munich” and Obama and Kerry the new “Chamberlain.”

It is important to note that an Iranian nuclear weapon is not just a threat to Israel, but to the United States and the rest of the world. U.S. intelligence states Iran will have ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) that can reach our homeland by 2015. Furthermore, Iran already has operational missile sites in Venezuela, virtually in the United State’s backyard.

For those of us who are politically sober and realistic, we saw this day coming, the capitulation of America to Iran. The Obama administration has proven time and again that it is not serious about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. As ZOA National President Morton Klein stated: “President Obama has not laid down any red lines beyond which the U.S. will not permit Iran to advance in its quest for nuclear weapons. This open-ended policy suggests that there is in fact no point at which President Obama would act militarily to stop Iran developing a weapon. Such suspicions can only be compounded by President Obama’s recent failure to act militarily on a red line that he actually did lay down, that is, the use of chemical or biological weapons by Syria against its own people.”

There are many Jewish and pro-Israel groups who are expressing dismay at the Iranian nuclear deal, but frankly, they are a little late to the party. The ZOA has been warning about this administration’s weakness for years.

Where were the myriad Jewish and pro-Israel organizations when the President chose notorious Israel hater and proponent of containing Iran, Chuck Hagel, to be Secretary of Defense? After all, Hagel’s selection, and subsequent confirmation by the Senate, and the Jewish communities general apathy, laid the groundwork for America’s appeasement of the Mullahs in Iran last week. The overwhelming silence of the Jewish community at the Hagel pick gave tacit approval to his anti-Israel, pro-containment views on Iran, which gave the administration an opening to pursue the disastrous deal reached last week.

Secretary of State John Kerry still maintains that there is “no daylight” between the United States and Israel. Who is he kidding?

In light of last week's news, American Jews should ask themselves if the Jewish and pro-Israel groups they belong to are truly serving their interests.


Sam Levine is the Executive Director of ZOA West Coast.

Reversible Iran deal puts more pressure on final talks


By dropping earlier demands that Iran shut down an underground uranium enrichment plant and ship material out of the country as part of a preliminary deal, nuclear negotiators have kicked some of the toughest questions forward to talks for the next year.

The curbs to its nuclear program that Iran agreed to on Sunday are easier to reverse than measures that were previously called for by the six global powers seeking to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb, experts say.

To opponents of the deal, like Israel, which branded it an “historic mistake”, that is a fatal flaw. But supporters say the compromise was necessary to halt Iran's nuclear advances so that the real bargaining could begin, and should help keep both sides focused on the final negotiations which lie ahead.

A senior Western diplomat acknowledged that Iran could resume its most controversial activity – production of 20 percent enriched uranium – if it should decide to abandon the deal or if final talks fail.

But by making it easier for inspectors to detect any such move, the preliminary accord requires Tehran to demonstrate its sincerity while a final deal is hammered out.

“This is all about testing their good faith. We would pick that up very quickly if they did it,” the envoy said.

“Any agreement like this represents an element of compromise. Given where we were six months ago, to get the two sides together to agree something, there had to be some compromise from both sides.”

“STOP”, BUT NOT “SHUT” OR “SHIP”

Instead of requiring Iran to take steps that would be hard to undo, the powers' demands focused on stopping the higher-grade enrichment and halting future progress in other parts of the nuclear program for six months, while increasing inspections to determine if Iran is complying.

For their part, the United States and European Union have protected their future negotiating position by leaving most of their economic sanctions against Iran in place.

“Each side would retain enough leverage – one, in the form of continued economic penalties; the other in the form of a continued nuclear program – to maintain incentives for a grander bargain and guard against the other's potential reneging,” said Iran expert Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

The most controversial part of Iran's nuclear program has been its enrichment of uranium, which is first turned into a gas and then spun at high speeds in centrifuges to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope that is needed to make either fuel for a reactor or the core of an atomic bomb.

Tehran says it is refining uranium only for peaceful purposes and has the right to do so under international treaties. Western countries believe it has no such right and no legitimate need for an enrichment program of its own.

In addition to lower-grade work which began in 2007, Iran has since 2010 been enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which Western countries see as a small technical step from reaching the 90 percent level needed to make a bomb.

In fruitless meetings during 2012, the powers sought a confidence-building, interim deal that would require Iran to stop its higher-level enrichment, close its Fordow enrichment site and send its stockpile of the higher-level uranium abroad.

Those demands were dubbed “stop, shut, ship” by diplomats. In the end, the November 24 deal in effect dropped two of the three demands: it obliges Iran to “stop” 20 percent enrichment but says nothing about “shutting” Fordow or “shipping” material out.

The same number of centrifuges can continue to spin, producing lower-level enriched uranium at Fordow – built deep inside a mountain near the holy Shi'ite Muslim town of Qom to shield it from any military attacks – and at Iran's other enrichment plant close to the central town of Natanz.

And instead of sending out the stockpile of 20 percent uranium, Iran will dilute it or convert the gas to a less proliferation-sensitive oxide powder.

The United States says this will “neutralize” the material. But experts say Iran could in theory convert the powder back, although it has agreed not to build a facility to do so.

“This is not a roll-back of the program,” said Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now an expert at Harvard University. Instead, he said, it represents a “temporary halt” of many of the nuclear program's elements.

Apart from the enriched uranium, Western countries are also concerned that Iran could produce plutonium at Arak, an unfinished research reactor where Tehran says it intends to make medical isotopes. Plutonium can be used as an alternative to enriched uranium to build a bomb core.

Sunday's deal requires Iran to halt activity at Arak, although it may contain a loophole allowing it to build components off-site. In comments unlikely to go down well in Western capitals, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that construction would continue at Arak, though he said there would be no new equipment installations.

INFRASTRUCTURE RETAINED

Western officials and experts accept that the deal leaves Iran's nuclear program largely in place for now.

“For the time being, Iran will be allowed to retain most of its current infrastructure, which will have to be substantially reduced at a later stage,” said Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department's non-proliferation adviser until earlier this year.

“But the first step will prevent Iran from sharply ramping up its capabilities in the next six months,” he wrote in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

Former chief U.N. nuclear inspector Herman Nackaerts said Iran, if it wanted to, could quickly resume higher-level enrichment at Fordow, but because of expanded inspections, including daily visits by IAEA monitors, it would easily be caught if it did so.

“It is technically easy to do that and it can quickly be done,” Nackaerts, who retired in September, told Reuters. “Of course, when the inspectors are there every day they will notice that.”

Western diplomats acknowledge that Iran's commitments are largely reversible so far, but say the deal takes care of the most urgent concerns while talks are under way.

“This first stage is one where the program is slowed in some ways, capped in others, but Iran can resume quickly,” said a second Vienna-based diplomat.

“The main issues that we were concerned about are all covered by this. As we move on we will tackle more and more difficult things,” said the first senior Western diplomat.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Peter Graff

Poll: Plurality of Americans support Iran deal, half say U.S. should defend Israel


A plurality of Americans support the newly brokered deal with Iran, and half believe that the United States should defend Israel militarily, a new poll found.

Some 44 percent of Americans support the interim agreement on Iran‘s nuclear program reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last weekend, and 22 percent oppose it, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday showed.

The survey also showed that 49 percent of Americans want the United States to increase sanctions if the Iran deal fails and 31 percent think it should pursue further diplomacy, according to Reuters. Twenty percent believe U.S. military force should be used against Iran.

The poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe that Iran’s nuclear program is developing a nuclear bomb. Iran says the project is for civilian purposes only.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of those polled said that that the United States “should not become involved in any military action in the Middle East unless America is directly threatened;” 21 percent disagreed with the statement.

Fifty percent of the Americans polled believe that the United States “should use its military power to defend Israel against threats to its security, no matter where they come from,” and 31 percent disagreed with the statement.

The poll of 591 Americans was conducted from Sunday through Tuesday with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the six-month interim agreement with Iran has not yet started, saying that the next step is “a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement.”

She said the U.S. is “respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place” and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s Parliament on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant, in contravention of the announced agreement. The previous day, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.

U.S.: Six-month clock on Iran hasn’t started


State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the six-month interim agreement with Iran has not yet started.

The next step is “a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement,” she said.

It’s not clear when the agreement will come into force, but in the meantime Psaki said the United States is “respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place” and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

However, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told Iran’s Parliament on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant in contravention of the announced agreement. The previous day, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.

ZOA: Iran deal is Munich, Obama is Chamberlain


Never an organization to mince words in its criticism of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America blasted the interim Iran deal in the strongest terms:

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has described the agreement concluded over the weekend in Geneva between  the P5+1 –– the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States) and Germany –– and the Islamic Republic of Iran as an appeasement deal. This is our era’s new Munich and President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are the new Neville Chamberlains.

