Andrew Sullivan pinpoints the illogic of the American political class’s obsession with Iran while simultaneously mocking North Korea:
Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded the alarm that Iran was approaching “a red line.” Did the U.S. president even mention any of this? No, he was running around the country crying wolf and catastrophizing about an invented crisis. The real international threats go unremarked upon. For all intents and purposes Netanyahu is now the West’s protector.
What they said:
@peterbeinart I know. It’s only possible to read it as comedy.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 24, 2013
Jeremy W. Peters reports on the contentious Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday that resulted in its recommendation for Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense:
At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans like Ted Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, going as far as to suggest that Mr. Hagel had accepted money from nations that oppose American interests.
Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments that Mr. Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Mr. Cruz declared, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and other Democrats countered by saying that Republicans had unfairly questioned the integrity of both Mr. Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, and had undermined the work of the normally bipartisan committee itself.
“Senator Cruz has gone over the line,” Mr. Nelson said. “He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is opposing his former colleague, also bristled at the attacks on Mr. Hagel, saying that “no one on this committee should at any time impugn his character or his integrity.”
Tension reached its height when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said that those who had suggested that Mr. Hagel was “cozy” with terrorist states had a basis for their claims because Iran had expressed support for his nomination.
“He’s endorsed by them,” Mr. Inhofe said. “You can’t get any cozier than that.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped in disgust. “Senator Inhofe, be careful,” she later warned him. “What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?”
“Horrible organization?” Implicitly characterizing Iran as such is not only ignorant — for one, most people wouldn’t refer to Iran as an “organization” — but it also perfectly illustrates the binary us=good/them=bad mentality of our elected officials towards the rest of the world.
No wonder neocons retain their substantial influence on American foreign policy, despite their shameful record on Iraq. No wonder we end up getting involved in Libya and even now some are agitating for action in Syria. If the prospect of being endorsed by one of the United States’ enemies — an enemy created thanks to the actions of the CIA as much as those of the current Iranian regime itself — is so anathema as to disqualify a Defense Secretary nominee, that says more about the committee discussing his appointment than it does about Chuck Hagel.
Surprise, surprise. Turns out that, despite a lot of unsavory rhetoric and actions, Hamas doesn’t sound quite so radical and irrational as it’s made out to be in the Western press. Open Zion snags this quote by Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal:
“I am the leader of Hamas. I tell you and the whole world, we are ready to resort to a peaceful way, without blood and weapons as long as we attain our Palestinian demands: a Palestinian state and the ending of the occupation and the (West Bank separation) wall.”
-Khaled Mashaal says in an interview with CNN - largely ignored by the Israeli media.
The Ynet article includes more from Mashaal:
Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal said his Islamist movement Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967borders or 22% of “historical Palestine.”
According to Mashaal, this has been Hamas’ mission and what it has been fighting for since its inception. In an interview aired this weekend on CNN, Mashaal said: “I accept a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.”
Mashaal also addressed the issue of recognizing Israel, saying “I want my state. After this state is established, it (can decide) its position toward Israel. Don’t ask me when I’m in prison under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel.”
Other encouraging signs exist as well (see first link above), including a Hamas-led investigation of “unlawful executions” of Israeli collaborators. Of course, it seems likely this will be a sham, but the very fact that Hamas feels the need to legitimize itself by carrying out some semblance of the judicial process is more evidence that the broad brush used so frequently to portray the democratically elected organization is inaccurate and out of date. One of the key contradictions of Israel’s position vis à vis Hamas is the fact that it continues to decry the organization as a fanatical terrorist group while simultaneously negotiating truces and ceasefires with it, with an eye towards a potentially more permanent settlement later on. The coexistence of those two actions is logically absurd, yet Israel and its defenders persist in perpetuating it as if it makes even a shred of sense.
