Sunday, March 22, 2015

22-Mar-15: Secretary Kerry, does making nice to the Iranians bring us closer to curbing terror?

Kerry and Iranian negotiators ("on the sidelines of a larger negotiating
session") at the UN, September 2013 [Image Source]
Dear Secretary Kerry,

This is not the first time we are writing to you. We don't really expect a reply this time either. If we take into account personal letters hand-delivered to your office, emails, Tweets and blog posts, we have gone through quite a number of failed attempts to get your attention on a matter that, at least to us and a handful of our friends, has a distinctly non-trivial nature.

This latest try comes after a volley of messages you and your staff initiated this weekend even while you are caught up in the super-sensitive matter of negotiating with the Iranian regime over their race to get a nuclear arsenal.

We don't envy you the pressure under which you are operating. The Iranians are a handful. The stakes could hardly be higher as we in Israel - living in their crosshairs and under a constant barrage of blood-curdling threats of our impending extinction - are only too aware.

Reuters reports this morning that the Iranian regime's Supreme Leader, Khamenei, whom it accurately calls the person who has "the last word on all matters of state", spoke publicly yesterday in ways that don't sound especially respectful or peace-like. In a harangue addressed to Iranians but probably aimed at you and the Obama administration, he squeezed in enough offensive war-like ideas to test even the coolest of diplomats.
Khamanei said his side would not be "pressured into giving in to Western demands", and do not accept "imposition and bullying from America". Reuters quotes him using the actual words "Death to America" (in his native tongue, natutrally). From where we sit, that sounds like a prediction, perhaps a threat, and not mere empty rhetoric. He said the US knows that the Iranians "are not pursuing nuclear weapons. But they just use that as an excuse to pressure the Iranian people." The US' aim is to "foment instability in the Middle East", which is an extraordinary thing to say when you take into account how many jihadist organizations owe their equipment, ideology, funding and existence to the man making those charges. Then in a surreal touch, he called Western countries "arrogant". That's because of their role in slashing world oil prices in half - an economic consequence that is evidently making his job more complicated than it was when free cash was gushing out of the Iranian dirt. [All italicized quotes are taken verbatim from the Reuters report.]
The Reuters editors wrap this up by mentioning Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president. Stepping around the vitriol of his boss, Rouhani calmly says there is "nothing that cannot be resolved". For some, that will have lightened the mood. He's not called "moderate" in the world's news media for nothing.

We don't actually see much that's moderate about Rouhani. We said why in a short post here two days ago ["20-Mar-15: This is how it looks when an Islamist state turns moderate"]. The depths of his disdain for the West are there for all to see, along with the things he has learned about dealing with Western governments. One of our posts from a month ago, "16-Feb-15: The duping and the dupees", looks at how fooling other people is something Rouhani claims proudly as a talent.

Why trouble you with all this now? Because of the bizarre steps your staff appear to have taken to convey some warm-ish sentiments ("deepest condolences") on behalf of the government and all Americans to Rouhani the "moderate". His mother passed away at the age of 90 a day or two ago. Anyone who has or had a mother understands the loss.

Here's what happened next (hat-tip to Aussie Dave):

The persistent reporter ("Are you sending flowers as well? What do you hope to achieve...?") in the video is, as you probably know, the Associated Press staffer who covers the US State Department. The answers he gets from your spokesperson fall short of the quality of the questions he asks.

State Dept tweet [Source]
This rings bells with us because we and your State Department spokespeople have some history. It happens to be over terror and semantics. We wrote about it several times here on our blog. Click here for a summary. 

The abbreviated version starts with what we posted (hereon August 14, 2013: 
A persistent reporter tackled the State Department's deputy spokesperson Marie Harf... on whether the murderers being bused tonight into the waiting arms of the two Palestinian Arab regimes are (a) freedom fighters or (b) terrorists.
For most people, that's probably easy to answer. But it turns out that for the US government and its diplomatic service. it's not. After the reporter asked, a strange exchange followed. This account comes from Washington Free Beacon and from this video clip:
Persistent reporter: Do you have any thoughts or position on whether these people who are going to be released [today] are political prisoners or are they terrorists? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie HarfI do not have a position on that. 
Persistent reporter: Do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as political prisoners? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie HarfI don’t have a position on that... 
Persistent reporter: ...Most of these people [in fact all of them - TOW] have been convicted of murder, of killing people. And the Israelis are very clear on the fact that they think that these people are terrorists, even though they’re releasing them. The Palestinians say that they are political prisoners and... have instructed their ambassadors, all their representatives around the world to refer to them as freedom fighters, political prisoners. And I want to know, if you don’t have a position... if there isn’t anything that you call them, do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as freedom fighters? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: The answer is, I don’t know and I will endeavor to get an answer for you on that as well. 
(As you might have guessed, the persistent reporter in the August 2013 exchange is the same one who challenged your spokesperson yesterday.)