Other prominent Jewish groups — including AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League — have also expressed strong reservations about the deal, but perhaps none in language quite so barbed as the ZOA. Meanwhile, the Jewish community’s main policy umbrella body struck a tone of very cautious semi-optimism.

But in its blunt expression of dismay, the ZOA’s statement may actually be the closest in tone to the response of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While Netanyahu refrained from name-calling, he did call the agreement a “historic mistake” that “made the world a much more dangerous place.”

White House talks Iran deal with Jewish groups


The White House held at least two phone calls with Jewish leaders to explain aspects of the interim sanctions-for-nuclear-rollbacks deal between Iran and major powers.

Among the speakers on the conference calls Monday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations for North America were Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser, and David Cohen, the top Treasury official in charge of implementing sanctions.

The off-the-record calls were a signal of the importance that the administration attaches to keeping pro-Israel groups on board for the six-month interim deal achieved over the weekend in Geneva, however skeptical the groups may be of the deal.

Generally, according to participants, questioners pressed the U.S. officials on the degree to which the deal impacts sanctions and whether the concessions to Iran could be reversed should Iran renege.

The officials said the deal’s sanctions relief affected only the “margins” of the Iranian economy, and that the main sanctions, targeting Iran’s energy and financial sectors, would remain in place.

The White House officials acknowledged differences with Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the deal as “very bad,” but said the endgame was the same: incapacitating Iran’s nuclear capacity, according to call participants.

Another White House call was held Tuesday for leaders of faith groups; Jewish leaders joined the call.

Separately, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a memo on Monday expressed concerns about the interim deal. AIPAC noted that the agreement allows Iran to keep enriching uranium, albeit at low levels, even though U.N. Security Council resolutions have called for a suspension of enrichment pending a final deal, and that it appears to preemptively allow Iran an enrichment capacity as part of a final status deal.

Also problematic, AIPAC said in the memo, is that the deal “includes an option to extend the negotiating window beyond an initial six-month period,” which “creates the possibility that the initial agreement will become a de-facto final agreement.”

The memo called on Congress to pass legislation that would impose penalties should Iran renege on the deal.

On Chanukah, four questions on Iran, Syria, the EU and peace


As the beginning of Chanukah and end of the year approach, where does lsrael stand?

The nuclear threat by lran, the continuing unrest and tragedy in Syria and the troublesome ongoing peace talks between lsrael and the Palestinians, as well as new pressures from the European Union (EU), which was a great shock to lsrael, are the center of the political debate in lsrael. These are all complex challenges that may, in fact, come to a head in the coming year. But in the spirit of the Passover Four Questions, I offer four questions we might all ask now in attempting to understand and address these issues.

lran: ls Tehran Gaining Time by Talking?

The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Hassan Rouhani seems to have been a step toward moderation. However, Rouhani considers lsrael, in his words, a “miserable country, a wound in the body of lslam.” That leaves Israel rightly concerned about the interim deal Iran signed on Nov. 23 with the P5+1 nations.

Israel’s leadership knows that when it comes to lran’s nuclear armament, the opinion of Rouhani is in no way different from those of the official lranian policy.

“You should measure lran on its exploits,” said lsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “not on its smile. lran should be judged based on whether it adheres to the terms and conditions, which were provided by the international community, with a final stop of all uranium enrichment and the closing of the illegal nuclear facility in Quam. There are no signs of a freeze of the nuclear program in lran.”

Netanyahu is convinced that the only thing that an interim agreement between lran and the Western powers will achieve is to give Tehran more time. Economic sanctions have hit lran’s economy, but are not sufficient by far. Hopes that Rouhani will actually carry through on a deal tough enough to thwart lran’s nuclear ambitions are unrealistic — it’s not his decision to make. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the strategic decision maker with regards to the lranian nuclear program anyway.

Syria: How Can We Thwart lran’s Aims in Syria?

ln addition to the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and the massive aid to the rebels by Saudi Arabia, there are new players with the Hezbollah militia supported by lran and the reemergence of the jihadist organization Al-Nusra Front in Syria in the already two years of carnage. Their “regional war strategy for the land of the Levant” states that Syria is the “key for the turnaround in the Levant” and “the Levant is the key for the turnaround in the Arab and the lslamic world.”

lran has invested billions of dollars and thousands of elite Hezbollah fighters, lranian supported militias in lraq and its own revolutionary guards to support the Assad regime, because it considers its survival strategically essential. America would have the military power to threaten lran, but Syria is the much simpler target.

It would be a disaster if the Assad regime emerged victoriously from the battle. Money and weapons from lran and the Hezbollah forces have become key factors of the fighting. A triumph of Assad would consolidate power and prestige of Shiite lran and the Hezbollah and thus pose a direct threat to lsrael. However, a victory for the rebels would be, as Edward N. Luttwak noted in The New York Times, dangerous as well.” lf the jihadists would win there,” he wrote, “ lsrael would not have any peace on its northern border.” ln other words, a fall of Assad would put an end to the lran/Assad/Hezbollah axis but it would bring radical lslamists to power, which could initiate a very tense situation for lsrael. The best solution: a very weakened Assad.

Unfortunately, the United States has already missed the best time frame to intervene, emphasized John J. Hamre, director of the Center for Strategic and lnternational Studies. The United States did not intervene when the Assad regime was most vulnerable and when the limited support for the then-moderate rebel groups very well could have driven Assad away from power. Meanwhile Assad is much stronger militarily.

The United States will only have sustained success with a military mission in Syria if it can provide a reasonable chance of a stability that specifically restricts the influence of lran and Hezbollah and helps to confront the enormous humanitarian crisis effectively.

The EU Guidelines: Will Germany Step Up?

According to its new guidelines, EU programs shall only apply to lsraelis who are not residents of the “occupied” territories of the borders before 1967, i.e. outside of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

Being asked for an analysis, Netanyahu declared: “We have been attacked within the borders declared by the EU and were in mortal danger in 1967. The situation has changed dramatically in the past 40 years. There are hundreds of thousands of lsraelis in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and it is out of the question to divide the city into two parts.” 

The EU’s decision could, for example, cause the prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem to be boycotted because it is located just beyond the green line. Jewish residents of the Old City of Jerusalem might be discriminated against, although the 1949 Armistice Agreement stated that the demarcation lines can never be regarded as territorial boundaries because they otherwise would be subject to exactly that prejudicing with regard to a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem, which the EU specifically targets with its plan.’

The lsraeli business community, which summarizes the anti-lsrael policy of the EU with the words “hypocrisy, hostility and crude prejudice,” points out that the unemployment rate in the West Bank and Gaza is already over 20 percent and that a fifth of its working population is employed in lsrael and the settlements. Anything that affects the lsraeli economy would negatively affect the Palestinian economy in an extreme way.

It needs to be pointed out that the amazing decision of the EU is based on no legally binding decision by the United Nations. There is no doubt that the scandalous new EU guidelines were substantially supported by its Minister for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, who is extremely negative toward lsrael, and finally rubber-stamped by a majority. The new EU directives clearly clash with lsraeli law: lt is legally impossible to separate, for example, the area of East Jerusalem, and to abolish lsraeli rights there, without two-thirds of the Knesset and the result of a referendum approving this.

The prospect of a change of the EU decision is based on Germany’s friendship with the State of lsrael. The foreign policy spokesman of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentary group Philipp Missfelder has announced that the federal government will distance itself from the guidelines. Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westenruelle has asked for direct talks between lsrael and the EU to find pragmatic solutions that are acceptable to lsrael.

The loyalty of the German chancellor toward lsrael should contribute substantially. Angela Merkel was and is, of all the world’s leaders, most closely connected to the only democracy in the Middle East and shows exemplary understanding of its isolated situation.

The Peace Process: ls Progress Possible Now?

Poll after poll shows that lsraelis are tired of a process that consists only of a stream of lsraeli concessions, while the Palestinians refuse to give anything in exchange for it. Unfortunately the Arab side shows no willingness to live in peace with lsrael, the Jewish state. lnstead, it honors prematurely freed murderers and declares that no Jews should be allowed to live in a Palestinian state.

A so-called peace process, in which one side only gives and the other only takes is a priori hopeless.


Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.

Tough road lies ahead after landmark Iran nuclear deal


President Barack Obama has pulled off a historic deal with Iran on curbing its nuclear program but he and other global leaders now have tough work ahead turning an interim accord into a comprehensive agreement.

In a sign of how difficult the coming talks will be, some differences emerged between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart in their public presentation of a key part of the deal – whether or not Iran preserved the right to enrich uranium.

