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The Israeli Pickle: Iran (Part One)

November 11, 2011

The Israeli Pickle: Iran

by Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince

On the streets of Teheran

Note: This piece is published at Foreign Policy In Focus and at Counterpunch.

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1.

A bit odd.. a media leak reveals a conversation between Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in which the latter tells the former that he, Sarkozy is `fed up’ with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu  and `considers him a liar’. This comes some six weeks after German Chancellor Angela Merkel `read Netanyahu the riot act’ over the Israeli decision to build 1000 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Gilo.

Netanyahu is not used to being kicked around that way, at least not by Israel’s European allies. Are Sarkozy and Merkel merely saying more or less out loud what Obama dares not say? Are they `giving Netanyahu a message’ and if so, what? Merkel was annoyed (the word `infuriated’ was circulated in the media) by Netanyahu’s settlement announcement, Sarkozy’s outburst most probably has to do with something else – French (and perhaps U.S.) frustration with the Israeli Prime Minister over a possible Israeli military strike against Iran. It could be that Sarkozy’s comment was a simple warning: Don’t Do It; Don’t Attack Iran.

What is clear is that Israel is in a pickle over Iran. It is considering its options, one of which, once again, is to attack the Islamic Republic to destroy its nuclear program. At least that is the commonly used pretext.

on the streets of Tel Aviv

Israel Caught Off Guard

For decades before the advent of the Arab Spring broke, Israel has tried to capitalize on the lack of democracy (or its weakness) throughout the Middle East and Arab world. But when the democratic wave broke region-wide, Israel, like the United States, was caught off guard. Excepting a few isolated voices, there was no cheering on the Arab Spring in Tel Aviv.

To the contrary…

As the Arab Spring extended beyond Tunisia to the rest of the region, long held alliances between Israel, Egypt and Turkey began to fray – if not unravel. Sympathy for the Palestinians surged, Israel’s status plummeted, not just in the Third World, but also in Europe to a great extent. If Israel could still count on the U.S. Congress to genuflect, it is no longer true of the American people, who have begun to have doubts, including in the American Jewish Community.

Along these lines, something else happened.

The wind was taken out of the sales of the U.S-Israeli anti-Iranian campaign. On the surface the anti-Iranian alliance is a curious hodgepodge uniting Israel and seeming allies like Saudi Arabia in a common effort to produce `regime change’ in Iran. In less polite language, `regime change’ refers to nothing less than a combined effort to effort to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran by any means necessary.

Still, the anti-Iranian coalition lost considerable momentum over the past year, undermining Israel’s position in the region as the Arab partners have been pre-occupied. It turns out that the argument Iran is a threat to the region is falling flat yet again. The `threat’ Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the region faced had nothing to do with Iran. Instead it had its roots in the socio-economic policies and U.S. backed authoritarian regions which had long stifled development and democracy.

It should come as no surprise that as the Arab Spring extended far beyond Tunisia, that accordingly, the potency of the `Iranian Threat’ shrank and nearly collapsed, this despite attempts of the Israelis and certain figures in the Obama Administration, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, both with long histories of close cooperation with Israel in particular, to revive it.

A strengthened Iran – nuclear or non – represents for Israel a kind of geo-political adversary that hasn’t existed in the region since the punch was taken out of Egyptian nationalism in the 1967 Middle East war. It will force a revision of Israeli regional strategic thinking, undermine its regional hegemony some, and force Israel, sooner or later to make concessions – including on the Palestinian question – that the Zionist state has long resisted. (1)

Attempting to recover from the initial shock, in a something approaching desperation, Israel has tried to shift the agenda and contain the Arab Spring. At the heart of Israel’s current strategy is:

  • reviving the anti-Iranian alliance
  • contain the Arab Spring
  • regain some of its eroding political status and initiative
  • at a time when there are growing questions in Washington concerning the U.S. – Israeli alliance, remind the United States that Israel can still be an important strategic ally, essential for the U.S. to accomplish its strategic goals

Gaza Flotilla, November 2001. `if at first you don't succeed....

2.

Recovering from the blow to its influence, Israel concluded that the best way for it to help the United States contain the Arab Spring was to resurrect the anti-Iranian coalition, perhaps with new arrangement (that would involve France, Italy more directly).

