Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Was No Moderate

Jan. 10 2017

Reports of the former Iranian president’s death have almost unanimously described him as the leader of a “moderate” faction within the Islamic Republic—one who wished for better relations with the West, paid only lip service to religious fanaticism, and could be induced through skillful diplomacy to move Tehran away from terrorism and anti-Americanism. None of this is true, writes Michael Rubin:

Rafsanjani signed off on attacks like the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires and assassinations of Iranian dissidents worldwide. He not only helped birth Iran’s covert nuclear-weapons program but, on December 14, 2001, speculated that it could be for offense rather than defense since, unlike Israel, Iran had strategic depth to absorb a retaliatory strike. While he was willing to talk to Americans and Europeans, this had less to do with a desire for rapprochement than with his recognition that dialogue could relieve economic pressure on the Islamic Republic and win it what it needed for the fulfillment of its indigenous military programs.

Was Rafsanjani a moderate or even reformer? . . . In reality, it is useful to think about the Islamic Republic’s politicians as falling between two axes: one with regard to social attitudes and tolerance and the other with regard to a belief in state-centered economies versus economic liberalism. Rafsanjani sought to reduce the centralized command structure of Iran’s economy, [and in that respect he] leaned toward economic pragmatism. Even during his presidency, though, he was unsuccessful in implementing significant economic reform. When it came to social reform, however, Rafsanjani’s more moderate rhetoric did not translate into any desire or real effort to blunt the edge or fervor of the Islamic Revolution. . . . Another way to think about that is that if Rafsanjani was a moderate, . . . then moderation in the Islamic Republic includes an embrace of incitement to genocide, assassination, torture, and terrorism. . . .

[Western diplomats’] desire to [misapprehend] factional struggles expands beyond just Iran. Talk to European or even American diplomats who work in the Middle East about Hizballah or Hamas, and they will describe a nuanced view that divides the movements into hardline and more pragmatic factions. The fact that those moderate Hamas factions still embrace a covenant that calls for genocide against Jews is left unsaid.

Read more at Commentary

More about: AMIA bombing, Iran, Iran nuclear program, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

How the White House Can Bring Mahmoud Abbas to the Negotiating Table

April 28 2017

Next month, the Palestinian Authority president is expected to arrive in Washington to meet with President Trump, perhaps as a prelude to a summit between Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu under American auspices. A Palestinian delegation is currently in the U.S. to conduct preliminary meetings with administration officials. Eran Lerman discusses what can be accomplished:

The most important aspect [in the present discussions] may remain unspoken. It can be defined as “strategic reassurance”: the realization that after years of uncertainty under Barack Obama, the American administration . . . is once again committed without reservation to its friends in the region, the so-called “camp of stability.”

President Obama’s abandonment of [the former Egyptian president], Hosni Mubarak, regardless of the merits of the case, was catastrophic in terms of the loss of any residual political courage on Abbas’s part. Obama was sympathetic to the Palestinians’ cause, but his policies generated an acute level of uncertainty for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, laced with what seemed like a measure of support on Obama’s part for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. This was not an environment in which to take fateful decisions.

The Trump team seems to be working to restore confidence and reconstruct [alliances with] both Israel and the pro-Western Arab states. In this new environment, it could be safer for Abbas to take measured risks and enter into an open-ended negotiation with Netanyahu. The effort may still fall apart, if only because the Palestinians have fallen into the habit of posing preconditions. But there seems to be a better chance of drawing them in when they feel that their traditional patrons in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are once again basking in the sunshine of American strategic support. . . .

At least in theory, it should therefore be easier now for . . . the White House to persuade Abbas to accept a point of entry into negotiations that stays within the two-state paradigm but is no longer predicated on strict adherence to the June 4, 1967 lines.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Donald Trump, Hosni Mubarak, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, U.S. Foreign policy