Obama also has to persuade its ally Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the deal as a “historic mistake,” that the accord will reduce and not increase the threat from its arch foe Iran. And he has to sell the accord to skeptics in Congress, including some in his own Democratic Party, who have been pressing for more sanctions on Iran.

The breakthrough accord was reached in the middle of the night at talks in Geneva between Iran, the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany. It won the critical endorsement of Iranian clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and marked a clear turn in a U.S. relationship with Iran that has been fraught since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and vexed for years over the Iranian nuclear program.

But nobody doubted that tough work lies ahead in moving on from the initial deal that allows a six-month period of limits to Iran's nuclear program in exchange for up to $7 billion worth of sanctions relief, while leaving both the program and the sanctions in place.

“Now the really hard part begins and that is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement, which will require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability,” Kerry said as he began a meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague in London.

The agreement, which halts Iran's most sensitive nuclear activity, its higher-grade enrichment of uranium, was tailored as a package of confidence-building steps towards reducing decades of tension and ultimately creating a more stable, secure Middle East.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif flew home from Geneva to a welcoming crowd, a reflection of the relief felt by many Iranians exhausted by isolation and sanctions that have been particularly punishing in the last two years.

Zarif said in an interview broadcast on state television that Iran would move quickly to start implementing the agreement and it was ready to begin talks on a final accord.

“In the coming weeks – by the end of the Christian year – we will begin the program for the first phase. At the same time, we are prepared to begin negotiations for a final resolution as of tomorrow,” Zarif said.

Illustrating the delicate dance that looms, he and Kerry differed in their public descriptions of the part of the agreement regarding Iran's right to enrich uranium.

Sunday's agreement said Iran and the major powers aimed to reach a final deal that would “involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities.”

Before heading to Geneva, Zarif had a crucial meeting with Khamenei in the presence of Rouhani, a senior member of the Iranian delegation said.

“The leader underlined the importance of respecting Iran's right to enrich uranium and that he was backing the delegation as long as they respected this red line,” said the delegate.

What emerged in the text on Sunday was wording that both sides could live with.

Speaking on Iran's Press TV, Zarif said the deal was an opportunity for the West to restore trust with Iran, adding Tehran would expand cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to address what he called some concerns.

“In the final step, the (uranium) enrichment process will be accepted and at the same time all the sanctions will be lifted,” Zarif said.

However, on the ABC News program “This Week,” Kerry stressed that such a right would be limited and would come about as a result of future negotiations.

He said that under the terms of the agreement, “there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program, where they might have some medical research or other things they can do, but there is no inherent right to enrich…”

CRITICS AT HOME AND ABROAD

The deal also leaves Washington with the task if patching strained ties with its staunch Middle East ally Israel.

Obama telephoned Netanyahu to reassure him that Washington would continue to stand by Israel and to suggest that the United States and Israel should quickly start consultations on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Obama – who raised the idea of a rapprochement with Iran when he was campaigning ahead of his first presidential election win in 2008 – will also have to deal with critics at home.

On Sunday, even some of his fellow Democrats were strongly critical of the pact. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and a Banking Committee member said: “A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”

But it seemed likely that Congress will give him room to see if the agreement works.

Democrats such as Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is known as a hawk on Iran, made clear that any new sanctions would include a six-month window before they took effect. That would allow time to see if Iran is sticking by the pact.

Senators have been discussing for months imposing even tighter Iran sanctions, which could anger Tehran and put Sunday's interim deal reached in Geneva in jeopardy. And pro-Israel lobbying organizations – among the most effective interest groups in Washington – have failed so far to persuade lawmakers to tighten the sanctions screw on Iran.

The agreement does not need to be ratified by Congress and Obama is using his executive power to temporarily suspend some existing U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The deal halts Iran's progress on its nuclear program, including construction of the Arak research reactor. It will neutralize Iran's stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is close to the level needed for weapons, allow increased U.N. nuclear inspections, and halt uranium enrichment over a fissile purity of 5 percent.

In return the accord grants about $7 billion in potential relief from sanctions. It will allow a potential access to $1.5 billion in trade in gold and precious metals and the suspension of some sanctions on Iran's auto sector and petrochemical exports, and also give Iran access to some $4.2 billion in sales from its reduced oil exports.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Fredrik Dahl, John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Justyna Pawlak in Geneva, Alexei Anischuk and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Isabel Coles, Jon Hemming and Yara Bayoumy in Dubai, Caren Bohen, Patricia Zengerle and Will Dunham in Washington, Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)

Obama takes on critics of Iran nuclear deal


President Barack Obama took on critics of a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran on Monday by saying tough talk was good for politics but not good for U.S. security.

Top Republicans – as well as U.S. ally Israel – have criticized Obama for agreeing to the deal, which the United States and its partners say will prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Obama has long been criticized for his desire to engage with U.S. foes. As a presidential candidate in 2008, the former Illinois senator took heat for saying he would talk to Iran, which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington for decades.

The president seemed to want to make a victory lap with his remarks on Monday, which were mainly focused on immigration reform. He noted he had ended the war in Iraq and would end the war in Afghanistan next year, two things he also pledged to do as a candidate.

If Tehran follows the agreement, Obama said, it would chip away at years of mistrust with the United States.

To his critics, Obama was especially direct.

“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it is not the right thing for our security,” he said.

The White House has declined to identify a date for the next round of talks between Iran and world powers Russia, China, the United States, France, Britain, and Germany. But a spokesman said on Monday that Washington was eager to get started quickly.

Obama is in the middle of a three-day western swing to raise money for the Democratic Party while promoting his policy priorities on the economy.

Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

Netanyahu: Deal with Iran a ‘historic mistake,’ Israel not bound by it


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling an interim deal with Iran on its nuclear program a “historic mistake,” said Israel “has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat.”

“What was agreed to last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting, several hours after the agreement was announced. “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

President Obama reportedly was scheduled to call Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the deal, under which Iran will freeze some nuclear activity in exchange for some sanctions relief.

The United States and five other world powers signed the deal late Saturday night with Iran.

“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is not obligated by this agreement. I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability. ”

According to a White House statement, Iran will stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, but will be able to continue enriching to 5 percent. Iran will neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and will not install or build any new centrifuges, except to replace damaged machines.

Five percent is well below the enrichment level needed for weaponization. But Netanyahu has warned that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium even at low levels brings it too close to a breakout capacity for nuclear weapons.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the agreement “a new reality in the whole Middle East,” and “the Iranians’ greatest victory” during an interview Sunday morning with Israel Radio in the hours after the agreement was announced.

In terms of the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Lieberman said, “As always, all options are on the table.”

He said Israel would look to other allies in deciding how to deal with Iran.

“Israel must look into new directions in addition to the U.S.,” he said. “We must take responsibility regardless of the stance of the Americans or of others. We must make our own independent decisions.”

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us but the entire world.” Livni, the lead negotiator in talks with the Palestinians, said Israel must work with the United States and other allies to make sure the final deal offers better terms.

Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, also came out against the deal.

“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Israel,” he added, “will not be committed to a deal that endangers its very existence.”

Iranian officials reportedly welcomed the agreement, saying it confirmed the country’s right to enrich uranium and that “all plots hatched by the Zionist regime to stop the nuclear agreement have failed,” the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement:  ”The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words. I would like to say to the Iranian people, you are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel like others in the international community prefers a diplomatic solution.”

Knesset lawmaker Isaac Herzog, the newly elected chairman of the opposition Labor Party,  said “the deal that was struck between the world powers and Iran is a fact and Israel must adjust itself to the new situation.”

“Netanyahu must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S. and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders,” he said.

White House: Israel’s all-or-nothing proposal on Iran would lead to war


Israel’s proposal that Iran totally dismantle its nuclear capacity in exchange for sanctions relief would likely lead to war, a top White House official said.

The official, in a conference call Wednesday with think tanks and advocacy groups sympathetic to the Obama administration’s Iran strategy, outlined the proposal that the major powers will put to Iran at a third round of negotiations in Geneva beginning Thursday.

JTA obtained a recording of the call on condition that it not name the participants or fully quote them.

A think tank participant on the call said Israel’s posture — demanding a total halt to enrichment and the dismantling of all of Iran’s centrifuges — was a path to war.

Agreeing that such reasoning was “sound,” the White House official said that given a choice between “total capitulation” and advancing toward a nuclear weapon, Iran would choose the weapon.

That posture would “close the door on diplomacy” and would “essentially lead to war,” the official said.

The official sounded notes of frustration with Israel’s pushback against the U.S. proposal for a “first step” deal that would exchange some sanctions relief for some rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, saying it would provide Israel with a six-month window to influence the shape of a final deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by a number of U.S. lawmakers, wants Iran to totally dismantle its nuclear program and abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend all its uranium enrichment.

