In the summer of 2008, an op ed piece by Benny Morris, an Israeli historian of note, warned:
"Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months – and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war – either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb."
The Israeli government has been openly threatening Iran with attack for years, and we have learned not to take their outbreaks of war hysteria too seriously. During the last year of George W. Bush’s final term in office, there was heightened speculation that Tel Aviv was pressuring Washington to launch such an attack, and indeed it appears Vice President Dick Cheney argued for precisely that, albeit to no avail. Now the war talk has been revived by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, along with his defense minister, Ehud Barak, has not only been arguing within the Cabinet for such a strike, but has now supposedly moved into the implementation stage.
We are told by the Israeli media that there is a big debate going on, with two former top officials – Meir Dagan, recently retired as head of the Mossad, and Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet – going so far as to leak the specifics of Bibi’s scheme in order to torpedo the plan. Dagan is said to have remarked that the war plans are "the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard" – and he’s quite right.
The problem with this alleged plan is that Israel doesn’t have the military capacity to do the job and do it well: Iran’s nuclear facilities are enclosed within hardened sites, and are spread out to such a degree that Israeli war planes would have trouble reaching them. While the Israelis have recently tested a long-range missile that has the capacity to hit Iranian targets, the idea that they could take out all the intended targets in one fell swoop is simply a fantasy. Therefore, this alleged "debate" taking place within the Israeli leadership, complete with a phony "investigation" by Netanyahu into who leaked the nonexistent Israeli attack "plan," is a non-event. The whole thing, in short, is a bluff.
But who is being bluffed here? Not the Iranians, who are surely aware of Israel’s incapacity. The volume of the war hysteria is being turned up with one purpose in mind: the Israelis want the US to do their dirty work for them. This is a threat aimed not only – or even primarily – at Iran, but at us.
This has been their modus operandi throughout all the years of the "special relationship": it’s "special" because there is no reciprocity involved. Our unconditional support for the Israeli settler colony has always been an albatross hung ‘round our necks, and never more so than post-9/11, when the need for US allies within the Muslim world is vital. We support them financially, militarily, and politically, while getting absolutely nothing but grief – and more demands – in return.
Under the Bush administration, at least in the beginning, the Israelis had a free hand in Washington, at least as far as the White House was concerned. Their agents of influence permeated the national security bureaucracy and were in place when the 9/11 attacks occurred, ready and willing to carry out a policy that benefited Israel at America’s expense. This has always been Israel’s ace in the hole: the existence of a strong domestic lobby in America to push its interests to the exclusion of all else. While support for Israel is nearly reflexive in the GOP, in part due to the influence of Christian evangelicals of the dispensationalist persuasion, the lobby is also firmly entrenched in the Democratic party, especially in its Clintonian wing.
The lobby’s open hostility to the Obama administration – based on the mere possibility that there would be a more even-handed approach to the Middle East after Bush – culminated in Vice President Joe Biden’s disastrous visit to the Jewish state, where he was ambushed and humiliated by the Israelis.
However, the relationship soon jelled into a more traditional, less openly adversarial mode. Under the "team of rivals" rubric – pushed by plagiarist and court historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her hagiographic book on Abraham Lincoln’s administration, and Bush idolator–turned–Obamaite Andrew Sullivan – the divisions in the winning Democratic coalition would be healed by replicating Lincoln’s historic compromise with his rivals, incorporating them into the Cabinet. This campaign was successful because it both flattered Obama, likening him to one of the giants of American history, and reduced his power in the key realm of foreign policy – the one area where he is perceived as "weakest," at least from the War Party’s perspective.
The ruling elite was prepared for "change" in all but one area, and so a bargain was struck: Obama would stick to domestic policy, where he would have his hands full anyway, and the Clinton gang would get to set the foreign policy agenda, with the ultimate authority – and responsibility – vested in the President.
With Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State, the question of America’s relationship to Israel was turned over to the right-wing of the Democratic party, which has always been among the happiest hunting grounds of the Israel lobby. It was the Clinton administration, you’ll recall, that nearly freed convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, until a rebellion in the military-intelligence community made Bill back off: as a kind of compensation prize, the Israelis got a pardon for financier and reputed Mossad asset Marc Rich, Clinton’s last disgraceful act carried out in the Oval Office. Hillary’s record when it comes to the Palestinian question is down-the-line support for the official Israeli position, with only minor disagreements — such as occurred over the settlements issue — that are soon "resolved" in Israel’s favor.
The announcement of a "plot" by the Iranians to blow up a Washington restaurant with the Saudi ambassador in it was met by near universal skepticism, except where it counts – in Washington and the capitals of Europe. Yet this almost comical tall tale is just the first shot over the bow in the ongoing propaganda war: next week we’ll be hearing from that den of thieves known as the United Nations, whose nuclear watchdog agency will issue a new report on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research, which promises to be more serious. The British, for their part, have announced their support for military action in advance, and the rest of the West, along with our Arab satraps, is bound to follow in their wake. It is left to the Americans, however, to give the command to strike – not the Israelis.
Israeli efforts to drag us into a war with Iran have so far been limited to provoking Tehran’s proxies in the region – Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrian Ba’athists – into a direct confrontation with the US. The Netanyahu regime has abandoned this policy of indirection and gradualism, however, and instead opted for a direct assault on the problem: by constantly threatening to strike themselves, the Israelis are counting on their domestic lobby to push the Americans into acting preemptively.
