With Friends Like These

16 Aug

Israelis primed for a pre-emptive strike on Iran just can’t help but write checks based on friendship with the United States.

When asked to comment on the atmosphere that includes a growing concern or panic among some, Vilnai responded “Just like the Japanese must live with the reality of being prone to earthquakes, Israelis must live with the reality that we may be targeted by missiles. There is no room for panic. The homefront must be ready and residents must learn to cope. The only question remaining is if war is necessary for war is something we seek to avoid and each case must be weighed individually. For the homefront, this is not sympathetic but a decision will have to be made and we must be prepared.”

Vilnai did not wish to comment on a possible Israeli attack against Iran, stating “I don’t wish to be pulled into this but I will state that such a move must be coordinated with the United States, our staunchest ally”.

Leaving aside the faulty analogy between naturally-occurring earthquakes in Japan and human-caused decisions to go to war in Israel, why does the United States have to provide the military credit? Vilna’i’s abrupt departure for China looks to put a pro-Netanyahu hawk in the Israeli cabinet while there’s a window of opportunity for Israel to strike.

This is a very dangerous moment…that there is a huge divide in Israel between the security, the military and the intelligence leadership, who are uniformly opposed to an Israeli strike, and the two top political leaders, the prime minister and the defense minister, who are agitating incredibly harshly for exactly that kind of a strike. We have the same thing here in the United States: massive opposition, both from the military and the intelligence services and from the political leadership here in the White House. The problem is there is a right wing-the neocons in the punditry, some of the right-wing columnists in the mainstream media, and, of course, by implication, the presidential contender, Mitt Romney, the Republican contender for president.

When Romney was in Israel, he used the kind of language, as we just heard, that was very anodyne in terms of an overall level of support for anything Israel might do. More significantly, his top foreign policy adviser, while in Israel, said explicitly that the candidate, that Romney, supports the Israeli definition of a red line, of at what point would they use force, would they use military force against Iran, and not the U.S. red line. There’s a vast difference between the two. Both are incredibly dangerous. The notion that any country is setting a red line and saying, “If you cross that red line, we’re going to use force,” is not only crazy and won’t work, but it’s a complete violation of international law.

But given that there are red lines in both the U.S. and Israel, it’s important to recognize the difference. The Israeli red line is based on what they call Iran’s nuclear capability, meaning some combination of: they have access to enriched uranium, and they have the technical know-how to build a bomb. In fact, any country that has a nuclear power program has that capability. Iran arguably has it now. They’re not making a bomb, as the U.S. has said. They don’t have a bomb, as the U.S. has said. And they haven’t even decided whether they want to build a bomb sometime in the future, as the U.S. has said. But nonetheless, that capability exists. The U.S. position is our red line is Iran having a nuclear weapon, a nuclear-armed Iran. That’s years down the line.

So when we hear this coming from Israel, particularly right now at this very vulnerable time of an election cycle here in the United States, what we’re hearing is that if there is going to be an Israeli strike, and with the political leadership saying there is, there’s not going to be a military coup in Israel where the military would refuse to carry out such an order. If they are told to do it, they will do it. The choice that the leadership has is, do we wait until after the election, when we might get a president we like better, meaning Mitt Romney, but we might get Barack Obama again, who might be in a stronger position? Imagine the problems facing President Obama today if we heard from the Israelis, “Oh, by the way, our planes are in the air. They are en route to bomb Iran. And we’re expecting your help to send refueling capacity, for instance, in the air. And if you don’t, our pilots might die.” Imagine what that would mean for a president running for re-election here in the United States. So we have a very dangerous moment despite the opposition of the military and the intelligence agencies of all across Israel, all across the United States, everybody disagreeing with this, the vice president, the president of the United States disagreeing with it. And yet, do we want to imagine that we would be certain there be no such attack and no such U.S. involvement at this moment of the election? I think it’s a very, very dangerous-a very, very dangerous moment.

Mitt Romney isn’t even president yet, and he’s already profligate with American prestige

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