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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Flotilla Attack Only a Small Measure of Israeli Barbarism

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

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Well would you look at that; the bastion of liberal democracy and respect for human right in the Middle East has caused a ruckus by having their military board a humanitarian mission’s boat (flying the flag of a NATO country), killing at least 10 peace activists on board and injuring dozens more. There’s a lot of things worth saying about how stupid the attack on the relief flotilla was. I don’t think Israel has done this much damage to their (already shoddy) reputation in decades, and there’s basically no way to spin this as benefitting them. Egypt is rescinding their assistance of the Gaza blockade in response, and even the United States is an a bit of a jam here, because Turkey is a NATO ally. If they decide to make a major fuss about it, reflexive, unlimited defense of Israel by the United States could threaten the foundation of the most important defense agreement of the 20th century, and further isolate the US from the rest of the West.

The real story here, however, should be the blockade of Gaza itself. Israel has asserted that they offered to let the flotilla send materials through Israel to be inspected, but this is absurd for a couple of reasons. The first is the casual assumption that the blockade is legal, and that Israel has a ght in the first place to decide what does and doesn’t get sent to Gaza from other countries. The second is that Israel knows good and well that the entire point of the flotilla was to take banned  materials into Gaza, namely building materials Israel has refused to allow in even after they destroyed most of the territory in 2008. Because of this, Gaza remains largely un-rebuilt after the violence, a situation compounding the already miserable existence of the people living in the territory.

It’s very difficult to comprehend the amount of suffering Gazans deal with everyday. You’re talking about the most densely populated piece of land in the world, an urban landscape with 1.5 million people living on it. And it’s basically been demolished. There’s food shortages, lack of electricity, lack of running water, disease, hunger, oppression, and just general misery. And yes, much of that is compounded by the harsh rule of Hamas as well. But this is one of the weakest, most devastated populations on Earth, and the Israeli blockade is just indescribably cruel. Israeli representatives are arguing today that this wasn’t a humanitarian effort, but rather an attempt to end the blockade, and to that I say; I certainly hope so. This blockade needs to be ended, and if Israel won’t do it of its own volition, then the world needs to make it clear to Israel that they won’t respect it. It’s not as if there isn’t precedent. And if it’s that important to Israel, let them face the choice of confronting British, French, German, and, yes, American boats and planes in the effort to physically enforce their brutal oppression.

The world has been jarred to its senses by the brazen umbrage of Israel’s actions yesterday, hopefully it winds up shining some light on the brutal policy those killed were seeking to end, and prompts some action from the west to alleviate the intolerable suffering of over a million Palestinians in Gaza.

Settlements Are the Biggest Obstacle to Peace

Monday, March 15th, 2010

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At some point I’d resolved to just ignore Chait’s writing on the Middle East, but this post really needs a rebuttal, so such is life. Chait is responding, somewhat critically, to a Wall Street Journal column regarding the latest dust-up between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, involving the planned building of 1,600 new settlement homes in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem:

No, the settlements aren’t “the” key obstacle to peace. But they are an obstacle to peace. And with the most moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank in history, provocative moves like the one Netanyahu’s government undertook appear designed to undercut progress toward a peace agreement.

The Journal is right that any realistic peace deal will have to readjust the 1967 borders. But the readjustment works both ways. And you’re never going to be able to get a stable Palestinian government that can maintain or even reach a peace agreement without some kind of claim to shared control over Jerusalem — not the pre-1967 split, but something. That’s why continued expansion in east Jerusalem is so problematic.

The point is fair enough, on some level, but it needs to be said as many times as it can be said that, yes, the settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. And in fact, Chait seems to understand why that’s the case in admitting that the 1967 borders will have to be readjusted, a process that will already prove extrememly difficult. As Israel expands their settlements even further, it will only get more difficult, and considering that the settlements in the West Bank are constructed in such a way as to cut the Palestinian West Bank into ribbons, leaving any sort of functioning state in the territory more or less impossible to imagine.

Chait’s contention that Netanyahu appears to be intentionally undercutting the peace process is also laughable. How in the world could any rational observer of the process not know that’s exactly Netanyahu’s goal? Netanyahu has repeatedly talked down the peace process, and he’s formed a government including the most extreme right-wing elements of Israeli politics (although Kadima deserves a large share of the blame for that). I’m at a loss as to why anyone would believe for a second Netanyahu cared about the peace process, in fact, I don’t see how anyone could assume any of the major Israeli parties were serious about a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.

The brazeness of the announcement of new development in East Jerusalem seems to have shocked Western media and policy makers, but it really shouldn’t have. Israel has been evicting Arab residents of the city for some time now to move Israelis in, and the government has barely concealed its intentions to develop even more territory in the West Bank. The only questions now are whether or not Israel is going to go ahead with a full expulsion of Arabs from East Jerusalem, and whether the US will ever muster the inclination to finally put an end to Israel’s destructive behavior before it’s truly too late.

How I Learned To Hate The Bomb Redux: The New York Times Gets In On The Act

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

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By Tommy Brown

Another give-war-a-chance Op-Ed about Iran, hitting most of the same bunk talking points I covered yesterday in my post about yet another holiday season hysteria over the ayatollahs (with as many Nazi references as you can get in).

Now, this Op-Ed wouldn’t look out of place at all any time since 2002 on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, who have been rah-rahing a war with Iran for quite awhile now. The interesting thing is that it is the New York Times running this particular opinion piece.

This leaves Your Humble Author wondering if this is an attempt to mainstream the idea of an Iranian war with moderates and the center-left. Think back to 2002 and the hawkish stance on Iraq expounded upon by Thomas Friedman or Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaraia.

I covered most of the niggling details of an Iranian nuclear breakout and what it means to America and Israel yesterday, so let’s just hit the high points and call it a wrap:

Complete dismissal of diplomacy with a total disregard for the consequences of military action?

