No country is safe from the power of the Israel lobby — no, not even tiny Tuvalu, a nation consisting of nine minuscule islets in the middle of the Pacific Ocean totaling ten square miles. Rep. Howard Berman, former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee and longtime Democratic party power broker, is threatening the Tuvaluans with economic sanctions because they are allowing Iranian ships to register under the Tuvaluan flag. “This has the effect of assisting the Iranian regime in evading US and EU sanctions and generating additional revenues for its nuclear weapons program,” said the bullying Berman in a letter to Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Willy Telavi. The reflagging is “sanctionable activity,” Berman continued, and “given the close and co-operative relationship that our two governments now enjoy, it would be unfortunate if this action were permitted to stand.” A very thinly-veiled threat — but to do what? What will be the consequences if Tuvalu gives Berman the answer he so richly deserves?
As our Jason Ditz points out, Tuvalu has no significant relations with the US: there is no US military base, and the amount of US aid — a desalinization plant, a few other minor contributions — is negligible.
There is one way, however, that Berman could try to bully the Tuvaluans into compliance with his diktat: the US Tuna Treaty, as its called, is a typical mercantilist arrangement whereby the governments involved give US ships permission to fish for tuna in the South Pacific in return for a hefty payment. The private companies involved are subsidized by the US government to the tune of $6 million per year to pay for their licenses. The treaty is up for renegotiation next year: it would be an easy task for the powerful Berman to insist on the US taking a hard line and depriving Tuvalu of some $10 million in revenue per year.
Tuvalu, which experienced zero economic growth in 2011, receives 40 percent of its national income in the form of foreign assistance from a trust fund [.pdf], primarily, set up by Australia, New Zealand, and Britain. In addition, there has been an influx of development aid from China, which is eager to woo the island’s government away from recognizing Taiwan. Both Taipei and Beijing have lavished aid on the tiny collection of atolls, with the Taiwanese building an impressive and totally unnecessary government building on Funafati, the main islet. Tuvalu has also garnered income from the sale of its Internet ID — .tv — to Verisign, and the sale of exclusive air transport rights.
The island, while not rich by any means, is far from poverty-stricken: the Tuvaluans can afford to tell Berman and the US State Department where to get off. Indeed, a number of other Pacific island nations are doing precisely that, when it comes to the Tuna Treaty, with Papua New Guinea and Nieue threatening to withdraw and leave the treaty “dead in the water,” as one industry observer put it. The sweet deal being given to the American tuna industry — at US taxpayers’ expense — is threatened by the Pacific Islander rebellion against US over-fishing and bullying on the issue, which included threats by the US representative to end all US development programs in the region. Berman, who has gone to bat for the industry before, may have found yet another reason to champion the tuna industry while simultaneously taking up his very favorite cause: provoking war with Iran. A serendipitous moment, to be sure.
The excesses of the Israel lobby are legion, and this is just the latest. They went after Peter Beinart for daring to criticize Israeli government policies toward the Palestinians from a Zionist perspective, they took out full page ads in major newspapers in response to a few bloggers at a liberal Democratic think tank, and they went ballistic when someone mildly critical of Israeli policies was nominated to head up the National Intelligence Council. In short, over-reaction is their methodology: their hope is that the shriller the denunciations — invariably accusing their targets of “anti-Semitism” — the more unlikely it is that anyone else will dare imitate their example.
The problem with this strategy is that it gets old: the decibel level reaches a point where only dogs can hear it. The Lobby has overreached, time and again, and with this threat to associate tiny Tuvalu with “terrorism” it has made itself look absurd rather than fearsome.
We’ve heard from Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum about the alleged threat of “radical Islam” spreading its tentacles into South America — why not the South Pacific, too? Any day now I expect to hear about the threat of “Tuvaluan terrorism” from the resident “experts” at Washington’s neocon think tanks. And who knows, maybe the Tuvaluans are hiding weapons of mass destruction somewhere on those ten square miles — perhaps hidden inside a hollowed-out coconut.
If you were thinking of migrating to an atoll in the South Pacific just to get away from the War Party’s constant drumbeat, you can forget about it — because not even Tuvalu is safe these days. Indeed, Tuvalu has two strikes against it: Prime Minister Telavi was among the four or five heads of state who recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after they were attacked by Georgian forces in 2008.
No, definitely don’t go seeking refuge in Tuvalu — one more strike and Hillary Clinton will be likening Telavi to Bashar al-Assad.