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The lead story in all Israeli newspapers this weekend is the case of Avera Mengistu, who has been missing in the Gaza Strip for the past 10 months. After a long legal battle by Haaretz, a court-imposed gag order on the case was lifted on Thursday morning, unleashing a tidal wave of reporting, commentary, speculation and conjecture over Mengistu's fate, the government's handling of his disappearance and what it is currently doing to secure his release.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon disclosed in a statement that, in a separate incident, a Bedouin citizen from the Negev is also in Gaza. His name, however, is being withheld, despite the fact that foreign news sources have identified him.

On the sidelines of this story there were several ugly subplots: the suggestion in some quarters (including, bizarrely, on Hamas' official Twitter feed) that the government would have handled the case very differently if Mengistu was not an Israeli-Ethiopian; and the not-so-veiled threat by the Israeli official in charge of missing citizens against the Mengistu family, warning them not to publically criticize the government.

Even after the gag order was lifted, however, many questions remain unanswered. Hamas claims that Mengistu had been in its custody, but that he was interrogated and released. The Israeli defense establishment rejects this claim as an attempt by Hamas to dodge responsibility for the man's welfare. An Israeli security source said the Hamas claim is either an attempt to negotiate for the release of prisoners, or an attempt to cover up an incident that may have endangered Mengistu's life. 'Although we have no sign of life, the working assumption is that the man is alive,' the source said.

Since Mengistu crossed into Gaza in September 2014, the Israeli defense establishment has carried out numerous efforts to secure his release, all of which have failed. He was never drafted into the IDF due to medical reasons. Senior defense officials have met with the man's family and his relatives have visited the IDF's Gaza Division where they received the missing man's bag. According to the security source, Mengistu crossed Gaza close to the coast. During his crossing, he ignored calls from soldiers to turn back.

According to the newspapers, Israel has reached out to regional and international bodies in order to gather more information on Mengistu's condition and has demanded his immediate release stating that it will continue all efforts to end this situation and return its citizen back to Israel.

Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official said on Wednesday that Israel had begun back channel negotiations to return the bodies of the two soldiers who were killed in last summer's Gaza war. 'The European mediator sent a message from the government of Israel, who wants to open a channel of communication to bring back the bodies of its soldiers held by Hamas since the last war in Gaza,' the official said. The source added that Hamas refuses to discuss this issue until Israel releases all the detainees who were traded for Gilad Shalit and were rearrested last summer after the murder of three Israeli teenagers near Hebron.

The other major story in the papers focuses on the nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers, which, according to reports from Vienna, appear no closer to a deal. According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the countries with which Iran is negotiating are changing their conditions. He said that the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are internally split and accused them of using pressure tactics — which, he says, will not lead to a deal. Zarif's comments followed a U.S. warning that Washington is ready to walk away from the talks. The current round is now in its 14th day. The sides have given themselves until Friday to come to an agreement after twice missing previous target dates.

Finally, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who was appointed by Netanyahu to be in charge of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, on Thursday called for the resumption of peace talks. Speaking at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Shalom said that 'it takes two to tango' and that the PA needs to also show willingness to resume talks. 'We need to resume the negotiations with the Palestinians, even though we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,' he said, adding that Israel has publicly announced that it wants to resume the negotiations immediately but that 'desire from both sides' is required to do so.

Shalom addressed in his remarks an initiative by France to coax the sides back to the negotiations, saying it has not received the backing of both sides. 'There is currently a French initiative, which has received a cold shoulder from both parties and there are contacts, but all of those have not yet turned into negotiations,' he said.


A NUCLEAR UMBRELLA: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman says that, in the aftermath of a nuclear agreement between Iran and the West, Israel is concerned that other countries in the region will pursue similar capabilities – and that Iran's behavior will change once it has a nuclear umbrella.

"Among the issues that the Israeli defense establishment is addressing, as it prepares for the possibility that Iran and the six world powers reach an agreement, is the potential nuclear arms race that a deal would spark. Jerusalem views this as a potential medium- and long-term threat. There is a very real danger, from an Israeli perspective, that countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will pursue nuclear knowhow, in light of the permission that would be granted to Iran to become a nation on the verge of nuclear capability.