Tehran’s rejection of the original proposal is revealing. It shows that Iran, for domestic political reasons, cannot make even temporary concessions on its bomb program, regardless of incentives or sanctions.

Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try.


Subtle potshots at Obama painting him as an appeaser in the mold of Jimmy Carter or (now officially the most overused analogy in foreign policy) Neville Chamberlain?

This would let Iran run the reactor, retain the bulk of its enriched uranium and continue to enrich more — a bargain unacceptable even to the Obama administration.

Negotiation to prevent nuclear proliferation is always preferable to military action. But in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement.


Pretending that borderline-crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the real leader of Iran and not the pragmatic Supreme Ayatollah?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initially embraced the deal because he realized it aided Iran’s bomb program. But his domestic political opponents, whom he has tried to label as foreign agents, turned the tables by accusing him of surrendering Iran’s patrimony to the West.


Repurposed Iraq War talking points?

Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes. Even President Ahmadinejad’s domestic opponents support this weapons traffic. If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb.


Completely destroying your own argument that a preemptive strike will constrain Iranian nuclear ambitions while acting as if it supports your case?

But history suggests that military strikes could work. Israel’s 1981 attack on the nearly finished Osirak reactor prevented Iraq’s rapid acquisition of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon and compelled it to pursue a more gradual, uranium-based bomb program. A decade later, the Persian Gulf war uncovered and enabled the destruction of that uranium initiative, which finally deterred Saddam Hussein from further pursuit of nuclear weapons (a fact that eluded American intelligence until after the 2003 invasion).


How I Learned To Hate The Bomb: The Renewed Campaign To Spark Hysteria Over Iran

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

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By Tommy Brown

First up, from Foreign Policy’s article on deterring and containing Iran:

Deterrence in the Middle East, they [policymakers and foreign policy analysts] argue, could be just as stable as it was between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War. “Israel’s massive nuclear force will deter Iran from ever contemplating using or giving away its own (hypothetical) weapon,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in the Oct. 12 edition of Newsweek. “Deterrence worked with madmen like Mao, and with thugs like Stalin, and it will work with the calculating autocrats of Tehran.”

But this historical analogy is dangerously misconceived. In reality, defusing an Israeli-Iranian nuclear standoff will be far more difficult than averting nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. This is true even if those Iranians with their fingers on the nuclear trigger are not given to messianic doomsday thinking. Here are five factors that will make an Israeli-Iranian nuclear confrontation potentially explosive.

Before we dive into these five factors, I’ll just pause to say that comparing a nuclear Iran to the American-Soviet standoff or even comparing Cuba during the Crisis with Iran is pretty specious and silly. And so:

Communication and trust.

The October 1962 negotiations that settled the Cuban missile crisis were conducted through a fairly effective, though imperfect, communication system between the United States and Russia. There was also a limited degree of mutual trust between the two superpowers. This did not prevent confusion and suspicion, but it did facilitate the rivals’ ability to understand the other’s side and eventually resolve the crisis.

Israel and Iran, however, have no such avenues for communication. They don’t even have embassies or fast and effective back-channel contacts — and, what’s more, they mistrust each other completely. Israel has heard Iranian leaders — and not just President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — call for its destruction. Meanwhile, Iranian leaders remain prone to paranoid and conspiratorial views of the outside world, especially Israel and the United States. In any future Iranian-Israeli crisis, each side could easily misinterpret the other’s moves, leading to disaster. A proxy war conducted by Iran through Hezbollah or Hamas against Israel could quickly lead to a series of escalating threats.

This actually is a serious problem. The Cold War MAD-speak for it is “redlines,” a series of negotiated agreements between America and the Soviet Union on what provocations from the other side could cause a nuclear response. The name comes from the Red Line, the teletype device that directly linked the White House and the Kremlin, installed in the wake of several clashes with the Soviets that almost led to nuclear Armageddon.

Of course, comparing the Israel-Iran situation to the Cold War is ludicrous, the best comparison is undoubtedly the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff. Here as in a hypothetical Middle Eastern cold war, there are no redlines and no communication between Islamabad and Mumbai on this issue. And, in the author’s favor, we have come to the brink of a third India-Pakistan war that most likely would have involved nuclear exchanges twice since 9/11.

Both times, both sides were slowly pushed back from the brink by Washington. I’ll pick back up on this in a minute.


The Soviets wanted to extend their power and spread Communism — they never pledged the annihilation of America. Iranian leaders, however, have called for Israel to be “wiped off the map of the Middle East.” After the street protests that followed the June presidential election, Iran has entered into chronic instability. In a moment of heightened tension and urgent need for popular support, an Iranian leader could escalate not only rhetoric but action.

There is a strong precedent in the Middle East of such escalation leading to war. Arab threats to destroy any Jewish state preceded a massive invasion of the new Israeli state in May 1948. In May and June 1967, Egypt’s President Gamal Abd al-Nasser loudly proclaimed his intent to “liberate Palestine” (i.e. Israel in its 1949 borders), and moved his panzer divisions to Israel’s border. The result was the Six Day War.

The revisionist history that has sprung up around the Cold War in the two decades since its end is quite fascinating. Does Krushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations and shouting “We will bury you!” count for nothing anymore?

The author of the piece is right that despite all the rantings and threats, the main goal of the Soviet Union was to extend their power and influence into the Third World under the guise of World Socialism and to stay militarily competitive with America. But the same is also true with Iran: Despite the loud, blustery threats from the ayatollahs lo these last three decades, Iran has time and again proved itself to be a ruthless and crafty player of the Great Game, certainly not an irrational actor.

The analogy to the Six Day War is baffling and somewhat deceptive. It wasn’t Nasser’s rhetoric that caused the war, it was him moving his armies to the Israeli border. And the analogy is doubly misleading because Iran has very little conventional capability, their influence in the Middle East is almost entirely based on assymetric power.

And by the way: Panzer divisions? Really? That’s about as subtle as a kick to the groin.

Command and control.

