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The tweets heard round the world

by Ron Kampeas, JTA

September 17, 2013 | 10:04 am

Is there a line between the much-ballyhooed Rosh Hashanah greetings from the Iranian leadership and a U.S.-Iran accommodation on Syria?

At the New Yorker, George Packer draws that line

The clearest path to a settlement now may be not through Moscow but through Tehran. Iran has a lot at stake in Syria—in money, arms, lives, and regional strategy. The Revolutionary Guard has always tried to carry out foreign policy with no fingerprints, through proxies and covert operations, but Syria is becoming an Iranian quagmire.

The Obama Administration has refused to allow Iran a seat at the Geneva talks, but Iran has a new President, Hassan Rouhani, a seemingly pragmatic centrist whose top priority is to ease tensions with the U.S. and to end Iran’s international isolation. He and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, issued conciliatory tweets on the Jewish New Year, while former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Rouhani’s political patron, dared to blame Assad for the chemical attack.

… and then more or less erases it:

None of this is likely. It would take imaginative diplomacy of the kind that the [Obama] Administration has shown little taste for in the Middle East. Iran would have to be convinced that it can’t win but also that it needn’t lose, and this would not be possible without deeper American engagement.

Embedded in those Rosh Hashanah wishes are the seeds of obstacles to whatever reconciliation might ensue.

First, a spokesperson for Rohani, while not denying the tweet per se, said that Rouhani does not even have a Twitter account. As Max Fisher outlined in the Washington Post (scroll down to the update), there are layers of plausible deniability plastered onto Rohani’s alleged English-language Twitter account. It seems to boil down to this: It’s not his, but he doesn’t mind that exists, and if he minded, it wouldn’t exist. (Iran’s rulers maintain tight controls on social media and its uses, evidenced by the restoration today of filters controlling access to Twitter and Facebook.)

Then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a critical player in whatever U.S.-Iranian engagement might emerge — is emphatically not impressed. “The Iranian regime will be examined only by its actions and not by salutations,” he said, declaring that the “only goal” of such greetings is to “divert attention” from Iran’s nuclear capability.

The fly in Netanyahu’s actions-not-salutations ointment is that one of the Rosh Hashanah exchanges included a repudiation of Holocaust denial. Christine Pelosi — the daughter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives — replied to Zarif’s “Happy Rosh Hashanah” with “The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.”

Zarif, a moderate who unabashedly acknowledges control of his Twitter account, replied: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”

“The man,” of course, is Rohani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Netanyahu (and Israel’s government and the entire pro-Israel movement) made a major, major issue of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. Israeli officials have endorsed calls to indict Ahmadinejad on charges of incitement to genocide. Saying that the repudiation by today’s Iranian leaders of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial is just a “diversion” implies, however unintentionally, that all those Israeli complaints about Ahmadinejad also were meaningless.

Bonus trivia: Christine Pelosi is one of two Pelosi daughters married into the tribe. Hence her familiarity with Days of Awe terminology.

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