TIME Iran

Why Iran and the U.S. Need Each Other More Than Ever

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna, Nov. 23, 2014.
Ronald Zak—Reuters Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna, Nov. 23, 2014.

Once, each needed the other to be their defining enemy. Now, both sides need the other to help resolve a freshly delayed nuclear deal

Even in the absence of a deal, word that talks between Iran and six world powers will continue for another seven months make plain a startling new reality: Iran and the United States now need each other.

That has been true for three decades, of course, but during that time what each found in the other was a reliable enemy. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the ayatollahs who took control in Iran built their entire world view around opposition to the United States, which had propped up the Shah the masses sent packing (and helped engineer a coup against an elected Iranian government in 1953). The presence of the Great Satan allowed the mullahs’ vision to emerge – of a world defined by the teachings of Islam, as interpreted by themselves alone, and free of “Western toxification.” From the U.S. side, the 444-day takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and holding of 52 American hostages, has made the Islamic Republic the country’s go-to villain for more than a generation.

But grudges aren’t all there is to politics. Interests often trump feelings, and Tehran and Washington share a deep interest in reconciling the future of Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

The stakes for the U.S. are plain enough: Barring Iran from the means to develop a nuclear weapon undetected would not only keep a doomsday weapon from a historically radical regime, but also prevent a nuclear arms race in the world’s most reliably volatile region. And now that U.S. troops are back in Baghdad, and poised to remain in Afghanistan past the original Dec. 31, 2014 deadline, the Obama administration needs a clear foreign policy “win” more than ever.

Iran’s interests are not hard to see either – at least some of them aren’t. It wants to avoid being drawn into conflict, and, more immediately, wants relief from the devastating economic sanctions that Obama marshaled to coerce Tehran to the bargaining table. In an economy 80% controlled directly by the state, the estimated $100 billion lost so far has been a body blow to the regime. Among the losers is the financially rapacious Revolutionary Guard, an ideological military wrapped up with economic interests. Iran’s treasury is also stretched supporting its Hizballah and its ally Syria in that country’s civil war while oil prices plummet.

Iran may be wondering whether it even needs to become a nuclear state. It is coming off a string of battlefield successes, including a little-noticed takeover of Yemen by the Shiite al-Haouthi tribe supported by Tehran, and is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, where it wields huge influence. “We in the axis of resistance are the new sultans of the Mediterranean and the Gulf,” the Iranian analyst Sadiq Al-Hosseini said on state television Sept. 4. At this rate, getting The Bomb might seem like an unnecessary hassle.

At the same time, pressure for a deal only builds among Iran’s youthful population—over 60% of whom are aged 30 or under—and the mullahs fear their own people as any government does. That’s been in evidence since the surprise first-round election of Hassan Rouhani as president last year, on a platform of ending Iran’s international isolation, and could be seen as recently as mid-November, when hundreds of thousands of young people gathered to mourn a pop singer, in a potent reminder of the lasting potential for spontaneous demonstrations and the appetite of youth for connection.

“If that is not a big referendum on the status quo, I don’t know what is,” says Abbas Milani, head of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “Things like this happen on a daily basis, and I think Rouhani has recognized that the society has already moved.”

Other observers see the glass as half empty, or even less. Ray Takeyh, who follows Iran for the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that, unlike previous negotiations, the mullahs have signaled ownership of the process: “This negotiating team is not called ‘the negotiating team,’” he notes. “It’s called ‘children of the Revolution.’’’ But whatever interests the U.S. and Iran may share, he says, are overwhelmed by those they don’t.

“Arms control agreements are based on trust,” Takeyh says. “Each side has to trust the other. When they don’t trust each other, they both demand reversible steps that prevent years-old enmity from evaporating. I think that’s the reason you can’t get an arms control agreement. I think they both want to solve the nuclear issue, but at this point on terms that are unacceptable to each other.”

Still, they are talking, and holding to the terms of their previous agreement for seven more months. That might not be long enough to repair three decades of mistrust — but it might yet be enough to find that elusive patch of common ground on which to build a deal.

Read next: Iran Nuclear Talks to Be Extended Until July

TIME In Progress

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Peter van Agtmael spent the last Gaza war taking pictures on the Israeli side. But when the fighting ended he made the surreal journey across the Erez Crossing from Israel into the Strip, home to some 1.8 million Palestinians. What he encountered changed the way he worked.