In 1962, the two superpowers possessed sophisticated command-and-control systems securing their nuclear weapons. Both also employed effective centralized decision-making systems. Neither may be the case with Iran: Its control technology will be rudimentary at first, and Tehran’s decision-making process is relatively chaotic. Within Iran’s byzantine power structure, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) mounts an army and navy of its own alongside the regular army and navy, and internal differences within the regime over nuclear diplomacy are evidence of conflicting lines of authority. Recent events suggest that the IRGC, allied with Ahmadinejad, has increasingly infringed on the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a result, no one can be certain how decisions are made and who makes them.

This one’s pretty easy. The entire nuclear program is under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (the Sepha-i Pasdaran), a shadow military and secret police that reports directly to the Supreme Ayatollah Khamein’i. Simple. There is no issue with unity of command despite their recent civil unrest.

Mutual deterrence.

Both the United States and USSR had second-strike capability made credible by huge land masses. They possessed hardened missile silos scattered throughout the countryside, large air forces equipped with nuclear bombs, and missile-launching submarines. In the Middle East, Iran stretches across a vast 636,000 square miles, against Israel’s (pre-1967) 8,500 square miles of territory. This point was made by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2001, who noted, “Israel is much smaller than Iran in land mass, and therefore far more vulnerable to nuclear attack.” If this is the way an Iranian pragmatist thinks, how are the hard-liners thinking?

In contrast, by 1962, the two superpowers implicitly recognized the logic of mutually assured destruction. And yet, they still came relatively close to war — in John F. Kennedy’s words, the risk of a nuclear conflict was “between one out of three and even.” When Iran goes nuclear, the huge disparity in size will pose a psychological obstacle for its recognition of mutual deterrence.

All things being equal, Israel’s small size would be a detriment to a mutually-assured destruction strategy. But things aren’t equal. Even if Iran obtains a handful of nuclear weapons and halfway decent missiles to shoot them at people with, Israel will be the only side that has a credible second-strike capability. Combined with the certainty of American assistance, this doesn’t seem like much of an impediment to MAD.

Even assuming the United States promises Israel a retaliatory nuclear umbrella, Iran will doubt U.S. resolve. The mullahs will be tempted to conclude that with Israel gone, the United States would see no point in destroying Iran. Given the criticism leveled today against President Harry Truman for using the bomb against Japanese civilians in World War II, what are the chances of American retaliation against Iran, especially if the Islamic Republic has not attacked the United States?

I seriously doubt the mullahs doubt American resolve when it comes to the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf. Nuclear missiles exploding near the oil would be seriously bad for business, and if there’s one thing you can guarantee, it’s that America will respond swiftly and strongly to any perceived threat to our energy security. Not to mention, Israel is quite popular here in the States and they have a very vocal political lobby.

And the last sentence presupposes that if Israel is nuked by Iran, that America will have to nuke Iran in retaliation. We just might, but even if we don’t, American conventional power is strong enough to level the entire country in a month (despite its huge size, much of Iran is uninhabitable, and the population is clustered around urban and semi-urban areas). There isn’t a doubt in the world that America would descend upon Iran like the Wrath of God if they were to ever do something so stupid.

Crisis instability.

In view of the above dangers, if and when a grave crisis does erupt, Israel would be tempted to strike first in order to prevent an Iranian nuclear attack, which would devastate its urban core. Iran will be well aware of Israel’s calculations and, in the early years of becoming a nuclear power, will have a smaller and probably more vulnerable nuclear arsenal. This will give it, in turn, strong incentives to launch its own preemptive strike.

This will not happen as long as America has such a heavy military presence in the Middle East. Period. This favorite talking point of war hawk pundits was put to bed decisively in 2007 during the Bush Administration. They came to Washington to ask for the latest generation in nuclear bunker-busters for a strike on Iran (as well as permission to cross Iraqi airspace) and were turned down flat by Condi Rice and Bob Gates, who threatened to end the American-Israeli relationship permanently if they did go ahead and do it anyway.

Yes, you read that right. Israel wants to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program by dropping nuclear weapons on them. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Just a few more points to wrap up:

Once Iran is a nuclear power, the Middle East is likely to enter a fast-moving process of nuclear proliferation. Until now, most Arab governments have not made an effort to match Israel’s  nuclear arsenal.

Already happening. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have all those Chinese ballistic missiles hidden out in the Empty Quarter for nothing. But the fall of Iraq has as much to do with it as Iran’s nuclear program; that’s a whole ‘nother story though.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of some analysts that the possession of nuclear weapons could make Iran more cautious, a nuclear Iran will likely be emboldened. It could press Hezbollah to be more aggressive in Lebanon, flex its muscles in the Persian Gulf, and step up its challenges against U.S. forces in the region.

Iran is pretty bold now. Things really couldn’t be going any better for them if they had tried. Their unconventional warfare power by proxy in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, western Afghanistan and a host of other places makes them the de facto regional hegemon.

The most important point, and the one all these pro-war Iran pieces leave out, is that the critical factor in the Israeli-Iranian relationship is how the American-Iranian one  is doing. And it’s doing very very well, if you’re an ayatollah. With American forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan without sufficient numbers to pacify both countries, Iran has become sort of the unofficial peacekeeper in southern Iraq (where in true Iranian fashion they back every side and just wait to see who wins) and Herat in western A-stan. With a phone call they can make life very unpleasant for American soldiers in Iraq or start another Hizb’allah-Israeli conflict.

Bottom line, as long as these conditions persist America has very little influence to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but enough influence to stop Israel from attacking them preemptively, which is going to mean an enforced stalemate until something crazy happens or the strategic calculus changes drastically.

“Caught With Their Hand In The Cookie Jar,” Or Why The World Is Pretending To Be Surprised About Iran’s Nuclear Program

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

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By Tommy Brown

From the article  “Obama’s Iran Trap” in Foreign Policy:

The conventional wisdom on last week’s astonishing revelations about Iran’s secret uranium-enrichment site, tucked in a mountainside near the holy city of Qom, holds that Barack Obama has just pulled off a diplomatic coup, raising the pressure on Tehran going into a critical Oct. 1 big-powers meeting and finally getting the Russians to agree to U.N. sanctions with real bite.

