Jeffrey Goldberg published an interview with Bibi Netanyahu which he conducted just before the latter became Israel’s new prime minister. I’m beginning to think that the Israeli right uses the Iran nuclear issue in much the same way that the Republicans use social issues like abortion and gay marriage. For Republicans these are “wedge” issues which move the faithful to fear, anger and action. For the Bibi-ists, it’s the same. Drumming up fear of nuclear apocalypse in the guise of the “mad mullahs” is like ringing a bell for Pavlov’s dog: Israelis and Diaspora Jews who fear for Israel’s safety respond instinctively and viscerally when they read code words like Holocaust, Munich, extermination, apocalypse, mass death, nuclear annihilation, 1938.
I don’t know about you, but I’m extremely uncomfortable when a foreign leader attempts to dictate what a U.S. president’s political agenda should be:
“The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told me.
But this is nothing new for Israel. They’ve been attempting, and succeeding in doing this for years, if not decades. The difference in this case is usually an Israeli prime minister is attempting only to dictate U.S. policy toward Israel and perhaps its neighbors. But here, Netanyahu is setting out an agenda for Obama regarding Iran. Someone ought to tell Netanyahu that this is why Obama has foreign policy advisors and a mind of his own. He’s perfectly capable of devising a U.S. policy toward Iran without Israel’s dictates.
In fact, Obama has just done that with his New Year’s statement to the Iranian people. And Obama’s approach is diametrically opposite Netanyahu’s. Obama didn’t adopt an ideological pose or propagandize or spout slogans as Netanyahu did. He approached the issue soberly and pragmatically as such an important issue deserves. The president’s approach will not be to threaten or bomb. Nor, I venture to say, will his approach involve winking and nodding at a Netanyahu-led strike by Israel against Iran as George Bush might’ve done if he thought he could’ve gotten away with it politically.
So, with an Obama administration adamantly opposed to the Israeli hellfire and brimstone approach, why is Netanyahu still preaching End Times regarding Iran? If you believe that Israel could or would go it alone against a U.S. directive and bomb Iran, then Netanyahu is merely laying down his marker and notifying the Americans and the rest of the world that he means business.
But few people believe that Israel could go against a specific directive from the U.S. on this matter. That’s why I was struck by the notion that Iran is a wedge issue. Bibi is just beginning his term leading a far-right (with the exception of the hapless Labor party) governing coalition. What better way to throw them some red meat than by pounding his chest over Iran? Netanyahu is not a born again ideologue like Avigdor Lieberman. He’s a smooth operator who lip-synchs to the Top-40 right-wing tune of the moment. Personally, I think this interview is posing for his constituency both in Israel and the U.S.
But just in case I’m wrong, here are some of the more disturbing passages from the interview:
…The Iranian nuclear challenge represents a “hinge of history” and [he] added that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
…Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”
Not to be outdone, Bibi drags his new vice-prime minister and minister for strategic affairs (read, Iran), Boogie Yaalon into the mix. The latter has some equally hot-headed and unconvincing remarks:
One of his chief security advisers, Moshe Ya’alon, told me that a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. “This is an existential threat for Israel, but it will be a blow for American interests, especially on the energy front. Who will dominate the oil in the region—Washington or Tehran?”
Bibi is no expert in the current state of nuclear nations as this statement makes clear:
“Iran is a composite leadership, but in that composite leadership there are elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist right now in any other would-be nuclear power in the world. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”
Leaving aside the clarifier “would-be,” has Bibi forgotten Pakistan, which already HAS nuclear weapons? Further, there is a distinct possibility that should developments take a certain radical direction that Pakistan could threaten Israel with those weapons. I wonder why there isn’t the least expression of concern on Bibi’s part about this possibility? Of course, Pakistan’s leaders have not yet overtly expressed hostility toward Israel as Iran has. Pakistan doesn’t fund or arm any of Israel’s enemies (at least not yet). But the likelihood of this happening could turn on a dime given the tumultuousness of internal political developments in that country. Which makes the Israeli leader’s monomaniacal obsession with Iran all the odder.
The interview ranges into truly bizarre territory when Bibi attempts to do national psychoanalysis, with truly laughable results:
Netanyahu offered Iran’s behavior during its eight-year war with Iraq as proof of Tehran’s penchant for irrational behavior. Iran “wasted over a million lives without batting an eyelash … It didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness. It wasn’t Britain after World War I, lapsing into pacifism because of the great tragedy of a loss of a generation. You see nothing of the kind.”
He continued: “You see a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” I asked Netanyahu if he believed Iran would risk its own nuclear annihilation at the hands of Israel or America. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.
