Monday, July 20, 2015

Iran, Oslo and history's sense of humor

..."Negotiations are opportunities to best others, to demonstrate power, and to defeat opponents. Iranians do not see bargaining as an opportunity to establish win-win situations. Contracts are little more than pieces of paper Iranians will sign, if these papers can advance their interests. Their signatures are not guarantees that they will carry out the terms of the contract." Will we ever learn?

Dror Eydar..
Israel Hayom..
17 July '15..

Many parallels can be drawn between the 1993-1995 Oslo Accords, which Israel negotiated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the Vienna agreement some 20 years later, which Western powers, headed by the United States, negotiated with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In both cases, eager negotiators representing the Western worldview were keen to strike a "historic" agreement with a terrorist group/state. In both cases the ultimate goal was to compel the terrorist entity to abandon its aggressive aspirations and to embrace peace.

In both instances, the other side -- the PLO or Iran -- was in dire straits diplomatically, economically and militarily when the talks began. They would have likely accepted almost any dictate, had Western powers, in Iran's case, or Israel in the PLO's case, been patient and persistent enough to stand their ground, insist on their demands, maintain economic pressure and not let go of the double-edged sword at the terrorists' necks.

In both instances, rightist and conservative figures warned that the agreement would be a historic mistake. In both instances, comparisons were drawn to the 1938 Munich Agreement -- the peace accord signed by Western powers with Nazi Germany that sacrificed Czechoslovakia by handing Germany what came to be known as the Sudetenland and leaving the Czechs exposed. The comparison is not entirely accurate, but Western appeasement toward aggressive tyranny is a running motif. The people who documented that period, including Hitler's associates, say that Hitler did not believe that the Western powers would behave in the way that they did, and their capitulation convinced him of their weakness, paving the path to the terrible war that ensued.

Armaments and War Production Minister for the Third Reich Albert Speer has recounted that after the annexation of the Sudetenland, with its massive border fortifications, Hitler traveled there to personally inspect the bunkers and facilities that had withstood Germans weapons testing (the Germans used the fortifications to test and develop new weapons). When he returned, he said with enthusiasm: "Had the Czechs defended them, it would have made it very difficult for us to occupy them, and it would have cost us a lot of blood. Now we have them without having lost a single drop of blood. ... What a wonderful starting point! We hopped over a mountain range and we are already sitting deep inside Czechoslovakia."


In the case of the Oslo Accords, the agreement was the product of more than 20 years of preparation within the Israeli Left, and its key tenet was the land-for-peace formula. The word "peace" was soon joined by the word "now" in the sense of "if not now, when?" the most common string of words in this context is "window of opportunity." That is how after the 1992 election, when the Right split into quarreling factions, losing tens of thousands of votes, the Left won a narrow victory and rose to power. The urgency of the political "window of opportunity" led to urgent negotiations. With the help of the one-sided media, the Oslo Accords blood agreement was marketed as Israel's only hope for peace and prosperity. Opponents of the agreement were silenced, and their representatives were made to look ridiculous or like eternal warmongers seeking constant conflict, precisely what British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said about Israel this week for opposing the Vienna agreement with Iran. Who says history doesn't have a sense of humor?

The Iranian nuclear deal was also the product of U.S. President Barack Obama's worldview from when he first entered office. He has led a gradual American retreat away from being the global policeman and marched his country toward historic reconciliation with the Muslim world. The 2009 Cairo speech was a declaration of intent, but the ultimate goal was reconciliation with Iran. In 2009, when the Iranian election was rigged to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term as president, millions took to the streets in what came to be known the Green Revolution. The U.S. (and the West) could have supported the Iranian opposition, backed the protesters, or helped bring down the ayatollah regime, which blocked social networks and mobile phones to interfere with protests, in myriad other ways. (One Iranian opposition leader told me that the Americans could have provided the protesters with 30,000 satellite phones thereby circumventing the regime's block). But all Obama did was provide verbal support and extend his condolences for the deaths.

Wise men among us, who refer to the Iranian nuclear deal as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal "failure," as though he were a party in the negotiations, would be wise to take into account Obama's consistent steering toward reconciliation with Iran. In speeches and interviews, Obama has clearly laid out his views on Islamist regimes: Even if they are motivated by hatred for the West and pathological anti-Semitism, "Well, the fact that you are anti-Semitic or racist doesn't preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn't preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn't preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn't mean that this overrides all of his other considerations." So Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic back in May. In other words, Obama represents an age-old (humanist?) perception that suggests that even dictatorships, fanatic religious establishments and terrorist organizations share the West's rationality. After all, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords once told me, "They too want to live well. They too want to compromise. They too prefer talks to terrorism and war." Yeah.


Dr. Harold Rhode, who studied in Iran in the 1970s, served as an adviser on Islamic affairs in the Pentagon since 1982. At the end of his career, he also served under Obama for a time, during which he submitted a paper titled The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior. His research was rejected, he says. At that time, the White House was going in another direction. Rhode warned that it would be ill advised to engage Iran in negotiations without taking into account the long history and robust culture of Iranian negotiations, whose fundamental principles are drastically different than those customary in the West, and especially in the U.S.

For example, compromise, in the Western sense, is viewed by Iranians as a sign of submission and weakness. Anyone who makes concessions brings shame upon himself and his family. On the other hand, those who compel others to compromise are held in high regard, seen as likely to coerce others to surrender in the future. The Iranians don't view an opponent's weakness as an opportunity to engage adversaries in compromise but rather as an opportunity to destroy them. Therefore, gestures of goodwill are interpreted as weakness and lack of determination.

Rhode went into great detail about the Iranian concept of "ketman." What Iranians really believe, they usually keep to themselves. Instead, they tell those with power what they think their leaders want to hear. This is the concept of ketman, or dissimulation. Iranians do not consider ketman (taqiyyah in Arabic) to be lying. And they have developed it into a fine art, which they view as a positive form of self-protection. In his article, Rhode provides additional examples of the Iranian negotiating style.

We can conclude with one more pertinent observation by Rhode: "Negotiations are opportunities to best others, to demonstrate power, and to defeat opponents. Iranians do not see bargaining as an opportunity to establish win-win situations. Contracts are little more than pieces of paper Iranians will sign, if these papers can advance their interests. Their signatures are not guarantees that they will carry out the terms of the contract."

Will we ever learn?


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