Ynet reports (fuller Hebrew version) that Ephraim Halevy, a former Mossad director, said yesterday that Iran poses no “existential threat” to Israel and that attacking it must truly be a last resort. Anyone considering such a strike must realize that it would impact not just Israel, but the entire region for the next 100 years. If this was all Halevy said it would be important, but mere reinforcement of views already expressed forcefully by Meir Dagan, the most recent past Mossad chief. What renders the former’s views even more interesting is that he identifies what he considers an even greater existential threat to Israel: the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox):
Haredi radicalism has darkened our lives. It endangers us even more than Ahmadinejad.
His attack on Haredim is shorthand for an entire range of social developments within Israeli society that includes, but goes beyond merely the ultra-Orthodox. Halevy, who himself was raised in the moderate Orthodox Bnai Akiva youth movement, refers to the increasing religious and political radicalization of the entire Orthodox movement in Israel. There has always been friction between secular and religious within Israel. But in the past, there were streams within the Orthodox movement which held moderate political and halachic views. Parties like the National Religious Party were ones which accepted a separation between synagogue and state. They participated in governing coalitions and were statist in orientation. They didn’t believe the State should be subordinate to the Jewish religion or halacha. Leaders like Josef Burg (Avrum Burg’s father) were also sober-minded and incorruptible.
Today’s Orthodox are increasingly extreme in their views. The moderate religious parties are long extinct. In their place are the ultra-Orthodox, who are much more socially separatist and militant. They view Israeli secular society as a world–and a state apart from them. They participate in politics because of the spoils it brings them in financial subsidies, and not for patriotic reasons. For them, the State of Israel is not an end, but a means toward a successor regime that fulfills the tenets of Judaism as they see it.
Haredim generally don’t join the IDF and receive dispensation from military service as long as they are studying in yeshivot. When Haredim do join the army they serve in military units which are among the most brutal in their treatment of the Palestinians. Which brings us to Haredi political activism. Many of them are the extreme among the settlers. Their yeshivot and settlements produce the most virulent and homicidal of the Jewish terrorists in places like Yitzhar, Tapuach, and Itamar (among others).
So when Halevy calls the Haredim an existential threat the term is shorthand for a whole set of phenomena that have developed inside Israel over the past few decades and moved Israel from a place which suffered from a divide between secular and religious; into a society in which, while the secular still existed, they had been co-opted and subsumed into a state that moved more and more in the direction of racism, intolerance, and authoritarianism. These noxious elements, while always present even among secular Israelis, became far more pronounced as Haredi culture did.
Though Halevy doesn’t mention this explicitly, I’m sure he’d liken the increasing militancy of the Haredim and their settler members with that of militant Islam. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda have their counterparts in Israel’s most violent settler rabbis and Kahanist MKs like Baruch Marzel, Michael Ben Ari, and a number of others. While it is true that Jewish terror has not achieved the level of violence of the terror acts of Al Qaeda, that is because Jewish religious extremism has had to struggle against the secular, democratic values of Israel to find traction. That’s why the process of radicalization has been gradual within the nation. Within Muslim states like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, there were few countervailing influences to hold back this fundamentalist tide.
Going farther afield, the Ynet report noted Ehud Barak, while visiting London (yes, the British Parliament has removed any threat of arrest warrants against Israeli leaders possibly culpable for war crimes, thus enabling the Israeli defense minister to re-enter the global political marketplace), made some extraordinarily overblown, incendiary remarks about Iran. Among them was his likening the Islamist regime to North Korea and his claim that an Iranian bomb would undo military arms treaties (which is ironic considering Israel has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). He also posited an Iran whose hegemony ruled the region through military threat:
Which would force the local actors to bend under the influence of Iran. It would spread terror–they already finance terror–throughout the region. This would bring them a form of immunity of the sort from which North Korea benefits. In fact, they’re not producing Barbie dolls, but rather nuclear weapons and heavy missiles capable not just of hitting Israel but central Europe.
What Barak neglects to mention that Israel isn’t producing many Barbie dolls either and that it is rolling out far more nuclear weapons and heavy missiles than Iran. That little fact seems to have slipped his mind though I hope it hasn’t slipped the minds of his listeners.
The above quotation is a perfect example of the near pathological language of jihad, which Israeli commentators have attributed to Barak and Bibi lately (in numberous posts I’ve published here referring to them). I’ve truly come to believe that this is no longer mere political rhetoric and jawboning to get Iran to stand down from its nuclear program, or to get the U.S. to supply its most advanced weapons system. This sort of language goes beyond the rational. It’s the rhetoric of a Caesar dreaming of his next conquest. Though this Caesar hasn’t nearly as decisive and effective a fighting machine as a Roman legion at his disposal (though of course the IDF can wreak far more havoc on the world than any Roman army).
