Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Israel, America’s Shaheed?

Iran is a made-in-America problem with Israel being stuck with the bill. But this bill represents an existential threat to Israel at least as serious as the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Ever since 2007, when Bush abandoned his oft-repeated threat to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program by force Israel has, apparently with little thought to consequences, stepped into the gap. Where does this enthusiasm come from? Are we so needy of U.S. approval, insecure as country that we have to parade our machismo endlessly across the world stage? Is it pride that blinds us to the fact that we are being set up for a suicide mission?

While Bush Administration appetite to wage war on Iran had been fading for some time, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) gave Bush the cover needed to bow out of his threats with some dignity. And from then until the present all threats against Iran emanating from the White House and the Joint Chiefs have directly or not pointed to Israel as designated warrior. Herb Keinon recently referred to White House Middle East expert Dennis Ross as warning the Chinese that if they did not join Obama’s most recent push for sanctions that Israel, “could bomb Iran and severely damage China's crucial Persian Gulf oil needs.” And just this week French president Sarkozy warned Lebanon’s prime minister Hariri that, “Israel might take action to prevent the Iranian regime… from obtaining a nuclear bomb.” Forget that French-built Iranian reactors continue to supply fuel for that weapons program.

Who does Israel think will stand by her when the attack on Iran produces the consequence Ross threatened China with, but on a global scale? Bush invading Iraq resulted in the price of oil skyrocketing from the mid-$20’s to more than $100 per barrel. Oil price inflation set the stage for the resulting global recession only now beginning to ease. But Iran is not Iraq, and Israel is definitely not the United States. If the U.S. has backed away from the consequences of such an attack, is Israel prepared to accept them? When the Iranians mine the Straits of Hormuz, or just threaten to do so, and a new round of oil speculation sparks yet another global economic crisis, will the United States, the country most responsible for permitting the Iranian problem to get this far, will Israel’s super power ally still support tiny Israel? Or will the U.S. distance herself while the world blames Israel for the new round of global misery?

Nor is the danger to Israel alone. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Agency recently released a report concluding that, “Anti-Semitism has reached a global peak since the end of Israel's Operation Cast Lead… levels of Jew-hatred have not been so high since the Second World War.” If a far lesser Israeli military action with no direct impact on Israel’s critics, how much more dangerous would the reaction to an attack whose consequences directly impact those predisposed by history to blame the Jews?

How did Iran grow into the massive problem it represents today?

With the invasion of Iraq Bush replaced Sadam and his Sunni Ba’ath party with a government headed by Iraqi Shiites. By that single act Iraq was overnight transformed from mortal enemy and barrier to Iranian hegemonic ambitions into a potential ally and invasion corridor, brought the Iranian threat to the border of Saudi oil wells. Responding to the dual threat of an Iranian bomb, and an increasingly uncertain American defense umbrella, countries from Yemen in the south to Turkey in the north are forced to seek accommodation with the emerging Iranian reality.

But the 2007 NIE allowing Bush to step back from Iran contradicted most credible intelligence agencies assessments of the situation, including Israel’s Mossad, Britain’s MI6 and Germany’s BND. The soon to be released 2010 NIE reportedly concedes its 2007 “mistake.” According to government sources quoted in Newsweek, “U.S. analysts now believe that Iran may well have resumed ‘research’…but that Tehran is not… actually trying to build a weapon (my quotes).” Two “estimates” for two presidents. With that earlier NIE having insisted that Iraq possessed those missing WMD, and so justified invading Iraq, it is fair to at least question the reliability and credibility of the combined wisdom of those 16 intelligence agencies party to the “assessment.” Is US intelligence merely a rubber stamp and whitewash for White House policy? If so, what might the 2010 NIE indicate about current US policy towards Iran and the Middle East?

President Obama, unlike his predecessor, prefers diplomacy and the threat of sanctions over bluster and the threat of war. And to all early signs the 2010 NIE will provide the new administration with the “intelligence” needed to justify that policy. After all, Iranian “research” is not the same as an active program to “develop” a bomb. So the United States has the leisure to pursue its policy of diplomacy while the Iranians continue to pursue their policy of the bomb, a clear and present danger to those counties actually facing the threat on the ground.

Just how real is that threat to the Arabs, to Arab oil? As this is being written the Saudis, who share a long border with Iraq, are building a physical wall between the two states and along its coastline, an Arab Maginot Line. They are also fighting a cross-border war with Iran-backed tribesmen in Yemen. And along the Mediterranean Israel is facing Iranian proxies in Assad’s Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, while down the coast Egypt is building an underground barrier to close Hamas weapons smuggling tunnels.

And to prepare Egyptians for the possibility of war by their Israeli protector against Iran, several months ago the Egypt’s press followed closely the passage of an Israeli submarine and accompanying flotilla through the Suez Canal. While Israeli military traffic through the canal is not in itself newsworthy, Egyptian press coverage is. And further evidence of this “pro-Israel” course change, Egypt’s semi-official al-Ahram newspaper last week described Israel’s Mossad chief Meir Dagan, “a hero who single handedly delayed Iran's advance on a nuclear weapon by several years."