There are a lot of myths surrounding this issue, such as the possibility that Saudi Arabia could purchase a ready-made nuclear bomb from Pakistan. The Saudis decided to build 18 nuclear reactors for electricity long before the crisis with Iran. If the Saudis wanted to, they could buy a bomb at the drop of a hat. As for Egypt, it's hard to envisage President Abdelfattah el-Sissi approving funding for a nuclear program when his country doesn't have the money to feed its own citizens. In addition, it would lose American military aid if it started to pursue nuclear weapons. The possibility that Jordan could go nuclear is a particularly interesting joke. The question that remains unanswered is what Turkey will do. In any case, Israel needs to deal with the possibility that its purported nuclear exclusivity in the Middle East could be about to end.

Another issue that is being discussed in the Israeli defense establishment is how Iran would behave if it were to have the protection afforded by a nuclear umbrella. It's doubtful that the rules of the game in Lebanon or the Golan Heights would change if Iran had a nuclear umbrella, but the fact that Tehran has access to nuclear weapons would deter any other country from attacking it.

There are several factors which could mitigate the negative impact of an Iranian nuclear deal on the region. There is the possibility that Iran, which has economic and commercial ties in every part of the world, would see a massive increase in investment by foreign governments and companies, as well as the reopening of embassies and a mass influx of foreigners, would start to act a lot more cautiously than a country which is seen as a pariah state.

Another potentially stabilizing factor is the fact that Israel could forge some kind of informal alliance with other countries in the region to fight a common enemy. If you were to ask the head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence services to list the main threats to his country, you would see a lot of the same names that would appear on a list drawn up by his Israeli counterpart. Nonetheless, the Saudis have made it clear to Israel – in closed-door and secret discussions – that it will be very hard to openly and fully exploit these shared interests as long as Israel shows no interest whatsoever in renewing its dialogue with the Palestinians or to recognize the Saudi peace initiative.

Given the very real possibility that the government is about to cut defense spending, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot plans to find out whether he can transfer funds from the state's massive spending on countering the Iranian nuclear threat to other sections of the army or, at least, to spread them out over several years. In the first few years after an agreement with Iran is signed, it doesn't make sense to touch that funding: Israel does not believe that Iran will live up to its commitments and its ability to attack Iranian nuclear facilities could well be put to the test in the next decade."



THE JOKE'S ON US: Writing in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth says that the Vienna negotiations between Iran and the six world powers have become a joke – at Israel's expense.

"If the joke was not at our expense, it might even be funny: all of the parties involved in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West want an agreement, but none of them know how to sell it to their respective publics – for the simple reason that it's a bad deal.

The nuclear negotiations with Iran – which are now in their 13th year – deteriorated yesterday into something beyond a farce. After three extensions, the sides have decided to extend the talks a fourth time. What a pity that there isn't a penalty shoot-out to end this whole affair; this would put the poor journalists who have been holed up in Vienna out of their misery and would come as a blessed relief for the tortured and exhausted negotiators. Nobody is keen for the talks to be euthanized. Therefore, there will be a deal at any price. But the Iranians just love giving the international community a hard time.

The American media is now at the stage when its reports from Vienna focus on the amount of junk food being consumed by members of the U.S. delegation. We are more worried about a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way, it's dangerous to be exposed to the nuclear negotiations.

It has been said many times on these pages that the ball is in Iran's court. Yesterday we got further proof of the veracity of this statement. While representatives of the world powers were talking in terms of progress, and Russia's foreign minister even said that an agreement could be reached 'within hours' and commentators were explaining how the Americans want a deal to be finalized before Congress' summer recess (which starts this morning), the Iranians were going round telling anybody who would listen that the talks would likely be extended by three more days, until July 13.

Who's right? The Iranians are dictating the terms of these talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed that he has no problem extending the negotiations for as long as it takes. Let's just hope that he is struck down with a terrible case of homesickness.

During the course of these negotiations, the Iranians have unveiled an upgraded and improved version of the Persian bazaar. Usually, it's the vendor who meets the purchaser halfway by lowering his price. In Vienna, the vendor has already gotten almost everything that he demanded. Now all that remains is to dig in his heels a little more, to refuse to compromise in any way, shape or form – and to return to Tehran with as many Western concessions as possible. The Iranians want to limit to a minimum the 'military dimension of the program.' They're practically saints.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that the talks would not continue ad infinitum, but he also explained that the sides would not simply get up and leave the moment the clock shows midnight. In business school, they teach you that the most important part of negotiations is knowing when to walk away. I get the impression that the Iranians think Kerry never went to business school."



