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Entangled With Israel

Israel’s attempt to steer American foreign policy has been nowhere more evident than in the sustained campaign to move the United States in the direction of war with Iran, a war that serves no American interest unless one believes that Tehran is willing to spend billions of dollars to develop a nuclear weapon only to hand off the result to a terrorist group.

The most recent overtures [1] by the Israeli government have pushed the United States to make a declaration that negotiations with Iran have failed and will not be continued. For Israel, this is a necessary first step towards an American military intervention, as failed negotiations mean there is no way out of the impasse but by war, if the Iranians do not unilaterally concede on every disputed point.

Two recent op-eds have elaborated the argument, promoting the necessity of convincing the Israelis that the United States is absolutely serious about using military force against Iran if the Iranians seek to retain any capacity to enrich uranium. One might note in passing that this new red line, sometimes also called the abstract “capability” to create a nuclear weapon, has been achieved by moving the goal posts back considerably. At one time Iran was threatened with a military response if it actually acquired a nuclear weapon (which is still the official position of the Obama administration), but earlier benchmarks within that policy saying that enrichment should not exceed 20 percent or that the enrichment should not take place on Iranian soil have been abandoned in favor of what now amounts to zero tolerance. Those who note that Iran, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is under IAEA inspection, has a clear legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes have been ignored in favor of those who believe that Iran is somehow a special case.

On August 17, the Washington Post and The New York Times featured op-eds explaining why the United States must do more to convince Israel not to attack Iran this year. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence who is believed to be close to the country’s political leadership, argued [2] in the Post that Obama must basically convince the Israelis that he will use force against Iran if sanctions do not convince the country’s leadership to abandon enrichment of nuclear fuel. Over at the Times, Dennis Ross, a former senior U.S. diplomat who has been described as Israel’s lawyer, made [3] pretty much the same arguments. Both advocated giving Israel refueling tankers and special munitions that would enable an attack on Iran to be more effective, thereby widening the window of opportunity for sanctions to work, in light of Israeli arguments that hardened Iranian sites might soon be invulnerable to attack. Ross advocates giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively a blank check, asking him what he will need to attack Iran and granting the Israeli government commitments for a full range of U.S. military support. Both Yadlin and Ross argue that it is necessary to create the conditions for Israel to delay a possible attack until 2013. As Yadlin puts it, “if the United States wants Israel to give sanctions and diplomacy more time, Israelis must know that they will not be left high and dry if these options fail.”

Assuming that Ross and Yadlin are speaking for the Israeli government, which is almost certainly the case, Israel is essentially demanding a commitment from Washington to attack Iran unless the issue of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium is resolved through negotiation or through Iranian surrender of that right. In return, Israel will not attack Iran before the American election. So in effect, Washington would be promising to fight a war later if Israel does not start one now.

Israel knows it cannot successfully attack Iran unilaterally and must have the United States along to do the heavy lifting. It also knows that the threat to attack Iran before the election is a powerful weapon, with neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama welcoming such a potentially game-changing diversion from their debate on the economy and jobs.

Critics like Arnaud de Borchgrave have correctly noted [4] that many former generals and intelligence officers in the United States and Israel have, in fact, decided that the basic premise is wrong. Iran does not pose a threat that could not be contained even if it does some day make the political decision to obtain a crude nuclear device. Launching a new war in the Middle East to prevent it from doing so would create “mayhem” throughout the region, guarantee a breakdown in Egypt-Israel relations, and create a perfect breeding ground for the civil war in Syria to spill out and lead to turmoil among all of its neighbors. American ships in the Persian Gulf would be attacked, unrest in Bahrain would turn to revolution, and the Palestinians would stage a new intifada. Israel would be bombarded from Lebanon and from Iran. Gas prices would soar, economic recovery would stall worldwide, and European nations now struggling to deal with unprecedented unemployment levels would watch the eurozone collapse before the rage of hundreds of thousands protesters in the streets. Americans would again become the targets of international terrorism.

And there is another serious objection to going along with the Israeli government’s thinking. Israel is by its own volition not an ally of the United States in any technical sense because alliances are troublesome things that require rules of engagement and reciprocity, limiting the partners’ ability to act independently. If Israel obtains a virtual commitment from the United States to go to war in 2013, it would mean enjoying the benefits of having a powerful patron to do its fighting without any obligation in return, beyond delaying unilateral military action until a more suitable time. A guarantee from Washington for Israel’s security which still permits unilateral action by Netanyahu is all too reminiscent of the entangling arrangements that led to World War I. The fact that the murder of an Austrian Archduke in the Balkans led to a world war that killed tens of millions was due to promises not unlike what Israel is demanding today.