This plan appears to be working. Although the last US intelligence assessment [.pdf] of Iran’s nuclear capabilities asserted with near certainty that Tehran had abandoned its weapons program in 2003, the War Party isn’t too concerned about making its case airtight: the Israel lobby has both parties, and Congress, in its hip pocket, and with Hillary leading the charge the "existential threat" to Israel’s very existence will be met with US force. It’s only a matter of timing.
The War Party, however, has another problem, and that is the objective factors which militate against another war at this time, number one being the imminent collapse of the world economic system, and specifically the instability of the banks. As the dominoes of the Euro-zone fall one upon the other, and the US banking system itself comes under threat, the question of how to finance this war, even while its economic consequences – starting with $200 a barrel oil prices – are visited upon our heads.
This problem can be solved, however, if the political consequences of this "perfect storm" of war and economic implosion line up with the stars. With America at war, the economic privations we will have endured anyway will be masked by the general numbness induced by the atmosphere of crisis. Your home has been foreclosed? You’ve lost your job, or you can’t get to your job because it costs $100 in gas to travel one way? Blame it on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the "nuclear madman" of the Middle East.
The very real financial crisis of the West will be resolved by the introduction of yet another crisis, in this case a completely manufactured and ginned up one. Imbued with new authority, the Obama administration will take full advantage of the wartime atmosphere to impose "emergency" economic measures, commandeering the economy in the name of "national security" and getting the Republicans to go along with it on "patriotic" grounds. We’ll be subjected to endless demands for bipartisan "unity" in the face of a foreign "threat," with both "left" and "right" factions of the War Party inundating the air waves and the blogosphere with war propaganda.
Can it be stopped? Looming economic disaster can’t be forestalled much longer: no matter how many band-aids they put on the cancer, the only cure for the underlying illness is the shock of deflation – and a meteoric plunge in the standard of living. The social and political consequences of such a descent would threaten the very foundations of our political system, and tear the fabric of society apart: war, in such a circumstance, is a unifying factor, one that directs the energy and anger of the populace outward, at some fake foreign "enemy," rather than at the real enemy, which is right there in Washington, D.C.
In the face of this, the supposedly "anti-government" ideology of the Republican "tea party" would vanish overnight, and aside from criticizing the President for not prosecuting the war with sufficient militance, the GOP would line up behind the commander-in-chief. A new comity would come to Washington. Cut the budget? Not in wartime! The only way the Republicans are going to allow a tax hike, which the Obamaites have been yearning for – and which Occupy Wall Street supports in the form of a "transaction tax" – will be if they call it a "war tax," or a "kill the Muslims tax." Such a meeting of the minds is in the works.
As both parties march us off to war with Iran, the reality of who holds the power in this country comes ever clearer in focus: the "team of rivals" that binds the Obamaites to the Clintons also includes to the Republican party establishment when it comes to the question of war and peace. All these factions compete with each other in seeing how low they can kowtow to the Israel lobby: Pat Buchanan’s quip that Washington is "Israeli-occupied territory" is right on the mark.
The Zionist project of a "Greater Israel" faces two big obstacles: Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran. The Syrians are being taken care of in other ways, but the Iranians are a harder nut to crack. The only hope is to drag the US into a military confrontation with Iran, and let our GIs fight and die for Israel. The question is how to sell this to the American people. Even if the Iranians were to be so foolish as to weaponize their nuclear capabilities – and there is no convincing evidence that they are doing so – this would hardly constitute a credible threat to the United States, or even to Israel. After all, the US faced off with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, which had enough nukes to extinguish all life on the planet: and yet the stand off lasted throughout the cold war, which never did get hot enough to allow for a nuclear exchange. Both sides were deterred by the horrific consequences of their own weaponry, and the world escaped the worst case scenario.
Indeed, by this measure, a nuclear-armed Iran is hardly an "existential threat" to Israel. For the equalization of the military balance of power would result in a tense but lasting "peace," and eliminate the possibility that Israel – which does have nuclear weapons, and plenty of them – would use nukes against Iran or anyone else in the region, without fear of retaliation in kind.
Such logic, however, is alien to the Washington mindset, which cannot frame the question objectively and has lost all sight of American interests when it comes to the Middle East. This is the result of the distortion of the policymaking process, which has fallen under the undue influence of foreign lobbyists who serve Israel’s interests above all. This is why the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal – the single most destabilizing factor in the Middle East – never comes up in our discourse.
The Israel lobby is hell-bent on war, and is likely to get it: but they have to be careful. To launch such a project in the midst of a presidential election season is a risky business. They must do everything in their power to prevent the election from becoming a referendum on the war question, and the simplest way to do that is to make sure both major candidates are securely in the War Party’s camp. That’s the only way they can win: by rigging the outcome.
What’s needed is a mass mobilization against this administration’s war plans, but frankly I see little hope of such a movement arising. The left in this country is so tied to the Obama administration that such a development is highly unlikely to get off the ground, and the right – except for the Ron Paul brigades – is certain to line up in favor of military action in defense of Israel, which they love more than their own country.
In short, we are headed for disaster. As Bette Davis once put it: fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!