Middle East Update

15Jun09

Last week, Hadassah participated in a number of meetings about the Iranian threat and its impact on Israel, including a briefing from Benjamin Krasna, the Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York and a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ Iran Task Force. Below are summaries of each event.

Benjamin Krasna
Deputy Consul General Benjamin Krasna spoke to Hadassah’s Executive Committee on Wednesday. He discussed the upcoming elections in Iran, President Obama’s speech in Cairo and the current political environment in Israel.

Before delving into the realities of global politics, however, Krasna emphasized the importance of Hadassah’s partnership with Israel, as an extension of Israel’s partnership with the US. He highlighted Hadassah’s prominence in changing American policy on stem cell research and HMO’s expertise on emergency preparedness and homeland security issues.

Krasna’s discussion of President Obama’s speech last week at Cairo University focused on the context of the speech, i.e., that it was delivered to an overwhelmingly Arab audience. According to Krasna, it’s crucial to remember that this speech was neither for nor about an Israeli audience. Instead, President Obama was directing his remarks toward young, moderate Muslims, aiming to bring them into the fold. Krasna pointed out that keeping this audience in mind, it’s notable that President Obama gave such prominence to the strong ties between the United State and Israel. It’s also important to look at this speech in combination with President Obama’s remarks in Buchenwald the following day to get a fuller picture of his inclinations toward Israel and the Jewish community. Examining the speech itself, Krasna highlighted President Obama’s insistence on open communication, urging Arab states to say publicly what has previously only been said behind closed doors. Specifically, Krasna alluded to two of these tenets in particular: first, that Iran is the most immediate danger to all Middle Eastern countries, not just Israel and second, that the existence of Israel is not a matter for debate. Overall, Krasna advised us to keep President Obama’s Cairo speech in perspective.

On Iran, Krasna repeatedly stressed the urgency of the threat to Israel. He reminded us that the Iranian people will hold a presidential election on Friday, June 12 and estimated that the chances of Ahmadinejad being re-elected are approximately 50%, although it’s possible that none of the four candidates will garner a majority of the votes, necessitating a runoff election. Krasna predicted that any change in the leadership of Iran will likely give the global community an excuse to allow Iran another chance to end their nuclear program voluntarily; however, he added, during that time, centrifuges will continue spinning.

Conference of Presidents
On Tuesday, Hadassah attended an Iran Task Force meeting organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an update on the situation in Iran and Israel’s current focus on the issue, as well as share ideas for mobilization and action. In his introduction, Malcolm Hoenlein stressed that while we do need to intensify our efforts, people are really starting to understand the Iran issue and mobilize around it.

The first part of the meeting consisted of briefings from Benjamin Krasna, the Deputy Consul General of Israel, as well as Yehuda Yaakov and Jonathan Keller from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yaakov talked about how, in response to the slowing down of the Security Council process and the fatiguing of the international community on the Iran issue, Israel has been expanding its activities on the economic front vis-a-vis Iran, and has also added an element of public diplomacy to its efforts. Israel has set up a committee to push for the diplomatic isolation of Iran– the cancellation of President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil was the pinnacle of it’s activities so far. Yaakov noted that there have been more and more cancellations of Iranian delegations to Europe.

Yaakov stressed that despite this progress, there is still very much an urgency on the Iranian issue, as the diplomacy is lagging behind the technology. The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran, released June 5th, reported that Iran has sped up its production of nuclear fuel and increased its number of installed centrifuges to 7,200. Iran already has enough low-grade uranium to make a nuclear weapon; the question is whether they will actually make a nuclear weapon and in what time frame. As far as the impact of the upcoming June 12th elections in Iran, Yaakov stressed that regardless of who wins (Ahmadinejad or Khamenei), the Iranian regime will continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. And even beyond the nuclear issue, Israel is seriously concerned with Iran’s regional dominance designs and human rights violations.

Keller gave a brief review of economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran. He stressed the need to strengthen international and multilateral sanctions against Iran, as he claims they will work. Iran is economically vulnerable right now, as evidenced by its deep dependence on imports and western technology. As more countries move away from helping Iran, the country is becoming increasingly reliant on the private sector. Kedler also pointed out that the social situation in Iran is very bad– with very high unemployment among young people.

The next part of the meeting consisted of from a representative from United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI). In the last few months, UANI has seen an increasing number of people interested in getting involved on the Iran issue. On Tuesday morning, UANI launched a TV ad to encourage President Obama to ratchet up pressure on Ahmadinejad. The 30-second ad will play for two weeks on CNN, MSNBC and FOX. In addition to leveraging this national ad campaign, UANI is working on a number of initiatives designed to help people take action on Iran, including its Eye on Iran news publication and its Iranian Business Registry (IBR), a database of reputable media and academic reports of international businesses in Iran.
Following the UANI briefing, Ambassador Ronald Lauder and Michael Schneider, both from World Jewish Congress, spoke about the European perspective on the Iranian issue. A WJC delegation recently had talks in Rome with heads of the Italian and Vatican governments, where they discussed the Iranian threat. Among those present was Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who at the last moment cancelled a trip he had scheduled to Iran. Many European governments are getting increasingly scared of Iran and are beginning to mobilize. There is talk about doing educational TV ads in European countries, and some are working on economic sanctions.

After the WJC briefing Jeff Colman, the Deputy Director of Policy and Government Affairs for AIPAC, discussed AIPAC’s current action agenda. Their main effort right now is pushing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R. 2194 / S. 908) <http://www.kintera.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=9fLKJSOuHpE&b=4136065&aid=12318&gt; . This bill would authorize the president to impose sanctions on companies providing refined petroleum to Iran or helping Iran expand its own refining capacity. As Iran currently imports 40% of its refined petroleum, this legislation could have a dramatic effect on Iran’s economy and ultimately force it to choose between a nuclear program or relief from sanctions. AIPAC plans to spend the rest of the summer working to increase the number of cosponsors and holding congressional hearings on this bill to increase support.

Next, Steve Gutow from the JCPA talked about national community mobilization efforts on the Iran issue. The JCPA has convened a working group on Iran as part of its Israel Advocacy Initiative to encourage local communities to engage in advocacy on the Iran issue. They have been disseminating educational materials and action alerts, engaging in letter-writing campaigns to the Obama Administration, and hosting community briefings, among other activities. Gutow emphasized that a number of JCRCs are really getting involved and ratcheting up their efforts on the Iran issue.

Lastly, Ken Bandler from AJCommittee discussed the need to reach out to the media. Bander stressed the need to talk about Iran not just as a Jewish issue or an Israel issue, but as a global threat, and also stress that Iran is a threat to Europe and Arab countries. He emphasized that advocates need to not only get this message out, but also to work with reporters to ensure that news stories about Iran are front and center in the media. The IAEA report on Iran that was released on June 5th should have be a front-page news story; instead it was completely buried in the back pages of prominent newspapers such as the New York Times.

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