Expert at Iran ‘simulation’ event says regime will never accept world’s nuke demands

Bar-Ilan U. panel discusses consequences of possible dramatic deal, decides Iran would break it, then backtracks and concludes ayatollahs would not sign anyway

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The panel from left to right: Eytan Gilboa, Miri Eisin, Yaakov Ahimeir, Yehuda Lancry and Meir Litvak (photo credit: Hans Engelman)
The panel from left to right: Eytan Gilboa, Miri Eisin, Yaakov Ahimeir, Yehuda Lancry and Meir Litvak (photo credit: Hans Engelman)

The Iranian regime will never consent to the kind of demands to constrain its nuclear program that the international community is making, an expert at an Iran crisis “simulation” event said on Monday evening.

Meir Litvak, director of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, was speaking during a simulation/panel discussion at Bar-Ilan University about a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The event was billed as a “live simulation” of an Israeli attack on Iran. But  it turned out to be more of a debate about what might happen if a deal was struck this week that would have Tehran pledge to limit enrichment to 3.5 percent, export already enriched material, close down the Fordow nuclear facility, and allow inspectors into the country — the kind of demands that the international community has been putting forward. (Israel is demanding an end to all enrichment of uranium on Iranian soil.)

The “simulation” ended with Iran breaking the agreement in October 2012, the international community demanding renewed sanctions, and Israel saying “I told you so” and reiterating its right to launch a preemptive strike. However, Litvak said the entire scenario was unrealistic since Iran would never agree such a deal in the first place.

Litvak said the regime would not allow itself to “lose face” in the way that such a climb down would necessitate. “It can’t tolerate such a blow to its authority. That would undermine its very survival,” he said. “It would be an attack on the regime’s dignity.”

Speaking at the same event, former intelligence officer Col. (Res). Miri Eisin said Israel needs to recognize that its good-versus-evil narrative regarding Iran’s nuclear program creates a “cognitive dissonance” in much of the international community, as Israel is not necessarily considered the “good guys.”

“In terms of public diplomacy, Israel makes its case very clearly — it’s black versus white,” said Eisin, who worked as international media adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office under Ehud Olmert. “It’s very clear — we are the good guys and we’re up against the bad guys. But in international diplomacy we aren’t seen as the guardian angel who comes to rescue the world. That’s just not the image the world has of us.”

Israel, like much of the Western world, suspects Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies. But while the West for now is counting on sanctions to force the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Jerusalem has been adamant about threatening military action if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

Iran’s goals are clear,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, ahead of international talks later this week. “It wants to annihilate Israel and is developing nuclear weapons to realize this goal. Iran threatens Israel, peace and the entire world. Against this malicious intention, the world’s leading countries must show determination, not weakness.”

Eisin, who served as deputy head of the combat intelligence corps and  has been speaking in recent years on Israel’s response in the international media, said Israel’s position — most vocally expressed by Netanyahu but echoed by senior cabinet members — depends on the international community buying into the idea that Israel is right and Iran is wrong. But that’s just not the case, she argued.

Eisin warned that Israel needs to be aware that this black-and-white thinking was not accepted by much of the world. “This image we paint of ourselves creates some sort of cognitive dissonance in the majority of the international community,” she said, adding that the majority of world governments see Israel as a troublemaker. “In my view, this is the challenge of Israel’s public diplomacy today: How do you sell something the world doesn’t buy?”

A recent BBC survey seems to support her thesis, ranking Israel third in a list of countries that negatively influence the world, trailing only Iran and Pakistan.

Eisin also implicitly criticized Netanyahu for making the Holocaust a centerpiece of his Iran rhetoric. “To us in Israel it’s totally given, it’s entirely understandable, it’s a black-and-white issue. But that’s not the case in the world. This subject is more complicated in the world of international diplomacy.”

One of Israel’s great challenges is to “bridge the enormous gap” between the centrality of the Holocaust theme in Israel, which is still an inseparable part of the educational system, and how the other 192 member states of the UN see the issue, she said.

Well aware that even some Israelis criticize him for evoking the Shoah when discussing the Iranian issue, Netanyahu insists that Tehran poses a comparable existential threat. “Those who dismiss the Iranian threat as a whim or an exaggeration have learnt nothing from the Holocaust,” he said on Holocaust Remembrance Day last month.

The Bar-Ilan University event marked the launch of the university’s Academic Public Diplomacy Program, a new advocacy initiative within the university’s School of Communication. The program seeks to prepare faculty members going on sabbaticals abroad to represent Israel’s position on foreign campuses. The program will train “academic envoys” to campuses all over the Western world, seeking to fight delegitimization and anti-Israel bias.marked the launching of a new public diplomacy program.

“The idea is that you can’t really separate policy from public diplomacy,” Eytan Gilboa, the program’s director, said in explaining the connection between the new program and the evening’s Iran war simulation.

Along with Eisen, Litvak, and communications scholar Gilboa, the other panelists were senior journalist and 2012 Israel Prize Winner Yaakov Ahimeir, and former Israeli ambassador to France and the UN Yehuda Lancry.

In one of the lighter moments of the evening, Lancry recalled a recent meeting with a group of Zionist Christians in France. “They said, ‘Let’s do what they did in the days of Esther [of the Purim story], and declare a fast of all the Jews in the world for three days. And we Christians, the millions of us who love you in America and Europe, we will fast with you.’ Let’s do it, we will change the face of the earth,” Lancry said laughingly.

Last month, the Makor Rishon newspaper conducted a war game in Jerusalem that actually simulated an Israeli attack on Iran. In the newspaper’s scenario, Israel attacked several Iranian nuclear sites on October 16, losing 10 jets but succeeding in setting the regime’s nuclear program back seven years. Iran reacted by sending troops to the Iraqi border and by asking Hezbollah to launch rockets into Israel. Unhappy about the timing of the attack — before the elections — US President Barack Obama refused to intervene on Israel’s behalf but also refrained from taking any harsh steps against Israel.

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