Most observers have become wearied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s frequently voiced demands that Iran must be attacked because it is a threat to the entire world. The reality is otherwise, that Iran’s theocratic government’s security apparatus oppresses mostly its own people and its military lacks the capabilities that would enable it to threaten either Israel or the United States. Israel’s government knows that perfectly well and has even conceded that Iran currently has no nuclear weapons program, a viewpoint shared by America’s CIA. It also knows that any attempt by its air force and navy to attack Iran would be fraught with peril, quite likely leading to a regional war in which Israel would sustain considerable damage even if it would ultimately prevail due to its superior armaments provided by the United States.
So if Iran is no threat and Israel is incapable of staging a successful attack using its own resources, why is there a constant drumbeat from Netanyahu? One might suggest that Israel has been all along intending to let Washington do the fighting and dying for it by creating a sense of urgency over what Iran’s intentions and capabilities might actually be. Useful idiots in Congress, most recently Senators Kirk and Menendez, continue to push through resolutions demanding more and harsher sanctions against Iran. This demonization effort has been successful in that it has placed the US Congress firmly on the side of wrecking the Iranian economy as a means to eliminate Tehran’s nuclear program while prominent media spokesmen have been voicing much the same sentiment. Mitt Romney also drank the Kool aid, pledging to stop Iranian “capability” to create a nuclear weapon, something that it already has, before demonstrating that he did not even know where Iran was located. Because of the misinformation that circulates freely, opinion polls suggest that most Americans believe that Iran already has a nuclear weapon and constitutes a threat, though few would want a new war in the Middle East to deal with it.
But against the flood of propaganda the Pentagon and intelligence community to include former CIA and Defense Chief Robert Gates have been standing firm, stating unequivocally that a war with Iran would be a major mistake, almost certainly eclipsing the catastrophic Iraq misadventure in terms of its negative impact. The White House has muted the message, but it too has come down in favor of endless and pointless negotiations rather than initiating yet another armed conflict. So what does Israel think there is to gain?
And then there is also the Syria situation. Though many thoughtful Israelis initially opposed the European and American cheerleading for regime change in Damascus neoconservatives in the US have been gunning for Syria for a long time, starting with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supported Syrian Accountability Act of 2003. The demand that the Syrian government step down on humanitarian grounds, being supported by Republican and Democrat alike, ignores the likelihood that the situation might easily turn sour, as it did in Libya, producing a powerless government struggling to manage a gaggle of warring factions. Some of those factions would be keen to settle scores with Israel while others would be affiliated with al-Qaeda, which hitherto had no presence in Syria. Recently the Israeli government has followed the neocon lead, jumping on the bandwagon and demanding that Bashar al-Assad should go.
Regarding Syria in particular, one does not have to look very hard to identify the players and note that the new game is very much like the old one that has been insistently promoted since 9/11 by the American Enterprise Institute, The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, The Hudson Institute, The Brookings Institution, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Project for the New American Century, and, of course, AIPAC. The very first new “foreign policy” group to surface from the ashes of the Romney candidacy is The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). Its board of directors consists of William Kristol, Dan Senor, Eric Edelman, and Robert Kagan, none of whom has ever encountered a war against Muslims that they could not fully embrace even though none of them has ever worn a US military uniform. The expression “chickenhawk” has gone somewhat out of fashion, but it about sums it up. Senor, who was press spokesman for the disastrous Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, also served as Mitt Romney’s principle adviser on the Middle East.
The FPI team is sponsoring a conference in Washington on Nov. 27 on the completely improbable if not ridiculous theme “The Price of Greatness: the Next Four Years of US Foreign Policy.” Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl are featured participants while France’s most assiduously self-promoting “public intellectual” Bernard-Henri Levy is one of the speakers on the subject of “The Consequences of Inaction in Syria.” Levy was, one recalls, a major cheerleader for intervention in Libya and he led the charge to defend director Roman Polanski, who drugged, raped and sodomized a thirteen year old girl in Los Angeles before fleeing to Switzerland, so he would appear to be well qualified to speak in front of a group founded by Bill Kristol. If one goes to the group’s website, a featured headline is “Now is the time for a safe zone in Syria.” So Syria is now in the cross hairs, together with perennial favorite Iran. But what do the Israelis and their friends intend to accomplish?
