Is Rouhani Gorbachev? [UPDATED]

Subtract the beard and glasses (and turban), add a birthmark in the shape of the Malay Peninsula.

Whaddya think?

Thanks to firm and resolute measures by Western democracies, a fierce and aggressive dictatorship has been brought to the edge of bankruptcy and collapse. Suddenly a new leader arises. He looks different from his predecessors: warmer, more human. He speaks and acts differently.

And, sure enough, he elicits warmth in Western capitals, especially Washington. We mustn’t forfeit this opportunity, politicians and pundits declare. We must help this promising leader to achieve for his country—and for the sake of world peace—the difficult transition from confrontation to cooperation. The path he travels is perilous; he is surrounded at home by figures who want him to fail. If he seems unprepared to meet our demands today, we must meet him more than halfway so he can meet them tomorrow. We must not let the promise of this moment slip from our fingers.

Such are the voices giving the benefit of the doubt to Hasan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, and branding those less trustful of the regime’s intentions as shortsighted enemies of peace. They remind me of the voices I heard—that we all heard—in the first years of Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure in the 1980s as the new leader of the ailing Soviet Union.

That’s Natan Sharansky (Anatoly as was), who’s seen this act before. He wasn’t buying then, and he’s not buying now:

Sure enough, these moves—instituted not to reform the communist system, but to rescue it from collapse—were met with near-ecstatic cheers from Western pundits and politicians, followed by calls for reciprocal “confidence-building” measures: most prominently, the cancellation of economic sanctions and an immediate halt to missile-defense programs like the Strategic Defense Initiative. Anyone urging a contrary policy was branded a warmonger.

Fortunately, one of those alleged warmongers was Ronald Reagan, who along with knowledgeable and tough-minded senators like Henry Jackson (who died in 1983), had long understood that lifting sanctions without any concrete evidence of Soviet reform was precisely the wrong way to proceed. Under the policy known as linkage, famously embodied in the so-called Jackson Amendment of 1974, the U.S. government tied economic concessions to real, verifiable reforms.

There were other alleged warmongers. In 1987, I and others in the movement for Soviet Jewry were planning a massive demonstration in Washington timed to coincide with Mr. Gorbachev’s first visit to this country. We were warned not to go ahead. Mr. Gorbachev had become popular in the United States—admired not least for having released the Nobel physicist Andrei Sakharov from exile and some “Prisoners of Zion,” myself included, from imprisonment. Mounting a huge demonstration against him would surely be deemed in poor taste by Americans and received by Mr. Gorbachev and his people as an insult.

Yet far from considering the demonstration an irritant, those welcoming it included the American president, who two months beforehand had assured me of his tacit approval, and Vice President George H.W. Bush, a featured speaker at the event itself. It gave President Reagan an opening: You see, he could explain to Mr. Gorbachev, my people will not allow me to ask anything less from you than to open the iron gates.

Nor did many Soviet citizens perceive the rally as an insult. To the contrary, it gave heart to tens of millions. While Western elites regarded Mr. Gorbachev as a reformer, many in his country knew he was already working to retard or reverse the reforms he himself had initiated.

The U.S., to its eternal credit, held firm. The Americans were not ready to accept a bad ballistic-missile deal like the one proposed by Mr. Gorbachev in Reykjavik. They were not ready to cancel the sanctions. And they continued to support public pressure. Four years later, the evil Soviet empire collapsed without a shot having been fired.

Mr. Sharansky is chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the author of “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror”.

Think Obama’s read it? Doubtful, as Bill Ayers didn’t write it.

Israel’s trying to get their message across:

Amid Netanyahu’s repeated warnings that Israel will not be bound by a “bad” agreement with Iran, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said Sunday that Israel has the ability to strike Iran, and is willing to do so alone.

Amidror, in a Financial Times interview obviously timed and placed to send a message to the world, said Israel could halt Iran’s nuclear capability “for a very long time,” and that the air force has conducted “very long-range flights… all around the world” in preparation.

“We are not the United States of America, of course, and believe it or not they have more capabilities than us,” Amidror said. “But we have enough to stop the Iranians for a very long time.

“We are not bluffing,” he said. “We are very serious – preparing ourselves for the possibility that Israel will have to defend itself by itself.”

Amidror said Israel could not, nor would it want to, “count on others to do the job if the others don’t want to do the job.”

Though others are more than willing to help:

The Mossad is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a potential attack on Iran in the event that Tehran’s nuclear program is not sufficiently curbed in the deal that may be concluded between Iran and world powers in Geneva this week, The Sunday Times reported.

Both Jerusalem and Riyadh have expressed displeasure at the deal being formulated between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers that they see as doing little to stop Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon.

According to the Times, Riyadh has already given its consent for Israel to use Saudi airspace for a potential attack on Iran.

The paper quoted a diplomatic source as saying the Saudis were willing to assist an Israeli attack by cooperating on the use of drones, rescue helicopters and tanker planes.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, what do survival politics make? Existential politics? Perhaps the only benefit of Obama leading with his behind is that Israel has been forced to find more reliable soulmates… like Saudi Arabia.

UPDATE
Speaking of strange bedfellows:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, today (Sunday, 17 November 2013), accompanied French President Francois Hollande and his partner Valerie Trierweiler on their visit to Yad Vashem. At their later press conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu told President Hollande:

“We just came back from Yad Vashem. I’m always moved when I’m there.

We understand exactly when somebody says that they’re out to destroy you, we’ve learned in our Jewish history to take them seriously. And I think from humanity’s point of view, there should be another lesson. When somebody starts by attacking the Jews, they generally don’t end there, and the fire soon catches and burns many lands.

Now in Yad Vashem, I was moved by the fact that you were so visibly moved, and you said, when you came out, you said that the experience of the Holocaust places a very special responsibility on all of us. François, I want to tell you the burden it places on me, as the Prime Minister of Israel. It is my duty to prevent anyone from credibly threatening or executing another holocaust against the Jewish people. This is my obligation, but I also believe it’s our common obligation for the sake of mankind, for the sake of our common future.”

And John Neville Kerry says “don’t listen to Israel on this”.

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