Bibi Netanyahu is a corrupt, anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist Israeli leader. But one thing he is indisputably good at is political manipulation both of his own population and world opinion. In the run up to his coronation in Washington where he arrives shortly, he has superbly laid groundwork that has put Barack Obama in a vise. Last week, he invited five powerful U.S. senators (only the Republicans who met him are now talking publicly, which suits Bibi perfectly) to have lunch in Jerusalem. Now those senators are calling Obama a wimp and a girl if he won’t stand up to the Ayatollahs and lay down red lines that specify when we will go to war against Iran.
Here’s one the Israelis are demanding:
Israeli officials are demanding that Iran agree to halt all its enrichment of uranium in the country, and that the suspension be verified by United Nations inspectors, before the West resumes negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program.
That would mean that Iran would agree to virtually everything Israel wants BEFORE there was any negotiation. So what would the purpose of any negotiation be? This is the sort of foreign policy that Israel is used to conducting with its neighbors. We tell you want to do and you sign on the dotted line. If not, we bomb you back to the Stone Age. Take your pick.
One of the chosen few lunch guests, Sen. Lindsay Graham made this disingenuous, Alice in Wonderland style comment:
“It’s not just about the Jewish vote and 2012,” Mr. Graham added. “It’s about reassuring people who want to avoid war that the United States will do what’s necessary.”
First, of course it’s about the Jewish vote and 2012. EVERYTHING is about those two things. As for the sentence that follows, how to you “avoid war” by agreeing with an ally to fight one (which essentially what Graham and Bibi are after)?
The Telegraph’s Israel correspondent puts the case for war that Bibi will make to Barack even more baldly:
Exuding confidence, Mr Netanyahu effectively brings with him an ultimatum, demanding that unless the president makes a firm pledge to use US military force to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb, Israel may well take matters into its own hands within months.
The British journalist channels the views of Ehud Barak, delusional though they may be:
According to sources close to the Israeli security establishment, military planners have concluded that never before has the timing for a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities been so auspicious.
It is an assessment based on the unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring, particularly in Syria, which has had the result of significantly weakening Iran’s clout in the region…With Syria preoccupied by a near civil war and Hamas in recent weeks choosing to leave Iran’s orbit and realign itself with Egypt, Iran’s options suddenly look considerably more limited, boosting the case for war.
There is a typical egregious error of fact and analysis in the above paragraph. Hamas has left Syria’s orbit, but not Iran’s. In fact, Ismail Haniye just completed a visit to Iran in which both parties expressed support for each others respective struggles. And even with Syria weakened, this doesn’t mean that Iran can’t offer Hamas support (and it will).
Here is more hocus-pocus undoubtedly proffered to the Telegraph by Ehud Barak (though the source is only described as “close to defense ministry sources”):
“Iran’s deterrent has been significantly defanged,” a source close to Israel’s defence chiefs said. “As a result some of those opposed to military action have changed their minds. They sense a golden opportunity to strike Iran at a significantly reduced cost.”
There’s that infamous “some” so popular with politicians and journalists who can’t be bothered with specific facts to support their arguments. I know of no major figures either in Israel or the U.S. who’ve gone from the camp opposing war to the one supporting war. Until Barak can offer more specific than this, he’s bluffing big-time.
Here’s another false statement. In an example of sloppy journalism, Adrian Blomfield, the reporter doesn’t make clear whether this is his view or Barak’s. Whose ever view it is, it’s wrong:
…It is not the “doomsday scenario” that some feared, and a growing number in the security establishment are willing to take on the risk if it means preventing the rise of a nuclear power that has spoken repeatedly of Israel’s destruction.
Note the “growing number” of unnamed military experts who agree with war-hawk Barak that the cost to Israel, which in the past he’s dismissed at most “500 lives,” will be bearable. Second, this Israeli attack will NOT prevent the rise of Iran as a nuclear power as he claims. In fact, Obama himself in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, noted that Israel shouldn’t attack because that would be likely to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program. Even those experts who favor war don’t claim it will destroy Iran’s WMD capacity. It will at most delay it by perhaps one to three years. As for “speaking of Israel’s destruction,” many Israeli leaders have spoken extravagantly about the need to destroy the Iranian regime. Barak’s argument is essentially that if a country says they hate you so much they wish you would fade into oblivion, you may strike them a savage blog and claim it’s self-defense.
Another lie in Barak’s account of Iranian capabilities is that within six to nine months “ Iran will have acquired sufficient technological expertise to build a nuclear weapon.” Iran hasn’t yet developed a nuclear warhead capable of carrying a bomb to its destination nor a trigger that would detonate the weapon. The prevailing view among nuclear experts is that if Iran engages in any such research or development (which in itself is not a given) this will take Iran far longer than nine months, possibly two years or more.
Blomfield again sloppily substitutes real facts with atmospherics claiming Israelis are prepared for war:
Among the Israeli public, there is a sense of growing sense that a confrontation with Iran is inevitable. Overheard conversations in bars and restaurants frequently turn to the subject, with a growing popular paranoia fed by the escalation in bomb shelter construction, air raid siren testing and exercises simulating civilian preparedness for rocket strikes.
If the reporter had bothered to consult actual polls of Israeli opinion which I’ve recently featured here, he’d find that the Israeli public is just as divided about attacking Iran as the American public is. In fact, there is no consensus in either country for an attack, especially not now. A plurality in both places supports continuing sanctions and a majority does not support war now.
Returning to the strategic calculations of Netanyahu and Barak, wars historically have generally proven useful to Israel despite the losses in human life. Even wars in which Israel paid the heaviest price (1948 and 1973 in particular) advanced its interests in significant ways. After Israel’s wars (even when it does not win them decisively or at all), it is generally left at least for an extended period of time to pursue its strategic goals relatively unfettered. In no war since 1973, has Israel paid a heavy price. It has gotten used to considering war as an instrument of policy and a means of intimidating both the victims of its wars and potential future adversaries. It has gotten used to wars in which it gets its way without serious consequences. It’s gotten spoiled. There will come a war when Israel is brought up short and pays a price. It may be the next one–with Iran.
Israel’s need to preserve regional dominance is, in large part, the reason for the current imbroglio with Iran. The latter is a real regional threat because it is the first state in the region that may be pursuing nuclear capability (Israel of course already has the bomb many times over). It also is a state that vociferously opposes Israel and its policies. Israel’s strategic approach has demanded not just parity with its enemies but overwhelming superiority. Having an Iran able to stand up to Israel as an equal is unthinkable. It must be cut down to size. At all costs.
My view of Israel’s approach is that it is wrong, but as a sovereign state it has a right to pursue its interests, as misguidedly as they may be interpreted. But my real problem here is with how the U.S. acts. If we allow ourselves to be sucked into aiding Israel, or being instrumental in Israel’s long-term strategic goals of humbling Iran, we become an accessory after the fact, instead of a great power pursuing our own sovereign interests. For us to do so would not just mean betraying our own national interests, it would be aiding and abetting Israel’s war pathology.
Bibi wants a war. Bibi needs a war. He mistakenly believes Israel needs a war. Make no mistake: this war will be a military adventure, not a pragmatically conceived, carefully executed operation. It will end in Israel failing to achieve its long-term objectives just as its last two wars did. It may end catastrophically for both sides. The U.S. must not be party to this.