“When you’re confronted with that degree of destruction, you can’t shy away from it,” van Agtmael says. “I can’t go looking for my quirky little images in flattened neighborhoods.”

Van Agtmael’s particular gift, on rich display in his book Disco Night Sept 11, assembled from work in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the home front, was in finding the telling image outside the main frame of daily photojournalism. And if that image was often off-balance or a bit odd, it was also immediately recognizable as where life is actually lived, even during wartime.

But a woman camping in the ruins of her home – one of 600 buildings crushed by Israeli bombs in a single neighborhood – did not lend itself to eliding understatement. That will have to come in time. Van Agtmael sees his next book in the region, and aims to spend a substantial amount of time there in the next few years. It has what he looks for in a subject. “I guess the kind of thing I keep coming back with is something kind of complex and contradictory,” he says. “Everything you learn from one picture kind of gets denied by the next picture, and you circle back around with the third.

“The end result is a cohesive mass but a perplexing one as well. In the end, photography isn’t very good at telling narratives, it’s a series of fragments. But to make a polemic, that’s not my interest.”

Van Agtmael, a Washington DC native who studied history at Yale, knows the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has not lacked documentation. But “something clicked into place” during a 2013 assignment for the New York Times Magazine on the West Bank. He spent weeks with Palestinian activists in the village of Nabi Saleh, but also popped across the highway to visit Israelis in Halamish, the Jewish settlement the Palestinians gathered to each Friday. “I’m fascinated by the way those two worlds are incredibly intertwined, and how it easy it is to flip-flop between them, especially if you’re a journalist,” van Agtmael says. “That kind of dissonance attracts me as a photographer.”


Peter van Agtmael is a conflict photographer and member of Magnum.

Karl Vick is a TIME journalist based in New York. He spent four years as TIME’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief.


TIME Iran

Iranian Officials Seem Cautiously Optimistic About the Nuclear Talks

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014.
AP Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014.

Releases in Iran's state-controlled media seem to indicate the country is preparing for a deal at the nuclear talks in Vienna

There’s no shortage of pessimism about whether Iran and six world powers can reach a comprehensive deal on the country’s nuclear program by Nov. 24, the self-imposed deadline. Time is short, and as a senior U.S. official said before leaving for Vienna, where the talks began, “we have some very serious gaps to close.” But those looking for optimism need search no further then Tehran’s official media. Tightly controlled by the regime that is the ultimate authority on any pact, the country’s media may be preparing the Iranian public for an agreement.

While hardliners in Tehran grump about the talks, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has clearly aligned himself with the negotiators—even posting an interview with one of the diplomats, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, on his personal website this week

“Araqchi basically said ‘We’re winning this, we’re not giving in,’” says Abbas Milani, who heads the Iranian studies department at Stanford University. Milani was astonished by the post. Never before had Khamenei’s office made the site a forum for another official, even one understood, as Araqchi is, to be serving as the Leader’s personal representative. It signaled a full embrace of the talks by the man who, as his title makes clear, holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic.

“The headline was that the leader has had oversight of the entire negotiating process,” says Milani. “It’s clear to me this was an attempt to make a claim for victory and dissuade the idea that [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani is doing this on his own and will get all the credit.”

On the same day as that post, the man Khamenei named to lead Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was widely quoted on government outlets as saying that a nuclear deal was consistent with the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which remains the litmus test for all government endeavors.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander, also appeared to prepare the public for elements of a deal that may not look like a win for Iran. “If it appears that there are aspects of this where we’re accepted humiliation, first of all it’s not true — we are winning,” Jafari insisted. “But those perceptions of humiliation are because of the clumsy management and inexperience of some of our negotiators.”

The goal, the commander said, was the removal of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington and other world powers. “God willing, this goal will be reached,” Jafari said.

There was more. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, which is dominated by conservatives, spoke of “our spirit of resistance” taught by Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei as “the reason or our success, and why in spite of all efforts by the enemy they could not stop our progress on the nuclear front.”

“It is possible to have a deal,” Larijani added. “It’s just important for the U.S. not to ask for new conditions.”