WHAT IS HAMAS HIDING? Writing in Maariv, Alon Ben David says that Israel insists that Hamas frees Avera Mengistu as a humanitarian gesture, but is concerned that he is no longer alive.

"The working assumption is that Avera Mengistu is alive and that he is being held by Hamas. This is the assumption that must guide the government's efforts to secure his release. But Israel is worried that something happened to Mengistu while he was being detained by the organization's security personnel. There is something about Hamas' behavior – denying that Mengistu is being held by them – that raises grave concerns over the fate of the 28-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli.

Hamas is not an organization that tends to deny holding what it sees as an asset – a live Jewish citizen of Israel. Therefore, when Hamas claims that Mengistu was released and has disappeared or that he crossed the border into Egypt, this leads Israel to think that he may have been wounded or worse during his apprehension and that Hamas is now trying to cover this up.

After Mengistu crossed the border into Gaza for the last time, contact with Hamas began via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. The hope was that Hamas would see him as a humanitarian case and would return him to Israel. The government also exerted pressure on the Hamas leadership, refusing its request for humanitarian assistance for senior officials and their families.

When a Bedouin citizen of Israel also crossed the border into Gaza, Hamas started to demand the release of prisoners in exchange for the return of the two Israelis. Israel insists that, since the two missing men are not healthy, there will be no prisoner exchange deal for their return. Israel also rejected Hamas demand that negotiations also include the terms for the return of two IDF soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge, whose bodies it is holding.

Therefore, there are currently no negotiations with Hamas. Israel is sticking to its demand that Mengistu and the unnamed Bedouin citizen be released as a humanitarian gesture and not as part of an exchange deal. The Bedouin is alive and held by Hamas; Israel can only hope that the same is true of Avera Mengistu."



NETANYAHU AND CHURCHILL: Writing on the Walla! website, former Netanyahu aide Yossi Levy says that, unlike his role model Winston Churchill, the Israeli prime minister has not translated his accurate warnings about the Iranian nuclear threat into action.

"When it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes and means everything he says. The roots of this can be found in the education he received from his late father, the noted historian Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu. The prime minister inherited from his father a deep sense of concern about the dangers posed to the Jewish people and the historical events that have forged the collective consciousness and, to a large extent, have created the image of the Jewish people in the modern era. Long before he was elected prime minister, Netanyahu held profound conversations with his father on this very issue. And there's no question that the Holocaust is the most formative and influential event for our prime minister.

Netanyahu is utterly convinced that the ayatollah regime in Iran is the modern-day equivalent of the Nazis and that, if Tehran were to get its hands on a nuclear weapon, it would pose a direct and strategic threat to the State of Israel. The Iranians, for their part, have done everything in their power to prove that Netanyahu's concerns have a solid basis; they have not even bothered to conceal the fact that they want to wipe Israel off the map.

Netanyahu knows that the Iranians have not become more moderate. They have merely become more sophisticated and cunning. The Iranian wolf – in the form of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his cronies – has disguised itself as a kindly old grandmother, speaking flawless English. Nazi Germany also boasted many educated intellectuals, writers, doctors, scientists, musicians and artists. Of the 12 leaders of the Nazi Party, no fewer than seven held PhDs. History has taught us that there is no connection between education or culture and unspeakable cruelty. In fact, they often go hand in hand.

It is not by chance that, on Holocaust Memorial Day, Netanyahu always draws a comparison between Hitler and the ayatollahs. The prime minister's view is true and accurate, so he feels he has to shout it from the rooftops. And what about the Western powers? They are somnambulant, hesitant, dragging their feet and screwing things up. In the absence of a stick – the use of military action – all they have to offer is a carrot, which the Iranians are gobbling up like a starving rabbit.

In 2015, the United Kingdom is about as far away from the spirit of Winston Churchill as Manchester is from Bushehr. Cameron is preoccupied with improving the terms of his country's membership in the European Union. The Chinese are sitting on the sidelines drinking tea – and making sure they don't do anything to anger the Russian bear. The Germans are businesslike and reserved. The Russians are behaving like Iran's allies. Only the French are showing any kind of fight and determination which, of course, they sorely lacked in darker times.