Supported by the Obama Administration and a significant chunk of the media in the U.S. Israel still had much work to do. First it had to `calm the waters’ fouled in recent years and has worked to do so in a number of ways:

  • The Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange was meant to temporarily downplay the Palestinian issue at this time. While it is true that the members of the recent Gaza flotilla were treated roughly, this time no one was killed. Timing not right
  • Likewise, when Israel soldiers killed Egyptian border guards in a recent skirmish, Israel moved quickly to keep the issue from escalating into a more serious confrontation
  • Although Israeli-Turkish relations have greatly soured, Israel offered Ankara emergency aid for its earthquake victims in Eastern Turkey.
  • Netanyahu has even floated thoughts – not to be taken too seriously – of re-opening negotiations with the Palestinians.

Both the United States and Israel have repeatedly tried to resurrect the Iranian threat at different times over the past decade, recently less effectively.   This policy has become more and more stale, and less effective.

Iran in 2011 is beginning to resemble the build up to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003, this despite the fact that an Iranian nuclear program for military purposes remains unproven. So here we go again – same old, same old with a few new twists. Goebbel’s famous statement about repeating a frequently repeated lie finally being accepted as truth comes to mind. And as the myth of the Iranian threat has been so often repeated, who knows, it might work.

To Get the Fear-Mongering Rolling

To get the fear mongering rolling, the Israelis got a little help in jump starting the hysteria from the Obama Administration, specifically CIA director David Petraeus, who helped poison the air by floating the unlikely accusation that the Iranians, through a Texas used car dealer in tandem with a Mexican drug gang were keen on assassinating the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. in Washington D.C.

While this was even too much for the U.S. media, in retrospect an important point was missed – this was the opening round of a new offensive against Iran to be followed by others. That the incident was rather sloppily fabricated did not in the least bother Petraeus (or Obama) since U.S. administrations have been creating such scenarios for decades.

Round Two opens with the latest IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program. Even before the report was issued (November 8, 2011), the media has `somehow’ grabbed hold of it. Frankly there is virtually nothing new in this report from previous ones. Everything concerning an Iranian nuclear weapons program is little more than innuendo. But now the IAEA is headed by Yukiya Amano, much more pliant to U.S. pressure than his predecessor and the `suggestions’ of the report more ominous.

As with the accusation of the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador, with the new IAEA report proves little to nothing other than adding to the drumbeat for war. It should come as no surprise that Iran’s nuclear program is the lever Israel hopes to pull to bring its old allies back together into one happy war-mongering family

Israel raising the decibel level is a dangerous game in a region so overloaded with weapons and countries that don’t trust each other. But exaggerating the non-existing Iranian threat is part of the game for theUSandIsraelto bring the dangling elements of the alliance back in line.

Israel is dragging the world to the edge of the precipice. Let us hope that the more same voices within the Israeli government prevail. The alternative is unthinkable.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is finishing a joint Phd program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver and publishes his blog Imam Kazerooni BlogRob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News

____________________

Footnotes:

  1. The United States has its own reasons for opposing Iran, including the humiliation it suffered during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Iran’s historic role as a pioneer of nationalizing (or trying to) oil resources, and the very fact that the Islamic Republic largely outside of U.S. political and economic influence. At a time of tightening oil supplies and future intense competition over energy sources, `disciplining’ Iran to play the energy role more conducive to U.S. interests has become something of an obsession in Washington. `Taking out’ Iran weakens China and gives the United States greater strategic leverage over global economy in general.

Links:

Once More The Specter of a US and/or Israeli Military Attack Against Iran Looms  August 10, 2010

A New Israel In The Making by Gideon Levy

GOP-ers Promise War on Iran, Torture and Poverty by Juan Cole

The Israeli Pickle: Iran (Part Two)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. John Kane permalink
    November 11, 2011 4:23 pm

    Rob — I appreciate your analysis, but find it systematically ambiguous. You early dismiss the reality of any Iranan nuclear threat, but then discuss Israel’s options as if that threat were real, or, soon to be so. I find it difficult to believe that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, despite its regular protestations. Why wouldn’t they given what they (and we) know about Israeli and US opposition and willingness to use both covert and overt force. So what in your thinking leads you to dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat? Especially since you clearly indicate that the Israeli’s take it so seriously?

