Back to the Middle East, Colltalers
Welcome back, friends. You find us trying to make sense of three breaking news stories that may be intrinsically connected: Iran’s agreement to scaling back its nuclear program, the death of Israel’s former PM Ariel Sharon, and the 12th anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The first step of the gargantuan agreement set in November as a textbook diplomatic breakthrough, hits the ground a week from today, with Iran beginning to reduce its uranium stockpile and, effectively, taking measures to get out of the business of producing nuclear weapons.
That’s part of a six-month ‘interim’ that should lead to the lifting of economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy for decades. Three, to be exact, as there hasn’t been anything close as to what the five U.N. Security Council nation-members, plus Germany, have achieved in Geneva.
So it’s ironic that Sharon‘s 8-year coma has ended in death, just as Israel seems the most isolated and mistrustful of all interested parts in the accord. After all, with an ill-advised 1982 Lebanon invasion, Sharon may have unwittingly powered the most belligerent pro-Iran group, Hezbollah.
Even before his burial today at Negev, the debate over his legacy had already flared up, ranging from his ‘Bulldozer’ nickname, for a military-mind, whose main goal was to expand Israeli borders at any costs, to his efforts to reach out to moderate Palestinians to accept his conditions for peace.
Which brings us to the third part of this equation, that of the Guantanamo extrajudicial detention camp, which still holds three Iranian nationals, among its 155 captives, mostly not yet charged with any crime, some being forced fed to prevent hunger strikes, and all in miserable conditions.
Despite President Obama’s campaign promises to close the facility, which at one point held up almost a thousand prisoners, the camp became a judicial black hole, a catastrophic institutional limbo, that baffles anyone with a minimal understanding of the rule of law or streak of empathy.
No one is surprised that the nuclear agreement with Iran is facing stiff opposition in Congress, who despite a full year as one of the most inactive collective of lawmakers in U.S. history, nevertheless chose to spring into action and try for yet a new set of restrictions against Iran.
The fact that any such accord is fragile in its nature should also be a given, as Iran’s political system is far from having a final word on what direction the country will take. That’s up to the ‘supreme’ leaders, the Ayatollahs, and not to the new, quasi-liberal president, Hassan Rouhani.
It also goes without saying that Israel’s democracy has been successfully muzzled by the rightwing Likud party and its current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, and their powerful allies within the U.S., who have already expressed extreme hostility towards any approximation with Iran.
As for Sharon, he simply couldn’t help it, apparently. Unlike Yitzhak Rabin and other Israeli military commanders who had a change of heart in the way of viewing the Palestinians, and made a meaningful transition from the barracks to the government, he was simply not as bright.
When Rabin was murdered in 1995 by an Israeli rightwing extremist, his comprehensive timetable to achieve peace with the Palestinians, including a timely withdrawal from the occupied territories, set during his second term as PM, had all the chances of success as he coming back to life.
In October, when Rabin’s grandson led a crowd of over 30 thousand, marking 18 years since his assassination, we were reminded of Rabin’s comment, about Sharon having left the ‘genie out of the bottle’ with the invasion of Lebanon, which boosted Hezbollah’s local and global profile.
Behind the appeal is the frustration of young Israelis with their utter failure in swaying their government towards peace with the Palestinians, which in exchange compromises their country’s security, while also helping Iranian hardliners to continue pursuing their anti-Israel rhetoric.
Although the current agreement is far from being a guarantee against Iranian or Palestinian, for that matter, hostilities, it still is Israel’s best possible hope for a stable, permanent channel of communication with its enemies. Now, that’d be something that would get the whole world behind Israel.
Compared with that, the outlook for Guantanamo is way cloudier and unpredictable. The 11 prisoners proven innocent and transferred out of the Cuban facility since the summer are said to be mentally broken, after enduring a decade of horrors no constitutional U.S. law would endorse.
The remainder, if not already irremediably damaged, in all likelihood will go on to join welcoming terror groups, with a renewed hatred for the U.S., just like many of those who got out before have done. 12 years and there’s still no viable plan to bring anyone there to the court of law.
Thus, the three strains of news do have an underlying common denominator, as the nuclear accord with Iran may be the start of a safer world for everyone, and even a benign sendoff of Sharon and others like him, who simply can not see the world without a fortified wall surrounding them.
And who knows? maybe President Obama will act towards moving that prospect for a safer world closer to reality, by fulfilling his promise as a candidate and ending that maligned experience of jailing perceived enemies without proof, which is symbolized by Guantanamo. Have a great one.