If the United States commits to unconditional support for an Israeli attack on Iran, it will be a surrender of one of the defining attributes of national sovereignty: the power to choose when and where to go to war. Amos Yadlin suggests at one point that President Obama go to Congress and get approval in advance to take military action “to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a military nuclear capability.” Such a pre-approval for war certainly raises constitutional issues, but it also creates a virtual casus belli because Iran already has the “capability” to enrich uranium for potential military uses. A guarantee precludes any consideration that the United States might actually have an overriding national interest to avoid a war. It denies that the United States should be able to exercise complete sovereignty over the issue of Iran, and it also freezes the status quo, as if new ways of looking at the problem of the Iranian nuclear program could not evolve over the next few months.

Washington should make no commitment to anyone about what it will do vis-à-vis Iran in 2013 no matter what inducements are offered. As the 19th-century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston put it [5], “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Let America’s actual interests dictate U.S. foreign policy.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest [6].

40 Comments (Open | Close)

40 Comments To "Entangled With Israel"

#1 Comment By E. Allen On September 3, 2012 @ 5:27 am

It would be absurd to cede Israel the power to drag us into yet another war, after the staggering cost (hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of casualties) we have already paid either for or because of that country.

Where are the adults in our foreign policy establishment? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs seems to be the only one left, and Israel will doubtless direct its agents in the United States to start arranging his retirement.

#2 Comment By Clint On September 3, 2012 @ 5:47 am

“The former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for adopting a bellicose stance on Iran, according to the Haaretz daily.

Yuval Diskin, who was speaking at a public meeting in Beit-ul-Moqaddas (Jerusalem) on Friday, said Israel’s political leaders are exaggerating the effectiveness of a possible military attack on Iran, AP reported.

“I don’t have faith in the current leadership of Israel…,” he stated.

“I do not believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on Messianic feelings,” Diskin added.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan backed Diskin on Sunday, saying that he disagrees with Netanyahu’s policy on solving Iran’s issue, according to Haaretz.

He also called a strike against Iran’s nuclear program “stupid”, AP reported.”

#3 Comment By Patrick On September 3, 2012 @ 7:08 am

Excellent article! It would be historically ironic and tragic if, as arose from WW I in looking for scapegoats, a war provoked by Israel against Iran leading to the permanent economic depression of the U.S. we’re on the cusp of already resulted in a resurgence of anti-semitism as happened in Germany. But of course wars are always productive economically for the aggressor so that could not happen.

#4 Comment By Jim Bovard On September 3, 2012 @ 8:25 am

Excellent piece, Phil! Given the historical illiteracy of most Washingtonians (and almost all the policymakers), perhaps it would be worthwhile to flesh out the First World War analogy in a followup.

#5 Comment By Philo Vaihinger On September 3, 2012 @ 10:48 am

We should promise to abandon them without another penny – or bullet – of aid if they don’t shut up and sit down.

#6 Comment By Republican David On September 3, 2012 @ 11:22 am

Can we start with getting the capital right? Jerusalem not Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. With all due respect, just the start of subtitle tells me what I need to know.

#7 Comment By JoaoAlfaiate On September 3, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

Sorry, Daveed, you may think Jerusalem is the capital of the zionist enterprise, but for me and most of the rest of the world, it’s part of occupied Palestine.

#8 Comment By KS Tea Party On September 3, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

Republican David sez: ” Jerusalem not Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. ”

There’s disagreement over that; our embassy is in Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem for good reasons. (Most Americans really don’t give a damn one way or the other.)

#9 Comment By J R On September 3, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

US policy is that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. The US Embassy is in Tel Aviv, while there is a US consulate in Jerusalem.

Likudniks, AIPAC, and Israel-firsters may not like this but so it goes.

For another view of Israel leading the US into a possible war with Iran, a la 1914, see this take:


#10 Comment By Uncle Vanya On September 3, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

Jim Bovard wrote: Given the historical illiteracy of most Washingtonians (and almost all the policymakers), perhaps it would be worthwhile to flesh out the First World War analogy in a followup.

Jim, I think a lot of the “good” and the “great” who make our policy in Washington are already well familiar with World War I. Sadly, I think it all boils down to the fact that they, cynically, just don’t give a s***. The future of the nation, the welfare of the American people and the peoples of the ME be damned, they’ve got their careers to think about.

#11 Comment By James Canning On September 3, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

Republicaqn David – – Why don’t you list the countries that accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? I am of course aware the foreign policy moron, Mitt Romney, backs US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

#12 Comment By Brian A. Cobb On September 3, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

It will never happen, as our foreign policy stopped being set in D.C. a while ago (rather Beijing, Riyadh, Jerusalem…), but I wish the US government would tell Israel if they attack Iran they’re on their own…no more aid of any kind, no matter what.

