Scott Peterson recently published a comprehensive timeline for Iran’s nuclear program that charted not so much the actual progress of Iran’s supposed quest for a weapon, but the west’s, and in particular Israel’s shifting and endless series of revelations and predictions regarding it. Israel’s movable dates for Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon take on the character of the predictions of Nostradamus or those of Christian millennials who announce the date of the Second Coming. Another aspect of the millennialist world view that Israel’s shreying about Iran shares is a profound, almost religious faith in the certainty, not only of the prediction, but that the cause for which these predictions are offered is something close to sacred.
For the past several years, some would go back much farther and even say decades, Israel has orchestrated an ambitious, multi-layered campaign that included diplomatic and intelligence operations along with exploitation of American Jewish pro-Israel “agents of influence” (more on that below) designed to gin up an atmosphere conducive to war. This was the subject of the secret documents I read, provided to me by Shamai Leibowitz, which showed Israeli diplomats ghostwriting anti-Iran op-eds for U.S. newspapers (see below), then Sen. Sam Brownback reporting to Israeli diplomats on an anti-Iran conference he was organizing (here is further evidence of Brownback’s continuing shilling against Iran), a Texas Congressman meeting with a local Jewish donor and Israeli diplomat, to whom the politician reported on Congressional developments that would further isolate Iran, and a senior Senate foreign relations committee staffer being briefed by senior Israel military-intelligence figures eager to warn him about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
Sheera Frenkel provided further background to this campaign in a piece she wrote (along with two other parts in a series) for McClatchy, in which Israeli leaders admit to the existence of this coordinated effort:
[During a press briefing, Israel’s] Agent 83 fingered with care his model of what a potential Iranian nuclear bomb might look like.
The agent…was showing off the model to a group of foreign reporters…the third such time he had been asked to showcase his expertise in the second half of 2009.
“…I hope it is clear that Iran is working toward building a nuclear bomb,” he told the departing reporters.
Within days, accounts of Agent 83’s story appeared in articles across the U.S. and Europe — Iran had advanced technological understanding of the workings of a nuclear weapon. It was one of dozens of “exclusives” on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the majority of which had originated with Israeli sources.
Such access to Israeli experts for international journalists has been critical to spreading Israel’s view that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In recent months, talk of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has fueled the Republican presidential campaign, served as the backdrop for this week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and earned a pledge from Obama on Sunday that the United States would resort to military means if necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
Israeli officials acknowledge that the widespread acceptance in the West that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon isn’t based just on the findings of Israeli intelligence operatives, but relies in no small part on a steady media campaign that the Israelis have undertaken to persuade the world that Iran is bent on building a nuclear warhead.
“The intelligence was half the battle in convincing the world,” an Israeli Foreign Ministry official told McClatchy…”The other half was Israel’s persistent approach and attitude that this was not something the world could continue to ignore.”
The official had recently returned from a trip to Washington and marveled at how the topic has become a major one in the United States. “U.S. politicians were falling over each other to talk about Iran,” he said. “In some ways, that is a huge success for Israel.”
…Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany and former head of arms control at the Foreign Ministry, said that Israel slowly developed its outreach and media efforts on Iran over more than two decades.
“We were diplomatically actively pursuing the Iranian issue for decades,” he said. But the Israeli campaign moved into the public sphere five years ago when the Israelis decided they needed public opinion to also drive Iran policy. “Now it is a new ballgame,” Stein said. “Now we added extra resources to mobilize our government and also world opinion.”
…Coordinating media coverage, such as the Agent 83 briefing on the workings of the hypothetical bomb, was critical to that effort. Often such access was timed to take place before critical events.
In the year after U.S. intelligence agencies published a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that downplayed the Iranian nuclear threat, an unprecedented number of leaks over Iran’s alleged progress on nuclear weapons was released to the press. They culminated in reports published in Israeli newspapers that Iran had secret uranium enrichment facilities. In 2009…Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy revealed a yet-undisclosed facility at Qom.