Some in Iran complained that new conditions are just what the U.S. has indeed demanded. One hardline member of the parliament, or majlis, claimed to have seen the contents of an eight-page proposal Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly showed Iranian negotiators in Oman the previous week, and compared it to the Treaty of Turkmenchy, the 1828 capitulation to Russia that Iranians consider the epitome of humiliation, losing not only territory in the Caucasus but even the right to navigate on the Caspian Sea, which forms Iran’s northern border.

But to Iran watchers, what’s truly significant is that such grumbling is only background noise in what appears to be a concerted effort by Iran’s top echelon to set the foundation for a deal—if not on Monday, then if the talks are extended, as they may well be. There may be more riding on it than just escape from economically ruinous sanctions. The New York Times on Thursday quoted Amir Mohebbian, a conservative adviser long tied to the Leader’s office, predicting a nuclear deal as a harbinger of a strategic change in Iran’s entire political orientation.

“If there is a deal, and if it is good, the entire system will go along with it,” Mohebbian said in Tehran. “There will be a huge political shift after the deal. It is my conviction that those who make decisions within the system want it to be alive and supported. For survival, we need to change.”

It’s just such a change that President Obama has repeatedly said a nuclear deal might herald, opening the way for Iran to end its pariah status and return to “the community of nations.” So it’s possible Mohebbian is saying no more than what the administration wants to hear. But the expectations of a deal are running high in Iran, and the government appears to be doing much less than it might to discourage them.

TIME Israel

Civilian Casualties Rise as Israel Hammers Gaza From the Air

Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, July 10, 2014.
Khalil Hamra—AP Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, July 10, 2014.

Raising questions of how long air campaign can go on

Updated 7:06 a.m. E.T. on July 11

The death toll among Palestinians scrambling under a relentless Israeli air assault in the Gaza Strip passed 80 Thursday and edged close to 100 Friday, including at least 14 children.

Meanwhile, the barrage of rockets Gaza militants launched toward Israeli cities failed to produce a significant casualty on the third day of Israel’s offensive Thursday. A media report that a missile had critically injured someone in a car in Ashdod, a coastal city near Gaza, was withdrawn by smartphone alert 28 minutes later. An rocket fired from Gaza struck a gas station in southern Israel on Friday, seriously wounding one, as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the latest fighting.

Everything about the latest offensive is moving fast, especially relative to the last round of fighting. That November 2012 air campaign — dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel — lasted eight days. Israel’s current offensive, Operation Protective Edge, has bombed more than half as many targets in Gaza in less than half the time — 860 in three days compared with 1,500 in eight days last time. The Israeli military said it destroyed more buildings in the first 36 hours of the current campaign than in all of Pillar of Defense. More people are dying too: the 80 fatalities reported so far is, once again, more than half the reported death toll from the longer bombing two years earlier.

All of it raised the question of how long the Israeli bombardment can go on.

Israel’s wars have a half-life, a variable that slides with circumstances and unscheduled events, but which is decided, to a significant degree, by how the world views the fight. So long as it sees a democracy defending its people against terrorism, Israel enjoys considerable leeway. And that’s how most of the Gaza wars start out: Gaza, a coastal enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians patrolled on three sides by Israeli forces, which also parcels out its electricity, water and food, is a hotbox for militants. Those militants want to hit Israel any way they can, and the way that works best is missiles. More than 500 rockets have roared out of Gaza since Tuesday. Each triggers a siren somewhere in Israel, and often sympathy from some parts of the world moved by photographs of panicked mothers scrambling to shelter their children.

That is the imperative Israeli officials cite at the start of the campaign. “This operation started because in spite of our efforts to get Hamas to give up launching rockets against innocent civilians in the lower half of Israel, Hamas ignored our message and decided to escalate the situation,” Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said in a conference call Thursday. “We have to make sure that we end this confrontation with a clear result, that Hamas stops the launching of rockets and terrorist attacks on Israel, and that it has no appetite to resume this kind of activities in the future. That is the goal of this operation.”

But the operation is a brutal one — 1,000 targets means 1,000 deafening explosions, bowel-shattering concussions in one of the most crowded urban centers on the globe — and there comes a point when the world’s perspective shifts. Israel tries to delay this shift as long as possible. Compared with any other military, its armed forces take exceptional care to avoid civilian casualties. If a house is going to be bombed, a call is placed to it announcing this fact, and explicitly warning civilians to get out. A pilot might also drop a “door-knocker” on the roof — a nonlethal sound bomb also intended to announce an impending attack. The real bomb that’s then loosed on the target is often a munition, sometimes quite small, specifically selected to contain damage to the target and spare the neighbors.

