Comment is Free has just published a shorter version of this piece.
Despite the ballyhoo of the recent Aipac national policy conference in Washington, when Israel-U.S. bonds were feted, relations between the two countries have not been more strained since 1991. That was when George H.W. Bush fiercely lobbied Yitzchak Shamir to join in the Madrid peace conference. Relations reached their nadir when James Baker uttered his infamous remark about American Jewish pro-Israel supporters: “F*(k the Jews, they don’t even vote for us.” If relations continue to deteriorate in coming months as well they might, we might have to go back to the Suez crisis of 1956 to find a time when relations were this fraught.
A case in point is Iran. That bogey-nation was everywhere at Aipac. Every keynote speech– if they weren’t directly written by that group’s staff–seemed remarkably scripted and “on message” concerning the existential threat that Iran poses not just to Israel, but the entire world. In fact, there seems to be a deliberate attempt NOT to include Israel itself as a victim of a belligerent Iran. Word has gone forth from Jerusalem that to frame the issue as one of universal jeopardy, rather than endangering merely Israel.
The glossy press brochure (see above) shows a map centered on Iran and beyond, with a dark ominous ring around Iran’s neighbors as far away as India, Russia, West Africa and Eastern Europe. The message: these are the countries under imminent threat of Iranian ballistic missiles. The brochure copy even intimates that the next step for Iran is “building a missile with range to reach U.S. territory.” Never mind that Iran doesn’t yet have any ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, nor will it have the bomb itself for anywhere from a year to five years depending on which you source you choose to believe.
In Israel and Aipac’s eyes, Iran is the war-mongering, hegemonic Arab regime that seeks to project its power and dominate the region. Never mind that Iran has never in modern history launched a war of its own (though it has fought back once attacked cf. the Iran-Iraq war). Never mind that ISRAEL is already a serial nuclear power who has launched multiple wars against its Arab enemies.
Iran is the nation intent on a “second Holocaust.” And not just annihilating the Israeli people, but the entire JEWISH people. The enormity and brazenness of what Israel is trying to get us all to believe about Iran is mind-boggling.
The counter-arguments above are a vain attempt at reason. There is little reason to the Israeli campaign. It is a visceral , fear-fueled invocation of dark forces and emotions. It operates intellectually, but even moreso unconsciously. It is based on prejudices and ignorance about Iran, its people, its government, its religion, and its culture.
Israel is in the midst of a massive diplomatic, political and intelligence campaign, both public and covert, that could lead, if those officials behind it have their way, to a military strike on Iran. It is a war for the hearts and minds of Americans. Or you might call it the war before the war. In intelligence circles, this Israeli project is known as perception management and defined by the Department of Defense as:
Actions to convey and/or deny information…to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders…ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to [U.S.] objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations.
The Israelis are, I believe, using the template of the Bush administration’s run-up to the Iraq war. First the U.S. government advocated half-hearted efforts at diplomatic engagement, and then it ratcheted up pressure through sanctions and UN resolutions. That is where the Israeli campaign stands now.
Aipac’s members carried a unified message to Capitol Hill during their lobbying of senators and House members. They demanded that Congress pass the most draconian sanctions ever proposed against Iran. They demanded that Iran be offered a limited time in which to respond to an ultimatum insisting that it drop its nuclear program.
What then? If you review Aipac’s literature and various op ed pieces published either by Israeli diplomats or their American Jewish front men in U.S. media, they don’t specify what comes next.
But this too is part of the strategy which has clearly defined intervals. What happens during one leads inexorably to the next. You don’t allude to what the substance of the next stage will be until it happens. But any sensible person knows that the final step will be war (“Israeli leaders have…hinted at pre-emptive military strikes if they decide that diplomacy has failed”).
The Israelis surely know that the Obama administration will never go to war against Iran. In fact, they know that the Obama would not even approve Israel doing so. But I’ve become convinced over time that Israel is prepared at some date in the future to attack Iran itself, and even against the wishes of the U.S.
This of course will put Obama in an untenable position: do U.S. forces attack the Israelis (in effect defending the Iranians) and risk the fallout that would occur in relations between the Democratic administration and American Jews? Or does he allow the Israelis to carry on to their targets and bomb Iran, accepting the bloodletting and mayhem that will inevitably result? If Israel wishes for the latter outcome, they must lay the groundwork here in the U.S. for tacit acceptance by the American people of a third-party attack on Iran.
Indeed, they are a good deal of the way toward this goal as the latest Rasmussen Report reveals. According to it, 49% of Americans believe that if Israel attacks Iran that the U.S. should help.
Israel exploits a willing circle of Likudist advocacy groups and think-tanks like Washington Institute for Near East Peace, the Israel Project, Aipac, and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which are closely scripted and tightly coordinate their political message with Israeli diplomatics. While some of these groups deny such affiliation, there is extensive proof of such scripting and amplification of an Israeli government agenda. Though of course, there may be cases in which the organizations know the needs of their patrons so well that they need no prompting to express them.
Israel, along with enablers like Aipac and American Jewish supporters, have not shrunk from hounding their critics. One peace activist here so angered Israeli authorities, that he was driven from a job through an orchestrated whispering campaign in the Jewish community that also included a disparaging article leaked to an all-too-willing reporter.
Aipac too, apparently has its own enemies list which includes the Guardian’s Chris McGreal, who duly registered for the national conference. When he entered the Washington Convention Center to pick up his credentials he was directed to step aside, where he was told that he was persona non grata. Security guards ushered him from the hall. Chris’ sin? He’d written the week before the conference that Aipac “drives” fund-raising for members of Congress. Of course, this is a true statement though Aipac is careful to maintain the fiction that it has no direct involvement in political fundraising. Of course, it is its leadership and members who maintain scores of PACs and who coordinate their giving directly or indirectly with Aipac. But you mustn’t even hint at any connection between fundraising and Aipac or risk being sentenced to pro-Israel Siberia.
The level of hubris necessary to pull this off is astonishing. Fresh off the dismissal of the Rosen-Weissman spy charges, Aipac is flexing its political muscle and reminding the world of its resurgence. They do this through a combination of clandestine manipulation, public lobbying and punishing their enemies.
Returning to Israel itself, the Netanyahu regime has become a single issue government. It is all Iran, all the time. Netanyahu will rise or fall on Iran. He reasons if he can shrei about a “second Holocaust” and blare headlines about the threat that Iran poses to the world, no one will notice that Israel is doing nothing to resolve any of the conflicts with its immediate neighbors. It’s quite a deft maneuver representing yet another weapon in the national arsenal of delay and obfuscation going all the way back to 1967.
We in the U.S. must be prepared to resist. We must protect ourselves from Israel’s propaganda offensive ginning up war with Iran. We must encourage the president to stay strong in his commitment to Israeli-Arab peace, whether or not Israel is a willing partner. Keeping our eyes on the prize of peace is going to be the hardest challenge of all, because the Netanyahu government seems to be doing everything in its power to divert world attention from the subject through deeds both covert and transparent.