Israeli officials also said it was no coincidence that a flurry of reports on Israel’s imminent strike on Iran filled the press last fall just ahead of a report from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Guzansky said the possible Israeli strike leaks to the media were “an important tool” for the government.
“It is psychological warfare. You leak to get the enemy or your friend to think X or Y,” he said.
Yoel Guzansky, who headed a department that studies Iran’s nuclear weapons program in the Israeli prime minister’s office from 2005-2009 and is currently a fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies said…
“Israel doesn’t want it to look like it is pushing the West toward a war with Iran. There are those that said Israel pushed the U.S. towards a war with Iraq, which is untrue,” said Guzansky. “Today regarding Iran, Israel is not telling the U.S. to attack. They are saying something more nuanced…
Any Israeli with half a brain in their head (and Guzansky is a undoubtedly a very smart man) who can say this after hearing Bibi Netanyahu’s Aipac speech, is either deluding himself or deeply cynical (or both).
Frenkel points out the invaluable assistance in this campaign played by what I called above, Israeli agents of influence, American Jewish groups like The Israel Project, which have an interlocking network with the Israeli diplomatic community here, and together pump out the same coordinated message:
As Israeli diplomats were working to convince governments of the Iranian nuclear threat, other organizations, such as the Washington-based Israel Project, were pressing the Israeli position with journalists and others.
Founded in 2002, one of the Israel Project’s earliest goals was to raise awareness on Iran.
“Our work — since the beginning — has been to encourage Iran to make a choice between their nuclear program and the things they want in the world,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mirzrahi, the founder and president of the Israel Project.
The campaign has been successful, she said. “In a year like this year, nobody can get elected without having a strong Iran policy,” she said.
TIP’s Iran “specialist” is Barbara Ledeen, wife of neocon uber-hawk, Michael Ledeen. A further example of that interlocking directorate mentioned above.
When he was privy to secret FBI wiretaps of Israeli diplomats, Leibowitz even told me that the then Israeli deputy chief of mission in Washington, Jeremy Issacharoff, arranged for the Boston Herald to publish an op-ed ghostwritten by embassy staff and published under the name of Jeff Robbins, a partner in the Boston law firm, Mintz Levin. Issacharoff is married to TIP’s global affairs director, Laura Kam. Mintz Levin is the firm of which Cameron Kerry, an Aipac supporter and John Kerry’s brother, has been a managing partner. Robbins in his newspaper and law firm bio touts his human rights credentials. It’s always best to couch attacks on Iran not in terms of promoting Israeli interests, but rather promoting non-partisan values that we all can agree on, like human rights. To be fair, a reporter who wrote about the Leibowitz leaks questioned Robbins about the newspaper op-ed and he denied that it had been ghostwritten. All I can say is that Israeli diplomats quoted on the wiretaps saw it otherwise.
American and Israeli media outlets have been willing participants in Israel’s campaign. They’ve published op-eds and news reports that breathlessly predicted global annihilation at the hands of Iran and advocated a scorched earth military campaign to subdue it. Even so-called liberal media like the New York Times and Haaretz have been victimized though willingly. Remember the Benny Morris op-ed that argued Israel might have to pre-emptively launch a nuclear strike against Iran? Morris, I remind you, is neither an expert in Iranian affairs or Israeli nuclear strategy. Yet that was published thanks to the considered judgement of the New York Times op ed editor. Such collaboration is really shameful and reminds us of the black mark that paper earned for its prominently splashing the “findings” by Judy Miller of Iraqi WMD.
In this sense, American Jewish communal leaders allow themselves to become willing collaborators with Israel in advancing its goals. These Americans don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing, because they’ve deluded themselves into believing that Israel’s interests are the same as America’s. M.J. Rosenberg and other Israel critics call such people “Israel Firsters.” While I’m sympathetic to the critical impulse behind such a term, it’s slightly off-target. As I’ve just said, these people believe they’re advancing America’s AND Israel’s best interests. But in reality they’re advancing neither’s, since eternal enmity between Iran and the west is in no one’s interest.