The proposed deal outlined by the official would suspend uranium enrichment for six months at 20 percent, implying that Iran would be able to continue enrichment at 3.5 percent to 5 percent; “address” Iran’s existing stockpiles of 20 percent- and 5 percent-enriched uranium; suspend the development of a heavy water reactor that could produce plutonium; and end the installation and construction of new centrifuges.

The official emphasized that the construction — not just the installation — of new centrifuges would be halted, countering arguments by opponents of an interim deal who say it would buy Iran time to advance its weapons program.

All of this would be verified by intrusive inspections, the official said.

In exchange, the Western powers would release a “fraction” of $100 billion in Iranian frozen funds and end “ancillary” sanctions — the official did not identify them — but keep in place sanctions on Iran’s energy and banking sectors.

The official said the administration was confident that a proposal by a group of Republican senators to attach an amendment adding intensified Iran sanctions to a must-pass defense-funding act would likely not reach the floor of the Democrat-led Senate.

The senators, led by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), agree with Netanyahu’s assessment that intensified sanctions at this stage would extract from Iran an agreement to suspend enrichment and dismantle centrifuges.

The White House official said that intensified sanctions would likely not only drive Iran away from the talks but would collapse the international sanctions regime in place by alienating a number of countries now abiding by it.

U.S. suckers on the loose


When I see the earnest and eager John Kerry globe-trotting the world in his sharp business suits trying to convince mullahs not to build a nuclear bomb, I can’t help but have these politically incorrect thoughts that are loaded with stereotypes.

The most obvious stereotype is that of the golly-gee American sucker in long shorts and black socks getting ripped off by a wily merchant in a Middle Eastern souk.

The first question I ask myself is: Does Kerry realize what this is about? Does he realize that in a region where honor and glory are everything, a nuclear bomb represents precisely that, honor and glory? He’s hoping the Iranians will abandon the very program that would help them fulfill their dream of bringing back the powerful and glorious Shiite Persian Empire that would eradicate Zionism and dominate Arabs, Turks and Sunnis across the greater Middle East for the next century.

When you ask for that much, you’d better have plenty of leverage.

Right now, Kerry’s leverage is pain — economic pain. It is this pain that has brought the mullahs back to the table, not some epiphany that maybe a better way to regain their Persian glory would be to find the cure for cancer.

If Kerry better understood this leverage, he wouldn’t be offering deals that are so lame that, in the words of Middle Eastern expert Lee Smith, the United States  would give the Iranians “virtually everything they wanted for nothing but empty promises.”

In other words, deals where Iran would get sanctions relief but still be allowed, according to The New York Times, to “continue adding to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.” 

The mark of a sucker is to act like an eager buyer — and Kerry looks like one very eager buyer.

He’s so eager, in fact, that he’s fighting against his own side – U.S. congressmen and senators — to convince them not to increase the sanctions so that he can decrease the sanctions. Apparently, it hasn’t dawned on him that there’s a third option: Using new sanctions as a negotiating tool and telling the mullahs, “In return for us not increasing the sanctions, what are you prepared to offer?”

As Jeffrey Goldberg writes on Bloomberg.com, “The Iranians have a history of expanding their nuclear program under the cover of negotiations; the least Western diplomats could do to avoid looking like suckers is to demand that Iran press the [nuclear] pause button.”

A shrewder Kerry, then, might propose this deal: We stop increasing sanctions if you stop enriching uranium. 

But even more important than the issue of U.S. shrewdness in deal-making is the issue of U.S. seriousness.

It’s well known that if you’re really serious about getting Iran to abandon its nuclear dream, you must back sanctions with a credible military threat. How credible is the U.S. threat? In a piece in Politico titled “Obama’s Fight With Israel: This Time It’s Serious,” Robert Satloff writes that President Barack Obama’s military threat is “tarnished” and that he needs to take “urgent steps … to make the threat more believable.”

The real question is: Does Obama want to make this threat more believable?

Skeptics (myself included) will tell you that President Obama was never serious about a military option. As we saw with his flip-flopping on Syria and his infamous “leading from behind” doctrine, Obama has shown neither the stomach nor the inclination to start another Mideast war. That’s why he’s dialed down the threats — he’s hoping his man in Geneva can strike a deal so that Iran won’t call his bluff.

And, now that he’s embroiled in the Obamacare fiasco — which has severely undermined his credibility and threatened to taint his legacy — Obama has even less reason to start a war and even more reason to strike a deal, even a lame one.

The wily mullahs of Persia seem to grasp all this. They may hate sanctions, but they understand leverage.

Israelis who are rightly worried about another Holocaust understand that without a credible military threat, the Iranians will just continue to buy time until it’s too late to stop their nuclear program, which could be only months away.

As French President François Hollande urgently reminded everyone when he was greeted like a hero in Israel, “The Iranian nuclear program is a threat to Israel, and it is clearly a threat to the region and the world,” and, he added, France will be uncompromising until it is “completely sure that Iran has given up nuclear weapons.”

In that same spirit, another world leader once said: “The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. … The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”

Those words were spoken in 2008 by candidate Barack Obama, the same man who would promise his nation five years later that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

If President Obama is now wobbling on his promise to eliminate the Iranian threat, that might explain why Kerry is looking like a sucker in the souks of the Middle East: It’s not so much that he’s naïve but that his boss has lost the stomach for the fight.

Israel doesn’t have that luxury.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Netanyahu urges Kerry to reject rumored deal with Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the United States to reject a deal that reportedly would ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting uranium enrichment to 3.5 percent purity.

Netanyahu said Israel “utterly rejects” the deal, details of which were reported Thursday in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

“Israel is not obliged by this agreement and will do everything it needs to defend itself, to defend the security of its people,” he said prior to a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry cut short a Middle East trip to travel to Geneva Friday in a bid to “narrow the difference in negotiations” between the major powers and Iran.

According to the Telegraph, the deal under discussion would require Iran to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and turn its existing stockpile into harmless oxide. But it would be permitted to enrich to the 3.5 percent purity needed for nuclear energy.

In exchange, Iran would reportedly receive limited sanctions relief.

Netanyahu said Friday that he told Kerry during a meeting in Israel that “no deal is better than a bad one” ahead of Kerry’s departure for Geneva, where the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany are negotiating with Iran.

“The deal being discussed in Geneva is a bad one, a very bad deal,” Netanyahu said. Under the deal

“Iran is not required to dismantle even a single centrifuge, yet the international community is easing sanctions for the first time in many years. Iran is getting everything it wanted at this stage but is giving nothing in return at a time when it is under heavy pressure,” Netanyahu added.

“I call on Secretary Kerry not to rush and sign but wait and re-evaluate to get a better deal,” Netanyahu said.

An unnamed U.S. Senate aide, citing briefings from the White House, the State Department and sources in Geneva, told the Telegraph that in addition to the 3.5-percent limit, Iran would agree to limit the number of centrifuges being used for this purpose.

Iran would also agree not to use its more advanced IR-2 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium between three and five times faster than an older model, but would be under no requirement to remove or disable any other centrifuges.

Additionally, under the deal Iran would agree to a six-month freeze in some activities at its reactor at Arak.

A deal with Iran can strengthen U.S.-Israel relationship


The beginning of talks with Iran this week in Geneva follow dramatic developments at the United Nations General Assembly last month that culminated in a phone call between President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani. But the new atmosphere of at least minimal dialogue has created apprehension in Israel and some Arab states that the United States needs to alleviate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s media blitz in the United States and the reported Saudi decision not to speak at the U.N. demonstrate the depths of this worry.

The issues in dispute are so complex and the domestic suspicions so intense that it may not be possible to achieve any agreements at all. However, some kind of Iranian-American bargain seems a possible outcome. For Iran, an American attack is a credible possibility, but perhaps more important are the international sanctions that are clearly working. Tehran cannot overcome its current economic malaise until many are lifted, and that requires a deal with the United States. As for the Obama administration, there is currently little stomach for a military attack on Iran, but there is clear preference for an accommodation that would stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The American global and regional position could thereby be resurrected and a dangerous confrontation could be avoided.

This rosy scenario is saddled with pitfalls, however, not least from Iran’s neighbors — Israelis and several Arab states, especially in the Gulf — who share the belief that the Iranians are trying to reduce sanctions and continue their nuclear weapons program secretly even as they pretend to moderate their policies. These states and many Americans would likely believe that the United States has been duped, even with a negotiated agreement.

