Jewish Journal


June 17, 2013

Iran- Good News or Bad News? (and Other Comments on the Current Events)



Iran's new President elect Hassan Rohani
Teheran June 16th, 2013
Photo by Reuters

1. Iran

So, Netanyahu or Peres? That’s the question when it comes to Iran- should Israel (and the rest of the world) adopt the more suspicious approach espoused by the Prime Minister following the victory of moderate – relatively moderate, that is – Hassan Rohani. Or maybe the proper tone, at least for now, is the more hopeful one, presented yesterday by the President.


"Let us not delude ourselves. The international community must not become caught up in wishful thinking," said Prime Minister Netanyahu, who insisted that the Iranian regime still considers Israel a "Zionist Satan." "Fifteen years ago, the election of another president, also considered a moderate by the West, led to no change in these aggressive policies."


“It is clearly a voice of the people and a voice that says, ‘We don’t agree with this group of leaders'".

So, Netanyahu or Peres? This isn't a choice between two different analytical understandings of the new situation with Iran. The glass is the same glass, the only difference is whether one chooses to talk about the half full or the half empty part of it. For these two leaders, it is a matter of personality. Netanyahu has an image to maintain as the grim one, Peres an image of the eternal optimist. Both played the role you'd expect them to play. Both did what they thought had to be done: Netanyahu in warning against delusions (he hates the delusional outlook), and Peres in warning against self fulfilling dire prophesies (he hates the pessimistic outlook).

Peres' is the more appealing outlook.

Netanyahu's is the more realistic one.


2. Intelligence

In my article from last week about Middle East upheaval, I focused on the failure of intelligence agencies to predict most of what has happened in the region in recent years. Since the article was mostly about Syria, the failure to forecast Assad's ability to survive was the main point of reference.

In December 2011, a year and a half ago, Israel’s then-defense minister, Ehud Barak, estimated that Syria’s Bashar Assad fall would come in a matter of “weeks.” He was not alone in his estimation. A month or so before him, “Western diplomats” told Reuters that Assad’s fall was all but certain. In January 2012, a month after Barak, a spokesman for the White House explained that Assad “has lost control of the country” and it is inevitable that his “brutal regime” would fall from power. Yet Assad has persisted in defeating such expectations and refused to comply. 

By April 2012, observers began to realize that the tune had to change. “It might take more than we thought,” a senior officer said, and the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security services, mockingly suggested that the Assad regime would outlive Barak’s party. As things turned out, this was an accurate forecast, one of few such successes.

This week intelligence agencies and politicians and experts were humbled again by their inability to predict Rohani's victory. Look at this guide to the frontrunners, which gave Rohani only a slight chance of winning. It was – no doubt – a "surprise result", as Time magazine tagged it. It "stunned the Islamic Republic’s hard-line establishment", Time reports, but it also stunned other establishments. "The outline the intelligence community (Military Intelligence and the Mossad) provided to the political leadership in Israel over the past few weeks didn’t even have a hint of this overwhelming defeat – and we can quite confidently say that the predictions of the intelligence services in other Western countries weren’t any more accurate", Amos Harel reported.

Another intelligence failure then? More like our failure to realize that while intelligence agencies can collect operational information that is very useful, they are barely more capable of predicting election results and geo-strategic trends that the average intelligent newspaper reader. 


3. Peres

He will celebrate his 90th birthday tomorrow. Agree with him, disagree with him, he is our last lion- reason enough for me to refrain from being petty about his Presidential extravaganza.


4. Chief Rabbi 

Many people were hopeful that Rabbi David Stav is going to revolutionize Israel's Rabbinate. But a sobering reality is gradually creeping in: Stav is a fine choice, but a losing one. Two days ago, spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, explained to his flock that electing Stav would be “like putting an idol in the sanctuary of the Temple”. Yet again, people should be reminded that the election of a chief rabbi in Israel isn't a reality show in which the most liked person is picked by the public. Electing chief rabbi is all about power politics – and supporters of Stav, while gaining the moral high ground in choosing to stick with him, are likely to lose.

Is this a bad thing? When it comes to Israel's rabbinate I think it isn't. Admittedly adopting a somewhat Marxist view of the rabbinate, I'd rather have a rabbi that is as detached from Israeli realities as possible. Since I don't think there's any hope for the rabbinate – nor do I want it to have any hope – I'd rather see it decline to the point of irrelevancy. Thus, the less communicative the chief rabbi, the less moderate and open, the more under haredi influence he is, the better.

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