Israel is like a spoiled child who has grown stronger, more willful, and outright dangerous under the nurturing care of its US parent – a parent who has lost all authority and can no longer restrain its juvenile delinquent progeny. The US-Israeli "special relationship" has destabilized the Middle East and made war much more likely than it would be otherwise. Israel can act in the knowledge that there will be no consequences for its actions, that it will not be held accountable or blamed – in public – in any way for what follows.
This, in turn, has energized extremist movements inside Israel, who demand more and yet more of the United States – and come to resent Uncle Sam for supposedly restraining the Israelis from achieving what they believe is their just due. The response is very far from gratitude, if we take Netanyahu’s recent behavior as indicative. We pour billions every year into Israel, with economic and military aid, and with Congress in their back pocket no American president dares threaten them with an aid cutoff. The result is that we have created – and empowered – a monster, one that may one day turn on us.
Indeed, Israel has already turned on us if we define that as brazen interference in American politics. The Israel lobby, which wields plenty of money and political clout, has so distorted the national discourse on foreign policy issues that it is no longer possible for any politician to challenge the course we have taken.
Defenders of the Israel lobby say this is because the American people support Israel, but the truth is far more prosaic. In reality, most Americans have no opinion about who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East: they are neutral when it comes to siding with the Israelis or the Palestinians, and would prefer that the US government refrain from taking sides. But they don’t feel very passionately about it. On the other hand, Israel’s supporters do feel passionately, and the lopsided congressional support for Israel – even when it’s against the interests of the United States – is the result of a passionate minority’s efforts. If there was a national plebiscite on US aid to Israel, you can bet there would be no more goodies forthcoming from Washington – not just to Israel, but to anyone.
No matter what the "Clean Break" document aspires to, Israel’s whole survival strategy has always been to rely on aid from the outside: without the billions that flow from the US Treasury into Israeli coffers, the entire Zionist project would have failed long ago. It has been kept on life support all these years by money from abroad, and by the hopes of the Israeli leadership that more Jews will emigrate to the Promised Land. The main problem, however, is that American Jews are so thoroughly assimilated that the idea of taking up residence in Israel never occurs to them: for American Jews, America is the Promised Land. Aside from that, the appeal of moving to a country that sees itself as besieged – and whose leaders every day assert that they are sitting on the edge of a second Holocaust – is necessarily quite limited.
To make matters worse, the younger generation of American Jews increasingly does not identify with Israel, at least not to the degree their mothers and fathers did. Netanyahu’s barely disguised support for Mitt Romney in the US presidential election is not helping the Republicans much with that particular constituency: instead, it is garnering support from born again Christians of the dispensationalist school, who believe a war in the Middle East involving Israel, the United States, and Iran, will be the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and hasten the Second Coming. These are the people who write and call Congress whenever the administration defies one of Netanyahu’s whims.
The irony here is that these far right-wing crazies also believe the Jews will convert to Christianity when Armageddon comes – and that those who don’t will burn in Hell. Yet the Israel lobby doesn’t hesitate to use these folks in order to generate support for Israeli government policies: their leader, the Rev. John Hagee, has been a featured speaker at the national conference of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he fulminated against the "forces of Satan" who are supposedly conspiring to bring Israel down.
Yes, Israel has enemies, but these days it is it’s own worst enemy. The other day I saw a video of an Israeli army soldier bashing a Palestinian teenager’s head against the stone pavement of the Al-Aqsa mosque. I saw Muslim worshippers driven out in response to a demonstration by Israeli extremists affiliated with the "settler" movement. And it isn’t just Palestinians, although they bear the great brunt of this treatment – it’s Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere who are being pushed out by an increasingly aggressive and xenophobic spirit within Israel, a toxic mix of religious fundamentalism and racism. There is a movement afoot in Israel that campaigns for expelling all Arabs from the land of Israel. In every society, of course, there is a fringe element, but in the Israel of today they are in the government.
There is, in short, an incipient fascist movement that is gaining ground by the day in the one country on earth where one would least expect such a phenomenon to arise. Yet history is replete with these tragic ironies, and if we have to witness the rise of the Jewish equivalent of Hitler then apparently we are to be spared nothing.
When talking about why we are targeting Iran, and why we’re seeing such a relentless wave of war propaganda calling for an attack, we have to talk about Israel, because in the end that’s what it’s all about. We are being asked, in a rather peremptory tone, to go to war for Israel’s sake. I have already demonstrated that Israel’s alleged "existential crisis" is nothing but hysterics on the part of Israel’s leaders, but let’s leave that aside for the moment and ask a more fundamental question: where do Israel’s interests end and America’s begin, or is there no daylight between the two?