I would argue that much of what the American public is seeing and hearing about Iran and Syria is a red herring. If the media is focused on developments in Syria and Iran it will be excusable not to pay any attention to what Israel is doing in its own backyard in what remains of Palestine. And Israel is most definitely up to its usual tricks on the West Bank. Benjamin Netanyahu has recently announced the building of 1,200 more housing units for Jews only in occupied East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. If the Palestinians seek permanent observer member-state status in the United Nations at the end of this month, there have been suggestions that Israel will retaliate by building even more new settlements. The Israeli media is reporting a senior government official’s assertion that “If the Palestinians go to the UN, we won’t continue to show the restraint that we’ve demonstrated in terms of settlement construction.”
Restraint? Benjamin Netanyahu has no desire to see any viable Palestinian state and he has exploited the United States as an enabler in his commission of war crimes to stall any progress in that direction. When Israel was created it managed to seize control of 78% of the historic Palestine leaving only 22% to the Palestinian inhabitants. That 22% has now been reduced to less than 10% remaining on the West Bank plus Gaza. Israel is intent on colonizing the more desirable parts of the West Bank, crowding the remaining Palestinians into a cluster of Bantustans that will be “self-governing” though without any of the attributes of sovereignty. The Arabs will not control their own water resources and airspace, will be hemmed in by Jews-only highways that they cannot use and military zones that they cannot enter, and will be prey to arbitrary action by the Israeli army to “protect” settlers and maintain security.
The Israelis appropriate Palestinian land as the wish to create new settlements and the rampaging settlers themselves destroy Palestinian farms and businesses so that the people will have no livelihood and will be forced to leave. All of the Israeli action is, of course, illegal in addition to being unconscionable as the Geneva Conventions consider it a war crime to seize and colonize land that has been occupied by military action. Israeli settlers on the West Bank have increased from 200,000 in 2000 and now number more than 350,000. They continue to increase, with settlements constituting 42% of the West Bank. If one adds in the 300,000 Jews living in Arab East Jerusalem and in the adjacent areas that have been illegally annexed to Israel proper, the total becomes 650,000 for Israeli Jews living in territories that were occupied in 1968. And there should be no confusion about the ultimate intentions of the Israeli government, which has secretly doubled its budget for settlement expansion. Hardliner Knesset member Yaakov Katz has predicted that “within four years,” there will be more than 1 million Jews living beyond the Green Line that once separated Jordan from Israel, and “then the revolution will be completed.”
Israelis have justified their continued annexation of Arab lands through various essentially racist rationalizations: the Palestinian government is not a fit partner for discussions, Arabs all want to exterminate Israelis, Muslims are not mentally capable of adapting to pluralistic democracy. As Mitt Romney summed up his understanding of the Israeli viewpoint, the Palestinians just do not want peace and are culturally incapable of becoming a successful political and economic entity.
Politically speaking, Israel is moving more sharply towards the right, something that will no doubt be confirmed with the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu in January. Many Israelis do not consider themselves to be part of a democracy at all, except internally among the country’s Jewish population. It is an increasingly self-conscious Jewish state that exists only to benefit Jews, leading to talk of forcing Israeli Arabs to emigrate or denying them political rights. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has demanded that Israeli Arabs sign a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state and he has also recommended that Arabs be stripped of their Israeli citizenship and expelled. Per a recent Haaretz article “86 percent of Israel’s Jewish citizens believe that decisions of major importance for the state must enjoy the support of a Jewish majority, while 62 percent of Israel’s Jewish citizens believe that as long as Israel is engaged in a conflict with the Palestinians, Arab citizens’ opinions on matters of security and foreign policy should not be taken into account.”
Understanding that Israel’s real agenda is not to fight Iran or do anything to help stabilize Syria and accepting instead that Benjamin Netanyahu intends to expand and solidify a Greater Israel provides some clarity to developments in the Middle East. Palestinians living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in Israel, Gaza, and on the West Bank will in twelve years constitute a majority of the indigenous population, but they will be a majority forced into ever contracting enclaves and hemmed in by Israeli force majeure on all sides. It is not a pleasant prospect, being somewhat akin to the sputtering bomb cartoon that Netanyahu produced in the United Nations. Unfortunately, only the United States can influence the Israelis to rethink their destructive policies, which will ultimately also do grave damage to the American people, but there is no sign that any US politician has the courage to face the facts and do what is right.