First off, you should treat any paragraph that begins with “the conventional wisdom” with deep skepticism, because what it really means is “what the chattering class thinks” and that’s never a good barometer of reality.  Secondly, how in the world is the fact that Iran has multiple sites for its nuclear program an astonishing revelation? Even cable news has been talking about this for four years, how airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear installations would involve hundreds of sorties on dozens of targets. Is the fact that President Ahmadinejad disclosed the existence of just one of the numerous sites that even the public knows exists, let alone the CIA or Mossad, really all that jaw-dropping?

Don’t be so sure. Obama may not have had much choice given that Iran had just notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its new nuke plant, but the U.S. president is the one with a problem now. By revealing this information, he has painted himself into a corner and made an Israeli strike more likely.

Obama has not painted himself into any sort of corner with this declaration. Here’s why. This “astonishing” announcement is just yet another in a series of posturing United Nations pressers that have been going on since former president Bush threw down the gauntlet concerning the Iranian nuclear program years ago, and almost all of it has been for naught.

And the chance of an Israeli strike on Iran  against the wishes of  Washington is virtually nil. A little known story is that at the end of the Bush Administration, then-Prime Minister Olmert had decided that Israel would take out the nuclear facilites at Natanz and other sites with, of all things, nuclear bunker-busters, to reach the facilities deep underground. Apparently oblivious to the irony, the Israelis approached the Bush White House with a request for the latest in air-dropped tactical nukes, and Olmert was told in no uncertain terms by Bob Gates and Condi Rice that the United States would not support it. The strikes, which were far enough along that pilots were already flying practice sorties, were quietly  scrapped.

Besides that, an Israeli attack into Iran would require traversing Iraqi airspace. Under the new Status of Forces agreement, Iraqi airspace actually belongs to the Iraqis again, and their Shi’ite-dominated government is very buddy-buddy with the mullahs.

For one thing, it’s not clear that “the Russians” have really agreed to sanctions. Yes, President Dmitry Medvedev emerged from his meeting with Obama last week to suggest he was on board. And we know that U.S. national security advisor James L. Jones pulled aside Sergei Prikhodko, his Russian counterpart, to tell him the news about the second Iranian plant. (Officially Medvedev’s advisor, Prikhodko is really Putin’s top foreign-policy boss, and chances are he accompanied Medvedev to New York to be the prime minister’s ears and eyes on the ground.)

What we don’t know is what Putin thinks. But as demonstrated last year when the prime minister abruptly left the Olympics to supervise the war with Georgia, he’s still very much in charge. (Right on schedule, a Russian foreign ministry source reportedly said today that everyone should “calm down” over Iran’s latest missile test and “not give way to emotions.”) And then there’s China, which came out with a typically milquetoast statement after Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy made their dramatic announcement Thursday morning at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Everyone knows that serious sanctions mean fuel, as Iran, for all its oil, still has to import a great deal of refined petroleum (just how much is disputed) to make its economy run. But the Chinese get 15 percent of their oil from Iran. Needless to say, getting meaningful sanctions through the U.N. Security Council is far from assured.

It really doesn’t matter whether or not sanctions are actually pushed through the Security Council, Iran has been under sanctions for well over a decade and doesn’t seem too distraught about it. The only sanctions that would truly hurt them would be oil sanctions, but there is no way in hell China or especially Britain would ever go for that. The faux-dramatic press conference is just the usual dog-and-pony show while the real action takes place in the smoky back room.

The real dope is that whether or not the Russians will support tougher economic sanctions against Iran, they are in a position to make Iran’s life difficult in much more meaningful ways. They are their main arms supplier and have been supplying them with nuclear tech and know-how. The deal that was struck to scrap the anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe seems to have been a straight-up horse trade with Medvedev (well, Putin really, as the article points out): Russia gets breathing room in the Near Abroad, and America gets transit rights involving Afghanistan and a stronger public stance from Moscow on an Iranian nuclear breakout. How much pressure Medvedev is willing to apply outside the auspices of the UN is the real question.

. . . .[T]he Iran issue is going to become a major headache for Obama. It’s going to strengthen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s argument that Iran’s nuclear program, not West Bank settlements or the plight of the Palestinians, is the real crisis in the Middle East. It’s going to put wind in the sails of neoconservatives and Republicans in Washington, who are all too eager to paint the U.S. president as weak and ineffectual when Tehran doesn’t buckle. What is Barack going to do then? Bomb Iran himself and wreck his Middle East hopes? Let Iran go nuclear and turn the nonproliferation regime into a sick joke? Give sanctions “time to work” — and consign a generation of Iranians to radicalism, growing ethnic strife, and crushing poverty?

I’m not sure how much of a headache it’s really going to be, considering that no one in any position to affect American foreign policy should give a tinker’s damn what the American neoconservatives or the Likudniks (the Israeli neocons), especially Netanyahu, after seven years of watching that failed ideology drive our country’s national security and international clout off a cliff. Of course, there is a valid point to the observation, because our Very Serious journalists in the op-ed pages and cable news will hang on the prognostications of Bill Kristol et al. as if they have any credibility left after being spectacularly wrong about everything since 2002.

The one thing I wholeheartedly agree with is that Obama does not really have any good options concerning Iran, at least not if people expect the endgame to be Iran giving up their nuclear program. Like chess, where there are scores of possible opening moves but only a few that won’t result in your quick defeat, the president doesn’t have many diplomatic options to choose from. The absolute best-case scenario is that Iran only wants to attain a status like Germany and Japan, with no actual atomic built but the capability to put one together in a couple weeks if necessary. The more likely scenario, given that an Iranian nuclear breakout is virtually assured unless someone goes to war over it, is that America will have to switch its priorities from nonproliferation to counterproliferation, keeping Iran from selling its knowledge to even nuttier and more unstable Third World countries.