How the hell does he know what is in the “Iranian consciousness?” And he is certainly and utterly wrong about the claim that the losses of the war didn’t cause deep wounds within Iranian society. Has he bothered to speak to a war widow or orphan of whom there are all too many? I also find it interesting that Bibi is all too willing to make judgments about the military policy of another country by saying Iran’s war with Iraq was “a waste.” Some nations may say the same thing about Israel’s wasteful and ineffectual military adventures. That thought never crossed his mind I’m sure.
Interesting too, that Bibi should forget that Israel has its own tradition glorifying death and sacrifice on behalf of the nation in the person of Joseph Trumpeldor and the Masada suicides. Baruch Kimmerling has written most powerfully on this point in Israel’s Culture of Martyrdom. Netanyahu’s “analysis” of the Iranian psyche is entirely specious and racist to boot.
The level of delusion within the circle of Bibi’s military advisors is expressed here:
…One aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack.
What are they smokin’? Every major U.S. general and military analyst who has weighed in on the subject speaks about how incredibly complicated such an attack would be due not only to Iran’s defenses, but to the diffuse nature of the nuclear program in the countryside. Yet for Israel? No problemo.
Not to mention the statement that Israel wouldn’t “necessarily” need U.S. approval to attack. Who’s he kiddin’? Does he think that Barack Obama would allow Israel to make a shambles of this country’s entire Mideast policy by permitting an Israeli adventure in Iran? Is Israel really willing to take the chance that Obama, in the aftermath of an attack wouldn’t be willing, if not to break Israel’s back, at the very least to make Israel pay a very steep price?
One final note: it is typical of Goldberg’s “mouthpiece” role that he doesn’t pose any difficult questions of Netanyahu, nor does he challenge any of his assumptions or historical analogies. Just another paid flack journalist in the Israeli hasbara campaign.
Richard, you left out Iran’s recent offer to assist the US in Afghanistan: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/31/iran-afghanistan-obama
Alex Stein says
Re. Pakistan – the point is they already have nuclear weapons, and hence are untouchable. That was the clear lesson of Iraq – nations without nukes get attacked; nations with them (North Korea, for example, don’t). So if Iran aren’t trying to get a nuclear weapon they’re nuts, considering the threats that surround them. But that doesn’t change the Islamist angle, which makes it very complicated, and I wouldn’t read so much into the Barak NY speech – it’s still very early days, although time is obviously at a premium.
Iran has been devastated by drugs coming in through Afghanistan. Iran has the highest rate of heroin addiction in the world. It’s not surprising that they would like to stop that heroin pipeline.
Marilyn Shepherd says
Look what happened last month in Australia to a reputable Israeli anti-occupation activist. The same university have just dudded a Palestinian organiser of 2 weeks pay for daring to be pro-Palestine.
As Halper has noted about Australia we are so insular and stupid here that we believe the Leon Uris view of the world.
I read with fascination in 1967 by Tom Segev that Uris was a paid Israeli shill.
Back to Bibi. He was heckled even as he was being sworn in and declaring that he wanted “economic peace” with the Palestinians, whatever that means.
He must have nearly choked when he noted that Richard Holbrooke had already met with Iranian officials in the Afghan forum and that Clinton stopped the new settlement on the East Jerusalem site.
What on earth is wrong with these strange people? Israel is not much of a country, no constitution, no borders, no rights, no anything much at all yet they carry on like a flea threatening an elephant.
The people of Iran have not invaded a single country for hundreds of years, they are not interested in invading any country and they do not threaten Israel as they would have to murder 5 or 6 million Palestinians and I don’t think they care to do so.
REading 1967 shows one thing Richard, the language never changes, just the bogeyman.
Miles Stuart says
Thanks for the link Marilyn, very interesting. I had no idea Austrailia had such a vociferous Israel/Likud lobby.
Given the neurotic Israeli obsession with all things “deterrent”, that’s a strange statement (or denial of one).
And considering the “Munich ’38” meme is, as you say, a wedge issue for the Israeli right, how can he with a straight face accuse Iran not to have become pacifist “like Britain after WW I”? How hypocritical can you get? If Goldberg was a journalist, he might have wanted to ask, “yeah, don’t we wish Britain had taken the later Iranian approach back then?”.
Someone might want to inform Bibi that it was Saddam Hussein, and not Iran, that launched the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War. (Actually, I’m sure he knows that, but is merely ‘throwing out red meat’ to the right wing, as you say.)
gene schulman says
Richard, what makes you think Obama wouldn’t approve of an Israeli attack on Iran? You are thinking wishfully. Obama doesn’t make foreign policy, he’s there to implement it. Foreign policy in the USA today is made by the same people who made it during the Bush administration. Those people, the Lobby and their minions, will bomb Iran whenever they feel the time is ripe.
