Is Israel Plotting…or Stumbling toward…Mideast War?

The Arab Spring is heating up, Egypt is gingerly opening the Rafah Gate, Syria is in crisis, the Palestinians are gearing up for a fall U.N. victory. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv, in deep denial, is murdering civilian demonstrators in neighboring countries for approaching its borders, refusing to negotiate sincerely even with its West Bank clients, and searching for a way to continue its campaign of expansion and ethnic cleansing. Are the extremist leaders of Israel crazy enough to launch a regional war, using the specter of an eventual Iranian nuclear bomb as the excuse? Perhaps irrational, perhaps just coldly calculating their own personal, short-term interest.

The recently retired chief of Mossad has just warned that they may be. This is a serious warning; Dagan has wrecked any hopes of a peaceful retirement as an Israeli hero he may have had; he has no doubt destroyed all his contacts with the Netanyahu regime, as well. He will be persona non grata in official Tel Aviv, a tough price for a man who managed all the state’s secrets. He is being pilloried in the halls of government and much of the nation’s media. But he has been supported by the other top Israeli spy chief (also recently retired and thus free to speak honestly to his country’s people). What do Israel’s intelligence chiefs know or suspect about the private calculations of the extremist (shall we, for simplicity, call them the “Israeli neo-con”???) faction whose bloody flag has brought it into power?
Iran, a country known to professionals as following a cautious, rational foreign policy, nevertheless–like many Israeli and U.S. politicians–talks tough, and thus is perceived on the Israeli (and U.S.) street as wild and crazy. Ahmadinejad, whose mouth is as out-of-control as Netanyahu’s, will bear much of the blame if the extremist faction running Israel attacks Iran. It matters little, evidently, to voters in the U.S. or Israel that Iran has attacked no one (except its own people), while Israel only a decade ago was forced to give up its colonization of Southern Lebanon,  provoked the overthrow of Hamas in 2006 after it had accepted democratic rules and won Palestine’s only legitimate election, provoked and then launched a war of aggression against Lebanon in 2006, and provoked and then launched a war of aggression against Gaza in 2009. Now, Israel is murdering Syrian demonstrators on the border of between the territory Syria still controls and the Syrian Golan Heights that Israel seized in 1967.
Those are the facts. One may argue forever about justifications, but those are the facts, and the facts do not support the hypothesis that Iranian leaders are wild and crazy, nor do they support the hypothesis that Israeli leaders are rational. Note please that “rational” does not mean “nice” or “moral.” It does, however, mean thoughtful, calculating logically one’s interests, and avoiding self-defeating behavior.
  • Israel‘s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, support of the slaughter of Palestinian women and children refugees in Sabra and Shatilla, and refusal to depart provoked the organization of the liberation movement Hezbollah; that was not a rational policy from Israel‘s perspective. 
  • Israel‘s 2006 overthrow of Hamas’ new democratic government of Palestine taught the violence-prone group that playing by democratic rules would only backfire because Israel could not be trusted. That was not a rational policy from Israel‘s perspective. 
  • Israel‘s 2006 invasion of Lebanon resulted in a draw with that same Hezbollah, ending the myth of Israeli invincibility. That was not a rational policy from the perspective of Israel.
  • Israel‘s disproportionate use of murderous force against civilians on the 2010 Gaza aid flotilla wrecked its important strategic ties with Turkey. That was not a rational policy from the perspective of Israel.
  • Israel‘s slaughter of Syrian-Palestinian demonstrators cutting barbed wire on the Golan Heights brings to mind the East German murder of Germans trying to cross the old Berlin Wall. That was not rational policy from the Israeli perspective.
And now the question is whether the faction guilty of the above acts might also be sufficiently irrational to launch mankind’s first unprovoked nuclear war. The ex-chief of Mossad evidently thinks so.

Al-Asad Airbase, left, and Tehran, upper right [from Google Earth]
In early May a report in the Iranian media that someone close to nationalist Iraqi leader Moqtada al-Sadr had claimed Israeli warplanes were massing at Al-Asad Airbase near Baghdad for an attack on Iran received little notice in the U.S. and was quickly dismissed by U.S. officials as “ridiculous.” Whatever the truth of the story, clearly the fact that the idea was “ridiculous” in no way indicates that it could not be true, and Dagan’s recent warning suggests that the report should be taken more seriously.