The Right To Exist Canard

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Ultimately, the biggest barrier to a negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be the more or less irrelevant flashpoints the parties, particularly on the Israeli side, will insist on bringing into the discussion, for the purpose of bogging down progress. One of the more common of these, hit on here at LGF, is the notion of Palestinian exceptance of Israel’s “right to exist.” To be clear, it would be helpful if more aspects of the Arabic side of the question would lose the eliminationist rhetoric, but either way, this simply isn’t a major impediment to a deal in any way.

The best way to understand why this doesn’t matter is to consider why the settlements do matter. It’s not because they’re an existential problem, per se, or even that they violate previous agreements and international law, at the base level, the settlements present a problem because they’re physical structures that are going to have to be dealt with some way in any agreement. Whether they’re dismantled or remain in place with some other land swapped, ultimately the two sides are going to have to sit down and negotiate a situation that is acceptable to both sides. The more settlements there are to negotiate, and the more occupied territory they’re sitting on, the harder it is to get a deal both sides can live with. The settlers know this, and that’s why they’re so fervent about building. Indeed, it’s why the settlements exist in the first place.

The question of who does or does not accept the right of Israel to exist, however, is completely irrelevant. It’s not something that needs to be negotiated between the two parties, or something that should provide a stumbling block. To pointout the obvious, Israel does exist, and their power is such that that’s unlikely to change. Certainly, none of the Arabic states are in a position to pose an xistential threat to Israel. And ultimately, this question doesn’t really have any bearing on Israel, he Palestinians, or whether or not a two-state arrangement works best for everyone. It’s only a stumbling block if Israel wants it to be one.

But of course, they do want it to be an impediment, as the language itself suggests. How many other places do you hear the “right” of a nation-state to exist being discussed? No one talks about Canada’s right to exist, or Somalia’s, or Tibet’s. From an ethnic state standpoint, you rarely hear anyone ask if maybe the Tamil don’t have a right to their own ethnic homeland. And this is the distinct problem you run into with Israel; the Jewish people’s conception of this right isn’t merely about the right of the nation-state of Israel to exist, it’s about the right of a Jewish state to exist in this precise spot, because of ancient religious tradition. And this is why this is such a tricky question, and why Israel brings it up, because the Arabs believe that their patriarch was the promised son of Abraham, and that, therefore, this land was promised to them. It’s something of a silly fight, and obviously you can’t resolve it in this context without picking sides between two religious traditions, but you obviously can’t solve it if you don’t understand it, or if you refuse to acknowledge the similar claims/feelings on the Palestinian side. Which isn’t to endorse either side’s ancient claim to the land, just merely to point out that the question is an inherent distraction, perpetuated by a player that has a desire to delay or derail the process. One that the United States should ignore in favor of more practical problems like the settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and other concerns that are going to be sticking points in the real world.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Jewish Exceptionalism

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Apparently the criticism of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “Amalek defense” of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has gotten to the Goldblog, because his latest defense is somewhere between shrill and absurd. In short, the criticism “perverts” the story of Judaism’s obsession with Amalek because, well, because apparently it’s just not possible for Judaism to do/condone bad things:

In any case, this whole debate is a perversion, and not only because genocide is the specialty of other religions, and not Judaism. Iran has called for the elimination of the Jewish state, and seems to be building nuclear weapons that could make that a reality; Israel simply seeks to protect itself from a country that wants to exterminate it. If Israel does strike Iran, it would bomb military targets while trying to minimize civilian casualties. Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, already has a long and distinguished record of murdering Jewish children. There’s simply no equivalence here. Yes, Israel does various idiotic and immoral things. But it isn’t, even on its worst day, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It’s rare to see this much deplorable nonsense rolled into one paragraph, so let’s unpack it point by point. First of all, and most obvious, is Goldberg’s overt resort to an argument of tautology. Apparently Jews do not commit genocide in the same way that Americans don’t torture; if we do it, it’s by definition not bad. But this is just, well, odd. God commanded Saul to kill every single Amalekite, man, woman, and child, as well as killing all of their livestock. Saul was removed from his kingship for taking the livestock for spoils instead of killing them, and for letting the Amalekite king live. That’s a genocidal order any way you slice it, and a divine punishment for not carrying out the order murderously enough. It would be one thing, I suppose, if Goldberg were taking the orthodox position that this was ok because it was commanded by God, but that would sound rather ridiculous, especially in the context of complaining about religious terrorists who believe they’re carrying out divine orders. So Goldberg resorts to pure Bushist tautology; Jews don’t commit genocide, so if Jews do something, it’s not genocide. And he doesn’t just leave it at that because, instead of just saying “Judaism does not specialize in genocide,” he adds the modifier “unlike other religions.” This begs the obvious question; which religions do Goldberg feel “specialiaze in genocide?” 

What’s really odd about this whole string of posts from Goldberg though is how he’s basically trying to argue that the Amalex reference is irrelevant, even though it was his column that brought it up. Yes, it was an “aide” to Bibi, not the Prime Minister himself, who invoked the specter of Amalek to describe Bibi’s mindset, but it stands to reason that Goldberg thought there was something to that when he put it in the original column. And given this factor, it simply doesn’t make any sense to blithely declare that Israel doesn’t want to harm Iranian civilians; God’s commandment to Saul was not to kill the Amalekite king, but take care to spare everyone else, it was to kill every single Amalekite. There’s not really any way around that. Which isn’t to say that I think Israel does intend to wage some genocidal war against Iran (I don’t), it’s merely to point out how stupid the analogy was, and continues to be. Goldberg is trying to have it both ways; on the one hand, he wants to invoke the ancient bane of the Jews who, in Jewish tradition, epitomizes evil to describe Iran in maximally favorable terms, but at the same time he wants to disavow the implications of that comparison, based on a reading of the scriptures. Shorter, Goldberg is trying to invoke “Jewish tradition,” while at the same time trying to pretend the scripture says something other than, well, what it says. And the increasingly shrill tone being taken more or less belies that Goldberg knows there’s no way out of this for him, short of implied accusations of anti-Semitism, which is all the above quote represents.

