Friday, February 3, 2012

Israel Bluffing its Way into Armageddon?

With the warnings from Netanyahu and Barak about the Iranian "threat" and Israel's "necessary" resposne becoming ever more shrill and insistent, we've reached a truly scary place.  If Gareth Porter's IPS report (which Juan Cole uses superbly as a springboard to jump all over WINEP, AIPAC et al.) is accurate, then the US has reached a point where it has no leverage whatsoever with the Israelis beyond saying that if they attack Iran, they're on their own.

Thing is, will they actually do it?  And if they do, and Iran retaliates against Israel, will Obama be able to resist the wailing and howling from Congress and Christian Zionist pulpits across the US demanding that the US ride to the rescue?

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett remain skeptical that Israel will actually launch an attack.  But they also lay out what may be the political calculus among Bibi's crowd:

 Israelis with access to the Prime Minister’s office tell us that Netanyahu and his inner circle have long believed that Obama is politically vulnerable.  From this perspective, ordering an Israeli strike before the U.S. presidential election in November could seem the “smart” play:  it would be very hard for Obama to try to distance himself from the Israeli action (something that, according to Ignatius, the Obama Administration seems to believe it can do) without seriously jeopardizing his re-election; at the same time, if Obama were to win re-election, it is better, from an Israeli perspective, to have this potentially unpleasant business of an illegal war against Iran out of the way before he is sworn in for a second term.  (Recall that, the last time that the Israeli military invaded Gaza, it did so at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, to ensure that the campaign would be over before Obama was first sworn in.) 

Professor Cole, on the other hand, reminds us that the wettest of Netanyahu's wet dreams is for the US to do the dirty work for Israel: 

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Right wing, and their American backers in the Israel lobbies desperately want the US to go to war with Iran. Iran poses no real threat to Israel, but it does limit Israeli adventurism in Lebanon and elsewhere, and the Likud Party is all about no limits on its ambitions. Netanyahu and his American acolytes, such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, keep rattling sabers, not because they likely intend that Israel will go to war with Iran, but to put pressure on Washington to do it for them. If you have never heard of WINEP, just take it from me; your representatives in Congress care what AIPAC organs think far more than they care what you think. WINEP poobah Dennis Ross put out a rumor that Obama was ready to strike Iran. This disinformation 1) put pressure on Iran; 2) put pressure on Obama and 3) legitimized before the fact any aggressive Israeli action.

According to Porter's report, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered to the Israelis the strongly worded message that the US will not back them in any attack on Iran.  The Israelis insist, though, that they will make this decision only as they see fit.  Yet as the Leveretts mentioned, Netanyahu knows  that Congress, Fox News, and the Washington Post's editorial board have his back, and that a failure on Obama's part to rush to Israel's defense if Iran retaliates will surely cost Obama the election in November. 

(Eli Clifton at LobeLog does indeed report a recent poll indicating that only 17% of Americans support military action against Iran.  That's sort of reassuring - but you have to wonder how they'd feel if the Iranians had the audacity to actually fight back.)

So, is it all a bluff?  Is it all theater?  Perhaps.   Leon Hadar noted recently , however, that Obama may have thought he was directing the play, but the players were starting to read from a different script.  Sending Dempsey with a strong message to Israel may have been Obama's attempt to regain control.

Bibi, on the other hand, is probably remembering David Ben Gurion's famous dictum: "It's not what the goyim say that counts, it's what we do."

But if all Dempsey could say was that the US would not join in any attack on Iran, that still leaves a lot of room for Bibi's doing.

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