Disagreement between the world’s superpower and Israel has proven to be in the interest of peace and stability.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still in the air between Tel Aviv and Washington when his propaganda machinery was set fully in motion. A senior Israeli official travelling with him told reporters: “The Israeli government had a good understanding of the agreement we can draw conclusions from… We know what we know. And believe me, we know a lot of information about this agreement… The prime minister is going to Congress to explain what they don’t know about this agreement that it is a bad agreement.”
This piece of disinformation was clearly meant to counter the earlier criticism by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Netanyahu had a record of misleading Americans by cherry-picking intelligence that served his purposes.
Hours before he was about to deliver his speech at the Congress, the White House warned Netanyahu not to spill the secret aspects of the negotiations with Iran. In equal measures and just as Netanyahu was about to address Congress, US President Barack Obama minced no words and categorically discredited Netanyahu from knowing what is best for the US or for Israel for that matter.
‘All sorts of claims’
“Netanyahu made all sorts of claims,” CNN quoted him as having said. “This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50bn worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true.”
Literally minutes before Netanyahu’s speech, the White House announced that as soon as the Israeli politician started his address to the Congress, the president would be “hosting a conference call with five world leaders to discuss the situation in Ukraine and other global security issues”.
Even before he gave his speech, the liberal Zionists of Haaretz were busy putting the right spin on it: “The drama over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress seems, as the event approaches, to be shifting in Israel’s favour.”
Just before he addressed the US Congress, Netanyahu made the predictable stop at AIPAC, the Israeli Fifth Column in the US, repeating his mantra that “Iran is the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” with the same certainty and confidence he had deceived the US Congress back in 2002 encouraging the US to invade Iraq for precisely the same fearmongering reason that Saddam Hussein was about to launch a nuclear attack on Israel.
What was lost to no observer in the course of the whole drama was the fact that the US and Israel have now become like Siamese twins, joined at the hip.
“What is unprecedented,” as Joshua Keating put it for Slate, “is the extent to which Netanyahu has firmly allied himself with one American party over another – not just during an election but in the making of policy. At this point, US domestic politics are probably a better lens for analysing Netanyahu’s actions than foreign policy”.
He finally entered the chamber with his dark suit and light blue tie, which Boehner motioned to him to fix before he introduced him. Facing him among an almost packed chamber were Elie Wiesel sitting next to Mrs Netanyahu, and Newt Gingrich just a few seats away from Sheldon Adelson.
We are ancient people, he said. Iran wants to destroy Israel, he went on. He referred to the Biblical story of Esther and mentioned Haman who wanted to destroy the Jewish people, and he identified Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as yet another Haman. He is an anti-Semite who tweets about the destruction of Israel. Just like the Nazis, Iran is a threat not just to Israel but also to the whole world.
Stealing Netanyahu's thunder just before he came to Washington, DC, Al Jazeera and the Guardian revealed that he was lying through his teeth and contradicting his own intelligence community when he stood in front of the world body at the UN in September 2012 with that Mickey Mouse diagram warning the globe about the Iranian nuclear project.
“We must all stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation, and terror,” he said, as he even managed to work in a reference to the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones”. He then vehemently opposed the deal negotiated between the US and Iran, because he said it would (1) leave Iran with nuclear infrastructure, and (2) allow Iran to violate the terms because inspectors can only document violations but they cannot stop them.
Stealing the thunder
Stealing Netanyahu’s thunder just before he came to Washington, DC, Al Jazeera and the Guardian revealed that he was lying through his teeth and contradicting his own intelligence community when he stood in front of the world body at the UN in September 2012 with that Mickey Mouse diagram warning the globe about the Iranian nuclear project. This was precisely when Oxfam reported that rebuilding Gaza could take 100 years if Israel keeps its current blockade, making it impossible for tens of thousands of refugees to return to any semblance of normalcy. Just before Netanyahu headed to Washington, in Israel itself, ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan called his policies “destructive to the future and security of Israel”.
Netanyahu came to Washington to address the US Congress against all opposition, internal to Israel and widespread in the US, for a very simple reason. He, and with him the entire trajectory of the expansionist Zionist project, is in trouble. They are in trouble because in the Islamic Republic, the “Jewish State” has finally found its match.
Weeks of public debates both in Israel and in the US finally resulted in US National Security Adviser Susan Rice denouncing Netanyahu’s visit as “destructive“. She may have indeed meant it “destructive” to US-Israeli relations, if these two items are really two different entities. But the choice word of “destructive” has a wider range of implications that in the topography extended from Gaza to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan means something far more eloquent.
Meanwhile Iranians just sat pretty in Geneva and Tehran, and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif managed to produce a photo op walking with Kerry, biting the bullet of domestic criticism for the larger benefit of thumbing his nose at Netanyahu.
The desperation with which Netanyahu came to address the US Congress at the heavy cost of alienating at least segments of the US political establishment is only significant to the degree that it marks his spectacular failure to turn Iran into Afghanistan or Iraq and have the US invade and destroy the country for him.
But the despair speaks of wider domains. Iran has managed to juggle for itself soft and hard power in Iraq, in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Bahrain, and even among the Shia communities in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In none of these areas, Israel has any influence beyond its usual shenanigans of targeted assassinations and similar sorts of menace.
Enemies, friends, counterparts
The ruling regime in Iran has its own desperation to lift the crippling economic sanctions, but the Obama administration’s persistence in finding a closure to the nuclear issue is not just to hand Obama a victory before he leaves office. As I have suggested for a long time, the nuclear issue is the least aspect of the US-Iran issues. There is a larger package, a grand bargain as it were, which announces a major strategic shift in the region, in which both US and Iran acknowledge each other’s power and interest and wish to accommodate each other – and it is precisely this grand bargain that frightens Netanyahu.
Much hype has been made of the difference between the Obama administration and Netanyahu on the Iran nuclear issue. This rift is first and foremost strategic and only vaguely points to the emerging structural shifts in the geopolitics of the region. The symbiotic relationship between the Zionists’ militarism and US global warmongering is far deeper and remains far more structural than one US president or one Israeli warlord can alter. What Iran has successfully done is to bank on its expansive soft and hard power in the region to posit itself as equally – if not more – helpful to US policies in the region. This is what angers Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s desperation and the fact that he has been outmanoeuvred by Iran may indeed mean he will fail to instigate yet another war in the region, and that is good news, but it does not mean a nuclear deal that is predicated on Iran’s increasing power in the region bodes well for the future of democracy in the region.
Just like Israel, Egypt and Syria, the ruling regime in Iran is categorically inimical to any democratic change in the region. So the more it spreads its power as a regional hegemon, the more damage it can do to those democratic aspirations, beginning with those aspirations inside Iran.
At issue in this public display of differences between Obama and Netanyahu is the rapidly changing geopolitics of the region in which Israel is no longer dealing just with the corrupt and crooked timber of ruling regimes in the Arab and Muslim world. The ruling regime in Iran has no interest more paramount than its own survival. A ruling regime that cannot tolerate a smidgen of liberty for its own people could not possibly care for the liberation of Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, or Yemen from tyranny of one sort or another.
What matters for the democratic aspirations of people from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to another is not to get caught up in these power politics between an Islamic Republic, a “Jewish State”, and the Christian imperialism that embraces them both. From Azadi to Tahrir squares, an entirely different geography of liberation is at work that may be in hibernation now, but it breathes healthily and confidently awaiting the next Spring or Intifada to bloom.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.