Though U.S. officials have been studiously nonchalant in commenting on any chance of an Israeli attack on Iran, this report by CNN’s Pentagon correspondent shows that the U.S. military is taking this possibility quite seriously:
The United States has become increasingly concerned Israel could be preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on Friday.
The U.S. military and intelligence community in recent weeks have stepped up “watchfulness” of both Iran and Israel, according to the senior U.S. military official and a second military official familiar with the U.S. actions. Asked if the Pentagon was concerned about an attack, the senior military official replied “absolutely.” Both officials declined to be identified because of the extreme sensitivity of the matter.
Both the U.S. Central Command, which watches developments in Iran, and the U.S. European Command, which watches developments in Israel, are “increasingly vigilant” in watching potential military movement in both countries. U.S. satellites are a crucial method of gathering intelligence in both arenas, though the official did not specify that was the method being used.
…The military official told CNN that the United States is watching any Israeli military movements closely as well as those inside Iran. In the past, the U.S. officials felt they had assurances from Israel that it would give warning to the United States of any attack.
“Now that doesn’t seem so ironclad,” the official said.
The article also adds that the U.S. military envisions an Israeli attack including not just F-16s, but Jericho III ballistic missiles, presumably equipped with conventional, rather than nuclear warheads. If the missiles, which presumably could include cruises and other land and sea-based weaponry, were accurate enough, it would take some of the burden off the IAF’s manned airpower. Finally, an attack would offer Shock and Awe Israel-style.
Let’s return to an Israeli voice of reason and sanity, Halevy’s who said:
…No one should believe that there is an [Iranian] existential threat because this is simply not true.
The tragedy for Israel is that Dagan and Halevy, retired from active duty, cannot personally stop such an attack. They’ve left the field to the megalomaniacs like Barak and Bibi, and there’s no telling whether they can be restrained.
“While it is true that Jewish terror has not achieved the level of violence of the terror acts of Al Qaeda, that is because Jewish religious extremism has had to struggle against the secular, democratic values of Israel to find traction.”
Very interesting observations. In his book On Suicide Bombings, the anthropologist Talal Asad also explains a theory that in European history violence perpetrated by particular groups has been understood within the framework of the nation state. Violent groups are considered “insiders” and understood in terms of secular, progressive history. Groups not embedded in the European historical narrative they are considered “outsiders” and threat is emphasized on an international scale because we live in a world of nation states.
From what I gather, it’s also about the location of terror. In India and Israel the messianic ideology of right-wing supporters, largely an elite group in the diaspora, is satiated by their lending financial and intellectual authority to the right-wing agents of that establishment. The behaviour of agents of the state is reflected in the actions of the state itself. Their cause is not considered controversial in the contemporary socio-political sense.
“Leaders like Josef Burg (Avrum Burg’s father) were also sober-minded and incorruptible”.
“Sober-minded” they (until ’67), but “incorruptible”?!
And Josef Burg as an example?!
Being an unmoveable fixture in early Israeli establishment, the early strains of the “National Religious Party” were consistently at its more-economically-corrupt edge.
Josef Burg, being personally investigated (1980, “Peach” investigation) for political corruption, used his position as Minister of the Interior to sack Police chief, (former Air-Force chief) General Herzl Shafir and appointed the more compliant Ivtzan.
Such a brazen, open abuse of ministerial-power to publicly stifle a corruption investigation was unheard-of in earlier Israeli administrations.
Herzl Shafir had headed Operations (AGaM) in the General Command, not the Air-Force. Not that it makes much difference for this matter.
Richard Silverstein says
I was under the impression Burg was more honest than the current lot of Haredi leaders.
You’re right. It’s not hard to be more honest than that lot.
One suggestion — which has at least the advantage of freshness in a tired old story — is that war-talk is a manipulation being made on behalf of oil-futures traders who seek to profit from the raising and then from the relaxation of fears regarding the sudden reduction of oil supply which an attack (by anyone) on Iran would cause.
When we consider the total bloody-mindedness of the big bankers who destroyed the USA’s and then the world’s economies (and then arranged the bailouts to save themselves in a heads I win tails you lose maneuver), it is easy to believe that such big bankers (or other like-minded investors) would be willing and even eager to manipulate oil-futures prices EVEN at the risk of creating a momentum toward a war that no-one would benefit from.