But even surgical strikes involve a great deal of blood, and mistakes are inevitable. Israeli officials chose to declare an end to the 2012 offensive two days after eight members of the Dalou family, including four children, were killed by an Israeli bomb. The day’s total civilian death toll of 31 was more than the four previous days’ combined. Israeli officials insisted they won that war, but the World Press Photo of the Year was of Palestinians carrying dead children.

So it was that the U.N. Security Council convened in an emergency session on Thursday, at the request of the Palestine Liberation Organization. PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Palestinian Authority that nominally governs Gaza, had labeled Israel’s campaign “genocide.” The hope is to activate international public opinion on the side of the dead. “Absolutely,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a PLO spokesman. “If [Israelis] don’t stop, we have an experience [in] 2012, we have an experience [in] 2009, in 2006, of what kind of things can happen.”

But in his remarks Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put equal emphasis on the missiles coming out of Gaza, and Israeli officials said they expected to prevent an admonitory resolution from the full council.

“This is not a classic Arab-Israeli conflict, where it goes on for a couple of weeks and then the great powers intervene,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli U.N. ambassador who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Hamas, he noted, is not only listed by Europe and Washington as a terrorist organization, it also lacks backing in the Arab world, which is preoccupied with sectarian divisions and leery of its Muslim Brotherhood roots. Its political weakness moved the militant group to make the concessions required to complete a long-promised unity government with the secular Fatah faction led by Abbas, but the deal has failed to produce any evidence at all that “bringing Hamas in to the tent” would moderate its behavior. “They’re not acting like a terror group on its way to governing,” Gold said. “They’re behaving in the worst possible way.”

The U.S., which has been urging restraint in the conflict and brokered a cease-fire in 2012, has not called on Israel to halt air strikes in Gaza and refrained from doing so again during a phone call Thursday between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The President reiterated the United States’ strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” the White House said in a statement describing the call. “The President expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm. The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.”

Indeed, Israel’s military says Hamas is promoting civilian deaths in Gaza, not only by operating from private homes but through posters and slogans actually urging people to cluster around targets as human shields. In one instance Tuesday, by numerous accounts local residents ran toward a building that had just received a phoned warning it was about to be bombed, apparently counting on their presence to protect. And it might have worked: an Israeli military spokesman said an effort was made to divert the incoming missile, but it was too late.

“It is a tragedy indeed,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters Thursday, “and not what we intended.”

— Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME Israel

Israel Calls Up Reservists as Arrest of Suspects in Killing Fails to Calm Unrest

Israel says it hopes for calm even as it floats a military escalation

Israel called up 40,000 reservists to bolster its threat of a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, even as it said it hoped its quick move to arrest the Jewish extremists charged in an apparent revenge killing would lower the temperature. But the arrests appeared to do little to quiet the protests that have engulfed Israel and the West Bank in the week since the murder of a Palestinian boy.

“We worked immediately to find the perpetrators,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the boy’s father in a phone call on Monday. “They will be tried and brought to justice.”

Still, uncertainty reigned Tuesday, a week after the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir—said to be crime of vengeance for the murder of Jewish Israeli teens buried just hours earlier. One clear reason is “Operation Protective Edge,” the offensive Israel launched Monday night in the Gaza Strip and threatened Tuesday to escalate to a ground war by calling up the reservists.

And aside from military movement, another dynamic may be fueling the unrest, one that makes the Abu Khdeir case exceptional for more than its brutality: Experience has led Palestinians to believe they rarely get justice when their attacker is Israeli. The arrest of six Jewish Israelis in the Abu Khdeir case is, according to human rights activists and frustrated Palestinians, the exception that proves the rule.

“Our database shows you when an Israeli commits an offense against a Palestinian, it will almost never be prosecuted,” said Reut Mor, a spokesperson for the Israeli human rights and legal defense group Yesh Din. Between 2005 and 2013 only one in a dozen investigations of crimes committed by Jewish Israelis against Palestinians ended in indictment, the database shows: 84% of cases were closed without action.

