The drums of war have been sounding especially loudly of late in Israel. As Stephen Walt wrote in Foreign Policy, the media have been playing a dutiful role in regurgitating the talking points of Israel’s war party, chief among them Ehud Barak and Bibi Netanyahu. That’s almost to be expected. But what’s neither expected nor acceptable is amplifying the most delusional of the pro-war talking points, as Maariv did today in its lead story. The screaming headline of the print edition: U.S. Will Be Forced to Join in Israeli Attack. The online headline and subheading is also instructive:
American Officials: If Israel Attacks, the U.S. Will Join in the Operation
Political and diplomatic sources in both the Republican and Democratic Parties passed to the prime minister’s office and to the Israeli ambassador [Oren] messages in this vein. In their estimation, Obama will be forced to defend Israel in the face of an Iranian missile attack because aiding Israel will help him get re-elected.
The article claims that “secret” messages (don’t you just love it when journalists turn purported secret messages into very public ones by blabbing about them in print?) have been passed to Oren, cheering Israel on in this adventure. Among Democrats, Maariv claims that those “close to the president” have passed along such messages. I find this so improbable as to beggar belief.
Those close to Mitt Romney have passed along such messages promising Israel that Pres. Romney will attack Iran. What they should say is if American Jews vote in enormous numbers for us (extremely unlikely), and if we win, then Mitt and the Force will be with you. That’s a lot of “ifs.”
Aipac too is whispering such sweet nothings into willing Israeli ears.
The slipshod thinking behind this scenario is that Obama will join the attack because to do so will guarantee him winning a second term. This claim of course is oblivious to the fact that the American people have grown sick and tired of Middle East wars after fighting three of them in the past twenty years. To add a fourth? It might be the straw that broke the camel and the Democrat’s back. I would surely hope so.
What’s hilarious about all this is that after reporting a story that either Netanyahu or Oren leaked, the reporter says that the Israeli embassy “didn’t wish to respond.” How can you leak a story and then refuse to comment on it? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Of course, it could mean that Bibi’s office leaked it and implicated Oren in the story.
Despite the fact that Obama has been walking tip-toe on a tightrope regarding an Iran attack, telling Israel behind the scenes not to attack, while publicly showing incredible deference to Israel’s perceived strategic interests, he really has only himself to blame for stories like this. As Aluf Benn wrote yesterday in Haaretz, the real effect of the U.S. tightrope-walking is to make the war hawks in the Israeli government believe they have Obama wrapped around their little finger. Obama can’t or won’t publicly say in no uncertain terms that the U.S. will not accept an attack on Iran. I doubt he’d even say this if they knew for sure Israel was about to attack.
But does this mean, as Benn seems to imply, that the U.S. might actually join in an Israeli attack? Certainly, it’s unlikely the U.S. would join in a pre-emptive Israeli attack. But if Iran hit Israel hard and there were significant casualties would Obama be able to sit back and wait things out? Would he refuse to become involved militarily? Wouldn’t we like to think he would. But if Obama has taught us anything in these three years it’s that when offered an opportunity to do the right thing regarding Middle East or counter-terror policy, he invariably chooses the wrong option.
I had a conversation with a journalist-activist I respect who writes regularly about the Middle East. He believes Obama will fall prey to the siren song of war. God, I hope he’s wrong. But I simply have no faith in Obama and fear the worst.
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.