And what about the Americans? Well, that's the $64,000 question. The United States and its president are at the epicenter of this crisis and, in the background, it is impossible to ignore the tensions between Barack Obama and Netanyahu. Over the past few years, the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem has become, according to the White House, a republican stronghold. In the summer of 2010, Netanyahu and his then defense minister, Ehud Barak, were on the verge of launching military action against Iran. The prevalent view is that this was not just for show, since billions of shekels were invested in the necessary procurement. Gabi Ashkenazi, Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin were all up in arms over the government's plan – as if Netanyahu and Barak were a couple of cocksure kids who needed to be supervised by three adults.

There are many impediments to an Israeli military strike against Iran. How would the Iranians respond? How would the United States respond? How would the international community react? And how can Israel even attack a large number of nuclear facilities which are spread out over such a large country? At the same time, there is also the spike in tensions between the two leaders. There are those who claim that the main reason for these tensions is the fact that there are no ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and Obama's opposition to settlement construction. The lack of chemistry between the two leaders certainly doesn't help. When the military censor clears Barak's memoirs for publication, they will doubtless shed some light on the issue.

Throughout 2011, relations between Netanyahu and Obama continued to decline. Some people suggested to Netanyahu that, ahead of a presidential election in the United States, Obama would be much easier to manipulate, since he wouldn't dare to mess with Jewish voters.

According to security experts, 2012 was the year that Iran entered the immunity zone – especially in terms of its Fordow facility, which is located deep within a mountain. At the same time, Obama was reelected. Since then, relations have had high points and low points. Who has been fooling whom on the Iranian issue? Leon Panetta believed that Netanyahu and Barak were serious about attacking Iran and he begged them not to.

In the summer of 2012, Obama sent then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Israel, in the hope that he would be able to work out what Israel's real intentions were. Donilon stressed the United States' unwavering commitment to Israel's security. In exchange, he asked for an Israeli commitment not to attack Iran until after the election in November of that year.

It is generally thought that the current bad blood between Netanyahu and Obama is just a preview of the huge confrontation that will take place in the media when the Vienna nuclear deal is brought before Congress.

Netanyahu has spent many days and nights dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, which he sees as the most important issue facing his country. A nuclear-armed Iran would cast its shadow over Israel; countries like Syria and Lebanon, along with terrorist organizations like Hizbollah and Hamas, would feel much safer under the Iranian nuclear umbrella. It would even have an impact on the Israeli economy and the number of Jews from abroad choosing to immigrate here.

It is thanks to Netanyahu that the Iranian nuclear threat is even on the international agenda. That is not an insignificant achievement. Having said that, 2015 is just around the corner and Netanyahu – as he accurately predicted – will be left to fight this battle alone. He may well sit back this weekend and light a cigar – perhaps to get inspiration from Churchill, whom he sees as a role model and whom he hopes to emulate. Indeed, both Netanyahu and Churchill have the ability to see what the future holds, to recognize the real monster and to warn of threats in plenty of time. They are both great orators who fill their audience with inspiration. There's only one different between them so far: Churchill knew how to turn his concerns into actions."



A DIPLOMATIC CIRCUS: Writing in Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer says that the American delegates in Vienna believe that they cannot leave the nuclear talks without a deal.

"In a few years, one of the senior diplomats taking part in the nuclear talks between the powers and Iran will write a memoir recounting the discussions in various luxury hotels across three continents. The book will presumably not become a best seller. Apart from students of international relations, who will be obliged to read the history of the endless negotiations, few will survive it.

As far as the men and women who have devoted more than two years to the process are concerned, spending days and nights in rooms with chandeliers, crème colored walls and heavy red curtains, they are busy making history. If they succeed, they will save the world, or at least their generation. If they fail, it will be no less than a 'disaster,' as an American diplomat said on Tuesday.

Swollen with self-importance, the U.S. delegation members have been amusing themselves imagining which Hollywood stars would play them in a movie based on the talks. But Hollywood producers aren't stupid. None of them would invest money into a production before it is clear how the story ends.

The important thing is not whether the agreement is signed and approved by the U.S. Senate, but whether it achieves the Americans' desired outcomes: curbing Iran's nuclear aspirations and turning it into a trustworthy partner in the war against ISIS (Islamic State) and other radical organizations in the Middle East.