(The same can be said, in many respects, in regards to Iran. In that nearly all experts agree that striking Iran’s nuclear facilities would set back progress on the bomb by only a few years at most, what does Israel get out of doing it? Given its inability to stop the technical savvy of Iran, a preemptive Israeli attack only makes sense as a deterrent — a message to Iran that further development is useless because bomb-building facilities will continue being destroyed. But if this type of deterrent measure works, then Israel’s constant depictions of the ayatollah as a fanatical theocrat operating outside the bounds of rationality simply do not add up.)
During an address to the Britain’s House of Commons, Netanyahu said that Russia is still passing ballistic missile technology to Iran and that the Iranians are only a year away from acquiring long-range nuclear missile capability.
“If the supply of Russian technology is not stopped, then within a year Iran would become self-sufficient and would be able to create those missiles on its own,” Netanyahu said.
Oh, and…this was in November 1997. Then, the next year (Jay Bushinsky and Liat Collins, “PM: It may be too late to stop Iran, Iraq nuclear plans,” Jerusalem Post, June 9, 1998; no link):
Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated that Israel is doing everything to thwart Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nonconventional ballistic and nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the international community had largely ingnored the issue until Israel had begun raising it. He said although there had been a change, it was not sufficient and it is possible that Israel will not be able to prevent Iran and Iraq from acquiring nuclear capability. He said the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan had created a lack of balance in the international system.
You see, if there’s one thing the global community can count on, it’s that Iran will always be on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.
Yesterday’s New York Times editorialized against Benjamin Netanyahu’s serial arrogance and undermining of American policy:
Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is trying to browbeat President Obama into a pre-emptive strike. OnTuesday, he demanded that the United States set a red line for military action and said those who refuse “don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” Later, Mr. Obama telephoned him and rejected the appeal. On Friday, Mr. Netanyahu suggested in an interview that Israel cannot entirely rely on the United States to act against Iran’s program.
Leaders need flexibility and ambiguity, not just hard and fast red lines. And it is dangerous for Mr. Netanyahu to try to push the president into a corner publicly and raise questions about Washington. Is that really the message he wants to send to Tehran?
Yet here was the sentence that stood out to me the most:
But 70 percent of Americans oppose a unilateral strike on Iran, according to a new poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and 59 percent said if Israel bombs Iran and ignites a war, the United States should not come to its ally’s defense.
That second half is truly remarkable. I took a look at the study, which had several interesting nuggets:
In addition, there is no clear majority support for using U.S. troops to defend Israel if it were attacked by its neighbors: as in 2010, Americans are essentially split down the middle…
In the hypothetical situation in which Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, only 38 percent say the United States should bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel. A majority (59%) says it should not.
Color me surprised that, since 2010, Americans were only split on whether to militarily support Israel even if it were attacked first. Perhaps we’re less of a warmongering population than our Republican elected officials would have us believe. Which, well, we kinda already knew anyway.
Equally interesting is that, finally (it certainly took long enough), the administration is pushing back. Not only has Obama decided not to meet with Netanyahu this month when he visits the U.S. for the UN General Assembly meetings, but — in a very rare turn of events — a U.S. senator (Barbara Boxer, D-CA) has authored an open letter harshly condemning Netanyahu’s meddling in American foreign policy:
In light of this, I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System?
As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time – Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.
I urge you to step back and clarify your remarks so that the world sees that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel. As you personally stated during an appearance with President Obama in March, “We are you, and you are us. We’re together. So if there’s one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it’s that Israel and America stand together.”
Thank you for that statement. I am hoping to hear that statement again.
- Netanyahu’s Arrogance (nationalinterest.org)
- Something is amiss in the United States of Obama (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Israeli Politician: “Netanyahu Thinks He Runs America” (imemc.org)
- Israel’s Netanyahu denies meddling in U.S. election (dailystar.com.lb)
- Prime minister will insist on red lines for Iran, sources say (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Facing criticism, Netanyahu denies interfering in US vote – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Israel’s doomsday scenario is four more years of Obama (smh.com.au)
- New Yorker Editor Laces into Netanyahu (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Netanyahu deputy disagrees on setting Iran “red line” (news.yahoo.com)
- Deputy PM Dan Meridor says no need to set red line for Iran (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
This is really one too many times. Jeffrey Goldberg has perfected — nay, has transformed into an art form — a process in which he starts unfounded rumors or promotes really weak and unsubstantiated claims into prominence while simultaneously pretending to disavow them. Incidentally, he does the same thing with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process too: he’s always against the settlements generally, but by God, if you actually come up with an idea of how to combat this ongoing injustice, he’s having none of it. (See “Beinart, Peter” for more information.) And the same thing with anti-Semitism too: he has no problem implying in very unsubtly disguised statements how anti-Semitic he finds the average critic of Israel, but once confronted with abusing and misusing the term, he quickly denies it.