Al-Asad Airbase to Tehran [from Google Earth]
What all this adds up to is unclear; these war scares have occurred repeatedly over the past decade. Yet the remarks of Dagan bear careful consideration, and evidence that the “war scares” of the past in fact constituted very real threats continues to emerge.
  • In 2007, Israel allegedly was drawing up plans to attack Iran directly from Israel, with one route reportedly going over Turkey, which at that time still had close relations with Israel
  • In 2008, Israel conducted a dress rehersal for an attack on Iran with 100 F-15s and F-16s, and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz said at the time, “If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons we will attack.” 
  • In 2009, the militant right-wing Israeli website DEBKA claimed that Israel planned to attack Iranian planes when they gathered for an airshow that was canceled by the Iranians at the last minute because of bad weather. 
  • In 2010, Israel allegedly planned to attack Iran via Georgia
In early 2011, Haaretz commentator Aluf Benn explained the current political situation in Tel Aviv:
The activist view against Iran unites Barak and Netanyahu and gives sense to their shared place in the country’s leadership. Bolstered by the incoming chief of staff, Yoav Galant, who is considered a supporter of their position, the prime minister and defense minister will seek to foil the Iranian nuclear program in their remaining time in office.
Journalist Yossi Gurvitz provided further details about the Tel Aviv war party’s motivations:
[Barak’s] defection [WM: from Likud to Netanyahu’s party] was planned with Netanyahu. The latter was elected on one promise: Attacking Iran. He will have a problem facing the voters without one. Recently, the retiring chief of Mossad, Me’ir Dagan, tried to warn the public of such a war: you go to war, he said, only when the enemy’s sword is at your throat. He also broke with Military Intelligence custom since 2000 – announcing Iran’s bomb would be ready at next year’s autumn – and said it won’t reach a bomb until 2015. Yesterday, he had to somewhat back from that premise, and say Iran may pull a surprise. Still, this put a major crimp in Netanyahu’s war rhetoric.

Netanyahu didn’t take this sitting down: last week he informed the world that its problems are “Iran, Iran, and Iran”. Netanyahu knows his coalition is dying, and that just about everyone are looking forward to the next elections. He must get to the polls with some achievement, or at least a massive distraction. Otherwise, all that people will remember is that Netanyahu was basically a humiliated peon of Liberman and Yishai. If he makes it to the polls in this condition, he will have a hard time defeating Livni.
Netanyahu has just one option to regain his grip on the national agenda: going to war. During wartime, the press automatically stands at the side of the government. At least during the first two weeks, before the IDF’s screw-ups can be noticed. The war’s reflected glory also covers the Minister of Defense. Netanyahu and Barak need a war. Obama seems too weak to rein them in. We should, therefore, watch with unusual suspicion any military move made by Israel in the coming months – from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip, and particularly Iran. The old saying is that war is the extension of diplomacy by other means – but all too often it is the extension of party politics.
The record of irrationality in Israeli foreign policy makes it dangerous to discount the threat of Israeli aggression. The continued U.S. control over the Al-Asad Airbase in supposedly independent Iraq at a time when the U.S. is committed to removing its troops offers troubling evidence of the plausibility of the claims that aggression is under consideration.
But most telling of all is the absence of any clear, unambiguous statement from the White House that the Obama Administration would reject and oppose any Israeli attempt to attack Iran in the absence of a clear and immediate Iranian threat to Israel. Even if Washington is totally opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran, the ambiguity in Washington rhetoric leaves a dangerous space for leaders in Tel Aviv to imagine that they can pull Washington along in their wake should they decide to start a war they cannot win. If they take the chance, and if they can play Washington one more time as they have so many times before, and if U.S. can end a war against Iran fast enough to avoid disaster for Israel, then Netanyahu and Barak can restore their political fortunes, roll over the Palestinians, and rule the Mideast. It is a nice daydream for a faction whose time may be nearly up.
Given the influence of this faction over the U.S. Congress, however, what is Obama to do? There are five private citizens in Israel today who have spent their lives defending Israeli national security and who now seem worried about that security: Meir Dagan, Gabi Ashkenazi, Amos Yadlin, Gad Shimron, and Yuval Diskin. Make no mistake: these are Israeli right-wing super patriots, their views will not be in accord with U.S. national security interests, and Obama’s contacts with Israelis should be far broader than this group. But, in contrast to certain politicians, they represent what may be called the “rational right.” If the security of the Israeli people is of concern to Obama, then perhaps he should take the time to invite these gentlemen to lunch.
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