These diplomats will wait to see if Barack Obama's farewell speeches from the White House in 18 months are all about his major legacy in foreign affairs – ending the 36-year confrontation between the U.S. and Iran – or whether they'll instead focus on domestic policy achievements. Then they'll wait to see if the relations with Iran will continue to improve in the next administration as well.

Meanwhile, Obama's envoys in Vienna this week didn't wait for Hollywood's script writers – they were busy writing the script of the day after themselves, while dealing with the last stages of negotiations. They see their personal involvement in the process as career-defining. More importantly, they know that after the signing ceremony at the conclusion of the Vienna talks, if there is one, they still have a difficult battle in the Republican-controlled Senate ahead of them. A majority of senators are expected to blast the deal.

While none of the U.S. diplomats in Vienna relishes the ugly confrontation awaiting them, they will probably make it through the ordeal, even if Obama has to use his presidential veto. The prevailing assumption is that they cannot go home without an agreement. The administration has devoted too much time, effort and prestige to the project. Like the big banks, the Iranian deal is too big to fail.

In the few times he has appeared in public over the last few days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wore a long suffering, severe expression, and spoke about the many hardships on the way. When Kerry came out to make a short statement to the press on Sunday, he set the tone by saying 'now is the time to strike a deal with Iran' and 'President Obama has always said we're prepared to walk away' – as though at that stage abandoning the deal was an option. Kerry did not orchestrate such a diplomatic circus, which may be nearing its closing act, for two years just to walk away.

The White House helped to build the setting when at dawn on Wednesday, Kerry announced that President Obama had spoken to him and to U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz from the situation room, and given them final instructions ahead of reaching a deal 'in keeping with our demands.' As though up until then they weren't in daily contact.

The photograph provided showed the president sitting in the commander's chair at the head of the table with a room full of serious people. It could not have conveyed more authority and splendor. The stage setting was so meticulous that even the video-conference screen in the background, showing Kerry and Moniz' grim faces, had the blue-gold State Department flag on it. That's how you write history and prepare for the Senate debates simultaneously.

Despite the descriptions of the dozens of kilograms of junk food the delegation members ate when they couldn't go out, as well as the early morning jogs along Vienna's Ringstrasse to relieve the tension, the delegates didn't appear eager to return to Washington. In Vienna, they meet their diplomatic partners, perhaps bargain with them over bothersome clauses, but at least they share a common cause. In D.C., the wolves are waiting. Even when the heat in Vienna rose to 35 degrees Celsius in a rare heat wave, the Austrian capital welcomed them.

The Iranian delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, also made considerable efforts in preparing for the day after the deal. The equivalent discussion on the agreement to be held in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, will be mainly ceremonial. But the big battle there will be in the regime's real power strongholds between the conservatives, who are suspicious of President Rouhani's attempts to approach the West, and the so-called moderates, who believe Iran can open to the world and remain loyal to the Islamic revolution.

The two sides will continue to compete for the heart of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is suffering from cancer. Meanwhile, on Friday in Tehran, 'moderates' and 'conservatives' will have to march together in Quds Day parades. International Quds Day (Jerusalem Day is an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan, initiated by the Islamic Republic of Iran to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and oppose Zionism and Israel's existence. If a nuclear deal is indeed reached on Friday, the myriads calling 'death to Israel' will provide a perfect setting for their ideological loyalty.

Unlike the Americans, who made few statements during the week and tried to lower expectations, the Iranian diplomats gave daily interviews to their state television. They said in turn that due to their adamant, uncompromising stance they are on the brink of an historic agreement under which all Iran's demands will be met and all the vile sanctions will be lifted. While Western diplomats listed unresolved issues, the Iranians said the agreement was already inked.

A large number of Iranian reporters came to Vienna, some as part of the delegation and some exiles. They all support the deal, whether they are for or against the regime. Each reporter represents a different news medium with a different take on internal politics and the Iranian diaspora. The Iranian delegation kept providing them with information, or disinformation, according to each medium's editorial and ideological position."



SHAM SMILES ALL AROUND: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, David M. Weinberg takes U.S. President Barack Obama to task for consciously 'decoupling' Iran's support for terrorism and its human rights record from the talks over its nuclear program.

"With four deadlines come and gone, it’s probably safe to predict that there won’t be a grand package deal with Tehran this weekend, or at all. Instead, we’ll get a lot of smiles, and agreement to continue talking indefinitely, 'for as long as the talks are useful,' without closure on Iran’s nuclear weapons drive.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei’s centrifuges will continue to spin, Iran’s adventurism in the region will proceed unchecked, and President Obama won’t have to reveal to Congress the deep concessions he has already deposited in Iran’s pocket.