All of the above analysis means nothing. It is mere personal opinion.
Crimson Ghost says
Helena Cobban’s take on Israel/Iran
US MSM’s shameful silence
Posted by Helena Cobban
April 1, 2009 10:22 AM EST | Link
Filed in Iran , Israel-2009 , Nuclear weapons
Aluf Benn writes in Haaretz today that,
In political circles the view is that yes, Netanyahu as prime minister brings Israel closer to war with Iran. Politicians in touch with Netanyahu say he has already made up his mind to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. People close to him wonder how the public would receive a joint decision by Netanyahu and Ehud Barak to attack Iran, and whether the move would boost the two men’s popularity. The basic assumption is that diplomacy and sanctions will not gain a thing, and the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear program will be by force, which only Israel is motivated to apply.
This is also the assessment of the international media, who consider an Israeli strike against Iran a near certainty.
Actually, Benn is wrong to claim that “the international media” have expressed themselves clearly one way or another regarding the probability of an Israeli attack against Iran. Here in the US, the big MSM prefer not to think, or say anything, about this matter, at all.
Because if they did, they would have to come to the same conclusion that I reached long ago– and that I see M.J. Rosenberg expressed yesterday on TPM Cafe, namely that, as he wrote:
An Israeli attack on Iran would jeopardize a myriad of American interests in the region, starting with 130,000 US troops but Netanyahu talks as if he can call the shots without any regard for our interests.
That’s why the MSM really don’t want to deal with this. They seem completely reluctant to admit that on some extremely important topics, Israel’s interests can diverge radically from those of the US citizenry– and indeed, can put in direct jeopardy the lives of many scores of thousands of our citizens.
MJ also wrote this:
In this week’s New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reports that, just before leaving office, Dick Cheney told the Israelis that Obama is a wimp and could be ignored.
Netanyahu appears to have bought into the Cheney thesis and is now testing it by insulting the President on the day he is sworn in as Prime Minister. Let’s see if Obama let’s him get away with it. My guess is that Bibi just made the first major blunder of his tenure. [MJ: the eternal optimist, I see. ~HC]
It is also not a coincidence that Netanyahu trash talked Iran while US Special Envoy Holbrooke was holding the Obama administration’s first face-to-face meeting with an Iranian official in The Hague. This is in keeping with the pattern set by President Shimon Peres who sent a nasty greeting to the Iranian people simultaneously with Obama’s friendly overture. The name of the game is to make it impossible for Obama to achieve a breakthrough with Iran by always leaving the impression that America is in thrall to Israel. Clever. And dangerous.
Meanwhile, over in the blog post in which Jeffrey Goldberg wrote up his “exclusive interview” with Netanyahu, he also writes that Moshe Ya’alon, who’s a leading security adviser to Netanyahu, “told me that a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East.”
Is Jeff Goldberg extremely stupid (in that he does nothing to distance himself, as the reporter, from this deeply flawed and disingenuous judgment)– or did Ya’alon just successfully play him along as being extremely stupid?
It is an Israeli military strike against Iran that would signal “the end of American influence in the Middle East” more than anything else. A nuclear-capable Iran is something that both the US and Israel could live with (as Efraim Halevy and others have written, with regard to Israel.)
Much better for everyone in the region and all round the world, of course, would be complete, negotiated denuclearization as advocated by Global Zero. But the idea that an Israeli act of war against Iran would be anything other than catastrophic for the US in the region is complete nonsense.
Btw, the often very well-informed Richard Sale also has some interesting tidbits of info about aspects of the covert ops the Israelis and US worked on against Iran’s nuclear program in the George W Bush era, here. (HT: B of Moon of Alabama.)
Among Sales tidbits: that for almost a decade Israel has been trying, often with US help and encouragement, to assassinate “key Iranian assets”.
But U.S. opposition to the program has intensified as U.S. President Barack Obama makes overtures aimed at thawing 30 years of tension between the two countries.
Part of this is due to the U.S.’s desire to use Iran’s road networks into Afghanistan to help resupply U.S.-NATO forces there.
But Israel’s interests in the region are not the same as those of the United States, several U.S. officials said.
Later, Sale adds these further details:
Israel’s targeting killing program was done in concert with the [George W.] Bush administration, former U.S. sources said.
