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PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
THE U.S., ISRAEL, AND IRAN
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
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.
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.