If Israel takes the brunt of the criticism for getting things started with Iran, then we let the U.S. off the hook.
By **Russ Baker**
By arrangement with WhoWhatWhy.com.
Photograph via Flickr.
For months now, we have been led to believe that the United States, along with a bunch of allies, considered war with Iran inevitable.
Now, all of a sudden, the narrative has shifted.
Now, we are told that the West wishes to avoid war, but that a belligerent, reckless Israel is intent on taking Tehran out. We are also told that the U.S. has warned Israel to do no such thing.
What is going on here? Can these reports be trusted?
In a word, no. When one considers all of the available information in context, it looks more like this: Netanyahu may have come under intense pressure to threaten or launch a unilateral attack on Iran—by Western forces who care more about oil and other strategic issues than they do about the welfare of Israelis.
Since the fall, we’ve seen a calculated effort by the U.S. and its allies to vilify and isolate Iran—as if that country’s mullahs didn’t do a good enough job of that on their own. Gradually, this campaign has evolved into a message that there may be no choice but to take preemptive action against Tehran.
In the past we’ve described the propaganda campaign, which has included strong declarations that Iran will soon have WMDs—despite a widely acknowledged lack of certitude among independent experts. (Shades of Iraq.)
It has included attempts to tie Iran to terrorism on American soil—with a purported plot, so laughable that almost no one believed it, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. (Remember the false allegations about Saddam’s involvement with 9/11?)
It has involved endless provocations against the regime in Tehran, including economic sanctions that make life very, very difficult for Iranians of every political persuasion. (Remember the similar measures against Iraq?) The U.S. has long had anti-Iran sanctions in place, and recently persuaded the EU, a crucial customer for Iran, to launch a boycott of its oil and other products. On Monday Obama added new sanctions.
The American military and U.S. defense contractors are facing severe cuts in their budgets, and need to constantly re-justify themselves.
But it’s not just talk and paper. In late January, the U.S., Britain and France sent six warships and an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz, and some units are still there. We’re told that this show of force is necessary because Iran threatens the Strait’s strategically crucial shipping lanes. No mention is made of the fact that Iran is deliberately being put in an increasingly desperate situation and virtually invited to lash out.
This fast train to war was sidetracked, however, as Russia and China succeeded in blocking concerted United Nations action against both Iran and its ally, Syria (itself facing a massive propaganda campaign alleging atrocities that cannot be independently or fully verified). This is a big problem for Obama, since his core supporters would never sanction his taking aggressive military action unless he (a) had what appeared to be a really good excuse—for reference, see Libya, and (b) could claim that the United States, ever responsible, was going to war reluctantly, as part of a consensus of allies. Even George W. Bush knew he needed a “coalition of the willing.”
As the UN option fizzled, a new narrative emerged: a frustrated Israel, famous for rejecting UN guidance anyway, was threatening to go it alone. And Obama was sending a top general to lecture the Israelis that this was unacceptable.
It’s always interesting when the military-industrial complex finds a creative new way to get its message out. In building support for war with Iraq, Fox News was indispensable with its trademark jingoistic/alarmist/patriot thing. But now, a “liberal” Democrat is in the White House. So what does he do? He feints to the Left.
It was in a report from the liberal/left-oriented Inter Press Service, that I and many others first learned that the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had warned the Israelis privately against unilateral action:
“Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.
“Dempsey’s warning, conveyed to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, represents the strongest move yet by President Barack Obama to deter an Israeli attack and ensure that the United States is not caught up in a regional conflagration with Iran.
“But the Israeli government remains defiant about maintaining its freedom of action to make war on Iran, and it is counting on the influence of right-wing extremist views in U.S. politics to bring pressure to bear on Obama to fall into line with a possible Israeli attack during the election campaign this fall…”
Okay, now let’s look at this with a little healthy skepticism. First of all, “well-placed senior military officers” do not go around leaking information on their own. They only do it with the express consent of their superiors (unless of course the “senior officers”are the superiors, e.g. if they are Dempsey himself or one of his professional leakers).
Furthermore, the Pentagon leaks two ways: (1) in accord with the White House, or (2) in attempts to influence the White House. We have written about the latter, particularly with regard to cooperation with Bob Woodward and other reliable members of the press, in pressuring Obama over Afghanistan policy.
In the case of Iran, though, these leaks are being presented in such a way as to convey an Obama in control, making the decisions, rather than one at battle with his own military. The reality is that the military is probably taking the lead on this—so either they really do not want a war with Iran, which is unlikely (when was the last time professional warriors ached to beat swords into plowshares?), or they want one with Israelis on the leading edge, i.e., the ones to take the rap.
History, and current pressures on the Pentagon to justify its budget in a time of austerity, suggest that the Pentagon is not really opposed to an attack on Iran, only very shrewdly letting someone else get the music started.
Make Israel the villain. If there’s one thing that the Left relates to even more than suspicion of the Pentagon: it’s default vilification of Israel as the world’s leading lone wolf miscreant.
Today, Israel has three possible courses of action. (1) It doesn’t take action against Iran, and nobody else does. (2) It takes unilateral action against Iran, and weathers universal condemnation. (3) It pretends to go it alone, or does go it alone initially as a means of applying pressure for a “coalition” response to the alleged Iranian threat.
I’d wager on option #3.
Here’s why: Israel has no real reason to want to go it alone. It’s not really Israel’s fight. Don’t take my word for this: The former heads of Israel’s top intelligence agencies have stated that going to war with Iran is a “stupid idea” and characterized Netanyahu’s apparent preparations for an attack as both unnecessary and risky for Israel itself.