A former senior CIA official described several joint U.S.-Mossad operations to derail Iran’s nuclear program as “something out of slapstick.” All had failed miserably, he said.
A new wave of assassination and sabotage programs were launched in spite of the fact that in 2005, the United States had little to no intelligence about the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
According to U.S. sources, in 2004, the CIA had lost its entire agent network in Iran when a CIA headquarters communications officer was about to send instructions to an agent via its Immarsat transmitter/receivers. The CIA officer attempted to download data intended for a single operative, but accidentally hit a button that sent it to the entire U.S. spy network in Iran, these sources said.
The information was received by a double agent who forwarded it to Iranian counterintelligence, which quickly wrapped up the entire network, leaving Washington completely blind.
Ah, the much-feared CIA.
Comments (1) | Link
Arie Brand says
But even if Obama wouldn’t approve Israel might still go it alone. In 1967 President Johnson enjoined Israel not to deal the first blow and to wait for the effect of a naval squadron (for which, if I remember correctly, Australia and Holland had volunteered) to bust the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba. But Israel didn’t wait, started the war … and got away with it.
Crimson Ghost says
We have all heard of the legendary power of AIPAC, but what is less well known is that there exists an Iranian-American lobby that wields considerable influence behind the scenes.
Obviously no match yet for AIPAC, but we may now be witnessing its fingerprints as Obama moves to improve US/Iranian relations.
The mission of the AIC provides for a sustainable dialogue and a more comprehensive understanding of US-Iran relations. The AIC organizes and promotes the Iranian-American community and encourages its participation in the efforts for a more democratic, transparent, mutually respectful, and sustainable relationship between the two countries. The AIC also promotes the conditions for the development of Iran through increased national dialogue, charitable works, and international exchange. The AIC is to be a catalyst for positive change in the relationship between the United States and Iran through bringing each of these two great countries together by promoting truth, understanding and dialogue, especially with respect to those values held in common by both governments and peoples. Our mission is to help overcome many of the key misunderstandings, misperceptions and mischaracterizations that exist in this relationship. Our mission is to help those who believe that our two countries have a bright future, one in which the governments and peoples can learn, share and grow with one another.
It is the vision of the AIC that the United States and Iran should and will work together, as their common interests far outweigh their differences. The AIC believes that the United States and Iran will eventually come to appreciate what they have in common, what they have to offer one another, what they can gain from greater appreciation and respect for one other. All countries have committed actions that, in retrospect, are not always in their best interest or are not without ethical issue. It is as impossible for a country to be perfect as it is for a person to be so. It is possible, however, for a country to hold itself to a high standard, to try to do better, and to learn from past errors. The relationship between two countries, much like that between two people, will sometimes require the parties to acknowledge past errors or grievances and, with that appreciation, move forward. The United States and Iran not only have shared interests, but they also have an ethical obligation to work together for the betterment of both governments and their peoples.
Key to the mission of the AIC are the core values of truth, understanding and dialogue. These values demonstrate the importance that the AIC places upon the communication between willing partners. Although we understand that good communications does not guarantee improvements in a relationship and that many other values cannot simply be ignored, we do believe that without honest, open and direct communications a relationship cannot develop and move forward. Another value is that of participation. A good relationship must also involve those interested in the relationship to actively participate in helping improve that relationship. Personal participation helps one to understand obstacles, challenges and opportunities. Personal participation helps one to understand that a good relationship does not come without hard work and hope.
Although the AIC is guided by its core values – (i.) truth, (ii.) understanding, (iii.) dialogue and (iv.) participation – for an organization to promote and protect those values, they must be turned into more specific principles. The AIC believes in intellectual and practical rigor, a free and open and nonpartisan inquiry, full accountability and transparency, fair and balanced treatment of issues, the enhancement of a public-service ethic, broad participation of those who wish to be involved, and the promotion of common ground and mutual interests. With these values and beliefs in mind, it is possible to identify four general and guiding principles:
Always seek to know the truth and help others to learn to think about what it is and how one gets to it;
Always seek understanding by thinking not only about what one knows to be “true,” but about what others believe that they know to be true. A basic respect for others is necessary to understanding.
Always seek to have an open, honest and direct dialogue with others so that understanding can be achieved without a dependence upon middle persons or intervening institutions. Such “media” will have their own interests and a corruption in understanding is perhaps inevitable. It is always best to speak directly with those with whom you disagree.
Always seek to participate in actions yourself as opposed to letting others do the work for you.
According to numerous newspaper articles, Norman Podhoretz spent more than a year praying that George W. Bush would bomb Iran. Bush says that he regularly has “conversations with God”. Had God instructed Bush to bomb Iran, he certainly would have complied. Ergo, God has decided against having Iran bombed. That settles the matter.
