Netanyahu’s War

He wants us to fight it

by , March 02, 2012

The "trust gap" between Israel and the US, which I wrote about on Wednesday, is widening even as I write. Here‘s Ha’aretz:

"Officials in both Jerusalem and Washington acknowledge a serious lack of trust between Israel and the United States with regard to the issue of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. A senior U.S. official who is involved in preparing Netanyahu’s visit to the United States – and who asked to remain anonymous – said intensive preparations are underway to guarantee the success of the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama and to bridge this lack of trust."

What’s taking the special-ness out of the "special relationship" is the showdown between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, which will be reaching its climax when the latter comes to the US next week. With the Israeli propaganda campaign reaching significantly higher decibel levels of late, Bibi is upping the ante with fresh demands, declaring through intermediaries that the new joint US-Israeli policy has to define several "red lines" Iran must not cross.

The Israelis define that fateful boundary as Tehran developing a nuclear "capability" rather than actually building a nuclear arsenal. It’s a crucial distinction that underscores the logical disconnect at the heart of the Israeli case for war. After all, any one of a number of human beings has, for example, the capability to commit murder: however, this does not make a convincing case for preemptive execution.

American reluctance to go along with such hysterics and launch a third war in the Middle East has the Israelis in a lather. Ha’aretz reports Netanyahu complained bitterly to American emissaries, including a delegation of "senior" US Senators led by John McCain, about certain US officials who have dared to speak out publicly against going to war with Iran. He surely named Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs, who told Fareed Zakaria war with Iran would not be "prudent." It’s well-known senior military figures are opposed to a war with Iran, and the rank-and-file are probably even less sympathetic to the prospect: that’s why anti-war presidential candidate Ron Paul has garnered more donations from members of the armed services than all the other candidates combined.

How dare our generals, our soldiers, sailors, and airmen – you know, the people who will actually have to fight in Netanyahu’s war – speak their minds on the matter! Why, it’s an outrage! On the other hand, it’s perfectly all right that billionaire gambling casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who funds Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party, is also pumping millions into the campaign of Newt  Gingrich – and, he says, the eventual Republican, whoever it is (minus Ron Paul) – while loudly proclaiming his goal of advancing Israeli interests and promoting war with Iran.

This double-standard epitomizes the current Israeli approach to the outside world, including not just the long-suffering Palestinians but now even including Israel’s American benefactors.  "According to sources," Ha’aretz informs us,

"The lack of trust between Israeli and U.S. officials appears to stem from, among other things, a mutual feeling that the other country is interfering in its own internal political affairs. Netanyahu suspects that the U.S. administration is attempting to turn Israeli public opinion against an attack on Iran, say sources.

"Meanwhile, they say, the Obama administration suspects Netanyahu is using Congress and the Republican candidates in the presidential race to put pressure on Obama to support such a strike."

This framing of the question is risible: as if the Americans have their own "American lobby" in Israel with power equivalent to that wielded by AIPAC in the US. In any case, it doesn’t look as if Israelis are all that enthusiastic about going to war with Iran. A recent poll shows most Israelis don’t want to go it alone, with less than 20 percent supporting an Israeli strike. The number in favor rises to the mid-forties only if the US joins the battle, as Kevin Flower, reporting from Jerusalem for CNN, points out.

In short, without a pledge of support from Washington, Netanyahu won’t be able to sell his war even to his own people. His only recourse is to ratchet up his American fifth column, and they are certainly busy these days, what with running full-page ads in the New York Times smearing their opponents, as well as running at least one Republican presidential campaign.

We aren’t supposed to talk about the "Israel-firsters," i.e. the well-funded network of pundits, thinktankers, and powerful politicians who act as the Likudists’ Praetorian Guard in the US. Pat Buchanan was excoriated as a "hatemonger" for accurately describing Congress as "Israeli-occupied territory," yet his prescience was underscored by the sight of a claque of US Senators meeting with a foreign head of state in order to undermine the policies of their own government.

We know who our enemies are, because they make no bones about their antipathy. Our friends, on the other hand, need to be closely watched, and none more so than the Israelis. This is true for all sorts of reasons, but the one I want to focus on here is their apparent insight into how foreign policy is made — and how to decisively influence the making of it. In brief, they seem to understand the central thesis of what I call libertarian realism, the idea that domestic politics rather than objective circumstances on the international front are the determinative factor in shaping policy. Put plainly: it isn’t how much of an actual threat Iran represents so much as how many influential people they can mobilize behind the War Party’s banner.

What this means, in practice, is that the Israelis are making an all-out effort to influence American policy in any way they can. As Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told a press briefing:

"I need to remind myself that America is a sovereign country. Everybody has his own, every country has his own decision making process and everybody can takes its own decision."

Meridor needs to remind himself because no American will do so: no one in Washington, that is. Our laws regulating the activities of foreign lobbyists are not so strictly enforced when it comes to Israel’s lobby in the US. Indeed, they are not enforced at all: AIPAC, a Washington powerhouse, is exempt from the Foreign Agents Registration Act, in spite of the fact that two of its top officials were indicted for stealing US secrets. AIPAC’s Washington office has been raided by the FBI twice. Yet they still maintain their immunity from the laws which govern all other organizations and individuals who lobby on behalf of foreign governments.

Why is that?

The Washington think tanks and policy outfits are crawling with Israeli front groups, from the outfront neocons of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which seems to have originated as a joint project of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and several wealthy supporters of Israel, to the Saban Center at the Brookings Institute, funded by toy magnate and Israel-Firster Haim Saban, which plants the Israeli flag firmly in "centrist" territory. In tandem with AIPAC, and Christian dispensationalists of the John Hagee variety – who wave Israeli flags at their rallies, and believe war with Iran will bring on the End Times and the Second Coming of  Christ – these myriad groups constitute an effective fifth column in the United States, a reliable cheerleading section for whatever policy initiative Tel Aviv wants to achieve at the moment – including a war in which Americans will die in "defense" of Israel.

The reality is that this war – Netanyahu’s war – will be anything but a defensive war. Iran is not now building a nuclear weapon [.pdf] nor is it likely to do so as long as IAEA inspectors are combing through its nuclear facilities. Those same inspectors, one notes, are forbidden from entering Israel’s nuclear sites, which certainly do house a great deal of weaponry. There is no "existential" threat to Israel emanating from Iran: all the threatening emanations are moving in the opposite direction.

Brushing aside the rhetorical veil of the "existential threat," the Israelis’ real objective – the culmination of the old Zionist dream of a "Greater Israel" – is clear as day. With the Americans taking on the Iranians, the IDF will take on Tehran’s local proxies, including but not limited to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Under such circumstances, it is not hard to imaging the IDF taking the opportunity to extend Israel’s borders, if not "from the Nile to the Euphrates," as Yasser Arafat claimed, then well beyond the occupied territories.

Is this a war aim Americans need to die for?

Netanyahu’s war will be a war fought for Israel, started by Israel, and benefiting only Israel. As for us, we will suffer a series of economic shocks, not just oil shock but the shock of a much-accelerated financial crisis hastened by the conflict. To say nothing of the shock of discovering that our fighting men and women have been turned into the instrument of a foreign power – and all without a peep of protest (or a real act of resistance) from any of the leaders of the two major parties, including our own President.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

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