Finally, as Matt Duss points out, Goldberg’s off-hand comment that Iran “seems to be e building nuclear weapons” is completely unsupported by facts, as it is the official position of the US intelligence community that Iran has not restarted its weapons program since halting it in 2003. But of course, over-hyping threats based on completely unsupported, sensationalist claims would be par for the course with Goldberg. 

Jeffrey Goldberg: Still a Warmongering Wanker

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I was going to write a nice long post about this drivel from “Goldblog,” but ultimately, it’s just not worth the time. Anyway I’ll just note that Goldberg resorts to the typical neocon tropes of implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war in order to paint their extraordinary measures vis-a-vis the civilian population in that conflict as somehow unusual, and responding to evidence casting doubt on Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons with nothing more than a completely speculative claim that they’re lying.

I’d also point out that Goldberg is just completely misrepresenting scriptural references in calling God’s command to commit genocide against te Amalekites an “inoperable commandment, never to be carried out.” TO be sure, Saul found himself unable to commit the brutal act, but in response, God stripped him of his kingship in favor of David, who waged a continuing war attempting to exterminate the Amalekites. Which really just leaves one question; is there anything Jeffrey Goldberg won’t lie about to agitate for war against Muslim countries?

Bibi’s Epic Fail, The Israel Lobby Gets Shrill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

The entire article is well worth a read, but this bit from Gideon Levy’s Haaretz column really stood out to me:

Suddenly all of Israel’s “friends” in Washington have shed their skin. They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the Middle East. They, too, are tired of what Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel – one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.

How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging; perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit. The visit has already made one contribution: Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, we, the Israelis, will know, the U.S. president will know and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace.

I don’t know how accurate the line about “Israel’s friens in Washington” is. AIPAC is more or less unchanged in position, and the rest of the usual suspects are similarly consistent. There’s perhaps a growing awareness that further settlement activity will impede the peace process, and even be bad for Israel’s interests in the long run, but there seems to be little desire to emphasize the point amongst right-of-center Israel watchers, and even less desire to push for the dismantling of existing settlements.

Still, the point about Bibi’s failure in Washington is well taken. Netanyahu was clearly hoping to force Obama into a concilliatory position with regards to Likud, a posture Obama rather easily brushed off, leaving Bibi looking rather ridiculous in places. I’m actually sort of surprised this happened, actually, given Bibi’s reputation for handling Western sentiments, and, putting aside the possibility that this is exaggerated for a second, this sort of makes you wonder if 8 years of an extremely deferential American administration hasn’t made the Israeli state somewhat delusional in regards to the special relationship. After all, great powers rarely like being pushed around geopolitically, and certainly don’t take kindly to being pushed around by a much smaller state that is much more dependent on us than we are them.

And you can almost sense the realization of the worm turning amongst the usual suspects. Jeffrey Goldberg, for one, is barely even trying anymore (apparently, writing hagiographies to Bibi couched in little more than ancient superstition as if it’s a positive aspect to Bibi’s personality will suck the intellectual will right out of you), and it’s almost hard to follow his thought process at this point. Does Goldberg think it was a mistake to normalize relations with Vietnam? Does he think the US, or vital US interests, have been adversely affected by this move? I mean, Cohen’s point in relation to Vietnam is so benign a sto almost be inarguable. Which, I suspect, is why Goldberg has to attack it in such irrelevant terms; too much reminding people that normal relations with “mean” people doesn’t, in fact, lead to buildings blowing up in Omaha and the AIPAC line will seem even sillier than it does right now. (Also, does Goldberg really think he’s insulting Cohen by linking him and one of the most respected International Relations scholars alive?) 

Also, via Yglesias, I see that David Ignatius, for one, has finally realized that Israeli “peace offers” are shot through with ridiculous demands the Palestinians must accept, even though no rational actor would ever accept such an egregious encroachment upon their sovereign rights. Now if only Ignatius (or Yglesias, for that matter), would notice that the Israeli center-left, as represented by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, made exactly the same demands and then some at Camp David in 2000. It’s not ust Likud that’s imposing a barrier to agreement on the Israeli side of things.

Obama Still Not Engaging Hamas and Hezbollah

Monday, April 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

The New York Times notes Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks in Lebanon:

Hezbollah, which waged a 34-day war against Israel in 2006, has built legitimacy here by providing a network of social services. Britain recently said it would resume contact with the group’s political wing, which has one post in the current Lebanese cabinet.

So far, though, President Obama has stuck with the Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Hezbollah. American officials reject the British distinction between its political and military wings, and they view the group as a proxy for Iranian and Syrian influence in the region.

“We certainly hope the election will be free of intimidation and outside interference, and that the results of the election continue a moderate, positive direction,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Michael Crowley notes that the administration has taken a similar track with Hamas.

This really isn’t a welcome sign, and the United States, and the larger region, would benefit greatly from increased engagement with both groups. Not because Hamas and Hezbollah are not terrorists, of course, but because refusing to engage them is counter-productive, and directly helps both groups. Hamas, in particular, is rather hard to justify; they earned there position within the Palestinian Authority via elections the United States demanded be held. That we subsequently refused to recognize the victors because we didn’t like them undermined what little credibility the US had left as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continuing to ignore the elected representatives only deepens the impression that the US is too supportive of Israel to be an honest broker, strengthening Hamas’s position in the process. Hezbollah is a bit of a different nugget, but insomuchas their power base comes from the systematic disenfranchisement of the Lebanese Shia population, and refusing to engage with the largest and most important Shia party is seen as a slight to the larger community, this also directly benefits Hezbollah’s local standing.

