Monday, November 20, 2006

Israel’s Domestic Political Game Raises the Danger of a U.S.-Iran War

By Tony Karon

"One reason it won’t be debated publicly because it’s based on a fallacy promoted by a calculated campaign of hysteria by Israel’s leadership. Iran, right now, has no nuclear weapons program that anyone knows of — the Israelis however have opted to paint the very idea of uranium enrichment in Iran, quite legal under the NPT, into the first stanza of a new Holocaust.

Seymour Hersh, in a new New Yorker piece, explores the chances of a weakened Bush administration attacking Iran, and finds them to be pretty good. And one of the most revealing aspects of his piece is the fact that the Administration has been told by U.S. intelligence that there is, in fact, no evidence of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

And in replay of the pre-Iraq war game, the White House hawks — led by Dick Cheney, who was always far more dangerous than Rumsfeld [EM] are rejecting the evidence and probably rallying bureaucratic power in a battle to override the intel community.

Some believe that the Administration is less likely to go to war after its chastening in the election, and because Iraq is such a disaster. This is what Richard Armitage argues to Hersh. Others see the appointment of Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld as a sign of the reassertion of adult supervision. Then again, others among Hersh’s sources fear that Gates could be being set up to be the new Colin Powell, brought in to add credibility to a policy train he can’t stop.

The neocons are still hard at work, insisting that the only way Iraq can be salvaged would be to punish Iran. And their notion that Iran is somehow responsible for the turmoil in Iraq remains part of administration conventional wisdom. They’re also pushing the idea that Iran is something Bush will have to do before he leaves office, trying to push the buttons of his Churchillian fantasies to goad him into this disastrous course of action.

But the most dangerous element of the equation, I believe, is the hysteria being cultivated by the Israelis. Hersh mentions that Israel is telling the U.S. they have human intelligence on Iran developing trigger devices for a nuclear bomb, but U.S. intelligence is unable to verify these claims. More worrying, however, is the public campaign being waged by Israeli leaders. Olmert warns American Jewish leader that Israel has come to a “pivotal moment” at which its survival depends on confronting Iran. Bibi Netanyahu (the Newt Gingrich of Israeli politics; a discredited crank who manages to grab headlines only by uttering alarmist rubbish) warns darkly that its 1938 all over again.

The problem is even more pronounced in the U.S. because of the default positions on Israel in the political mainstream, which tend to echo the most hawkish positions on the Israeli spectrum. Olmert is a weak character who has shown little grasp of the requirements of statesmanship, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help start a war by insisting that Iran represents an immediate, mortal threat to Israel — and making action against Iran the litmus test of American politicians’ loyalty to the Jewish State.

Already you have President Bush saying he’d “understand” if Israel attacked Iran. Could this be a replay of the Lebanon war in which the Americans goaded the Israelis into a military disaster? Obviously, the Israelis wouldn’t act without a U.S. green light — they’d have to overfly Iraq to get to Iran, remember.

Olmert showed in the summer that he’s a hapless amateur. Now he’s painting himself into a corner in a game in which the stakes are far higher. And given the naivete and right-wing ignorance that prevails in Washington on any matter concerning Israel, I’d say that means we’re entering an exceedingly dangerous period."

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