The battle between the Prime Minister and the former spymasters got so intense that Netanyahu ordered an investigation into leaks about an impending Israeli attack on Iran, which he believed had been perpetrated by the retired spooks. How do we know about this secret leak investigation? The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz picked up a report from a Kuwaiti newspaper which cited an unnamed Israeli source. Such arcane telegraphs reek of covert struggle. The public is the last to know what’s really going on, or why.
But one thing is certain. If Israel takes the brunt of the criticism for getting things started with Iran, it is not Israel that will gain. In country after country, we’ve seen that it is the West, principally the key Western European powers, working with the United States, that operates through surrogates, and fosters indigenous uprisings to create strategic gains. We saw that with Iraq, then Libya, now Syria, and… next Iran Each time, this there’s an offensive move trumpeted to secure a resource like oil or regional stability, and fueled by the perception of a unique window of opportunity.
It probably is true that some members of the American military rightly fear what would happen if the situation was pushed to the point of war. The U.S. literally cannot afford to keep spreading itself so thin. Add to that, financial pressure to slim down the military, and an Iranian adventure becomes even more problematical.
But note that the most likely scenario here doesn’t have to involve an organized conspiracy. Rather, loosely aligned forces, each with its own unique objectives, appear to be coalescing to seize the moment and unseat the Iranian regime.
Advocates of human and women’s rights and of religious freedom, among others, would understandably love to see the brutal and primitive Ayatollahs carted away. Iranian exiles, who in many cases emigrated with great wealth (and in others acquired it abroad along with considerable political influence) would love to be able to return home. Other countries in the region don’t want such a powerful and volatile neighbor. Oil companies, seeing dwindling reserves around the world, look enviously at Iran’s petroleum deposits. European nations, in particular, rely on unpredictable and difficult suppliers for their oil and urgently need to stabilize that supply situation. The Saudi royal family sees its very survival threatened by Shiite elements in its oil-rich Eastern Province who have close ties to Iran; change the government in Tehran and that particular threat recedes. The American military and U.S. defense contractors are facing severe cuts in their budgets, and need to constantly re-justify themselves. The media makes good money covering wars. On and on… name your preferred reason to take on, or take out, the Iranian regime.
But Israel? The Iranian leadership has its own internal life-and-death skirmishes, with the Iranian president Ahmadinejad in a nasty ongoing power struggle with others, most notably religious conservatives and his own military. Neither he nor his internal opponents have an incentive to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. Probably never did, but certainly not now. While some countries have used offensive military actions as a distraction, to do so against Israel or any Western nation would be to invite a calamitous response.
Nevertheless, we see constant evidence of Israel covertly moving against Iran, including the assassinations of key Iranian scientists. U.S. government sources were quick to point out to journalists that Israel must have been behind the hits. And there have been leaks that Israel told the Obama administration it would not give it more than 12 hours advance notice before launching an attack on Iran. Why leak such incredibly sensitive information? Well, perhaps because it was supposed to be leaked, in order to shield Obama from blame.
There’s no real basis for believing that Iran would target American Jews.
Here’s the official spin, by the wired Washington Post military columnist David Ignatius (his father was once secretary of the Navy):
“Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months.
“Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June—before Iran enters what Israelis described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon—and only the United States could then stop them militarily.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action, which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet.”
And now we have, according to an “ABC News exclusive,” a leaked report that Israel is warning that Jewish-connected sites like schools and synagogues in the U.S. and worldwide could be targets of Iranian reprisals because of Iran’s belief that Israel is behind those attacks. Yet there’s no real basis for believing that Iran would target American Jews. All this leak does is make Iran seem more threatening, and thereby build more political support in the US for intervention.
As for the claim that the U.S. warned Israel, perhaps it did. But the very fact that the warning was leaked suggests it may have been more for public consumption than anything else. All pointing to the US and other allies preparing to create “plausible deniability,” that is, to let Netanyahu himself launch some kind of operation against Tehran.
The result would be that Israel alone would face the ire of the world. With so much of the world already furious at Israel, the last thing that country’s leadership should be doing is taking the heat for Western imperial adventures.
In a sense, getting Netanyahu to be the front guy for this dangerous gambit is yet another way that, in the end, the West really does find Israel and the Israelis expendable. Anyone who thinks that the $3 billion in military aid to Israel does not come with a price is very, very naïve. Those who extrapolate Israel’s heavy-handedness with the Palestinian issue into evidence of worldwide, unilateral skullduggery by Israel are headed down the wrong path—and a very dangerous one at that.
All you need to understand is that Netanyahu’s political success is largely dependent on support from particular Americans. These Americans claim to “support Israel,” but the reality is that their own financial well-being is sometimes correlated with particular Israeli policies, like taking out the Iranian regime. Those selfish motives, or even well-meaning but misguided understanding of what is “good for Israel,” actually make life more, not less, difficult for ordinary Israelis. How much this factors into Netanyahu’s calculation, we can only guess. He’s not likely to share his most candid thoughts on the matter.
One thing, however, is certain: the victors in this deadly game. Elites—princes, oil executives, military chieftains, rich foreigners—win. And ordinary people—at least in Iran, in Israel, in the United States—lose.
By arrangement with WhoWhatWhy.com.
Russ Baker is an award-winning investigative reporter and the founder and editor-in-chief of WhoWhatWhy.