#13 Comment By Aaron in Israel On September 3, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

On the capital thing, how about this: Jerusalem is the seat of government of Israel. Nobody denies that. If you’re looking for a metonym for the government, then the seat of government is appropriate, not the capital (if you believe the two are different).

On the substance of the article: I don’t know when it was published, but yesterday the largest newspaper in Israel reported that the US sent a secret message to Iran saying that the US did not approve of and would not aid an Israeli strike on Iran, and that the US expects that Iran would therefore not attack US interests in the event of an Israeli strike. This seems kind of relevant to the article here.

#14 Comment By gordon On September 4, 2012 @ 12:43 am

Phil gets it right. The real question though is not about Iran , it’s about what do you do when you are being blackmailed and shook down by someone who keeps telling everyone publicly he’s your best friend?

#15 Comment By William Dalton On September 4, 2012 @ 1:03 am

“I wish the US government would tell Israel if they attack Iran they’re on their own…no more aid of any kind, no matter what.”

That’s a good start, Brian, but insufficient. As long as U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf any Israeli attack on Iran puts U.S. forces, as well as assets, at risk. We are obliged by our own national interests to interdict any attack by Israel upon Iran and we should make that clear to them, if not stated publicly.

#16 Comment By Daniel McCarthy On September 4, 2012 @ 1:08 am

Thanks, Aaron. The Tel Aviv metonym was an editorial snafu. Now corrected.

#17 Comment By Duglarri On September 4, 2012 @ 1:20 am

I still find the concept of Israel as “ally” interesting- and correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Giraldi, but isn’t the reason there is actually no mutual defense treaty between Israel and the United States- the reason Israel is very much NOT an ally of the United States- the fact that when the US officers sit down to work out a treaty, they find that their Israeli counterparts are not willing to say exactly where their country’s borders are?

It’s hard to agree to defend something when the party you’re trying to defend won’t tell you exactly where it is.

And it makes the idea of offering a security guarantee all the more nonsensical. Guarantee the security of a country whose borders it will not define against a threat that doesn’t exist.

But agree to fight if that country starts a war.

Doesn’t the NATO treaty exclude situations where a NATO member attacks, as opposed to is attacked?

Why does none of this make sense?

It makes no sense unless you realize that Israel is not an ally: it’s an objective.

#18 Comment By Mike On September 4, 2012 @ 2:33 am

We seem to have reached the very sick stage where every American presidential election is primarily about Israel. When will enough, be enough?

#19 Comment By AZ Joe On September 4, 2012 @ 3:07 am

Current conditions remind me of the day I was watching a Bush speech in October/November 2002 and I said to myself, “we ARE going to war”! The advice to the president and his own rhetoric made it virtually unavoidable. I don’t think we’re there yet but we’re close.

Obama may be a reluctant participant who lacks the leadership skills to change the current drift.

Romney and his party appear to have learned nothing from the lessons of the Iraq War. American “exceptionalism” should never be thought of as the desire and ability to project our power around the world. Our power should be to defend our own freedom and to be an example of restraint to everyone else.

#20 Comment By mark On September 4, 2012 @ 3:29 am

Israeli arrogance is hitting new highs. But will it ever decline?

The fact that ethnic-cleansing Israel possesses scores of nuclear bombs makes a mockery of America’s moral posture on Iranian WMD and lends a lot of credibility to various Jihadist causes that target Washington. Can’t say as I blame them.

Why do they hate us? For our rank hypocrisy, our Zionist coddling, and our State terrorism, among other things.

#21 Comment By Philip Giraldi On September 4, 2012 @ 7:19 am

Aaron – The article was written before the media report about a secret message to Tehran (both the capital and seat of government of Iran!) The White House has denied the report and I am skeptical of it because it would be a bold but politically dangerous move for Obama, an issue that the GOP would be able to exploit to the max. General Dempsey has sent a clear message that a war would not be in the US interest at the present time and I suspect that is as far as the Administration is willing to go.

#22 Comment By richard vajs On September 4, 2012 @ 8:05 am

Here is a committmant to Israel that I would agree to: If you attack Iran unilaterally, America, your ally, will ship to you John Hagee and and all of the Christian Zionists, all of the AIPAC lobbyists, and dual citizenship “fifth columnists for Israel” to help you in your battles. Put them all up on the front lines – please!

#23 Comment By Rightster On September 4, 2012 @ 8:56 am

Israel’s Kadima opposition leader recently pilloried Netanyahu for sticking his nose into the American election and setting a course of action regarding Iran than Israel will come to greatly regret!