If — and only if — the United States and Iran unexpectedly conclude and sign an accord in which the United States is satisfied that an Iranian nuclear weapon had been prevented, this skepticism would continue, possibly forming an obstacle to final acceptance in the United States. Washington should, therefore, take a step to further reassure these apprehensive regional states that if Iran tried to cheat, it would be deterred and stopped: Conclude NATO-like treaties with Israel and separately with those Arab states that wished to join under an American umbrella. The treaty arrangements should provide an American commitment to protect each of these states against a sudden Iranian nuclear breakthrough in violation of its agreements with the United States, the Europeans and even the U.N. Incorporation into NATO or stationing American troops in these countries as was done during the Cold War are other options. Such an arrangement should give a clear signal to Iran that it would suffer egregiously if it violated the agreement, and that a nuclear attack on any of these countries would be treated as an attack against the United States — the NATO formula.

For the Obama administration to actually reach a deal with Iran, which would necessarily include safeguards and inspections, it will undoubtedly be convinced that Iran would abide by the agreements or at least not be allowed to violate them. Therefore, providing a protective umbrella over neighboring states that are skeptical and require further assurances should not be onerous; American action should not be necessary. If the administration is not convinced that Iran is serious enough so that Washington can offer these guarantees, then an agreement with Iran should not be concluded.

Of course, the Arab states or Israel might reject a treaty with the United States, but if an American-Iranian agreement had been reached, even Israel would gain from relinquishing some flexibility. A treaty with Jerusalem would have to be negotiated carefully to address unpleasant contingencies, but the United States would also be losing flexibility inherent in its own guarantees — making the treaty more attractive. The Arab states would also be receiving more locked-in assurances from the United States than they are accustomed to gaining, but it would be worth the price for the United States. Through such a network of defense treaties, all parties would be trading some diminished flexibility of action in favor of intensified security — a good deal for all should a viable U.S.-Iranian treaty be reached.

Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion initially raised a possible defense treaty between Israel and the United States during the first Eisenhower term. It was much discussed in the last 18 months of the Clinton administration in anticipation of an Israeli-Palestinian deal, and would undoubtedly be raised again if such a deal were to be consummated under the current talks with Secretary of State John Kerry. But the danger to Israel from an Iranian nuclear force looms incomparably larger, and a codicil to the treaty could always be added regarding Israeli-Palestinian matters. As part of the necessary assurances, this would be the wrong time to discuss a nuclear-free zone in the region.

Whether the Obama-Rouhani phone call will turn out to be the equivalent of the Nixon era’s breakthrough with China remains to be seen. But, as in the case of China, such a dramatic turn of events requires assuring neighbors that their vital security interests will be protected. We have the means to concretize these assurances. We can and should take them.


Steven L. Spiegel is director of the Center for Middle East Development and professor of political science at UCLA. 

Meeting Clinton, Netanyahu demands ‘long-term’ Gaza deal


Israel is prepared to escalate its Gaza Strip offensive but would prefer a long-term diplomatic solution to the threat of rockets from the Palestinian enclave, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that,” he said in a public statement alongside visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“But if not, I'm sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people.”

Clinton said she would work with Israel and Egypt on brokering a truce in Gaza “in the days ahead”.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Israel, Hamas reach Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, officials say


Israel and Hamas reached a prisoner exchange deal that will secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, officials at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that “a brief window of opportunity has been opened that would possibly lead to Gilad Shalit’s homecoming,” adding: “The window appeared following fears that collapsing Mideast regimes and the rise of extremist forces would make Gilad Shalit’s return impossible.”

The officials’ comment came following a report by Al-Arabiya, according to which a deal has indeed been reached between Israel and Hamas geared at the release of the IDF soldier, in Hamas captivity since 2006.

Netanyahu called an emergency cabinet meeting scheduled for later Tuesday in which ministers are to discuss the status of talks geared at securing Shalit’s release.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Netanyahu aide denies Mubarak asylum offer


An aide to Benjamin Netanyahu denied an Israeli lawmaker’s assertion that the prime minister had offered Hosni Mubarak asylum in Israel.

“The prime minister never offered Mubarak asylum,” the aide, Roni Sofer, told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Sofer was responding to remarks made by Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party lawmaker, who said in a radio interview Wednesday that he had extended an offer of asylum months earlier to the ailing and embattled ex-Egyptian leader. Ben-Eliezer said he had made the offer during a visit to the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh and that he had done so with Netanyahu’s approval.

“I met [Mubarak] in Sharm el-Sheikh and I told him that it was a short distance and that it might be a good chance to heal himself,” Ben-Eliezer told Israel’s Army Radio, according to Haaretz. “I am convinced that the Israel government would have accepted him, but he declined [the offer] because he was a patriot.”

Mubarak, who served three decades as Egyptian president before resigning under fire in February, he went on trial Wednesday in Egypt on charges of charges related to corruption and the killing of demonstrators. Appearing in court in a hospital bed, Mubarak denied the charges.

Gabrielle Giffords returns to House, votes for debt limit deal [VIDEO]


From CBS.com:

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona made a surprise return to Washington Monday to vote in favor of an agreement to raise the debt limit.

“Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support a bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis,” her office said in a Tweet.

Lawmakers offered Giffords a standing ovation on the House floor when she showed up in the chamber.

Read more at CBSNews.com.

U.S. quits effort on settlement freeze


The Obama administration reportedly has abandoned efforts to have Israel freeze its settlements.

“After consulting with the parties, we have determined that a moratorium extension will not at this time provide the best basis for resuming negotiations,” a number of media quoted a senior administration official as saying Tuesday.

The Palestinians left direct talks in late September, just weeks after they restarted, demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extend a partial settlement freeze past its 10-month deadline.

The Obama administration prepared an offer of security incentives to entice Netanyahu into extending the freeze, said to amount to $3 billion in addition to the $3 billion Israel already receives annually from the United States.

Netanyahu balked at the package and sought amendments, including U.S. approval of building in eastern Jerusalem.

It was unclear whether the U.S. offer, including 20 additional state-of-the-art fighter jets, is still on the table. The official suggested that a return to direct talks was not imminent.

“We hope obviously to get the parties to direct talks, but in the meantime we will continue our engagement with both sides,” the official told Politico.

New Shoah pension deal gives survivors ‘recognition of suffering’


For Aviva G., the significance of last week’s announcement that more Holocaust survivors like her will be eligible for pension payments from the German government was not about the money. It was about principle and the notion that a certain degree of justice may now be done.

Aviva, 71, says there is no true compensation for years in ghettos, but she sees the new deal as a “recognition of suffering.” Aviva asked that her family name be withheld.

After extensive negotiations with the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Germany eased some eligibility requirements so more low-income survivors like Aviva can receive so-called Article 2 pension payments.

The agreement, which adds $250 million to the pension fund over 10 years, may be one of the last and biggest breakthroughs in the area of reparations to survivors, according to the Claims Conference.

The deal affects survivors whose income levels made them ineligible for payments in the past. Until now, those with annual income above $16,000 were excluded from the payments.

Under the new deal, income received from other pension sources, including governmental pensions, disability payments, retirement plans and the like, or a spouse’s income, will not be counted toward the $16,000 total.

The change effectively enables thousands more low-income survivors to collect pension payments from Germany. The funds will be distributed starting Oct. 1 and continue for 10 years.

“It’s a huge thing,” Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said in a telephone interview with JTA. “It will make a big difference for a lot of people worldwide.”

Taylor said it took “a long battle” and months of negotiations to reach the agreement.

The Claims Conference will be launching a major advertising campaign to reach those who might be eligible, he said. Information about how to apply is available at Claims Conference offices and on its Web site, www.claimscon.org. There is no deadline for applications, according to Taylor.

The decision to lower the bar for eligibility comes just as Germany has enacted a law granting pensions to victims of the German Communist regime. For these victims, too, pensions and income from spouses will not count against eligibility.

The Law for Support of Victims of the Socialist German Dictatorship, the third post-reunification law aimed at compensating victims of World War II, was enacted Aug. 29. Low-income applicants who were imprisoned under the Communist regime for at least six months may receive 250 euro per month.

The additional payments for Holocaust survivors will be from the Claims Conference Article 2 Fund pension program, which currently distributes pensions to 51,000 survivors. The new rules will lead to a 10 percent increase in those who qualify for payments, or about 6,000 people, the Claims Conference estimated.

Aviva might be among the younger ones. Born in 1938 in Boryslaw, then part of Poland, she was a small child when German troops wrested the region from Soviet control in the summer of 1941. Most of the town’s Jews were killed, but Aviva’s mother managed to hide her in the ghetto while most other children were deported.

“When my mother found out that all the women and children and nonworking old men would be deported, we left the ghetto and hid in the woods, and then in the home of a Ukrainian woman who had worked for us,” Aviva said.