We said then and we still believe that something seriously wrong is going on here. Marie Harf, the State Department's spokesperson, was being asked to react in your name to the release of Palestinian Arab terrorists. All of them had been convicted of murder, and all had spent years in Israeli prison cells. She was being asked to react to a letter sent to you personally by a group of Israeli families whose children had been murdered by those and other Palestinian Arab terrorists. We happen to be among those families. We helped draft and send the letter. 

That 2013 letter expressed a sense of astonishment that the United States was pressuring Israel to free homicidal convicts, not one of whom had served out the prison term to which he has been sentenced. All of them were certain to be received as triumphant heroes, congratulated for their crimes, by the Palestinian Authority's leadership and that seemed, to us, to be a massive step backwards on the road to peace. (And that of course is precisely what happened.) 

So this was about facing up to terror - recognizing it when you see it, and understanding the price of turning a blind eye to it. As bereaved families, we were not asking for condolences or sympathy from anyone. We were angry, felt a tremendous injustice was being done, wanted your assurance that you and your people actually know what terrorism is, even while you were agitating for undeserved freedom for its perpetrators. 

What we did not expect was that, many months later, Marie Harf, your mouthpiece, would still not have managed to get back to anyone on those questions posed by AP and us. An online article at the time, referring to us by name, explained how: 
Roth signed a letter sent Tuesday to Kerry asking him for a meeting. “Meet with us,” wrote Roth and 16 other family members of victims. “Let us explain why being complicit in turning the killers of our children into heroes and ‘freedom fighters’ must not be part of any policy befitting a great nation and moral exemplar like the United States...” Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told The Daily Beast, “We’ve received the letter today, and we’re reviewing it.” [Eli Lake, writing in The Daily Beast, August 14, 2013]
We know the August 13, 2013 letter we and our friends wrote did reach you. Marie Harf says so explicitly. It was a painful letter with a serious intent and it raised meaningful issues that are at least as relevant now, after the convicted killers were greeted as heroes back in their villages (guaranteeing more acts of terror), as they were then. Even more so, given that Iran's dedication to terrorism seems central to why we worry about their nuclear plans.

But as we noted, you and your team are still "reviewing" our letter. We followed-up numerous times. But no one from State has ever addressed what we raised. Or gotten back to us. Or even acknowledged what we said.

It's possible we over-estimated how seriously you and your staff relate to letters from bereaved Israeli victims of terror. If so, we want to respectfully remind you that those killings were in many cases directly linked to Iran and the violent extremism done by it and its clients - chief among them Hamas and Hezbollah. We will also mention that those murdered children (our daughter, for instance) included US citizens.

Now that Rouhani, coping with the grief brought on by his own mother's passing, has gotten the full benevolent attention of the US State Department in all its well-resourced splendor, it seems timely to point out again that being right or not right on terrorism has vast consequences. And dealing with the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions is about terrorism in the same way that the freeing of those Palestinian Arab killers of innocent Jews you told the government of Israel to do was about terrorism.

With tough negotiating opponents and an impending deadline, we're sure you and your team are under pressure. But having now seen the serious attention paid by State to the "moderate" Iranian in his moment of personal sadness, can we remind you that we are moderates too? Unlike the Iranians, we surely don't have "Death to America" on our lips. In fact, we don't know anyone more fervent about wishing you and your State and White House colleagues the greatest possible success in the Iran talks and in general than we are. Your success will mean everyone wins.

To us, terrorism is at the heart of those talks. Even when it's absurdly called violent extremism (the new preferred Washington euphemism), terrorism turns people's lives upside down in ways that are poorly understood outside the circle of those directly affected. It undermines basic notions of justice, embitters societies and has a painful impact on every aspect of the lives it hits. And it's hard to make the case that the civilized world is winning against it. For instance
  • The UN has never been able to agree on an international convention against terrorism because getting agreement on a definition of terror appears to be impossible. Astute observers say it never will get past this obstacle. The reasons don't need to trouble us here and now - you know them at least as well as we do. 
  • The US State Department, as we have just pointed out, squirms and twists rather than call convicted terrorists by that name. People notice this - people with a vested interest in past and future terrorism.
  • Being vague on terrorism complicates and (we say) undermines negotiations with the world's most active promoter of terror. The former head of the CIA, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said this week in a Washington Post interview that ISIS is not the biggest threat facing the United States in Iraq. Instead, it's "the Iranian-backed Shiite militias". If you reach an understanding with them in Switzerland on a nuclear deal, will that go away?
We still (barely) have hopes that Marie Harf will get your instructions to respond unambiguously to AP's Matt Lee and to us bereaved families. We are patient. But we are also puzzled. It's hard not to observe the sharp contrast between the way we, terror victims, are treated publicly by State and how you deal publicly with the Iranian arch-terrorists. And even if you remain too busy to get your spokesperson to call terrorism by its name, we're hoping you let the Iranians know the US absolutely knows what it is and who is doing it, and holds them fully accountable for it.

Frimet and Arnold Roth

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very powerful piece. There are many of us who are also puzzled by this. You are not alone.