By Richard Lightbown
Uri Avnery in a considered assessment of the chances of an Israeli attack on Iran stated categorically that it will not happen. I hope he is right, but I think there is a major flaw in his reasoning. The U.S. cannot be relied upon to keep Israel under control. Put simply, the current American president does not have the audacity of former incumbent Dwight D Eisenhower. In 1956 when Ike faced down Britain, France and Israel he was the undisputable top dog in the western world. The Israeli lobby in Washington did not at that time have a stranglehold on decision makers in Washington, and Eisenhower had just been re-elected US president in a second landslide victory. Nobody was going to tell this former supreme commander of NATO what to do.
Eisenhower’s message to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion was simple and unequivocal: Israeli forces were to withdraw to the positions they occupied before the attack on Egypt or the US would cut off all funding, both private and public. Eisenhower also threatened to have Israel expelled from the United Nations. Ben-Gurion was forced to withdraw all Israeli forces not only from the Sinai, but also from the Gaza Strip, which he had said he would never give up. Israel’s ‘old man’ was publically humiliated and put in his place.
The situation in 2011 is very different. Barak Obama took office with the least experience of any president since the Second World War. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Eisenhower had learned to deal skilfully with world leaders and difficult subordinates. Every other American president since has come to the office having served as vice-president or state governor or both. Obama came to the White House as a novice; a well-meaning nice guy with a lot of good intentions, for which he was naively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then his foreign policy has been downhill all the way.
Obama did try at first. His first foreign phone call was to Mahmoud Abbas. This was followed by an ideological speech in Cairo promising new beginnings. Then in March 2010 he showed public contempt for Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington in response to Israel’s indiscreet announcement to expand settlement construction earlier that month. That has been the last time he has ever dared to stand up to the Israeli leader or to Israeli policies. Ever since he has been a most compliant president to every Israeli whim and demand, and the mildest of critics to every Israeli affront to peace. Even when American interests have been seriously threatened, such as by the Saudi threat of toxic relations if America vetoes the Palestinian membership application at the UN, Obama has been Bibi’s man, or more accurately Bibi’s poodle.
So if Mr Netanyahu wants to attack Iran, Barak Obama is unlikely to publicly defy him. There may be manoeuvring behind the scenes, and there may be attempts to buy Israeli compliance. So far however the indications have not been good; the recent International Atomic Energy Authority report suggesting that Iran has been proceeding with a nuclear weapons programme has all the hallmarks of an American-concocted fable. This has only strengthened the hand of the Israeli hawks, with Mr Netanyahu suggesting that Iran may get a nuclear bomb “sooner than people think”.
A more reasoned assessment of Iranian capabilities came from Mahamed El Baradei, who only retired in November 2009 after twelve years as IAEA Director General. Speaking to Seymour Hersh he said “During my time at the agency we haven’t seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials”. Now under a new, more-pliable director, the IAEA has chosen to give credibility to the ‘laptop of death’ that is reputed to have been stolen from an Iranian nuclear technician and given to the CIA in 2004. In September 2009 Mr ElBaradei had told the Hindu that Western intelligence agencies had made contradictory claims about Iranian studies before saying bluntly of the laptop data “there is a major question of authenticity of the documents”. His statements in plain English contrast with the latest IAEA report which is full of vague allegations and hints in convoluted English. For example on page 2 of the Annex the report refers to “…information which had been provided to the Agency by a Member State. This last information, collectively referred to as the ‘alleged studies documentation’, which was made known to the Agency in 2005.”
This is clearly referring to the ‘laptop of death’ but for some reason the United States cannot be identified as the provider (if not the author) of this “documentation”. It is information which Mr El Baradei had treated with the greatest of suspicion and had apparently discounted in his assessment of the situation. So it was hardly surprising that the U.S. was opposed to El Baradei’s third and final term as DG. (The Washington Post reported that the Bush Administration had intercepted phone calls between ElBaradei and Iranian diplomats looking for evidence to use against him: Iranian sources called this a violation of international law. John Bolton, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security was also accused by his own State Department of “overstepping his bounds” in maneuvering to prevent the reelection.)
The current head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, is a former Japanese diplomat, and much preferred by Washington staffers. The Guardian referred to a Wikileaks cable from the U.S. mission in Vienna stating that he was “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.” So it came about that Washington got the report it wanted, and war with Iran is that much more likely.
Nobody should be under any illusion as to what this could mean. The independent media at least has shown us footage of rescue workers looking for civilian casualties in bombed homes in Libya. They have shown us that the dead and the maimed included small children amongst the civilians that NATO had been mandated to protect. Parts of Sirte now resemble Stalingrad in 1942. There are credible reports of the use of depleted uranium. Electricity and water supplies have been disrupted or cut. Hospitals are in a pitiable state and struggling to cope. Thus while prominent journalists and human rights organizations prattle about the legality of Gaddafi’s death, ordinary Libyans struggle ignored and in a state of shock, to survive in the devastated remains of their once prosperous state, prey to any armed gang that happens to come their way.
The Israeli inner cabinet is likely by a narrow majority to outvote the warmongers and prevent an attack that their military and intelligence leaders fear and protest. Regrettably we cannot assume that a similar balance will prevail in Washington. Israelis should hope that it will. With a reputed 20,000 missiles under the control of Hezbollah, Scud missiles in Syria and Grad missiles in Gaza, some civilians in Tel Aviv could suffer a similar fate to the Libyan residents if the same war criminals safely ensconced in Washington get the go ahead for their next military adventure.
– Richard Lightbown is a writer and researcher. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.