“…The official underscored long-standing U.S. military concerns about the risk of hostilities to American troops in the region, both those still in Iraq and U.S. naval forces and ground forces throughout the Persian Gulf. [i]The official also strongly emphasized the United States has no current intention of striking Iran[/i].”
Short of the Iranians attacking US assets the US has no appetite for a war with Iran. This is most acutely felt within the US national security state.
Should the stupidest man in the Israeli universe ‘throw the dice,’ he may come to know a far greater horror than Iranian nukes, an American ally that refuses to back up an overt Israeli aggression.
Richard Silverstein says
Unfortunately I’ve read some pretty reasonable analysts say Obama is liable to join the party once Israel starts the action. Presidents who claim they’re fighting terror never lose at the polls.
Daniel F. says
I just don’t see an attack happening.
The U.S. army is tired after Iraq and Afghanistan, budget cuts are a’Comin’ and the folks at the Pentagon do not see wisdom in a preemptive strike.
On a different note and to quote Robert K. Merton in his book Social Theory and Social Structure…….
……“The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of terror. For the prophet will cite the actual course of event as proof that he was right from the very beginning.”
The Iranians although spooked are unlikely “to go for their gun” first and conduct a preemptive strike but the hezbollah in Lebanon may well feel that with the loss of Syrian support their position can only weaken from here on in and they may consider a preemptive strike on Israel.
John Shreffler says
Daniel, any US action against Iran would be an Air Force/Navy Effects-Based Operations air campaign, fairly massive. The assets for that sort of thing are completely fresh and ready–B-2’s, Air Force fighters, aircraft carriers and their Air Wings, and lots of cruise missiles, from subs, surface ships, and B-52’s and B-1’s. Lots of unused capacity there and, much worse, lots of Air Force and Navy brass eager to strut their stuff. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have needed these guys much. They were both Army/Marines shows. The problem with the ground forces is that as they’re currently deployed they’re sitting ducks for Iran, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Paradoxically, this makes a US air campaign more likely if the IAF launches a strike on grounds of force protection. Iran’s repeated threats to attack US assets after an Israeli attack pretty much ensure a US response. That’s just SOP for the US military. I’m fearing the worst.
“Daniel, any US action against Iran would be an Air Force/Navy Effects-Based Operations air campaign, fairly massive…”
And the certain failure of an EBO campaign against Iran will be exponentially greater than any damage it can or claim to inflict. US warfighters are fully aware of the severe limitations of ‘shock & awe’ and in no hurry to repeat the same mistakes twice.
The US and Iranians are competitors for sure, but for all the ‘options are on the table’ do-do that publicly flies to and fro between Tehran and Washington D.C., both parties are quite happy to keep their competition limited to rhetoric, international forums, counter alliances and proxies.
Nor is it true the US has a standing policy, treaty or secret understanding to automatically join Israel in a war of aggression against Iran. If that were even remotely valid in any limited sense Netanyahu would have played his hand a long ago.
This administration and the previous one have on many occasions sent their highest ‘principals’ to Tell Aviv, telling the lunatics to ‘back it down’ regarding their rhetoric and behavior towards Iran. SecDef Leon Panetta only recently returned from another mission in laying down the law.
Israeli interference in US domestic politics and hamstringing US foreign policy is making no new friends and beginning to lose some.
[comment deleted for serial sock puppetry–do not do this again!]
There was once a ‘stupid’ man named Menachem Begin, who risked war and world condemnation when he destroyed the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak.
Another ‘stupid’ man named Ehud Olmert risked a war with Israel’s neighbors when he ordered the Syrian nuclear plant bombed.
In hindsight, who looks foolish?
Richard Silverstein says
Taking out Osirak is child’s play compared to the task in store regarding Iran. Olmert too had a relatively easy task. As for looking foolish: Olmert being one of Israel’s most corrupt PM’s definitely looks foolish & like a gonif.
BTW, if you bombard me with unwanted personal e mails you will lose yr comment privileges. I don’t accept hasbara propaganda in my private e mail.
And publishing comments using two different nicknames is absolutely forbidden. Use a single profile. If you do this again, you’ll be banned.
Clif Brown says
I don’t know whether the better analogy is with Chicken Little, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, or George W. Bush and Iraq. Act frenzied and hope it spreads.
The only possible positive I can see from an Israel-initiated war with Iran (which I believe the US would auto-support) is that the automatic behavior would be so transparent and counterproductive that Israel’s control of US foreign policy in the Middle East might be broken and AIPAC topped. There is already resentment over the connection of the pro-Israel neocons and the Iraq disaster. A second “preventive” action against an opponent that doesn’t have the goods just might do the trick.