American analyst Michael Ledeen puts it bluntly: Khamenei doesn’t want to sign anything. He has two fixed principles: No 'new relationship' with the Great Satan, and relentless pursuit of the atomic bomb. But since Obama won’t take an Iranian 'no' for a definitive answer, the default American position will be a new form of 'creative appeasement.'

Iran will promise to try really, really hard to be nice, and Obama will pay for this. Iran will continue to get its monthly sanctions relief payoff, while Obama will get Iranian smiles. This will allow Obama to give another interview in which he blathers about meeting Iran’s 'legitimate needs and concerns' and about his hopes that Iran will become 'a very successful regional power.' After all, Obama will yet tell us, Iran 'is one of the oldest and grandest civilizations in the world' – or something obsequious like that.

Who could have imagined, just a few years ago, that the president of the United States of America would wish the mullahs well in their quest for regional hegemony? What strategic thinker would have believed that the U.S. would actively enter a de facto alliance with Shiite Iran (in Iraq, Syria and the Gulf) at the expense of America’s traditional Sunni allies and its ally in Israel? The metamorphosis of Iran, in pro-Obama elite opinion circles, from terrorist state into U.S. partner is a long-brewing triumph for a certain set of pro-Iranian apologists and anti-Israel lobbyists in Washington.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal this week, Sohrab Ahmari showed how the National Iranian American Council advanced the argument that Iran deserves strategic respect, and placed its people in the Obama National Security Council. Indeed, U.S. think tanks played a prominent role in paving the way toward a climb-down from Obama’s declared policy of halting Iran’s nuclear drive.

Start with Thomas R. Pickering, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs (and U.S. ambassador to Russia, the UN and Israel), who showed up in Israel in 2012 as the head of 'The Iran Project.' Peddling a 'nuanced and sophisticated' view of Iran, he counseled an 'engagement' strategy. In a lecture at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Pickering asserted that the U.S. must end its confrontation with Iran over nuclear weapons. Sanctions, he said, were only 'contributing to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran,' and were 'sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the U.S..' What about the use of military force to crush the Iranian nuclear bomb program? Well, military force should be the very last resort taken by the U.S., Pickering told us, 'and probably not at all.'

Next was the Center for a New American Security. Its 2013 report, primarily authored by former Obama administration deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East Colin H. Kahl, outlined 'a comprehensive framework to manage and mitigate the consequences of a nuclear- armed Iran.' In other words, stopping the Iranian nuclear effort was already a passé discussion.

Then came the Atlantic Council, which called for Washington to 'lessen the chances for war through reinvigorated diplomacy that offers Iran a realistic and face-saving way out of the nuclear standoff.' That’s diplomatic-speak for a containment strategy.

Then the Rand Corporation concluded that a nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a fundamental threat to the U.S. and its regional allies. 'An Iran with nuclear weapons will still be a declining power,' it said. 'Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations.'

In his last article before dying in 2013, the leading realist theorist Ken Waltz of Columbia University even argued that Iran should get the bomb. It would create 'a more durable balance of military power in the Middle East,' he wrote in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs.

The writing has been on the wall. Both Washington’s retreat from confrontation with Iran and its shift toward appeasement of Iran were there for those willing to see. Obama has even invented a fancy term – 'decoupling' – to obscure the magnitude of American collapse before Iran. 'Decoupling' means that the nuclear talks can take place in a virtual vacuum, without reference to Iranian behavior in any other field or arena – as if Iran were Iceland. There is just no coupling or link between Iran the nuclear power and Iran the aggressive adversary.

Decoupling means that Obama can be forgiven for failing to constrain Iranian terrorism. It means that Iran can get nuclear sanctions relief without having to scale back its hegemonic and subversive muckraking around the region. The suave concept allows Obama to 'decouple' the ayatollahs’ unpleasant anti-Semitic and genocidal rhetorical outbursts from Iran’s 'responsible' (sic) understandings with the West on nuclear matters. It also allows Obama to ignore Iran’s human rights abuses. Decoupling allows Obama to smile and sell sham narratives about Iran, even as Khamenei rebuffs and humiliates America. With a smile, of course."




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