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Power structure in Israel Split over Shrill Israeli Rhetoric on Iran

May 2, 2012

1300 Palestinians in Israeli Jails are currently on a hunger strike for more humane conditions. This news has hardly made a ripple in the U.S. media

Also published in Foreign Policy In Focus


An open clash between high ranking Israelis at a major meeting in New York City gives ample evidence of a growing  divide in Israel over attacking Iran. One result is that it will be less likely that Israel, as a divided nation, would `surprise’ the Obama Administration by unilaterally attacking Iran.

The tensions have been brewing under the surface for some time now, with hints of the depth of the antagonism surfacing from time to time. But just a few days ago, on April 29, 2012, in New York City, before a mostly Jewish, and mostly pro-Netanyahu audience of 1000 attendees, the political boil was publicly lanced, and nothing Alan Deshowitz had in his bag of articulate tricks could paste over the bitter polarization that has erupted. The meeting was sponsored by the generally conservative and right wing Jerusalem Post.

The issue: Iran.

Just how nasty and deep is the split can be seen from a detailed article  published in May 2 edition of the New York City based – The Forward – one of the longest running and most prestigious Jewish newspapers. In an article entitled `Explosive Dust Up Over Iran Policy’, Forward journalist J.J. Goldberg exposed the Israeli internal riff over Iran in which high level Israeli officials attacked one another over claims of `an Iranian threat’.

Sounded like quite the ideological slugfest that ripped the veil off of any semblance of Israeli unity concerning Iran. On the one hand, representatives of Prime Minister Netanyahu openly attacked President Obama’s Middle East policies, with, according to The Forward, “widespread cheering” from the audience. On the otherhand, former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, and former Mossad Director Meir Dagan, attacked Netanyahu’s Iran sabre-rattlilng.Last year Dagan had publicly called Netanyahu’s war talk `stupid’. (The exact quote – according to Avnery – was `This is the stupidist idea I have heard in my life’ – see `Avnery link’ below)  In one exchange on April 29, Dagan called Giliad Erdan, Israel’s Environmental Minister and a Netanyahu man, `a liar’. Ergan responded in kind, claiming Dagan was `threatening Israeli security.’

The Mesuggineh Fringe vs. the Intelligence Apparatus…

In one corner, the growing mesuggineh fringe of Israeli politics – Prime Minister Netanyahu and his increasingly rightwing and religious followers, including West Bank settlers whose rhetoric has long ago approached `foaming at the mouth’ levels concerning “the existential Iranian threat’ to Israel. Netanyahu and company have been warning the world of the development of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. It might be pointed out that this faction has been predicting an `imminent Iranian nuclear weapon’ since the early 1980s.

In the other corner, strange as it seems at first – but not so strange for those who know anything about the sober (if reactionary) assessments of the Israeli intelligence – security and military communities. Joining them is a growing element of Israeli public opinion so hammered with anti-Iranian vitriol that is something approaching a miracle that they could see through the swamp of lies and exaggerations, and actually speak out for peace. Going against the position of the Israeli prime minister, this element in Israel has been openly contradicting Netanyahu. They argue that Iran isn’t building a nuclear weapon, doesn’t have plans to build one and even it did, wouldn’t represent a threat to Israel.  

The breach is nothing new in Israel where it has been discussed for months in the press; but to see controversy spill over so openly in the United States and then to be picked up by the mainstream media (the NY Times) and a publication like The Forward – this is striking.

The struggle over Iran at top of the Israeli political pyramid reflects the tension at the grass roots as well. In related develepment and  unprecedented gesture, an Israeli, posted a message on facebook – a teacher made a public appeal – both to the people of Israel and the people of Iran – against war. The appeal struck a chord in Iran where it was read, viewed positively and widely circulated; it is circulating heavily in Israel and now around the world.

For the Israeli intelligence and security establishment,  it is not Iran which poses a danger to Israeli security but Netanyahu’s rhetoric which has not only increased regional tensions but has in recent months undermined U.S. – Israeli relations, so much so, that at this year’s March 2012 AIPAC annual meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly called on AIPAC – and Israel – to tone down the war talk.

In classic style, Netanyahu responded to Obama’s request by announcing more Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories and ratcheting up his anti-Iran rhetoric in an effort to reconstruct the anti-Iranian alliance (the U.S., Israel, Saudis and other conservative Arab Regimes). This alliance had been strained to the breaking point by the eruption of the Arab Spring which temporarily found Israel more isolated and confused in the region than it had ever been.

