The State That Cried Nuke

Last year around this time, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, in the words of Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi, “assumed the role of the responsible adult and slapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” when he asserted that Israel can “delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities”. As Somfalvi saw it, Dempsey effectively “slammed Israel’s head against the wall and said: “Shut up. Stop babbling about Iran. Without us there is not much you can do, and don’t assume for a second that we are dancing to your tune. You shouldn’t do anything stupid, and stop driving the entire world crazy.” Fast forward to this week and we again have Dempsey reprising this role, visiting Israel to, as Ben Caspit reported a high-ranking Israeli defense official as saying, “make sure that Israel has no surprises up its sleeve in connection with Iran.”

Dempsey got the guarantee—he “sensed agreement” from the Israelis that diplomacy and sanctions “were having an effect”—but one wonders why he bothered making the trip since, according to Martin Indyk, the Obama administration last year “figured out finally” that Israel is  “the boy who cried wolf” when it threatens to bomb Iran. In March 2012, the administration was convinced that zero hour had arrived and Israel was about to send the squadrons so we “tried everything in our power to change their stance,” said Indyk.  “First it looked like it really worked, when everyone did whatever they could to placate Israel (in that instance, Netanyahu wanted weapons). But after another round of Israeli threats, people in the Administration were saying, “Looks like they’re doing their threats again, but we can live with it.” Washington found out that it had been bamboozled by Netanyahu and Barak’s “big fraud” and realized that Israeli saber-rattling was all along about them wanting more sabers to rattle.

Israel attacking unilaterally isn’t a concern anymore, so what Indyk must mean by the administration learning to live with their threats is that whenever Israel acts agitated about Iran and clamors for the U.S. to have a credible military option it’s really code for ‘can we have these items on our wish list?’ The Israeli threats are now met in Washington with a slight sigh of exasperation and an ‘alright, what do they want this time?’ attitude. Uncle Sam’s bag of goodies is bounteous and during Dempsey’s excursion Israeli defense officials no doubt informed him about their impending request. “Israel is seeking a surge in future US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants not only to support its growing security requirements, but to offset the impact of increasingly advanced US arms sales to other countries in the volatile region,” reports Defense News. Dempsey was most likely discussing these future increased aid packages, which were promised when Israeli signed off on the arms deal they received in April.

This continuing cycle where Netanyahu pushes the U.S. to take a more militarist tack in dealing with Iran so that the Obama administration has to keep buying his silence with concessions beneficial to Israel isn’t all that vexing since there is no real danger of the U.S. being cornered into launching a war against Iran due to Netanyahu’s pressure. The only inconvenience caused by the Prime Minister’s unceasing anti-Iran drumbeat is that it bolsters like-minded congressmen in Washington who are also dedicated to delaying a deal (and would be more effective at doing so by imposing pointless sanctions) thereby meddling with the planned Pacific Pivot. Aside from that, now that Washington policymakers have seen through the “big fraud” and comprehend the cryptic hints Israel was delivering all those years, there is no problem with the game Tel Aviv is playing whatsoever because Congress and the Pentagon delight in lavishing aid upon Israel—even insisting on providing it for  a program Israel felt it could do without.

In May 2010, Israel was prepared to discontinue the Iron Dome missile defense system because spending $50,000 a missile simply wasn’t cost-effective for shooting down the cheap makeshift rockets the Palestinians fire from Gaza. Moreover, according to Haaretz, the “Israel Defense Forces ducked away from funding the project with its budget, explaining that offensive readiness was a higher priority.” But before Iron Dome could be scrapped, the U.S. rescued the project and is fully funding it to this day, demonstrating the degree to which the U.S. is eager to seize any opportunity to increase Israel’s military aid.

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. FMF and is obliged to spend 75% of an annual sum of $3 billion in the U.S. arms market, making this arrangement—along with that of all the other nations that receive U.S. FMF who have to recycle all of their grants into our arms industry–crucial in keeping the Military-Industrial-Complex humming. It makes one wonder if Washington is encouraging Netanyahu to cry wolf over Iran so they have an excuse to grease the wheels of the gravy train to Israel enabling it to carry a weightier freight of more aid.

“Man Who Couldn’t Defeat George W. Bush Attempting To Resolve Israel-Palestine Conflict”? It’s a Trap!

