Ira Chernus  




The Bush administration is determined to prevent any other nation from dominating the Middle East. That’s why Iraq had to be destroyed. That’s why Iran is now in the administration's  nuclear sights. Israeli leaders and their American supporters are egging the Bushies on. In public, they sound like simple-minded cheerleaders, chanting “Attack Iran, Fight, Fight.” Behind the scenes, they are using their leverage to manipulate the Bush policymaking bureaucracy. 

A year and a half ago, the respected journalist Seymour Hersh was already reporting that “Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran.”  Feith, a staunch Likud supporter, was a key player in manipulating intelligence to justify the war on Iraq. Once Saddam was toppled, Feith’s lobbying firm starting peddling influence in Iraq to Israeli businesses.

Aparently the Israel lobby’s influence-peddling has reached the White House, too. In March, 2006, Bush went out of his way to say publicly: “The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. … I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel.”  In April, 2006, Sy Hersh reported at length that the administration is developing plans to use all its might against Iran, including nuclear weapons.

How would a U.S. attack on Iran protect Israel? The Israel lobby has a simple answer. If we don’t destroy Iran’s handful of nuclear centrifuges now, they may some day—in maybe 8 or 10 years at he earliest, most experts say—have the thousands of linked centrifuges needed to make a nuclear bomb. Then, they’ll drop it on Israel. Apparently they’ll ignore the fact that against their one or two possible future nukes, Israel already has at least 200 very actual nukes, a number sure to grow greatly in 8 to 10 years. But presumably the Iranians won’t be deterred by reasonable self-interest, since their leaders are purportedly insane Hitler-like anti-Semites. There’s a lot of hypothetical assumptions, and very few verifiable facts, packed into that “reasoning.”

But the Bush administration is apparently reasoning along different lines. Hersh “was told by several officials that the White House’s interest in preventing an Israeli attack on a Muslim country, which would provoke a backlash across the region, was a factor in its decision to begin the current operational planning.” So when Bush says he’d attack Iran to protect Israel, he’s not talking about stopping an Iranian nuke attack on Israel. He’s talking about stopping an Israeli nuke attack on Iran.  He’s talking about protecting the Israelis from their own penchant for self-defeating, self-destructive acts of violence.

Israelis violence against Palestinians has already angered Muslims everywhere, quite understandably. The Iraq war just made it worse. It raised anti-American feeling throughout the Muslim world to unprecedented heights. And everywhere, growing numbers of Muslims link U.S. and Israeli interests, seeing the two as twin enemies of Muslim interests. So resentment against the U.S. for its murderous venture in Iraq has also raised resentment against Israel. That may be (to some degree) unfair, unreasonable, and unfounded, but it’s a fact that the U.S. and Israel must deal with.

If the Israelis attacked Iran, to say that it would “provoke a backlash across the region” is a major understatement. It would provoke anti-Israeli rage throughout the Muslim world. Israel would find itself isolated in the court of international opinion, with only the U.S. (and perhaps the Marshall Islands) standing behind it. The current Palestinian mood to reach a rapprochement with Israel would be put at risk, too.

Apparently the Bushies understand all this. They know that a powerful surge in anti-Israel sentiment would create nightmares for U.S. foreign policy. So they are determined to head off an Israeli attack on Iran at all costs.

But it seems they have not thought through the costs. The idea that the U.S. would ease anti-Israel anger by attacking Iran flies in the face of logic. Just as Israel gets blamed for the U.S. attack on Iraq, it would get equal blame for a U.S. attack on Iran—especially since everyone knows that the Israelis are pushing Bush to do it, and he said publicly that he would be attacking Iran “to protect our ally, Israel.” The U.S. and Israel, already harshly criticized around the world, would end up even more pilloried and isolated. Violent acts of reprisal against Israel, which would be sure to follow, would be widely seen as justified. Whatever sympathy Israel holds now could quickly evaporate.

Beyond this, the long-term consequences are incalculable. Who can say now how the uncontrollable situation in Iraq will affect Israel five, ten, twenty years from now? A war against Iran would unloose more unpredictable forces, some of them devoted to a narrow pro-Islamist agenda, that could make Israel’s security worries far worse than they are now.

The Israeli government and its U.S. supporters now have a golden opportunity for “t’shuvah”:  turning around and taking the right course. Rather than lashing out at every nation whose interests clash with their own, tarring the “goyim” as nothing but “anti-Semites,” they can recognize that other nations have legitimate interests and concerns, too. They can learn to compromise, to put negotiated peace above the false pride that comes from wielding power. It would be a hard lesson for many Israelis and American Jews to learn. But it is the only route to genuine security. And it has the added benefit of being the morally right thing to do.