US refuses to support Israel attack on Iran

From John Wight

The story which appeared in the Guardian newspaper on 26 September, reporting that President Bush refused to support (which really means refused permission) for an Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities recently, is hugely significant for two reasons.

Firstly, it reveals the extent to which the US military is overstretched in the region and around the world, rendering further major operations off the table. Bush and his advisers are well aware that Iran’s missile capability leaves both US troops in Iraq and US naval forces and ships in the region vulnerable. They know that the political fallout domestically if such an escalation were to take place, especially at a time of deepening financial crisis, would result in a backlash at home that could very well lead to social unrest.

The Iraqi and Afghan resistance have in effect halted the advance of US imperialism in the region and around the world. You only have to recall the bellicosity of the Bush administration a few years back, the triumphalism of the US president’s press call on an aircraft carrier dressed in a ridiculous flight suit to declare mission accomplished after the US had successfully completed the invasion of Iraq, the ‘bring it on’ speech taunting the resistance he made not long after, and so on, to see this.

The key event which put paid to further US military operations in the region against either Iran or Syria, however, was undoubtedly the military defeat delivered against the Israelis by Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. In effect, Israel’s failure to take out Hezbollah made an attack on Iran by the US untenable.

The estimable US investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, talked about a plan to attack Iran within the administration, mainly emanating from the office of the vice president, Dick Cheney, in an interview he gave to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now back in August 2006.

‘The second great argument you have, of course, is if you are going to do Iran, you’re going to need—you can’t attack Iran without taking care of the Hezbollah missiles or rockets. They’re really rockets. They’re not independently guided. Even their long-range rockets that go a few hundred kilometers, you cannot attack Iran without taking them out, because obviously that’s the deterrent. You hit Iran, Hezbollah then bombs Tel Aviv and Haifa. So that’s something you have to clean out first.

And thirdly, of course, is if you get rid of Hezbollah and Nasrallah, why, you get rid of a terror—a man who’s considered to be, as somebody famously said, Richard Armitage, the “A-Team of terrorism.”

So on that basis, there was a tremendous interest in Israel going ahead. There were meetings. There were an enormous amount of contacts. I should add, Amy, that of course—and this is reflected in the story—Israel doesn’t need the United States to know they have a problem with Hezbollah. And so, they were going to do something anyway. But it’s a question of timing, and that’s one of the big issues.’

If Israel had succeeded in knocking out Hezbollah, there seems little doubt it would have paved the way for a major US missile strike against Iran. The exact consequences of such an attack against the Islamic Republic are anybody’s guess, but there is no doubt they would be measured in global terms. Iran is not Iraq. It is a nation of 70 million with its infrastructure and military intact. Whilst there may be internal divisions in the country, the one issue that unites the Iranian people, a people with a long memory when it comes to the pernicious role of the US in their history, is opposition to western imperialism.

The second but no less important significance of this story is how it reveals the nature of the relationship between the US and Israel. Simply put, it serves to answer the question which has plagued large sections of the left with regard to this relationship of who is in control.

Many on the left feel Israel has and continues to influence US foreign policy through the powerful pro-Israel lobby that exists in the US. It is entirely understandable that they might come to this conclusion. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is undoubtedly a powerful organisation in the US, wielding a considerable influence on the US body politic. Formed in 1953, its original name was American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs.

Joel Beinin, a contributing editor of Middle East Report and a professor of Middle East history at Stanford University writes that AIPAC “became a significant force in shaping public opinion and US Middle East policy after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Its power was simultaneously enabled and enhanced by Israel’s emergence as a regional surrogate for US military power in the Middle East in the terms outlined by the 1969 Nixon Doctrine”

In March 2006 an article appeared in The London Review of Books by US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The title of the article was The Israel Lobby, and it appeared in advance of the publication of their controversial New York Times bestseller titled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (Allen Lane, 2007). In it the authors make a strong case in support of the view that Israel has been able to influence successive US administrations in support of Israel and Israeli interests, even when such support has been inimical to the interests and security of the US.

In the original article they write:

‘Israel is often portrayed as David confronted by Goliath, but the converse is closer to the truth. Contrary to popular belief, the Zionists had larger, better equipped and better led forces during the 1947-49 War of Independence, and the Israel Defence Forces won quick and easy victories against Egypt in 1956 and against Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 – all of this before large-scale US aid began flowing. Today, Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East. Its conventional forces are far superior to those of its neighbours and it is the only state in the region with nuclear weapons. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with it, and Saudi Arabia has offered to do so. Syria has lost its Soviet patron, Iraq has been devastated by three disastrous wars and Iran is hundreds of miles away. The Palestinians barely have an effective police force, let alone an army that could pose a threat to Israel. According to a 2005 assessment by Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, ‘the strategic balance decidedly favours Israel, which has continued to widen the qualitative gap between its own military capability and deterrence powers and those of its neighbours.’ If backing the underdog were a compelling motive, the United States would be supporting Israel’s opponents.’

Yet regardless of the strong case offered by Mearsheimer and Walt, the evidence in support of the alternative argument that in the relationship between both countries it is the US which controls Israel seems more compelling. Focusing on what Israel has done, its repeated actions in violation of international law vis-à-vis the Palestinians and its neighbours, misses the point when analysing the region. Put another way, the key factor is what Israel has not done in the region, especially when understanding the objective which lies at the heart of the Zionist project as being the creation of an ethnically pure Jewish state encompassing the whole of historic Palestine stretching into present day southern Lebanon.

But such a policy would endanger the support of US-friendly regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, which would be inimical to US interests not only in the region but globally. As a consequence, despite its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, its multiple invasions of Lebanon, and all round aggression against its neighbours, Israel has thus far been held back from carrying out its ultimate objective of expansion through the forced transfer of the Palestinians of Gaza and the Occupied Territories. Instead, it has adopted a policy of attrition designed to make conditions for the Palestinians so intolerable they leave of their own accord.

Ultimately, then, a stronger case can be made that the nature of the relationship between the US and Israel is akin to that of a vicious bulldog and its master. Whilst the bulldog might be able to pull its master along on the leash for a while, all it takes is for the master to exert sufficient force on the leash to bring it back into line.

If the Guardian story is to be believed, it appears that Israel’s leash has just been pulled.

John Wight