Which isn’t, of course, to say that you actually have to concede anything to either group, but in so much as you want to improve relations in the subregion, and by extension want to weaken the radical groups, validating the radical’s talking points is obviously not a good way to go about that.

Israeli Right-Wing to Rahm: Don’t Forget You’re Jewish

Monday, April 20th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I wrote last week about a report that Rahm Emaneul had essentially laid down the law, noting in the process that it’s not necessarily easy to trust foreign reports on American politics. Well one person who seems to have believed the report is Ya’acov Katz, leader of the extreme right-wing National Union party in Israel, and he had some, um, words for Rahm:

National Union chairman Ya’acov “Ketzele” Katz sent a letter to White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel last week admonishing him not to forget his Jewish and Israeli origins.

 Katz’s missive came in response to a reported verbal exchange between Emanuel and an unidentified American Jewish leader.

Katz claims that in a private meeting with the unnamed leader, Emanuel said, “In the next four years, there will be a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it does not matter to us who is the prime minister.”

In the letter, a Hebrew version of which was provided to The Jerusalem Post by Katz’s parliamentary aide, Katz wrote: “For many Israelis, this report is a cause for worry because it reveals a condescending attitude toward our prime minister and Israeli public opinion. This is an attitude that Israel does not expect from a real friend such as the US, and all the more so from an Israeli Jew who has succeeded in being appointed White House chief-of-staff.”

Katz went on to compare Emanuel to the biblical Esther, who ended up at using her influence with Persian King Ahashverosh to intervene on behalf of the Jews of the Persian Empire.

Now, this should probably be taken with a grain of salt. National Union as an extremely right-wing party, so much so that Netanyahu and Likud went out of their way to keep them out of the governing coalition. Still, they’re not that far away from Likud’s basic ideological precepts, so it’s telling to note that the Israeli right-wing regards the responsibility of Jewish public officials in other countries, or at least the United States, to be protecting the interests of Israel, as opposed to those of the country they’re an official in.

Rahm Brushing Back Bibi?

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

That would certainly seem to be the case, according to the largest daily newspaper in Israel:

Yedioth Achronoth, the largest circulation daily in Israel, reports today that President Obama intends to see the two-state solution signed, sealed and delivered during his first term.

Rahm Emanuel told an (unnamed) Jewish leader; “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.”

He also said that the United States will exert pressure to see that deal is put into place.”Any treatment of the Iranian nuclear problem will be contingent upon progress in the negotiations and an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory,” the paper reports Emanuel as saying.  In other words, US sympathy for Israel’s position vis a vis Iran depends on Israel’s willingness to live up to its commitment to get out of the West Bank and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state there, in Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

It’s certainly the case that reports about American politics and foreign policy in foreign newspapers tend to be much less accurate than those in American papers, but the journalist who broke this is one of the most respected in all of Israel, and it certainly fits the character that is Rahm.

That said, if this is true, it’s a very big deal for US-Israel relations, and for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. For sure, it’s the toughest line the US has taken with Israel since committing itself to a two-state solution, and the first time in at least 2 decades the United States has seriously threatened to leverage Israel. The diplomatic context here is a little convoluted, but undeniably stark. In forming his new coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu had desperately wanted to bring Kadima into the fold, and keep Kadima leader Tzipi Livni as Foreign Minister. But Livni’s stated price for taking a junior role to Likud was too much for Bibi, and he was instead forced to give the position to the rabidly anti-Arab Avigdor Lieberman, a looming diplomatic disaster for both Bibi and Israel. What concession did Livni demand of Likud? A committment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. In other words, Bibi was more willing to make a man who had previously advocated the bombing of Egypt’s Aswan Dam Foreign Minister than express a committment to a Palestinian state. By declaring that the US is committed to a two-state solution no matter who is prime minister, Emannuel is essentially stating that the US does not care what the Israeli government’s opinion on the question is. And in tying relations with Iran to Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Rham is articulating the most overt opposition to increased Israeli settlements since we stopped calling them illegal in diplomatic language. Again, if this is true, it’s a very big deal diplomatically.

It’s also important that it’s Rahm out front in delivering the message. Given that he is devoutly Jewish, and has actually served in the IDF, it will be hard to level accusations of insufficient affinity for Israel on the part of administration if they go through with this.

It’s the Hegemony

Monday, April 13th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I’m of the opinion that some of Roger Cohen’s reporting regarding Iran has been overly glib, but I suppose that’s somewhat understandable considering the nature of the criticism he’s encountered for it. Still, his column in The New York Times last week was both very good, and very important for the ideas it will hopefully put into the discourse surrounding the new Israeli government, and Israeli foreign policy in general.

First of all, it’s good to see such a reminder that Israel has long been hysterical about Iran. As Cohen points out, a mere 5 years before 9/11, and only 2 years before the al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Africa, Shimon Peres was declaring Iran the “center” of global terrorism, as well as predicting Iran would possess a nuclear weapon by 1999. 10 years later, Iran is still nukeless, and has halted their weapons program altogether according to U.S. intelligence, and no one is asking Peres for betting tips. But Israeli leaders are still hyping the specter of a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state. But Cohen takes on that canard as well, by noting that the evidence of the body of action by the Iranian regime since 1979 is one of both realist rationality and a seeming aversion to direct armed conflict. And that’s without noting that it’s been literally centuries since the Persians have waged an expansionary war of any kind.