The Saudis, in the meantime, are reported to be sharing intelligence on Iran with Israel, and have quietly given permission for Israel to pass over Saudi airspace in a future bombing run on Iran.

Iran is a made-in-America problem with Israel being stuck with the bill. But this bill represents an existential threat to Israel at least as serious as the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. At best the outcome of the attack would, according to Israeli intelligence, not end the threat but merely delay it by “a few years.” But as the lone country to launch the attack Israel alone would be held responsible by the world for the economic crisis certain to follow. Already surrounded by an Arab world hostile to her very existence Israel can ill afford to be shunned also by the rest of the world.

So where does this leave Israel? The U.S. is irresolute, preferring not to be responsible for acting, ignoring not only the risk to its oil interests but the fate of its “allies”, and the likelihood of a regional nuclear arms race. Nor was this withdrawal from responsibility an innovation of the Obama Administration. It is an American position with deep roots in the Bush Administration. Still, regardless who introduced the policy, Iran is a threat not just to Israel but to all states of the region. And while the Egyptians and Saudis are apparently willing to quietly applaud an Israeli attack, neither has publicly allied itself with the Jewish state in its own defense and self-interest.

If the United States is content to remain aloof from her responsibilities towards the defense of her allies and Arab oil, of the danger posed by a Middle East nuclear arms race, then at least take responsibility for inducting the Arab states to join Israel in fulfillment of America’s obligations. As did Bush, Sr., use that preferred diplomacy to “encourage” diplomatically America’s Arab clients to join in a renewed “coalition of the willing” against the common strategic threat.

But the more sensible course of action for Israel would be to stop enabling the US to shun its responsibilities and withdraw from the playing field. Force the administration to act on behalf of its own responsibilities and strategic interests. Better to wait out the U.S., force her superpower ally, so much better able to absorb the shock of blame for the war’s fallout, than to accept a shaheed’s death.

Responses to my jpost article were posted after it was taken down from the front page, so I was unable to maintain a dialogue with the responders. I did, however, post my own response in case those who submitted were still following the blog.

1 flinky dinky, Thursday Jan 28, 2010
Of course, prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 military action had been heavily pushed for some time by the Israel Lobby, just as the same forces now pushes hard for military action on Iran. However, it appears the Israel Lobby has made enemies in the rank and file of the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, and this takes the form of concerted resistance to any form of military action on Iran.
#1, Such confidence, but little knowledge. In fact Israel, the Saudis and the CIA all came out AGAINST Iraq, favoring the more dangerous Iran. And even there favored a diplomatic confrontation. See Bush*s CIA director Tennant*s memoir on issue.
15 Jacob - Amsterdam, Saturday Jan 30, 2010
Israel could go a long way in assuring its future if it would sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open up Dimona and any other nuclear sites to UN inspection. As things stand now, Israel wants to be excepted from international standards while insisting that others comply. Israel itself is the source of many of the problems it faces.
#15, Israel is not a member of NPT for good reason. If she has the bomb, to say so would start the nuclear arms race I suggest regarding an Iranian bomb. Israel may or not have it, but not saying so provides reassurance through ambiguity. The real question is What is Israel*s motive for an implied nuclear arsenal? She is small, isolated and vulnerable. An implicit threat provides end-game deterrence against the explicit threat of being *pushed into the sea.* In four major wars Israel never openly threatened a nuclear defense. The bomb, for Israel, is purely defensive. The Iranian bomb is not.
23 Larry xxxxx, Saturday Jan 30, 2010
Anyting Israel does will be seen as America having given it the green light, no matter what America says. SO GO AHEAD AND BOMB IRAN.
#23, Refer to my comment to #15. Ambiguity provides no hard evidence, so the world is free to interpret according to self-interest. Unless the United States is openly seen as the bringer of the global disaster likely to follow, unless it is the US that leads the attack openly, then whoever does do the deed will be seen through the prism of self-interest and predisposition. Would a Taiwan take on the US for the *possible* green light, or insignificant Israel. And what about the west and its long tradition of antisemitism? Blame the US when blaming Israel would *feel* so much more satisfying?
25 CARES1996, Saturday Jan 30, 2010
#25, I never said Israel should withdraw from the field, but. either sit back and let the resulting pressure of a growing Iranian threat ripen, forcing the US to accept its superpower responsibilities; or wait for the US to increase the list of its ME surrogates by inducing the Sunni Arab states to openly participate in another *coalition of the willing,* Saudi and Egyptian aircraft participation in the action. While the antisemites would still blame Israel, of course, blame would be more defuse, and Israel would not suffer global isolation, a very real existential threat to her survival.

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