The prominent Israeli commentator Amnon Abramovich argues that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to go for early electons – now scheduled for September 4 — means that Netanyahu (and his defense minister, Ehud Barak), will still have plenty of time to launch a preemptive strike before the American presidential election in early November…
Seems doubtful to me, for what it’s worth. Too many moving parts, too many risks involved — Netanyahu doesn’t like risk (especially when compared to his militarily adventurous predecessors) and the timeline is very short. It’s hard to believe he would order a (cataclysmic, IMO) strike on Iran while trying to build a governing coalition for his next term. I also tend to think he would not order a strike during Obama’s second term, should Obama win reelection. Abramovich is right that Obama would have a hard time being critical of Israel before the upcoming American election. But he would be freer to punish Israel after. What I wouldn’t rule out is a Netanyahu-ordered strike before he goes to elections. Not immediately — he needs to see what America can accomplish in the upcoming negotiations with Iran (my prediction: nothing much), but sometime after that, especially if intelligence suggests that Iran is moving centrifuges into the hardened facility at Fordow at a more rapid clip. But an October surprise? Not probable.
“Hey, America, just for the record, I’m saying it’s not probable, OK? As in, this rumor that I just created out of thin air has no basis. I repeat, no basis. I know it seems extremely credible, as it’s based on absolutely nothing (much like my advocacy of the Iraq war, interestingly enough) and was just concocted right now out of sheer boredom and my recurring warmongering itch, but don’t worry…Israel will probably not attack Iran. Israel will likely not do the thing that I just suggested it may do, even though there’s no reason to think they would in the first place. I know, I know, I just put the thought in your minds now, but seriously…just pretend I never said anything. Actually, on second thought, don’t. Because, you know, Israel might attack Iran.”
Memo to Goldberg — well, now you really look like an idiot:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) reached a surprise agreement early Tuesday morning to form a national unity government.
The move came as the Knesset was preparing to disperse for early elections, which were expected to be scheduled for September 4.
But fear not, Goldberg has already rallied. Literally in the time it has taken me to write this part of my post, he has responded to the Haaretz article with a blog post titled, “Forget That No-October-Surprise-Iran Attack Business I Was Talking About Before:”
Bibi Netanyahu seems to have solidified his coalition through 2013 by bringing in the Kadima Party, formerly headed by his arch-foe Tzipi Livni, now headed by his not-so-arch foe Shaul Mofaz. If the reports out of Israel are true, this means no election September 4, and it means that Netanyahu can proceed apace with whatever he’s thinking about doing re: Iran’s nuclear sites. This is not to say that he brought Kadima into his coalition to clear the way for an attack; Mofaz — Iranian-born, by the way — is on record as opposing an Iran strike, though people I speak to say he would back such a strike in a crunch (namely, if he saw proof Iran was rapidly approaching the “zone of immunity,” in which it could enrich uranium in impregnable bunkers).
You see? He’s still not saying he expects an October surprise or anything. He’s just implying that that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Because it would be really, really cool if it did.