During the cold war, Israel was a mixed case: a reliable ally whose friendship cost us support in the Arab world and gave the Soviets a wedge to extend their influence. Now that we are fighting an apparently eternal "war on terrorism," Israel has become an unmitigated liability. If we must fight a war against over a billion Muslims, then we will surely lose: the only hope is to somehow split the Muslim world, and rally the moderates against the radical Islamists of bin Laden’s sort.
Now, I’m not saying this is what I’m advocating: I am merely describing the objective circumstances that drive US policy, and this goes for both the present and the previous administration.
The Obama administration has taken this Muslim-centric strategy one step further, however, and is openly allying with what can only be described as radical Islamists one step removed from al-Qaeda. The idea is to co-opt and defuse Islamist movements which Washington sees as the inevitable inheritors of the decaying Sunni monarchies that are bound to fall sooner rather than later.
The Bush administration and its neoconservative cheerleaders thrilled to the idea that the "liberation" of Iraq would spark democratic revolutions throughout the region. What happened, instead, is that it sparked revolutions against US-supported dictators like Hosni Mubarak that have little to do with liberal democracy as we know it in the West. Instead, what we see is the rise of a most illiberal democracy, and not only in Egypt. Our policymakers envision the Turkification of the Middle East – the creation of moderate Islamist governments with military and economic ties to the West. But of course central planning from Washington doesn’t work any better when it comes to foreign policy than it does in domestic policy. We saw the real world results of this policy in Benghazi.
On the other hand, the Israelis have a far different vision, exemplified by Netanyahu’s recent speech to the United Nations in which he held up Israel as the great defender of "modernity" against the savage hordes. It’s the new public face of Israel: subway posters that urge us to "support the civilized man" against the "savage." Aside from being laughably untrue – Israel is no less threatened by a rising religious fundamentalism than its neighbors, with fanatic "settlers" running wild and even challenging the IDF – this line of argument underscores Israel’s growing isolation on the world stage, and its slide into a frightening extremism. Netanyahu’s Manichean view of Israel fighting virtually alone against an array of enemies – and the broken promises of its less than reliable friends – serves Netanyahu and his party well.
According to my theory of international relations, which I call "libertarian realism," this is the origin of all foreign policy decisions by the leaders of nations: these decisions, like all other political decisions, are made in order to preserve and extend the power, wealth, and prestige of these leaders and their supporters. Therefore such questions as whether or not Iran really is intent on building nuclear weapons and deploying them against Israel are irrelevant. Objective facts don’t enter into the equation: it’s all about creating a narrative suitable for domestic consumption.
The problem for Netanyahu is that his narrative necessarily collides with Washington’s current view of US interests in the region. The resulting din can be heard in the raised voices of both US and Israeli leaders as the debate goes public during a presidential election year. Netanyahu’s clear preference for Romney is a brazen intervention in US politics of the sort that no previous Israeli leader has ever dared attempt. The fuss about meeting Netanyahu at the UN, the demand for a "red line," and Netanyahu’s preexisting personal relationship with Romney aren’t the only evidences of Netanyahu’s sympathies. Both the Israeli leader and the Republican nominee share a major donor in common: Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who had pledged to spend $100 million to defeat President Obama, and has spent more than that to subsidize a free Israeli newspaper that is a veritable Netanyahu campaign organ. As David Andrew Weinberg pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor, Netanyahu has taken to the US airwaves to chastise the White House for its lack of support:
"Netanyahu’s recent sound bites on Iran are already being featured in a million-dollar ad buy attacking Obama in Florida. The group distributing this ad, Secure America Now, is founded by a Republican strategist notorious for having a direct line to the prime minister, so Netanyahu was probably aware of how such remarks would be utilized by American conservatives."
Such interference in American elections by a foreign power is intolerable. Too bad the Obama administration doesn’t have the courage to name what is happening and call out Netanyahu. The American people would welcome it. However, I’m afraid the Israel lobby is just as powerful in the Democratic party as it is among the Republicans, and so we’ll see none of that.
This is why Iran has been chosen as the latest target: because the powerful lobby of a foreign government is pulling out all the stops in a bid to drag us into a ruinous war. That such a conflict would benefit Israel in the long run, or even in the short term, is a highly dubious proposition. While the largely mythical threat of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel might dissipate, for a while at least, the benefits of dispelling a potential danger are far outweighed by the near certain danger of worldwide economic collapse. With the price of oil skyrocketing to unprecedented heights, world markets already reeling from the global recession would be knocked for a loop by the oil shock. The effects would be felt not only here in the US but also in Israel, where protests over rising prices and austerity budgets are already erupting. If you thought the crash of ’08 was a big deal, just wait until the prospect of war triggers an economic meltdown that makes ’08 look like a blip on the screen.