Her brother, who later was killed, gave the woman money to hide them. For a while, Aviva and her mother lived in the space behind a wardrobe pushed against a corner.

The woman “slipped the food to us from below,” Aviva recalled. “I could not be loud. I could not laugh, cry or shout. And afterward, for months I could only whisper.”

They were liberated by Russian troops at the end of 1944.

Aviva met her husband, Juergen, an engineer, in Israel, and returned with him to his native Germany in 1958. They had two daughters and now have five grandchildren who live in Israel.

For decades, Aviva was a social worker for the Frankfurt Jewish community. She and her husband are retired.

She said she received a small reparations payment from Germany of 5,000 Deutschmark in the 1950s — that’s worth about $3,500 today — “but that is nothing for the fact that I basically lost my childhood.”

She applied for Article 2 payments in 2000 but was told her income was slightly over the limit.

“That disappointed me a lot,” she said. “Thank God, I am financially not so dependent. It is more a moral issue. This suffering I experienced as a child was never recognized.”

Tentative Deal to Save Valley Cities JCC


The Valley Cities Jewish Community Center received a new lease on life late last week when its parent organization agreed in principle to sell the center property to a local partnership that will keep the JCC going. Without the agreement, the center could have shut down at the end of June, probably for good.

The parent organization, which is called the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, said it would accept a $2.7 million bid for the Sherman Oaks property.

The condition for this “discounted” price was that any developer must also agree to renovate the JCC building or construct a new facility, insiders said. Four developers are believed to have expressed interest in putting senior housing and a state-of-the-art JCC on the land. A formal purchase offer could materialize by the end of July.

Several sources close to the deal declined comment because of ongoing negotiations.

The parent organization, which has shuttered two local JCCs in recent years, has said it must sell the Valley Cities property to pay off debts.

For more than 50 years, Valley Cities has served as a magnet for San Fernando Valley Jews, a one-stop shop that offers a panoply of services, ranging from nursery school for the young to lectures for seniors. Currently, the center has close to 90 children enrolled in summer camp and is now accepting applications for its fall nursery school and after-school child-care programs. The JCC recently refurbished a teen center to provide a gathering spot for East Valley teens.

A study prepared for the JCC found that the facility sits amid a Jewish population of 30,000 to 40,000 people, including many Persian, Israeli and Russian immigrants. For them and other Jews, JCCs serve as an entry point into local Jewish life.

Like other Los Angeles-area Jewish centers, Valley Cities paid a steep price for financial mismanagement by the parent organization that is now selling the site. To pay off ballooning debts, executives at the parent organization slashed center allocations and eventually shuttered the Bay Cities and Conejo Valley JCCs. The parent organization also twice threatened to close Valley Cities, including as recently as last year.

Valley Cities leaders have worked relentlessly to save the center, which an estimated 1,000 people visit weekly. Those efforts helped secure nearly $650,000 over the past year and a half from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a major benefactor over the years to local JCCs.

After years of threatened closure, a couple of Los Angeles-area JCCs have seen their futures markedly improve.

In late April, the head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, Bishop J. Jon Bruno, partnered with a Jewish community group operating the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center to buy its property for $2.1 million. The facility had faced an imminent shutdown and the sale of its property out from under it.

And the Westside Jewish Community Center just received a six-figure donation from center alumnus and four-time Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg to reopen the very pool where he trained as a young man. The gift covers the costs of a complete overhaul of the plumbing, filtration and heating systems. The pool, which closed several years ago, is expected to begin offering swimming lessons in early July. (See Westside JCC story online at www.Jewishjournal.com.)

“Nationally, Jewish community centers are thriving,” said Allan Finkelstein, president of the JCC Association of North America. Within the next five years, up to 20 new centers could open around the country, including in cities such as Las Vegas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Princeton, N.J., he said. Over the past decade, Finkelstein estimates that $700 million has been spent on building and renovating Jewish centers.

“Construction, development and planning of JCCs is booming all over,” he said.

 

Behind Kitchen Door No. 1


Monty Hall spent 27 years making outrageous deals with anxious contestants on his TV game show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” But the sweetest deal he ever made with his mishpachah was for a plate of pickled herring if they’d join him for Passover seder.

Such a deal! The odds are all in Hall’s favor.

Which of Monty and Marilyn Hall’s three children — actress Joanna Gleason, filmmaker Richard Hall, director-writer Sharon Hall Kessler, or even their spouses — wouldn’t want to gather around the large stone dining table to eat and retell the story of the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom? Even the real dealmakers of the family — the Halls’ five grandchildren — get to put in their two cents.

As Hall greets visitors in his gracious home, where his O.C. medallion (Order of Canada, the highest award the government bestows), bumps up against three honorary doctorates, Israeli artist Reuven Rubin’s suite of lithographs titled, “The Prophets,” and a plethora of plaques honoring his charitable works, he points out the prize he’s probably the most proud of: his “Grandfather of the Year” award.

Switching thoughts, he focuses on an antique silver chalice, which has become Elijah’s dedicated wine goblet, translating the words engraved on the side — borei p’ree hagafen (blessed be the fruit of the vine).

His face strictly deadpan, reminiscent of Jewish comedians Jack Benny and George Burns, Hall explained, “Marilyn and I found it at a flea market in Jaffa, Israel. One Passover we opened the door to put it out for Elijah; the dog walked in.”

Which flavor of the sugary sweet wine is his favorite?

“After the third cup, who cares?” he said.

“Every year we host the seder; invite close friends, cousins; there’s usually 35 of us,” he said. “We take in lots of strangers, people who don’t have any place to go. It’s a mitzvah I can do this.”

“My family has always been close. All my kids are in the business. I didn’t get one dentist,” he quips.

To say nothing of his wife, Marilyn, an award-winning producer of “A Woman Named Golda” and “Do You Remember Love?” who also compiled “The Celebrity Kosher Cookbook: A Sentimental Journey with Food, Mothers and Memories,” with Rabbi Jerome Cutler. The recipes, anecdotes and jokes were from Jewish entertainers. Originally published in 1975, the book was a fundraiser for the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles and other Jewish charities.

As Hall wades through this embarrassment of riches, it’s obvious his grandchildren bring him the most joy. Hall kvells over his grandchildren.

Passover memories are precious to him, especially now that he’s the patriarch. But a very special Passover, when he was only 6, and his beloved grandfather, David, was the patriarch, never strays far away from his heart.

Hall was born in Winnipeg, Canada, in his grandparents house on Hallet Street. He grew up with four generations of family — aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and two sets of great-grandparents.

“When you grow up in a house like that, you learn about respect,” Hall said. “One of the most beautiful sights I remember is sitting at the dining table, watching my aged great-grandfather feeding his wife, who had gone blind.”

His grandfather, David Rusen, arrived in Winnipeg in 1901 from the Pavelich shtetl in the Ukraine. He started out with a pushcart, selling fruit and vegetables on the street. Subsequently he bought a truck, then started a wholesale produce company. By 1906, he had earned enough to bring over his wife and children, his wife’s parents and two sets of grandparents.

Grandpa David subsequently sponsored not only the rest of their family, but 100 impoverished Jews from their shtetl who wanted a respite from their life in czarist Russia.

On one particular Pesach the family was right in the middle of the service when the phone rang. It was the stationmaster from the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

“I have this family — they gave me a piece of paper with your number. What do I do with them?” he urgently asked.

“Put them in a taxi,” Rusen said. “And tell the driver to make it quick.”

The “family,” were cousins who had set foot on the shores of Canada from the Ukraine on the first night of Passover.

“Grandma ordered us all to stop eating. ‘We have six more mouths to feed,'” Hall recalled her saying.

“Because the cousins spoke no English and we spoke no Ukrainian, we communicated in Yiddish,” Hall said. “There were four children — Aaron, Kieva, Miriam and Numa. As soon as they introduced Numa, my uncles and I started laughing hysterically and poor little Numa started to cry. How could Numa know that his name was the lion in our favorite comic strip, “Tarzan?”

“There were more tears, but they were for joy, as my grandmother began babbling in Ukrainian to these cousins she hadn’t seen in 21 years,” Hall added.

Fifty years later, Hall was speaking in Canada at a large Hadassah fundraiser. He was retelling the story of how a poor Russian family walked into his grandfather’s seder and changed the way he looked at the world.

“After I finished speaking, people began gathering around me,” Hall remembered. “One very pretty woman whispered, ‘That story sounds familiar. My name is Miriam Margulies. Could we be related?'”

“I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck,” Hall said.

“‘Miriam, didn’t you hear the story? There were four children. I still remember — Kieva, Aaron, Numa and Miriam. Your family crashed our Passover seder. We both cried,” Hall recalled.

