Israeli defense minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon has had quite a week. He began it with a speech which derisively accused America of being “weak” and of being bested by the merchants of the Persian bazaar in the P5+1 nuclear talks:
“We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States,” said Ya’alon, speaking during an event at Tel Aviv University. “But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better.”
The speech went on to say that Yaalon no longer opposed an Israeli attack on Iran as he had during the previous Netanyahu government (when his arch nemesis, Ehud Barak was defense minister). Instead, Yaalon now favored such an attack, and the sooner the better:
If Israel had hoped others would do the job for it, this is not about to happen, Ya’alon said: “Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”
What’s truly shocking about his change of heart is that I personally believe his opposition to attacking Iran derived more from his hatred of Barak (who touted the plan along with Bibi) than any strategic consideration. Conversely, now that Yaalon is running the show at the defense ministry, he favors an attack. This is naked political calculation of the rankest sort.
Yaalon went even farther, warning the U.S. that the “chickens” of Islamist extremism would come home to roost in America unless we battled to the death against it:
If the American government persists in demonstrating weakness on the international front, the United States’ own national security will be badly damaged, Ya’alon said. “If you sit and wait at home, the terrorism will come again,” he said. “Even if you hunker down, it will come. This is a war of civilizations. If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world. Nobody will replace the United States as global policeman. I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn’t, it will challenge the world order, and the United States is the one that will suffer.”
The former IDF chief of staff even lectured Obama about his flabby policy toward Russia:
Look what’s happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately.”
It wasn’t the first time Yaalon had taken to such chest-thumping. Only a few weeks ago, he’d accused John Kerry of having a “messianic obsession” with bringing peace to the Middle East. That little outburst was roundly slapped down by U.S. ambassador Dan Shapiro, who took Yaalon to the woodshed. After which, Yaalon abjectly apologized and said he hadn’t meant any affront (which he clearly had).
An unnamed American official (we can assume it was also Shapiro in this case) tore into Yaalon a few days ago and demanded an apology for his latest effrontery. The Obama administration let him know that America would not stand for such a naked attack on the good faith of Pres. Obama. This is important for several reasons: first, it lets Netanyahu and Yaalon know that the U.S. is running Iran policy and not Israel. It tells them that this is not Israel’s bailiwick and that Obama will not brook Israeli interference. Second, it establishes a marker for the Israel-Palestine negotiations, letting Israel know that when we want to flex our muscles we can and will. Though we’ve clearly been less willing to do this regarding the Kerry peace talks, which have been largely tilting toward Israeli interests.
Anyone who regularly reads Israeli political tea leaves knows that Yaalon made these two brazen sets of remarks for one of two reasons: 1) either he’s trying to establish his farther-right bona fides when he makes a run for leadership of the Likud after Bibi steps down; or he’s speaking as Bibi’s proxy. Of course, Bogie’s motivation may be a mix of both. But my money is on the latter: Yaalon is speaking on Bibi’s behalf. He’s saying the sorts of boorish, sullen, anti-Obama things that Bibi himself believes but can’t say publicly.
My guess is that Obama believes this as well, which is why Shapiro came down so hard on Yaalon. The U.S. is putting Bibi on notice that if he crosses a red line of anti-Iran machinations (like contemplating an attack or even talking about it), there will be a price to be paid.
One Haaretz veteran columnist even demanded Bogie’s resignation. So the hawkish defense minister made another one of those post-woodshed apologies, this time in a phone call to defense secretary, Chuck Hagel. In it he swore fealty to America and ticked off all the pro-U.S. talking points, none of which he believes. After all, Bibi and Bogie are setters at heart. Just as the settlers hate this U.S. government and would spit on Obama’s grave (politically, if not literally), so does the settler government led by Bibi.
Yet another transparent propaganda effort brought Israel’s Mossad (no doubt at the behest of Bibi Netanyahu) to announce that eight Iranian Jews who attempted to illegally emigrate to Israel in 1994 were dead. The Mossad wouldn’t say how they knew this information, how the Jews died or anything of any value. Nor did they explain why it took them 19 years to announce their findings. Though of course an anonymous Israeli official denied there was any political motivation for releasing the information in the midst of delicate P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran. A claim which everyone takes at face value, I’m sure. Just as everyone believes the announcement two weeks ago of Israel’s interception of a ship allegedly laden with Iranian missiles bound for Islamic Jihad was purely coincidental.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 20, 2014
Iran, not to be outdone, and having its own hardline political clique, has responded in kind. Today, Ayatollah Khamenei’s official Twitter feed featured this bellicose quotation which he offered last year. Keep in mind, that today’s Tweet was offered on the festive Iranian New Year day of Nowruz. Nice sentiment, huh? If you think of doing anything funny, we’ll blow you to Kingdom Come (or the Shia equivalent). In my own tweet in response, I noted how stupid it was for the leader of a great country to threaten to wipe another country’s major cities off the map, when the latter could do a far “better” job of terminating much of Iran.
All the Likudist hawks in Israel and the U.S. will chortle with glee when they see this tweet. They’ll trot out their mad mullah talking points and note the fiery, apocalyptic rhetoric. Of course, they’ll be missing the fact that it was Bogie Yaalon who drew first blood. He was the one who beat the drums of war in his speech. Khamenei, or whoever manages his Twitter feed, only responded in kind. Isn’t it funny how the hasbara brigades don’t like context?
My Iranian-American friend (and ally) Nima Shirazi discussed all this in his post about this speech of the Grand Ayatollah’s last year.
All of this chest-puffery is a zero-sum game and I think Obama is plain sick of it, which is why he ordered Dan Shapiro to take out after Yaalon and give him a sound, and deserved hiding.
NOTE: My apology for my site being unavailable for several hours today. There was a problem with one of the tables in my database, which was fixed. I reverted back to a previous version of the installation which caused the comments published yesterday to be lost. Again, I apologize for this and encourage you to repost whatever you might not see now.
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.