Should I have waited to hear from the official impresario of the Iran military option—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–before I composed my last post? No sooner had I penned it than Netanyahu began badgering the U.S. “to strengthen economic sanctions against Iran and to provide a credible military threat” or else he just might attack Iran before winter. Was my report on the death of prevention wildly exaggerated? Not remotely–the Prime Minister is brashly bloviating, given that Israel has capitulated on Iran and is leaving the matter in Washington’s hands. A confidante of President Obama, Lester Crown, lately reaffirmed this, saying “I think the Israelis have really at this point subcontracted that decision to the United States, which really is surprising.” So what’s with this burst of Bibi bilge? It’s to squash the bilateral talks which have been proposed by both the U.S. and Iran, of course. Israel can’t have those two getting too chummy now.

Netanyahu can sense that a resolution to the faux controversy is in the offing but he would rather have the deal with Tehran reached multilaterally to avoid any U.S.-Iran rapprochement. Why is it so important that a scintilla of ill will must remain between them? The Israelis are petrified of a Palestinian state–which is all but guaranteed if Iran returns to the U.S.’s good graces–and the best way for them to head off that outcome is to keep Washington distracted with the Iran nuclear humbuggery, exhausting its diplomatic heft so there won’t be any left to lean on Israel to broker a bona fide agreement with the Palestinians. This maneuver has hitherto served Israel well but the U.S. has turned the tables with a clever geopolitical jui-jitsu move of its own. The U.S. is using the renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process to entrap Netanyahu by warning him not to pressure us anymore on Iran or we’ll go ahead and solve the accursed conflict.

Some may be skeptical about my theory but why else would Washington bother touching this third rail? Secretary of State John Kerry must know his efforts as they currently stand are doomed to failure yet he’s plugging away. Indeed, as Mitchell Plitnick points out peace is impossible so long as Israel permits only a demilitarized Palestinian state. Who would ever agree to live in a state that couldn’t defend itself? So you can bet Kerry is pouring so much energy into the process not because he really expects success but because sufficient pushing on this issue will get Israel to cry uncle. Then the Obama administration will inform a squirming Netanyahu that they’ll allow this round to conveniently fail if Israel stops all talk of prevention and military options and lets the U.S. handle Iran on its own terms. If not, Israelis can count on some unavoidable “excessive concessions”—as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put it–coming their way as payback.

Ah, but am I not being overly presumptuous? The politicos in the capital haven’t exactly been gung-ho about making Palestinian statehood a reality and appear quite comfortable with the status quo. True, Washington does benefit from the Israeli occupation but it would benefit more from having another client state added to the American Raj. Either way it’s still a win-win for the empire, though in light of the Pacific Pivot my guess is that policymakers are finally leaning towards a Palestinian “state”—i.e. a totally dependent Western/Israeli protectorate—so they can say they’ve tied up all the loose ends in the region before the withdrawal starts. But wouldn’t this plan hit a severe snag if Israel and the U.S. pro-Israel lobbies end up rejecting even the proposed Palestine protectorate? The European Union’s surprise inclusion in the Israel-Palestine picture says otherwise.

It was no coincidence that when the EU announced its guidelines barring any of its funding from going to grants related to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jersualem that these talks managed to get off the ground. Once the EU laid down the gauntlet, Kerry’s diplomacy instantly became a balm to the Israelis who formerly had nothing but scorn for his efforts. Haaretz writer Chemi Shalev captures the Israeli mentality on this turn of events perfectly, saying “If participating in Kerry-brokered talks is what it takes to get the EU off Israel’s back, to persuade the U.S. to prod the Europeans to cease and desist and to turn off the harsh spotlight that is suddenly highlighting and isolating the settlements–so be it.” The Secretary’s dialogue is indeed curbing the Europeans and if things don’t go his way then he’ll drop the process and leave Israel to face the EU unaided.

The Israelis must know they’ve been hemmed in and that they can’t be seen as the one to sabotage the process. If it so happens that Netanyahu cannot get his government to accept the Palestinian protectorate that the U.S. envisions that will be alright for the U.S. provided he gives the Obama administration his word that he’ll go silent on Iran. This concession from Bibi is most likely what this round of talks was primarily designed to get. What else makes sense? The superbly satirical Onion put it best with the article I refer to in this post’s title. The guy who couldn’t defeat George W Bush is going to wrap up the most knotty conflict of our time? Really? Although the U.S. could be serious about peace this time (it wouldn’t even require a state, just an end to the occupation) you still have to admit it sounds fishy.