That seder sticks in his mind as one of the defining moments of his life, where he learned about charity, philanthropy and the line from “Fiddler on the Roof”: “We all know who we are and what God expects of us.”

“That was my grandfather’s creed and mine,” Hall said. “My grandfather was like Tevye the Milkman. I guess in my own way, I am, too.”

Recipes for Monty Hall’s Passover

Monty Hall’s Sweet and Sour Herring

Hall learned how to make this recipe from a friend in Canada, who taught him to filet the fresh fish. As years went by, and time became scarce, Hall would make the recipe from Matjes herring he would buy in a tin, which were already filleted. This sweet-sour appetizer developed quite a following; it was the perfect hors d’oeuvres for Passover. One year when he and Alan Alda went to a second-night seder, “I brought two jars of the herring; we passed the first jar around and it disappeared,” Hall said. “So, apparently, had the second jar. We looked high and low for it; then I walked into the kitchen and there was Alan, devouring it, a guilty look on his face. I’ve never let him forget it.”

You can buy pickling spices in a package or combine your own. Matjes herring takes one hour to soak. Salt herrings might take longer, so ask the fish seller.

4 fresh Matjes or salt herrings, filleted

1 large white onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

3 cloves (optional)

8 black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

8 juniper berries

1 tablespoon mace leaves

A piece of cheesecloth

Soak herrings for one hour in cold water or milk; drain on a few layers of paper towels. Cut into bite-size pieces. Place spices in a piece of cheesecloth, making sure to secure the ends to make a sack. Place in pan with vinegar and sugar and boil for five minutes. Place in pan with vinegar, sugar and water to taste. Let it cool. In a wide-mouth glass jar, place a layer of herring, then a layer of onions; alternate until you have reached the top. Pour the cooled liquid over the herring. Refrigerate for two days before eating. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Serves six to eight.

Marilyn Hall’s Favorite Recipe for Baba Ghanouj

1 large eggplant

1 medium onion, grated on largest holes of a grater

1¼2 bunch parsley, finely chopped

1¼2 cup tahina (sesame seed paste)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons water

1 teaspoon salt

Dash cayenne pepper

Place the whole unpeeled eggplant directly on gas burner with the flame set at medium, turning it as the skin chars and the inside becomes soft, or bake in a pan at 450 F. until it is charred and tender, about 30 minutes. When done, let cool slightly, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the eggplant pulp with a wooden spoon (the wooden spoon preserves the flavor). Chop fine in a ceramic or wooden bowl. Squeeze out juice from the onion; add the grated onion to the eggplant, along with the parsley.

Blend tahina thoroughly with lemon juice and garlic, stir in small amount of water until mixture is white in color. Stir into eggplant mixture; add salt and a dash of cayenne pepper. More lemon juice may be added for extra flavor. Garnish with parsley.

Makes 21¼2 to 3 cups.

From “The Flavor of Jerusalem” by Joan Nathan and Judy Stacey Goldman (Little, Brown and Company, 1975).

Geneva Accord Stirs


After its gala launch in Switzerland this week, the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal known as the Geneva accord is rapidly picking up international support.

Monday’s festive launch was designed to generate international and grass-roots pressure on leaders on both sides to take bold peace steps.

However, can the Geneva accord, reached by people who hold no office, become the basis for a real peace deal and break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock? Or, alternatively, will leaders not ready to go the Geneva route, but unwilling to be seen as obstructionist, be pressured into making different peace moves of their own?

Popular support for the Geneva proposal seems to be growing in Israel, but the government remains adamantly opposed. On the Palestinian side, the agreement’s main advocates have run into strong and sometimes violent opposition.

While major peace brokers like the United States and European countries are showing growing interest, none has yet adopted the Geneva draft as an official program or as a basis for negotiation.

The long, detailed document (www.heskem.org.il/heskem_en.asp) deals with such controversial issues as borders, Jerusalem and refugees. It has sparked fiery debates in Israel and among the Palestinians on the nature of a final peace deal.

It also has led to a flurry of parallel diplomatic action. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dispatched his son, Omri, along with other Knesset members and government officials, for talks with Palestinians near London. Other Likud Party legislators took part in a weekend seminar with Palestinians in Madrid, and U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns returned to the region in an effort to restart the official peace process based on the "road map" peace plan.

Most significantly, Sharon himself made new overtures to the Palestinians.

The longer that other plans like the road map remain stalled, the more the Geneva alternative will beckon. That could generate a new dynamic leading to increased international pressure on both sides to cut a deal along the lines of the Geneva accord.

In Israel, sentiment on the Geneva proposal are mixed. A poll published Monday in Ha’aretz showed 31 percent of Israelis support it and 37 percent oppose it. Despite the opposition of the Likud-led government, 13 percent of Likud voters surveyed supported the agreement.

The architects of the deal were delighted. Haim Oron of the Meretz Party declared that the negotiators never dreamed the deal would win so much support so quickly. Yossi Beilin, the main Israeli architect of the plan, highlighted the multipartisan nature of the support.

The Israeli sponsors of the plan acknowledge that it is not a done deal, and they say their main purpose in making it public is to create a mind-set for peace. They say the understandings show there potentially is a Palestinian partner, and they set forth in the proposal the kinds of concessions that will be needed for peace.

Sharon’s ministers counter that the Israeli concessions in the document are excessive and that the Geneva exercise – and the international support given to it – put the elected government in an invidious position. They maintain that the Palestinians are using the Israeli left to lay down new starting points for future negotiations and to embarrass Sharon by portraying him as too hard line to cut a deal that others could.

For his part, Sharon has responded by hinting at a readiness to dismantle some Israeli settlements, coupled with the threat of unilateral action if the Palestinians spurn his overtures. The subtext is clear: Sharon is no uncompromising hardliner, but he’s not going to wait around for someone to try get negotiations going for a Geneva-type deal.

So far, none of the parallel initiatives has borne fruit, at least in public. No agreement was reached in the London and Madrid exchanges even on basic issues like ending terrorism, and both forums degenerated into arguments. The key to immediate progress lies now with Burns, the U.S. envoy, who is trying to set up a first meeting between Sharon and the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Ahmed Qurei.

On the Palestinian side, neither Qurei nor Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has fully endorsed the Geneva deal, although Arafat did send a letter of qualified support to the Geneva ceremony. Israeli analysts believe that Arafat is playing a game: He doesn’t offer outright support for Geneva, so as not to be bound by its provisions and to be able to push for more. Yet he also doesn’t reject it outright, casting Sharon – who opposes the deal outright – as the rejectionist.

The Geneva ceremony highlighted growing international support for the accord. Nobel Peace Prize winners and Arab dignitaries attended, while former President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent greetings.

It is not inconceivable that at some point down the road, international players will seek to call a peace conference with the Geneva accord as the basis for discussion.

Already, the launch in Geneva is having reverberations in Washington. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) flew to Geneva for the signing and is expected to introduce legislation next week supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, including the Geneva accord. A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Nov. 25.

The Washington chapter of the left-wing group, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, hand-delivered copies of the resolution to each lawmaker’s office on Capitol Hill Monday. Beilin and Abed Rabbo will be in Washington this week to meet with lawmakers and to talk up their resolution to the U.S. media.

The Bush administration said Monday that it "welcomed" the Geneva plan, but officials expressed continued support for the road map. Official U.S. policy is not to allow other plans to deflect attention from the road map. The road map "is the only plan on the table," Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Monday.

Part of the Geneva proposal’s charm is that unlike the slow, step-by-step road map, it envisions a one-step end to the conflict. But that could prove illusory, because the Israeli and Palestinian powers that be reject some of the accord’s main provisions and because closing the remaining gaps could prove problematic or even impossible.

For their part, the Israeli sponsors of the Geneva document intend to step up efforts to build domestic and international support.

The agreement is sure to become the main political message of a new left-wing party called Ya’ad, to be formed soon by a merger of Meretz and Beilin’s Shachar group. United around such a clear peace message, the group soon could be challenging Israel’s ailing Labor Party for primacy on the left.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this story.

Prisoners’ Release Faces Hurdle


Seldom can Israeli Cabinet ministers have faced a more acute moral and political dilemma than the current prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah.

That proposal, which the 23-member Cabinet approved Sunday by a one-vote margin, forced ministers to weigh the conflicting interests of several Israeli families, put a price on the life of a kidnapped Israeli citizen and consider the long-term price that all Israelis may yet have to pay.