  2. November 11, 2011 4:56 pm

    John…’

    Interesting comments that i cannot discard and will address – or try

    1. concerning the systematic ambiguity you speak of, on reflection, this is a fair criticism and for exactly the reasons you site. what needed to be better clarified is how the 3 trends within israel concerning iran – all of which accept the reality of an iranian nuclear weapons threat – take for granted that the threat is real…we should have clarified that there are virtually no voices – to our knowledge – within israel that basically deny the reality of an iranian nuclear threat…so essentially the whole country has bought the lie
    2. concerning whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program. It is possible, the point we make is different – that no such program has been proven. It is the responsibility of those who appear set on making war to prove their point. They haven’t any more than they proved Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
    3. John, where is the Iranian nuclear threat? It is non existent. Let us assume that Iran does develop nuclear weapons. The use or threatened use of such weapons would mark the end of Iran as a country. There is no way that they can use them militarily without provoking a massive response. But look at how you are framing the whole issue. We are talking about a potential future Iranian nuclear threat while not pointing to the genuine nuclear threat represented by the existing nuclear arsenals of Israel, Pakistan, India, China, Russia which are all in the region – to say nothing of the nuclear weapons on U.S. warships (and perhaps U.S. military bases?) in the region. All the more reason to work for nuclear free Middle East and regional nuclear disarmament…

    • John Kane permalink
      November 12, 2011 6:42 am

      Rob — couldn’t agree more about the real threat coming from existing nuclear and military arsenals, especially Israel and the US — and about the danger of renewed anti-Iran focus. Still, admitting that none of us has proof and admitting the danger of contributing indirectly to the renewed anti-Iran propaganda, I find it hard to believe that Iran is not setting itself up for nuclear weapons. It wants to be a greater regional power, and has shown its willingness to support violence in the area (even against its own citizens). Sure it would not seriously contemplate first use, given the massive retaliation you indicate. But having nukes is admission to the big boys club — its worked for Israel and Pakistan and India — so why not for Iran. The ayatollas have grand and long-range visions. John

      • November 12, 2011 7:18 am

        a real exchange…i appreciate it.

        no need to romanticize iran or its intentions.

        virtually every country that had developed nuclear weapons had denied doing it. and it is possible that iran is doing likewise, although again, the evidence is lacking right now. until an atmosphere is created where the current nuclear players become serious about disarming – and as you know, none of them are – one has to expect that countries like Iran, Egpyt, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina have some kind of blue prints in the draw, some contingency plan. I would not particularly like to see any of them go nuclear (where it concerns weaponry)

        and though i can’t speak for ibrahim (although i would guess he agrees with me here), i would oppose iran developing nuclear weapons. period. that position is taken with the context of opposing all nuclear weapons development anywhere

        that said…again, look at where much of the emotional energy is coming from on our exchange… there is much concern about a hypothetical possibility of an iranian nuclear weapons program that may or may not exist, but little of it spent on the existing systems in place. Shouldn’t the sanctions be directed against the nuclear powers? against Israel for refusing to participate in the IAEA and come clean on its arsenal?

        Finally as you and i – and many others well know – the whole discussion is based on magnifying a hypothetical threat as to provide a pretext for military action against the Islamic Republic, of overthrowing their government one way or another. And here, the parallels with the build up of the attack on Iraq are quite vivid. It seems that the U.S. is following essentially the same program towards preparing for military action against Iran as it did against Saddam, vilifying its leadership (not hard to do), exaggerating its military potential and the nuclear weapons program, repeating the lie over and over again until people believe it..sewing the seeds for war…or for the kind of counter revolution that would be a repeat of 1953 when Mossadegh was overthrown.

    • John Kane permalink
      November 13, 2011 7:10 am

      No place after your last comment to leave a reply, so doing it here. Essentially I agree — both about the greatest need to spread concern about actual nuclear and military threats from Israel and US and about the “sowing the seeds” purposes of all the focus on Iran. So what do we do? John

  3. November 11, 2011 4:58 pm

    ya and so is the beginning.of the end ..of life in .planet..earth …..thanks to the humans !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. November 14, 2011 8:51 pm

    Every time i come here I am not dissapointed, nice post.

  5. November 22, 2011 12:37 am

    For the sake of all humanity I hope Iran and Isreal do not go to war.

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