As the 2012 elections approach, the issue of U.S. policy toward Israel will emerge again as a partisan political football. It’s an immutable fact of life, like reality TV and taxes — in the even-numbered years. This tactic plays out in federal races, for congressional seats and the presidency, as Republicans try to pull some Jewish voters away from the Democratic column with claims that GOP-backed candidates are the more reliable stalwarts forÂ Israel.
For example, as this edition of the Jewish World is going to press, newly minted presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, called President Obama a “paper tiger,” regarding his policy toward Iran and threats to Israel’s security.
“He has been a paper tiger and [the Iranians] are an existential threat to the State of Israel, and the Israelis know it and the Americans know it. And this president has not stepped forward and done anything to stop that threat,” Santorum said during a Monday appearance on Good Morning America, according to JTA.
And last weekend, at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, Santorum said, “There is no greater friend to Israel than the social conservatives in America.”
JTA reported, “There are seven declared candidates for the Republican nomination, and many of them have made criticizing Obama’s Middle East policy a centerpiece of their campaigns.”
The Santorum criticisms come in the aftermath of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, where he spoke to AIPAC and the U.S. Congress, after delivering an extraordinarily condescending public lecture to President Obama, following their lengthy one-on-one White House meeting.
In fact, there are few promising signs of movement toward a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no indication that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders even could agree on what to order for lunch.
But back to the Iranian threat. In another controversial article for The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, wrote that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Gleaning information from his sources in the U.S. intelligence services, and Israeli and European officials, Hersh writes that the U.S. “could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq eight years ago — allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimations of the state’s military capacities and intentions.”
One of Hersh’s informants, a retired intelligence official, tells him in plain English: “It’s the same old s–t: the [National Intelligence Estimate] does not say absolutely or unequivocally that Iran has a nuclear program that is going to be deployed. The important thing is that nothing substantially new has been learned in the last four years, and none of our efforts — informants, penetrations, planting of sensors — leads to a bomb.”
Hersh has reported previously on secret U.S. government programs to destabilize the regime of the mullahs in Teheran. In his June 6 New Yorker story, he mentions that soldiers from the Joint Special Operations Force, “working with Iranian intelligence assets,” have replaced Teheran street signs “near a university suspected of conducting nuclear enrichment” with “similar-looking signs implanted with radiation sensors.” Hersh writes that similar radiation sensors “disguised as stones” have been spread along roadways near a suspected underground nuclear weapons site. Still, “nothing significantly new” has been learned to buttress contentions that the Iranian regime is actively building a nuke.
The Israelis, of course, are petrified by the thought that their archenemies will get their hands on a bomb and make good on their threats to vaporize Tel Aviv. However, again, some knowledgeable Israelis are warning that the government might rush headlong into a disastrous decision. As mentioned in an editor’s note to Amir Oren’s work of futuristic political fantasy, last week Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, warned that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, might “take reckless action against Iran,” in the words of Ari Shavit of Haaretz.
According to Ynetnews.com, the Web site of the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, Dagan said at Tel Aviv University, “A military attack will give the Iranians the best excuse to pursue the nuclear race. Khamenei will say ‘I was attacked by a country with nuclear capabilities; my nuclear program was peaceful, but I must protect my country.’”
Dagan warned, according to the Ynet report, that if a regional war breaks out after Israel attacks Iran, Hezbollah will join forces with the Islamic Republic, and Syria might also be dragged into the confrontation.
The political upshot of Dagan’s remarks is an attempt to enact a gag law against former security officials. Likud Member of Knesset Miri Regev has drafted an amendment to the Public Service Act that would limit public comment by retired security officials, according to Ynet. The measure, known as the “Dagan law,” would require former officials to clear their comments through Israel’s Defense Ministry.
The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that an Israeli government watchdog group, Ometz, has written to the attorney general, calling on him to investigate Dagan on espionage charges.
As the freedom movement known as the Arab Spring gains momentum after toppling longstanding autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation will increasingly press their grievances. The hand of the Assad regime can be seen in the violence on Naksa Day, the Arab commemoration of Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War; the Syrian dictator apparently sought to distract his domestic opponents by allowing Palestinians to mass on Israel’s border.
The turmoil in the Middle East continues to build and there does not seem to be a clear outcome, as protests take various forms in countries around the region. In these chaotic times, especially with Israel being increasingly isolated internationally, the danger of precipitate action, such as a military attack on Iran, increases.
Various pundits and “experts” predicted that either the U.S. or Israel would attack Iran in 2008. I attended various events in the Jewish community where such an attack was encouraged by these commentators — especially in the window after Obama’s election and before he took office (he was seen in some quarters as insufficiently dedicated to Israel’s security).
The Iranian rulers are horrible people and should be tried someday on human rights charges for their violent repression of nonviolent protesters. Sending in the bombers and cruise missiles, however, likely would be a tragic mistake, as Meir Dagan warned his compatriots.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 6.10.11)