U.S. Republicans Looking For An Election Issue Egg On Netanyahu

Egged on by Republicans, right wing Zionists and neo-conservatives here in the United States, Netanyahu’s anti-Iranian hysteria had reached such subjective heights, that even important elements of Israel’s own circles of power have found it necessary to call their prime minister on the carpet. Besides trying to push the United States into a war with Iran that Israel cannot in any way shape or form fight on its own, Netanyahu’s goal is to make the non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program an election issue here in the USA. At the very least, Netanyahu reasoned, the sabre rattling would force Obama to make concessions to Israel . I call it `rage management’ – yell and scream enough and you might not get everything you want, but some juicy consolation prize –  which did come forth in the form of bunker buster bombs to Israel and silence on the Palestinian issue.

But that wasn’t enough for Netanyahu for whom political moderation is something approaching a cardinal sin. And, with the support of the usual suspects (AIPAC, neo-conservatives like John Bolton, and that  Christian fundamentalist nut case John Hagee), Netanyahu kept up the anti-Iranian drumbeat for war. Of course he’d crossed the line of decency – and out right interference in U.S. politics so often – and gotten away with it…that why stop now! Having let Israel off the lease for so long, it has proven to be difficult now to reign it in. Can’t blame all that on Netanyahu either.

The Republicans here in the United States whose primary campaign, pushed to the right by the likes of the Tea Party and neo-conservatives, had something else in mind. As Netanyahu’s sabre rattling grew louder and louder, the price of oil, always subject to political insecurity, began to rise. The bet was racheting up oil prices through fear of war would cut into the weak U.S. (and global) recovery which the Republicans and Netanyahu would help engineer. The the Republican candidate – now apparently Romney – could blame the failed recovery on Obama.

Obama – Tactical Retreat From Military Confrontation

Obama  understood the Republican – Likud game for the danger it is both to world peace and his re-election possibilities, given American sensitivities to rising oil prices. He acted to help defuse the situation – making it clear in his own pronouncements and those of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, that there will be no military strike against Iran (at least until after the elections). In so doing, it will be more difficult for Romney to `play the Iran card’ by sucking up to Netanyahu.

All this challenges the assertion repeated these days ad nauseum that in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations that `it is the tail wagging the dog’. It tuns out that at certain key moments the dog can and does wag the tail too – when it finds it necessary. This is one of these moments where the stakes are too high and Israel is interfering with U.S. political interests in the Middle East and the way that the Obama Administration wants to `play the great game’. While the connections/coordination between Obama and the Israeli military-intelligence community on this issue have not been openly spelled out, the fact that this is the sector that receives gobs of U.S. financial aid since 1979 and is closely coordinated with NATO plans and operations in the Middle East, might just have something to do with it.

It is not so much that the Obama Administration has changed its goal of regime change in Iran, – the moral implications are of course brushed aside (again). But with the situation in Afghanistan melting daily before the world’s eyes, with tensions in Pakistan over drone strikes, Iraq in an increasingly explosive mood and Syria in a state approaching civil war, the U.S. is in no position to open up another front militarily, even if it so desired.

Of course, inching back from the brink even if it is for short-sighted election purposes – is a relief. Is it simply a breather from a policy that in the long run inextricably will lead to a military conflict, or the first step away from a policy of arrogance and lunacy that threatens to take us all down with it?


related articles:

Uri Avnery: A Putsch Against War…

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2012 9:08 am

    by email – this from a retired academic friend back east…

    “An excellent piece as usual. I had read about the former Mossad chief’s dissent and criticism of Netanyahu long ago. I didn’t realize the rift in Israel’s power elite was this deep. It’s almost cheerful news!”

  2. May 3, 2012 9:24 am

    by email – from an old friend…former leader of the War Resister’s League

    “I hadn’t realized until your report how tense the situation was here – with the coverage in the Daily Forward.”

  3. Chris Kendall permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:21 pm

    Your writing, Rob, gets better and better. An excellent piece.

  4. August 25, 2012 3:36 am

    Would-be time waster: Some employers have banned social media web-sites social media services from the office. All those prospects then get ten thousand the original source new guests. What can we master from Anthony Weiner’s working experience with social media?


  1. Power structure in Israel Split over Shrill Israeli Rhetoric on Iran « Middle East atemporal
  2. Rob Prince – Publications This Last Year or so « Rob Prince's Blog

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