The figures were gathered on the occupied West Bank, where militant Jewish settlers have for years been engaging in the kind of attacks that in the last week have spread throughout Israel—beatings, stonings, vandalism and confrontations designed to intimidate. But Israelis themselves make scant distinction between Jews living on the West Bank and within Israel proper, either in terms of citizenship or in the collective soul-searching the Abu Khdeir death has prompted in the Israeli media.

Polls show Israelis have grown not only more conservative, but also steadily less tolerant of Palestinians in their midst. At the same time, some commentators say the actions of Jewish extremists have now stained the entire society. “For too long we persuaded ourselves that if we only let the people who incite and vilify blow off steam, they would make do with words and not move into the realm of action,” the conservative columnist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote Monday in the daily Ma’ariv. Said editor David Horovitz in his Times of Israel news website: “We need to face up to the fact that our ongoing rule over the Palestinians, apart from endangering Israel as a Jewish democracy, is corroding us, blackening our hearts.”

Incidents have grown both in number and violence in recent days. On Saturday night in the West Bank village of Osarin, south of Nablus, Tariq Adeli, 22, was grabbed from behind and a cloth with some kind of knockout drug held against his face as he waited in the street. “I felt as if I had been thrown up in the air,” he later told his roommate in the Nablus hospital where doctors set the bone in a leg nearly sheared off by his assailants. They had pulled him into their car, clubbed him with something like a hatchet, and thrown him into the ditch below a road leading to a nearby settlement, he said.

The assailants were believed to be settlers who had been scouting the village on scooters and four-wheelers in recent days. “All I was going to do was watch the soccer match,” Adeli told TIME. “I am not involved politically what so ever. What have I done to these settlers to deserve having them gang up on me and cut my leg off, or is it just because I am a Palestinian?”

Israeli officials say they’re hoping for calm, banking heavily on the arrest of the Abu Kdeir suspects even as they eye a military escalation. “We captured them so quickly, and hope it calms down quickly,” said Amos Gilad, a senior official in the Ministry of Defense. He made the remarks during a news briefing on the Gaza offensive, which he said would gradually escalate until Hamas stopped firing rockets. The West Bank, he said, was a different situation entirely, or would be before long. “We are not only using power,” Gilad said, “we are using respect toward the Palestinians.”

A flurry of other attacks were also reported on the West Bank. A Palestinian priest’s car was stoned by settlers north of Ramallah. A farm was set alight south of Nablus last Wednesday, the words “blood vengeance” spray-painted on a wall. Over the weekend, settlers swarmed out of their guarded compounds toward Nabi Saleh, Deir Nidam and even Ramallah. In the village of Ein Abous south of Nablus early Monday, residents saw settlers from the notoriously militant Yitzhar settlement coming down the hill and called Palestinian authorities, who alerted the Israeli military. An Israeli patrol promptly appeared—something advocates called highly unusual.

“Usually, when settlers gather and throw stones, the military stand by and watches, and when the villagers throw stones back, the soldiers respond by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the Palestinians,” said Mor, the Yesh Din spokesperson. “This is the usual dance.”

But the situation has grown so combustible in the last two weeks—570 Palestinians were injured in the first seven days of July, according to United Nations figures—that the Israeli army has taken the extraordinary step of stationing troops at the entrance to the most notorious settlements. Most are located around Nablus in the northern West Bank, although a Palestinian was beaten in the hills south of Hebron, where militant settlers routinely throw stones at Palestinian on their way to school. “They’re so worried, they are finally getting involved when settlers attack,” More said of the Israeli military.

Violent encounters also continue inside Israel. Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem were attacked by a crowd of 50 on Saturday night. Occupants of a car opened fire on Palestinians in East Jerusalem on Monday night. And an NPR reporter and his Palestinian interpreter were stoned by Jewish settlers in Jerusalem’s Old City neighborhood, where police downplayed the significance of the attack.

The situation could well deteriorate as the death toll climbs in Gaza, and protests erupt in solidarity with the “martyrs.” That’s how young Samer Msaeh ended up in the bed next to Tariq with a bullet in his left leg—shot by an Israeli soldier while protesting the deaths of two other Palestinians.

“If it explodes somewhere, it explodes everywhere, even in ’48,” said his father Ryad Msaeh, referring to Israel proper. “In the end they’re all Palestinians, even if they’re inside the Green Line.”

 

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