Richard Silverstein says
Got it. As long as we’re all certain we’re doing God’s will here. But doesn’t God hate those mad mullahs as all good Christians do?
Zhu Bajie says
I’ve often wondered how Bush communicated with the Almighty. Opening a bible at random, eyes closed, is not too rare in Evangelical circles. I’ve suspected the ravings of End-times prophets, but that reflects my own prejudices. Assuming one’s own whims and fantasies are from God is common in Pentecostal circles.
Probably his god is his belly, so he communicates with his whims and prejudices easily enough, as do we all. Most of us are a little more self-critical, though.
“Netanyahu is not a born again ideologue like Avigdor Lieberman. He’s a smooth operator who lip-synchs to the Top-40 right-wing tune of the moment. ”
Narcissism beyond belief – and in a very small pond
Marilyn Shepherd says
Yes Arie, they got away with the massacres and illegal invasions in 1967 but look at the price both Israeli’s and Palestinians have paid ever since and the way the world has been poisoned by Israel “getting away with it”.
And there was not going to be a fleet of navy ships according to Segev because it is clear the Straits of Tiran did not hamper Israeli in any way at all.
They just wanted the land.
Zhu Bajie says
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs.”
Hasn’t he notice the messianic apocalyptic cult in the US? Dispensationalist is as common among the Xtn Zionists as fleas on a dog.
Zhu Bajie says
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs.”
Hasn’t he notice the messianic apocalyptic cult in the US? Dispensationalists are as common among the Xtn Zionists as fleas on a dog.
Saint Michael Traveler says
Only Obama can save Iran from Israeli bombs
“This bleak outlook is made even more sombre by the formation this week of a new Israeli Government under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu with Ehud Barak, the Labour leader and junior coalition partner, as the Defence Minister. What is significant is not their political affiliations but their military background. Mr. Barak, the most decorated soldier in the Israeli army, once headed Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s equivalent of the SAS before becoming the army chief. One soldier serving under him was Mr. Netanyahu. Another veteran of this elite unit was Moshe Yaalon, also in the Cabinet. These men have taken part in assassination operations against Palestinian leaders and commanded daring raids deep inside enemy territory. In short, they have the experience and the confidence to plan and execute an attack on Iran. “
Could anyone find a way to remove the fangs from Israeli fanatics?
If Israeli war regime thinks a war is a way forward, then they are dead wrong.
War only accelerates other wars. Israel will not survive during the long term struggle. Iran proved that point during her 8 years war with Iraq; they kept fighting in spite of all the helps Iraq received from Arabs and our own USA help. Could Israel depend on USA to remain the Israeli patsy? Be realist, even the Israeli Lobby has its limitations.
Iran proved that once attacked she will not stay down and kept fighting for 8 years with Iraq; they kept fighting in spite of all the helps Iraq received from many Arabic countries and our own USA help.
Could Israel depend on USA to remain the Israeli patsy and keep supporting their aggressive actions? Be realist, even the Israeli Lobby has its limitations.
RE: “Iran is a composite leadership, but in that composite leadership there are elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist right now in any other would-be nuclear power in the world. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”
FROM THE ARTICLE “GOP Narcissists On Parade” by Paul Rosenberg:
“Not using the word “narcissism” (though she has before), digby is instead focusing on the issue of temperament in a recent brief post, “Finger On The Button”, but the two are clearly related. She begins:
I think one of the things I find most reprehensible about the Republican Party and their Big Money backers is that they think it’s ok to play Russian Roulette with the country (and the world) by nominating people to power who have completely inappropriate temperaments for it. George W. Bush, with his thin skinned, shallow understanding of the world, bottomless need for flattery, is a good case in point.
She then quotes from a Think Progress account, about another prominent example, “Report: ‘Angry’ McCain Referred To Hispanics As ‘You People’ During Outreach Meeting “. The most revealing part:
At one point, McCain reportedly began referring to Hispanics as “you people”:
“He was angry,” one source said. “He was over the top. In some cases, he rolled his eyes a lot. There were portions of the meeting where he was just staring at the ceiling, and he wasn’t even listening to us. We came out of the meeting really upset.”
ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.openleft.com/diary/12686/gop-narcissists-on-parade
LINK TO THE ARTICLE “When God Spoke to Me” (see above) – http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=14890
Miles Stuart says
Dickerson, thanks for the link.
The paragraph beginning “Flabbergasted, Chirac pursued:” is absolutely stunning, almost psychic.