- ‘Messianic’ rap on Netanyahu frees Obama, thaws discourse (and exposes ‘No Return’ Goldberg) (mondoweiss.net)
- Netanyahu: Speedy elections will stabilize Israel’s political system (haaretz.com)
- Netanyahu cabinet agrees Israeli elections to be held September 4 (haaretz.com)
- Goldberg: ‘Zero Percent Possibility’ Obama and Netanyahu Got Everything They Wanted (theatlantic.com)
- Sullivan unmasks Goldberg as a propagandist for Netanyahu’s ‘lies, bluffs and deceptions’ aimed at getting us into war (mondoweiss.net)
- Jeffrey Goldberg vs. Jeffrey Goldberg (delong.typepad.com)
- Sullivan forces American attention on the settlements (mondoweiss.net)
- In surprise move, Netanyahu, Mofaz agree to form unity government, cancel early elections (haaretz.com)
- Goldberg On Netanyahu: Bluffing? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Establishment Jews attack Beinart over settlement boycott call (mondoweiss.net)
- Extraordinary Traffic Between Tel Aviv and Washington – Jeffrey Goldberg – The Atlantic (incaunipocrit.wordpress.com)
- Jeffrey Goldberg Replies on Israel, Iran, and ‘Bluffing’, Round 2 – James Fallows – The Atlantic (incaunipocrit.wordpress.com)
- Jeffrey Goldberg’s Blogger Disengagement (backspin.typepad.com)
Today, the New York Times reports that Israel’s former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, has now added his voice to the chorus of people (largely in the intelligence community) who believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s drumbeat of war with Iran is reckless and stupid:
“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” said Yuval Diskin, who stepped down last May after six years running the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the F.B.I.
“I have observed them from up close,” Mr. Diskin said. “I fear very much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.” Echoing Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, Mr. Diskin also said that the government was “misleading the public” about the likely effectiveness of an aerial strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Funny thing about the intelligence community: they’re not elected, so they don’t make their living scaring the bejeezus out of people to keep their jobs. Can we all please take stock of the situation, rationally, and come to the obvious conclusion that Bibi is a demagogic nut job whose overheated rhetoric is destabilizing to the entire region? There is an almost complete transatlantic consensus that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is not a very good idea. But why listen to nuclear experts and intelligence chiefs when you can so easily make completely inaccurate analogies comparing today’s situation to the Holocaust?
More interesting developments in the whole will-they-or-won’t-they saga, a romantic comedy starring Israel, bunker-busters, and Iranian nuclear sites. Or as the Greeks might argue, more of a tragedy, really. I suppose this debate is moot until we find out what happens in the end.
And speaking of endgames, I am (slightly, incrementally) heartened by the noises emanating from the American camp. Yesterday, an article appeared on the New York Times web site titled, “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” The article begins thusly:
Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.
Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.
This is strikingly different rhetoric than we’ve been hearing in most quarters recently regarding Iran. My take is that the Obama White House is preemptively trying to distance itself from any decision Israel may take on its own. A similar story took place several days earlier, when American General Martin Dempsey told Fareed Zakaria in an interview that an Israeli strike against Iran would not be “prudent.” This interview aired on the very same day that the Telegraph reported similar comments from British foreign secretary William Hague: an Israeli attack “would not be wise,” he said.
The subtext in the similarity of both the language and the timing of the two interviews was unmistakable: the U.S. and Great Britain are clearly acting in concert to warn the Israeli government, led by the fairly maniacal Benjamin Netanyahu, that they should not expect much support from either the U.S. or the U.K. in planning to attack Iran.
I believe, however, that this latest salvo — fired via the New York Times — is not only a stronger statement than the earlier ones, but may actually be indicative of a point of no return for the United States’ position on Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran, it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to rationally justify supporting or becoming involved in Israel’s military venture, since its own American security and intelligence agencies are making it very clear that they don’t believe the Iranian threat to be as serious as it is often described. I would imagine that Netanyahu is cognizant of this meaning, and I’m betting he’s seething right now. Could we actually be witnessing a 1956 Suez Canal moment, and during an American presidential election year no less?
- Israeli attack on Iran might pull US into new war: analysts – Al-Arabiya (english.alarabiya.net)
- Iran: Attack will lead to Israel’s collapse (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The Problems With an Israeli Attack on Iran (usnews.com)
- U.S. warns Israel against Iran strike (thehindu.com)