But most important is the fact that Cohen calls out the real reason Israel has been perpetually worked up about the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran. Simply put, it’s the hegemony stupid. At present, Israel enjoys more or less unchecked dominance in the Middle East. Their military can route any of their neighbors, and can probably fend pretty well against all of the Arabic states working in unison. Additionally, there’s very little in the way of a deterrant on Israeli action present. The closest you get is in Saudi Arabia, where the central importance of their oil production to the global economy means that the world likely would have little patience for an Israeli attack against Saudi Arabia that would send the price of oil to largely unimagined levels, but even that isn’t quite as effective as a legitmate military counterweight. But, a nuclear armed Iran would function as a significant deterrant against Israeli military action. Israel would be constrained by the same principle of MAD that other nuclear armed powers have been vis-a-vis their dealings with Iran, and the Iranians could extend a protective shield to other states in the region, fundamentally shifting the balance of power in the region away from Israel and to, at the least, one that is fundamentally balanced between the nuclear armed Iran and the nuclear armed, highly sophisticated, Israel. Which isn’t t say that this isn’t a legitimate rationale for Israeli positioning, but it’s important that the United States keep this in mind when they hear Bibi implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war, or casually asserting that a regime that has managed to last for 30 years now will suddenly become suicidal, in order to justify an Israeli attack that would cause the region to erupt.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s New War

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Personally, my favorite nugget in “Goldblog’s” interview with Bibi has nothing to do with the Israeli Prime Minister whatsoever. Rather, it’s this bit off seemingly off handed framing Goldberg inserts:

Both Israeli and American intelligence officials agree that Iran is moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability.

Of course, that’s not true. American intelligence believes that “Tehran halted their nuclear weapons programs in 2003.” And Goldberg seems to let on to this a few sentences later:

American officials argue that Iran has not crossed the “technological threshold”; the director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, said recently that Israel and the U.S. are working with the same set of facts, but are interpreting it differently. “The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view,” he said.

Of course, what Blair is saying, while putting it diplomatically, is that the Israelis are acting irrationally out of emotion (I’d quibble with the reasoning, but that’s best left for another post). What Goldberg wants you to infer is that Israel is the one interpreting the facts correctly, which is why he so casually misleads his readers with intonements about how American intelligence agrees that Iran is “moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability.” The only way that’s true, based on what Goldberg goes on to lay out, is if Blair is telling the truth that Americans and Israelis have the same set of facts, and Israel is interpreting them correctly. Of course, misleading the public in the name of furthering a march to war is a game Goldberg is quite familiar with.

Not for nothing, it’s things like this that drove the Chas Freeman controversy. More than a few people have remarked on how bizarre it was the see the chairmanship of the NIC raised to such a high stakes position, but what people like Goldberg and Steven Rosen were afraid of was the possibility that Freeman’s “contrarian” realism might lead him to take a much more critical reading of intelligence vis-a-vis Iran, and would likely be unreceptive to the sort of irrational hyping Israel and the Israel lobby prefers, and is necessary to keep the drumbeat for war with Iran going. At this point, the real question is which American leader is going to be brave enough to accurately characterize the opinion of the American intelligence apparatus, and stop genuflecting to the myth of Iranian nuclear weapon development.

Netanyahu Warns; He Will Bomb Iran

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had quite a message for President Obama; attack Iran, or I will:

Netanyahu said he would support President Obama’s decision to engage Iran, so long as negotiations brought about a quick end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “How you achieve this goal is less important than achieving it,” he said, but he added that he was skeptical that Iran would respond positively to Obama’s appeals. In an hour-long conversation, held in the Knesset, Netanyahu tempered his aggressive rhetoric with an acknowledgement that nonmilitary pressure could yet work. “I think the Iranian economy is very weak, which makes Iran susceptible to sanctions that can be ratcheted up by a variety of means.” When I suggested that this statement contradicted his assertion that Iran, by its fanatic nature, is immune to pressure, Netanyahu smiled thinly and said, “Iran is a composite leadership, but in that composite leadership there are elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist right now in any other would-be nuclear power in the world. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”[…]

Neither Netanyahu nor his principal military advisers would suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack. “The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of his advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me.

Of course, this is a mobius strip at its finest, in so much as all of our intelligence estimates continue to claim that Iran has no nuclear weapons program (although to be fair, US leadership, including Obama, are no better about this) so Bibi is setting up an impossible circumstance that, if worked out, can only end in military action. What’s most interesting about this, however, is that it suggests Netanyahu isn’t really that concerned about the divergence of political opinion in the US and Israel, and he clearly seems to think, for reasons I can’t really figure out, that it’s Israel, not the United States, who holds the dominant position in the alliance between the two. Hopefully the Obama administration won’t prove him correct, and will put meaningful pressure on the new government to moderate their foreign/military policy.

Also, I’ve seen both Massie and Larison flag this section of the interview:

Netanyahu offered Iran’s behavior during its eight-year war with Iraq as proof of Tehran’s penchant for irrational behavior. Iran “wasted over a million lives without batting an eyelash … It didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness. It wasn’t Britain after World War I, lapsing into pacifism because of the great tragedy of a loss of a generation. You see nothing of the kind.”

He continued: “You see a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” I asked Netanyahu if he believed Iran would risk its own nuclear annihilation at the hands of Israel or America. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.

Of course, the idea that Iran is a completely irrational, fanatical state isn’t backed up by any solid evidence, which is why Bibi (like Norman Podhoretz in World War IV, incidentally) has to resort to using the Iran-Iraq war as an example, while declining to remind his audience that it was Iraq who was the aggressor in that war. Of course states often accept higher levels of casualties when defending their own territory from a hostile aggressor, and for the most part, the rest of the world accepts that, even when what would normally be considered “extreme” measures like arming the citzenry are taken. Simply put, no one expects a state to submit to aggression in the name of limiting casualties (have you ever heard someone argue that France was irresonsible in World War I for enduring such a high casualty level?), which is why Netanyahu has to imply that Iran was the agressor in the conflict, and that their behavior was highly unusual. Given this, and the chosen outlet, I’d say Netanyahu isn’t even bothering to play to the American government anymore, he’s playing to the media, hoping that any action Israel may take about Iran will be spun in Israel’s favor, and that the Obama administration won’t be in a position to push back. The implication is clear; the Netanyahu government simply does not care what the United States thinks, unless the US is prepared to support them unequivocally. It would be amusing in it’s presumptuosness, if it weren’t such a dangerous course. For everyone.

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