What’s Obama’s Iran policy, and what does this all mean for Iran’s Jews


With it still unclear what the end result is in Iran, President Obama’s policy in "in flux" but is still committed to diplomacy, reports Laura Rozen in ForeignPolicy.com:

As the dramatic events have unfolded in Iran in the wake of its disputed vote count, the White House has had to not just recalibrate its messaging on a daily basis, but rethink the fundamental underpinnings of its policy toward the Islamic Republic and the region. ..

"Obama is dedicated to diplomacy in a manner that is almost ideological," one Iran hand in touch with the administration said. Obama has a longer term vision, he continued. "He wants to do some stuff in the Middle East over the next eight years. He may not be able to achieve half of them unless he gets this huge piece of the puzzle [Iran] right." …

According to multiple sources, the U.S. president believes Washington has a limited ability to influence events inside Iran for the good, despite — and even because of — the strength of his podium. Many Iran experts agree, cautioning that more strident statements would be counterproductive, and the Iranian government today complained of U.S. "meddling" in its internal affairs and has attempted to paint opposition supporters as foreign stooges. "It’s very difficult to accept that maybe there are things one cannot affect," the Iran hand said.

Even before Iran’s elections, people familiar with the administration’s Iran policy outreach efforts say, there was growing uncertainty in the Obama administration about whether the United States and Iran would actually get to direct engagement in the coming months. The administration has sent several quiet, diplomatic missives to Iran, and Obama has made repeated public overtures inviting direct engagement, but has apparently received no response, according to administration sources. Obama strongly feels that he has to keeping trying, they say, but thinks it will be very hard. His thinking is not just to have a compartmentalized negotatiation about Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorism, people familiar with his thinking said, but a dialogue that recognizes at some level Iran’s legitimate strategic interests in the region. 

Rozen also points out Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s statement earlier this week that Iran should produce its first nuclear bomb in 2014 (farther into the future than Israel has previously predicted) and provides some info on the still mysterious Dennis Ross situation:

Amid the coverage of Iran’s demonstrations, few noticed this week when Israel’s intelligence service publicly stated that it thinks Iran could have a deployable nuclear weapon in 2014 —  an assessment almost identical to that of the much-maligned 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program. Up to now, Israel has repeatedly predicted that Iran would have breakout capability for a bomb in the one-two year range.

Several sources viewed Israel’s apparent shift in emphasis as significant, for two reasons: First, Israel may worry that scaring its public about the Iran threat could lead to emigration. Second, the focus on the less immediate threat in terms of the estimate of a deployable nuclear weapon might signal that the Obama administration has more time to let its complex engagement strategy play out.

One of two chief architects of that strategy is Dennis Ross, currently a special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Ross’s position is said to be in flux, though the administration has been even more than typically opaque about the staffing decision. While Ross is reportedly being promoted to a senior advisor position at the NSC, some sources say the anticipated move was also intended to make him a less front-line player on Iran policy, as engagement is run out of the State Department, even as it brings him closer to the president and the White House policy nerve center.  And there is still confusion over what job exactly Ross is being promoted to: Some sources say Ross will be working above the two Near East/Persian Gulf senior directors, Daniel Shapiro and Puneet Talwar, whereas FP colleague Peter Feaver writes that he understands Ross will become the NSC senior advisor on strategic planning, the post Feaver held in the Bush administration. Iran hands are completely mum and perhaps somewhat in the dark about the Ross move, and it’s all being handled with a high degree of secrecy.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Jewish Journal has an Q&A with Southern California-based Iranian Jewish activist Frank Nikbakht, who directs the Committee for Minority Rights in Iran. Nikbakht says whoever ends up president won’t affect the Jews in Iran all that much:

A:They don’t make a difference since both of these candidates have hardline histories in their fundamentalist loyalties to the discriminatory Islamic Republic of Iran constitution as well as documented anti-Israeli policies and military planning. Mousavi, for example was not only the initiator of the current nuclear program In Iran but he was among the leading officials as Prime Minister in the 1980s behind the creation of the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group and the deployment of thousands of Revolutionary Guards in Southern Lebanon and Baalbek area….

Q:If the reformists are able to regain the presidency from Ahmadinejad, how will they be using Iran’s Jews to advance their own propaganda machine and their image in the West?

The “reformers” were the ones who initiated the using of minorities for major foreign propaganda, but Ahmadinejad took this to a higher level and was behind the continuous efforts for bringing sympathetic or bought off journalists to Iran to report on the “ideal” conditions of the religious minorities in Iran. Ahmadinejad, forced the removal of the old and obedient Jewish leadership in Iran since they finally refused to accept his Holocaust denying statements. The “reformers” as some in the West like to call them, will certainly do the same and appoint Jewish “representatives” according to their needs.

Nikbakht does say that reformist candidate Mehdi Karoubi was the most pro-minority right person in the race, and had even used some of Nikbakht’s writings in his speeches to make that point. He received 0.8 percent of the vote.

The Iranian Jewish community in Israel also isn’t very optimistic, according to the Jerusalem Post, but they say that the Jews in Iran will be OK as long as they don’t make trouble:

Young or old, veteran Israeli or relative newcomer, they are generally pessimistic about Iran’s future and the chances for real change in the Islamic republic. And the Jews still in Iran? They Jews are fine, they say, as long as they stay out of trouble.

"Everything will be back to normal in a week, and the regime will be identical no matter which candidate is president," says Shmuel, a young Iranian-born owner of a shoe store on the capital’s Jaffa Road.

"These are stupid youngsters – the students are usually the dumbest," laughs Avraham Zakaim as he offers Persian tea in an Iranian Judaica and art store on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall on Wednesday. …

As for the remaining Jews in Iran, all agreed they were not in danger as long as they kept a low profile.

"The Jews are mostly merchants who stay out of politics. They won’t be affected by the rioting," says Yunanyan.

Zakaim agrees. "The heads of the community know not to push their noses into politics, so they stay safe."


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