Embrace the Iranian thaw...for now at least

How ironical for the 2013 UNGA which showcased the first thaw between Iran and the US in 34 years, to wind up in New York today with a full on excoriation from Israel. All it did was reveal Israel's anger that diplomacy may yet solve the Iranian nuclear stand-off.   

And so the UN General Assembly drew to a close with the desperate efforts of Israel’s Prime Minister to scare the world away from its cautious but discernible wish to explore a thaw with Iran rather than blowing it up.

While perhaps more a diplomatic charm offensive than a 21st century Nixon-to-China moment, the opening of dialogue between Iran and the US after a 34 year hostile stand off is good. Bloody good. Unless of course you are itching for war to ensure you remain the only nuclear power in the volatile Middle East.

Step up to the podium Netanyahu.

Having just watched Netanyahu’s speech, I suppose we should be grateful he did not bring along another cartoon prop of a Road-Runner like bomb drawn with a fuse ready to explode when a certain red line of enrichment was reached.

But before Netanyahu cut to the chase of personal attacks on Iran’s new leader and the country as a whole, he began with the usual justification of his position by referring to ancient stories from the Bible about the right of the Jews to “reclaim” their state.

Waving the Bible around as evidence would not stand in any court, so why he thinks biblical stories have more weight in a body such as the UNGA than Rouhani’s claims that Islam prevents Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction is a mystery.

But there you are. Much of what was to follow from Netanyahu was also a mystery, particularly when it involved calls to vilify Iran because Iran defies UN resolutions and is secretly building a nuclear industry.

Methinks this is very much a case of one kitchen implement calling another “noir”.

It never ceases to amaze how some politicians can stand and deliver such hypocrisies without so much as a twitch or, as in Netanyahu’s case, a waver in his calculatingly soothing cadence.

His backhanded compliment to former Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a “wolf in wolf’s clothing”, was just a segue into a character assassination of President Rouhani - the “wolf in sheep”s clothing”.

You know what they say about it taking one to know one and all that.

The more important aspect of Netanyahu’s extremely predictable fulmination was however that under no circumstances will he let the facts get in the way of his story. Perhaps its a biblical thing. It certainly has the potential for all sorts of Armageddon.

Some critical facts however include that the newly elected Rouhani went to the UN to begin undoing the damage Ahmadinejad had caused his country.

It is also extremely clear that the sanctions much of the world has imposed on Iran have prodded a certain change in tactic.

Conciliation rather than bombast (pun intended) was in the Iranian air. 

Rouhani wants diplomacy. Obama wants diplomacy - if only to secure at least one foreign policy win in the region.

Neither trust each other and neither should at this stage.

However for rhetoric to reach reality you have to begin somewhere, and that somewhere is now.

Iran calls it heroic flexibility. Obama could call it the unclenching of the Persian fist. Political watchers remind all that peace is made between enemies, not friends. 

Whatever you call it, it might go nowhere but it is essential to at least try.

As always the proof of the new personable, reasoned face of Iran will be his ability to bring the hardliners to the diplomacy table.

There remains good reason to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme, if only because the country has long played fast and loose with international inspections.

Iran however remains a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in order to be compliant it needs to open its programme to the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

Nuclear-armed Israel says it is threatened by a nuclear-potential Iran, seemingly without so much as a thought for how threatening Israel is to all of its neighbours.

Nuclear-armed Netanyhau unabashedly instructs the world to not trust Rouhani - the Iranian President who called for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Nuclear-armed Israel appears to be panicking that the United States is hankering for diplomacy rather that tactical military strikes on Israel’s behalf.

Nuclear-armed Israel appears to forget that it does not have any right to dictate the domestic or foreign policy of any other sovereign state.

And so the 68th UNGA drew to a close with the first positive step away from the zero sum game that Iran and the West have been playing since the days of President Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini.

While the new Iranian President used his speech to talk peace and, possibly most uncomfortable for Netanyahu, nuclear disarmament across the Middle East, Israel’s old leader used his to personally excoriate and demonize any Iranian attempt at detente.

The next step is the October 15-16 Geneva talks between Iran, Britain, China the US, France, Russia and Germany.

Sanctions have brought Iran to this point.

If further talks prove to be a ruse - and let’s face it the Iranian Mullahs have been pretty adept at ruse so far - then the sanction screws will no doubt tighten.

Rouhani will smother his embryonic international credibility.

Obama will appear to have been played...again.

Netanyahu having declared Israel will stand alone if it has to, will skip happily towards its military arsenal. He will do so making soothing paternal noises at Obama, applauding his oh-so genuine but misguided and childish wish to believe the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Somehow though, I very much doubt Rouhani has the martyr gene required for such a scenario.