March 22, 2010
Israel’s doomsday weapon
Mar 21, 2010
It is already a commonplace to say that people who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat their mistakes.
Some 1942 years ago, the Jews in the province called Palaestina launched a revolt against the Roman Empire. We know how it ended: After three years, the rebels were crushed, Jerusalem fell and the temple was burned down. The last of the Zealots committed suicide in Masada. Now the leaders of Israel are starting a rebellion against the new Rome.
What began as an insult to the vice president of the United States is developing into something far bigger. The mouse has given birth to an elephant. Lately, the ultra-right government in Jerusalem has started to treat President Barack Obama with thinly veiled contempt. Obama looks to them like a paper black panther. He gave up his demand for a real settlement freeze. Every time he was spat on, he remarked that it was raining. Yet now, ostensibly quite suddenly, the measure is full. Obama, his vice president and his senior assistants condemn the Netanyahu government with growing severity. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has submitted an ultimatum: Netanyahu must stop all settlement activity, East Jerusalem included; he must agree to negotiate about all core problems of the conflict, including East Jerusalem, and more.
The surprise was complete. Obama, it seems, has crossed the Rubicon. Netanyahu gave the order to mobilize all the reserves in America and to move forward all the diplomatic tanks. AIPAC blew the shofar and ordered its soldiers, the senators and congressmen, to storm the White House. It seems that the decisive battle has been joined. The Israeli leaders were certain that Obama would be defeated. And then an unusual noise was heard: The sound of the doomsday weapon.
The man who decided to activate it was a foe of a new kind. David Petraeus is the most popular officer of the United States Army. He made his mark in Iraq, when he commanded the forces in Mosul, the most problematical city in the country. His star rose rapidly. He was appointed commander of the coalition forces in Iraq and soon became the chief of the central command of the US Army, which covers the whole Middle East, except Israel and Palestine (which “belong” to the American command in Europe). When such a person raises his voice, the American people listen. As a respected military thinker, he has no rivals. This week, Petraeus conveyed an unequivocal message: After reviewing the problems in his AOR (Area of Responsibility) — which includes, among others, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Yemen — he turned to what he called the “root causes of instability” in the region. The list was topped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his report to the Armed Services Committee he stated: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AoR…The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AoR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Not content with that, Petraeus sent his officers to present his conclusions to the joint chiefs of staff. In other words: Israeli-Palestinian peace is not a private matter between the two parties, but a supreme national interest of the US. That means that the US must give up its one-sided support for the Israeli government and impose the two-state solution. The argument as such is not new. Several experts have said more or less the same in the past. But now this is being stated in an official document written by the responsible American commander.
The Netanyahu government immediately went into damage-limitation mode. Its spokespersons declared that Petraeus represents a narrow military approach, that he doesn’t understand political matters, that his reasoning is faulty. But it is not this that made people in Jerusalem break out into cold sweat.
As is well known, the pro-Israel lobby dominates the American political system without limits — almost. Every American politician and senior official is mortally afraid of it. The slightest deviation from the strict AIPAC line is tantamount to political suicide. But in the armor of this political Goliath there is a chink. The immense might of the pro-Israel lobby has a vulnerable point that, when touched, can neutralize its power. It was illustrated by the Jonathan Pollard affair. This American-Jewish employee of a sensitive intelligence agency spied for Israel. Israelis consider him a national hero, a Jew who did his duty to his people. But for the US intelligence community, he is a traitor who endangered the lives of many American agents. Not satisfied with a routine penalty, it induced the court to impose a life sentence. Since then, all American presidents have refused the requests of successive Israeli governments to commute the sentence. AIPAC did not bark. The entire American Jewish community fell silent. Almost nobody raised their voice for poor Pollard. Why? Because most American Jews are ready to do anything — just anything — for the government of Israel. With one exception: They will not do anything that appears to hurt the security of the United States. The Damocles sword of suspicion of disloyalty hangs above their heads. For them, this is the ultimate nightmare: To be accused of putting the security of Israel ahead of the security of the US. Therefore it is important for them to repeat endlessly the mantra that the interests of Israel and the US are identical. And now comes the most important general of the US Army and says that this is not so. The policy of the present Israeli government is endangering the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For now, this is being said only as a side remark, in a military document. But the sword has been drawn from its scabbard — and American Jews have started to tremble at the distant rumble of an approaching earthquake. This week, Netanyahu’s brother-in-law has used our own doomsday weapon. He declared that Obama is an “anti-Semite”. The official newspaper of the Shas party has asserted that Obama is really a Muslim. They represent the radical right and its allies, who argue in speech and in writing that “Hussein” Obama is a Jew-hating black who must be beaten in the coming congressional elections and in the next presidential ones.
If Obama decides to fight back and activate his doomsday weapon — the accusation that Israel puts the lives of American servicemen at risk — this would have catastrophic consequences for Israel. For the time being, this is only a shot across the bow — a warning shot fired by a warship in order to induce another vessel to follow its instructions. The warning is clear. Even if the present crisis is somehow damped down, it will inevitably flare up again and again as long as the present coalition in Israel stays in power. When the movie “Hurt Locker” won its awards, the entire American public was united in its concern about the lives of its soldiers in the Middle East. If this public becomes convinced that Israel is sticking a knife in their back, it will be a disaster for Netanyahu. And not just for him.