Now the government may have another decision to make: Hezbollah is demanding that those released include Samir Kuntar, the terrorist from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who murdered an Israeli family in a 1979 attack that shocked Israel.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, claimed Israel promised to release Kuntar and that without him, the deal is off. Israeli officials said they never promised to free Kuntar — and that despite their eagerness for a deal, Israel, too, has red lines that it won’t cross.

"Regarding Kuntar, who killed an Israeli family, from our standpoint this is a principle: We have not freed Palestinians or nationals of other countries with blood on their hands," Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.

Regardless of whether Kuntar ends up scuttling the deal, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expended a tremendous amount of political capital for a deal that involved complex moral considerations and provides insight into the Israeli leader’s core values.

Citing the principle that you don’t leave dead or wounded soldiers in the field, some ministers backed the deal, which includes kidnapped Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers. Others, making the same argument, opposed the deal, because it doesn’t include captured air force navigator Ron Arad or even information on Arad’s fate.

Under the terms of the deal, Israel will release 400 Palestinians and 20 Lebanese prisoners and hand over the remains of dozens of Lebanese militiamen in return for Tannenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers abducted by Hezbollah in October 2000.

Arad went missing in action when his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. The deal calls on German mediators and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah to set up a joint committee to find out what happened to Arad after his Lebanese captors allegedly handed him over to Iran — but few in Israel expect Hezbollah to take that commitment seriously.

The Cabinet debate pitted two cardinal principles against each other: Part of the raison d’etre of a Jewish state is that it serve as a guardian of the Jewish people and, as such, does all it can to bring back captured Israelis alive. On the other hand, with the state engaged in a relentless struggle against terrorism, most Israelis strongly believe that they shouldn’t give in to terrorists because it will only encourage more attacks.

Ministers arguing against the deal emphasized its disproportionality, with Israel releasing more than 400 prisoners for just one living Israeli. They said that would encourage hostile organizations to kidnap more Israelis and make further demands. It also would give Hezbollah, a terrorist group, a great deal of regional prestige as the one Arab organization that repeatedly has proven its ability to make Israel bend.

Then there was the question of Arad, who has become a national icon. Tannenbaum, the one live Israeli in the deal, is said to be an inveterate gambler who was lured into captivity under dubious circumstances regarding a possibly shady business deal.

Moreover, ministers complained about the fact that Mustafa Dirani, the man who allegedly tortured Arad before handing him over to the Iranians, is one of the men to be freed. Israel captured Dirani from southern Lebanon in 1994 specifically to be used as a bargaining chip to win Arad’s release.

So why is Sharon intent on going through with a deal so obviously flawed?

For one, he is not holding out for Arad because he apparently believes the airman is dead. There has been no reliable information on Arad since 1988, and Sharon is convinced that, were he alive, his captors would long since have made demands of Israel in return for his release.

A government-appointed committee, under retired Justice Eliyahu Winograd, declared recently that there was no concrete evidence that Arad had died in captivity, but it stopped short of saying he was alive. Sharon decided not to harm the chances of saving Tannenbaum by holding out for the presumably dead Arad.

"You must vote for this deal to save a living Israeli," Sharon told the Cabinet. "To leave him there is to let him die."

Tannenbaum’s character, in Sharon’s view, is immaterial. If it turns out that Tannenbaum broke the law, Sharon believes that he should be punished upon his return to Israel, not by Hezbollah.

In Sharon’s determination to save a Jew in distress, one gets a glimpse of core values that go back to his formative years. One of Sharon’s lesser-known exploits was the extrication of his platoon, pinned down by heavy enemy fire, in the War of Independence.

Bleeding badly from a severe stomach wound, the 19-year-old Sharon doggedly led his men out of an almost impossible situation. His courage then and his determination now stem from the same guiding principle: That he must do all he can to save and protect Jews.

Sharon remains determined to press ahead, even though his readiness to free hundreds of prisoners has cost him dearly in terms of credibility with the Palestinians and the Americans. If he is so ready to give prisoners to Nasrallah, they ask, why was he reluctant to release jailed Palestinians when former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas demanded a gesture to build support on the Palestinian street?

Sharon confidants rejected the comparison. The Nasrallah case, they said, is a question of saving an Israeli life. By contrast, the Abbas case was a question of political tactics, choosing not to make wholesale prisoner releases until Abbas began fulfilling his commitment to act against terrorists. In any case, Israel ended up releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to appease Abbas — though the Palestinians dismissed the move as insufficient.

Still, in weighing the two guiding principles — saving Jews and not capitulating to terrorists — Sharon is prepared to go only so far. He draws the line at releasing terrorists with civilian blood on their hands. Those who take Jewish lives must be made to pay.

That’s why he is so insistent on not releasing Kuntar, even if it means leaving Tannenbaum in Hezbollah hands.

The question now is who will blink first on the Kuntar issue: Sharon or Nasrallah? Those who know Sharon say it won’t be the prime minister.

A Letter to Tom Friedman


Dear Tom,

I heard you had a great trip to Saudi Arabia. In the privacy of their homes people removed their veils and expressed their true feelings. Even the crown prince, the guy who really runs Saudi Arabia, spent some time with you.

Apparently he has a great new idea. Israel should leave the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and the Arab states will recognize the Jewish state. Sounds great. There is only one problem. This is what then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat and Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad just a year or two ago.

When Arafat rejected the deal, Barak implored then-President Bill Clinton to use his famous persuasive powers to help him convince Arafat to take the deal. Arafat wasn’t interested. He wanted a few million refugees to fill Israeli towns and cities, displacing the present Jewish population. When Arafat did not get his way, he launched Intifada Two.

It’s a funny thing about you guys on the political left. You don’t seem to learn from your mistakes. From time to time we talk, and I remember telling you two years ago, "Tom, if Israel gives up the Golan and Assad decides he wants to go to war, we will have a serious problem." You said, "You’re right," but you still felt we should take the risk for peace.

Let’s get real. We took the risk. We gave Arafat the land, and today 90 percent of the Palestinians live on land the PA controls. We sweetened the package by giving them guns and training their 40,000-man police force to use automatic weapons (by the way, there is no police force in the United States that carries those kinds of guns). Everyone was told not to worry, Arafat would control the terrorists and peace would reign.

We on the right, who said, "Hey, let’s take a deeper look," were lambasted. When we pointed out that the Palestinian schools teach kids to be suicide bombers, we were told the curriculum is "under development." One those graduates, an 18-year-old Palestinian teenager, blew up a bunch of kids and their parents coming home from services on March 2. When we mentioned the fact that Arafat spoke in English one way, and to his own people he still spoke about war, we were told "he doesn’t really mean it." When we said they would use their land as a base to shoot at Jerusalem again, we were informed the Israeli army could handle any problem. Just ask the residents of Gilo about that.

The Oslo Accords transformed the political equation. By taking Arafat — known for hijacking planes, killing children and murdering Olympic athletes from Tunis to Ramallah — we empowered him. Israel rewarded him for his years of terror; it even helped arrange a Nobel Prize. Instead of the Palestinians seeing the acts as one of strength, they viewed it as weakness. When Israel unilaterally left Lebanon, they said, "We drove the Jews out, and we will soon drive them out of all of Palestine."

Over the last few weeks, while you’ve been floating your Saudi proposal and the left fringe has been raising its head in Israel, again the violence has been escalating. Why? It’s simple: Arafat thinks he’s going to get his way and you guys are empowering him once again.

Tom, we tried your ideas. Your "Land for Peace" approach didn’t work. We gave up the land and we have no peace. What we do have is a weakened military position. The world, especially the Europeans, love us even less. Recently, when Sharon finally started to make a serious effort to eradicate the terrorists, Powell complained. — this as he is bombing Afghanistan.

Today, Arafat is sending the graduates of Ramallah High to bomb us and his police force to shoot at us. His buddies in Hamas are making rockets, and the Fatah that he personally controls launches attacks daily.

It’s time to get real. We tried to be nice and it didn’t work. Unless we transform the political environment once again, things will never get better. It’s time to send Arafat and his buddies back to Tunis. Don’t worry, the PLO has tons of money packed away in banks around the world. They can afford the move. We can even let him take his Nobel Prize along so he can put in on the wall to remember those few fond years he had in Gaza and the West Bank.

As long as we allow his terrorist state to continue to exist, we will never have peace. Today, the Palestinians think Israel is weak, and they dream of taking all of Israel. It’s time to give them a reality check. Israel should take a cue from the United States. They got rid of the Taliban, so, too, the Palestinian Authority must be uprooted. If not, their dreams will continue to be our nightmares. Maybe after we change the curriculum in their schools and shut down their radio stations that spew hatred, a new generation of Palestinians will grow up that will leave the dreams of destroying Israel behind.

With them there might be something to talk about.

Sincerely,

David Eliezrie

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