There was once a House Un-American Activities Committee, these days it is the House itself that is un-American in blindly following the directive of a foreign country.
“Nor is it true the US has a standing policy, treaty or secret understanding to automatically join Israel in a war of aggression against Iran. If that were even remotely valid in any limited sense Netanyahu would have played his hand a long ago.”
Does protecting Israeli assets with American men and material count as joining in a war?
In the realm of antimissile defense, all of our so- designated EUCOM goodies will be in place early(?) next year under the next iteration of the joint US/Israeli exercise, Juniper Cobra. Haaretz has a piece about Amb Andrew Shapiro’s recent gushings to WINEP about it. He supposedly described our mutual defense relations as “broader, deeper, more intense than ever before.”
Also of note are remarks from various sources that the removal of American troops from Iraq decreases that liability in a wartime scenario. It also leaves Iraqi airspace corridors unguarded by the USAF.
Hezbollah, specifically the canny Nasrallah, will not initiate a confrontation with Israel. They’re deeply involved in Lebanese politics & coalitions and believe that Israel will be attacking THEM.
In any case, Juniper Cobra practices a multi-front war that includes defending against the rocket/missile arsenals of Iran, Syria HA/Lebanon and/or Hamas.
Richard Silverstein says
Amb. Daniel Shapiro, not “Andrew.”
According to that line of reasoning the US must be planning on attacking a whole host of ‘evil doers in a month or two, with all the joint military exercises conducted and planned this year with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, S. Korea, Mozambique, Romania, Brazil, and India to name a few, besides of course NATO and other post cold war treaty obligations still extent today.
A huge amount of attention is being directed towards Africa via AFCOM in military sales, bilateral and multilateral joint training programs and military exercises that only scratches the surface of US political/military activities on that continent. Not to mention the massive, bi-annual, US/Egyptian joint military training exercise “Operation Bright Star,” that’s been billed as the largest U.S. military training exercise on foreign soil. And that’s only one of 7 joint US/Egyptian training exercises conducted annually or bi-annually.
What snaps the eye lids of Zealous minded Zionists like window shades isn’t the tech transfers, military sales or joint exercises between the US and Israel, it’s the growing and deepening diplomatic and military cooperation that’s accelerating between the US and Arab states since the strategic disasters plural of 19 March 2003. Per an Israeli spokesman Israel was “was not thrilled” by the massive 60 billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2010. And with the pending withdrawal from Iraq the US and Persian Gulf States are expanding the security paradigm in tech transfers, armaments and joint training as a security hedge against Iran.
The point I’m making here is that the US has a plethora of “special relationships” with many nations and countries, not just Israel. And none of these military, cooperative arrangements means the US is automatically going to launch a war of aggression overtly or covertly. USNORTHCOM periodically updates its hemispheric war plans, but no one in Canada or Mexico is expecting an American invasion December next.
Fred Plester says
The US has been talking to Somali tribal leaders, too.
Mind you, they had to ask the Royal Marines to go and fetch one of the leaders for them.
The Daily Mail did its best to inflate this into a British combat operation in Somalia, of course, but the bare facts were that a party went ashore from RFA Cardigan Bay in two Viking vehicles, drove through a lot of small arms fire from local Islamists, picked up the leader, drove back through a certain amount of fire and took the man to Cardigan Bay, from where he was transferred by helicopter to another ship which was deemed safe enough for the bigwigs who wanted to talk to him.
There was no systematic effort to do anything but deter the shooters, so starting or escalating a fight wasn’t the purpose of the exercise. Just a taxi run, really.
Which is amusing given that certain taxi drivers in South London seem to have very direct lines of communication to Somali pirate gangs.
There’s always lots of money to be made when the wheels of war grind, although the huge profits realized do tend to have a very limited distribution. On the other hand, perhaps the greater ethical argument, aside from the obvious ethics of a few stalwart patriots making lots of money, is that it’s been well over half a century since we destroyed the results of Iran’s 1953 democratic election and installed a tyrant to lead the country. Surely, we’ve waited patiently long enough, and what could be nobler than standing shoulder to shoulder with our stout little Middle Eastern ally perhaps to realize yet another crack at all Iran’s wonderful fields of oil, so very far superior to those fields of dreams sentimentalists seem to dote on. And it might serve well to remember that our relationship with our stout little Middle Eastern ally can save us a few bucks that otherwise would be going to some benighted UN agency or another. It’s not all one way, you know.