The $64,000 question is: has the Israeli campaign worked? Has it achieved whatever Israel’s objectives were and are. To hear this Israeli journalist tell it, they have:
Sever Plocker, a columnist for…Yediot Ahronot, wrote…that the Israeli media campaign had been a success.
“It seems clearly that the Israeli campaign of last fall, through which rumors were spread of an impending Israeli attack on Iran, has achieved its goals,” he wrote. “The Western statesmen grasped at it and used it to impose the ‘crippling’ sanctions on Iran that Prime Minister Netanyahu had already demanded two years ago.”
The judgement as to the success of this campaign depends on its goal. If the goal is neutralizing Iran as a competitive regional threat or nuclear rival to Israel, it clearly has not succeeded (at least not yet). If the goal was, as I’ve written previously, to distract world attention from other festering aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict, then it has had much more success. Many observers noted that in the speeches at the recent Aipac conclave there was hardly a mention of the Palestinians, a two-state solution or any related matter. As a sort of pressure valve to release tensions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iran threat is highly useful. The Palestinian demand for justice and an independent state pales in the face of the so-called existential threat posed by Iran not just to Israel, but (at least in the Israeli narrative) the entire world.
In the end, Israel’s campaign against Iran is largely manufactured. Yes, Iran is a coercive society whose leaders are hostile to Israel. But no, it does not pose an existential threat to Israel or anyone else. The west has every right to demand safeguards regarding its nuclear program. That’s one of the reasons it’s in the NPT. It has a right to pressure Iran into providing them. But Iran poses no more, and likely much less of a threat to world peace than India, Pakistan or North Korea, each of whom has passed the nuclear threshold in the past two decades. Any talk about Iran as the world’s greatest terrorist state or the mad mullahs’ intent on incinerating half the human race, themes dear to the heart of Bibi Netanyahu and the Israel war hawks, is built on sand and illusion.
Finally, Juan Cole wrote a long blog post outlining the reasons western sanctions against Iran are morally wrong and will not work. In his piece he wrote this about Israel’s propaganda campaign:
We saw…with Iraq and now…with Iran: a weak, ramshackle, ineffectual bogeyman is set up, like Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Americans are kept talking about the “threat” emanating from that country. It isn’t a real threat. It is manufactured by the Israeli intelligence agencies and promoted by their cells in the US.
…Israeli agents of influence attempt to keep Americans talking about anything but Israel’s own ongoing crimes against humanity with regard to the Palestinians. They have special success if the US goes into full-sanction, soft war mode against another country on Israel’s behalf. Now, instead of talking about Israeli predations against the Palestinians, we are being led by the nose by AIPAC and its many media allies to obsess about Iran.
Granted this is strong stuff. Israel’s supporters have a right to wince at a few of the terms used. But there can be little doubt that much of the criticism rendered above is warranted by precisely the sort of campaign Frenkel and I documented in this post and her article.
What isn’t warranted is this disgusting smear by Israel’s DC journalist capo di tutti, Eli Lake, who tweeted this memorable bit of vituperation and character assassination:
To progressives who still read
@jricole you are being conned by a paranoid lunatic. This is spit flecked delusion…
Lake is the prototypical example of the journalistic Israel-Firster. If you read him, it’s sometimes hard to see any division between Israeli and U.S. interests. When he reports on Israel, his sources are invariably Israeli intelligence officials and those peddling a similar line. Which wouldn’t be so bad if much of the information included in his reports weren’t so far-fetched and tendentious as to beggar belief. He’s happy to quote the conclusions of his sources and never demands any facts or proof that underlie the claims (nor does he offer any to his readers). I’ve written before about his flagrantly bogus report on the Eilat terror attack which is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. When it comes to Israeli intelligence sources, if you trust religiously you will be burned consistently (though admittedly not as badly as Joan of Arc). Lake, apparently, doesn’t mind being burned since the cause of advancing Israeli (read, Likud) interests is so dear to his heart.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.