#24 Comment By tom dee On September 4, 2012 @ 8:57 am

I see no threat from Iran. To me Iran is blocking Israel from attacking Lebanon. Israel is out of water. The drought is years old and there is no signs of it going away.
Israel ay the time of the revolution wanted the border at the latnia river. The problem in 1948 was Lebanon was occupied by French troops.
Israel presently is attempting to get the USA to attack
iran so Israel can avoid the cost of the war in human injuries and the dollar cost of going to war. The 2006 disaster in Lebanon is remembered by the Likud. It is time
to not support Israel when what Israel wants is not in the interet of the USA and we will not get into a fight.

#25 Comment By The Dean On September 4, 2012 @ 9:40 am

What type of reasoning is this? Start bombing Tehran, kill innocent women and children and then wonder why everyone in the middle east hates Americans. How many Iraqis died after our “strategic” bombing? Who the hell are we anyway?

#26 Comment By Roger Lafontaine On September 4, 2012 @ 11:27 am

Is Israel truly America’s ally? Or is she perhaps its’ mistress ? America pays all the bills. When Israel doesn’t get her way she pouts, she nags and she usually ends up getting what she wants. We give her gifts. We have a ‘special relationship’. An ally on the other hand is someone you do business with based on common sense and mutual self-interest. I don’t think Israel has ever been an ally.

#27 Comment By michael w On September 4, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

I second richard vajs’s comment. That’s the best idea I’ve heard yet.

#28 Comment By Radkelt On September 4, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

To Aaron #13, I think the wording was “we (US) will not
attack you (Iran) if you do not attack our assets in the
(Persian) Gulf” (paraphrased) which leaves open the
possibility of a “false flag attack” .

#29 Comment By Jim Evans On September 4, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

It boils down to not shipping out our foreign & military policy to a foreign government (no matter how benign or friendly — of which I have great doubt about Israeli’s Likud Party and government).

Those who suggest Israel’s government should control our policy or have the ability to drag us into war have identified themselves as unfit to lead this nation.

Or to advice or direct American foreign policy.

Maybe that is why Mitt Romney never mentioned foreign policy during his Republican nomination speech.

#30 Comment By Fixin to die rag On September 4, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

Are we five minutes to midnight? (the eleventh hour)

When Kaiser Wilhelm gave Franz Joseph the blessing to punish Serbia for what happen to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and the start of WWI

“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Sir Edward Grey 1914

#31 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 5, 2012 @ 12:36 am

Israel’s interests aren’t precisely the same as American foreign policy’s (made by and for Wall Street) but the same processes of destabilization and chaos in the area, including staunching any real democracy for Arab states, do serve both American and Israeli’s differing interests.

#32 Comment By paul On September 5, 2012 @ 12:38 am

Its ridiculous to continue waging war for Israel

One day this will end and Israel will have lost their best friend in the world but Israel doesn’t look for friends like Britain or Australia or Canada…Israel only looks for who they can exploit to serve their purposes

#33 Comment By Rossbach On September 5, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

The fact that a particular foreign policy is foolish and self-destructive in no way guarantees that it will not be implemented. The period 2001-2009 should be sufficient proof of that.

#34 Comment By Mark Kerpin On September 7, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

“a war that serves no American interest unless one believes that Tehran is willing to spend billions of dollars to develop a nuclear weapon only to hand off the result to a terrorist group.”
Without getting into the question of whether war is the right solution, anyone who is familiar with the relations between Iran and Hezbollah not only believes that Tehran would be willing to hand off a nuclear weapon to them, but is pretty much convinced they would. Moreover, nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime would be a profound threat to American interests for a variety of reasons other than terrorism, as Obama and other senior officials have said repeatedly.
If one of your basic assumptions is so wrong-headed, well, the rest of the article is best left alone.

#35 Comment By Andy Falcon On September 8, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

This has got to be the only place discussing politics on the web where I feel at home.
All the opinions and articles I have read so far show depth of thought rather than the constant extremist talking point blabbering that is currently plaguing the discourse.

#36 Comment By lester On September 8, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

Mark Kerpin- by American interests I believe he means in the interest of America, not “American interests” like bases and so forth.

It doesn’t taker a genius to see the American people aren’t every interested in the whole Middle East project anymore.

#37 Comment By James Canning On September 8, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

Mark Kerpin – – You actually believe Iranian leaders would put Hezbollah in a position where it could bring about the destruction of Iran? This is highly unlikely.

#38 Comment By James Canning On September 8, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

Fran Macadam – – “Wall Street” makes American foreign policy? Did Wall Street prevent the US from pressuring Israel to get out of the Sinai, before the 1973 Arab-Israel war? Did Wall Street want the severe economic dislocations that flowed from the gigantic increase in the price of oil, resulting from the Arab oil embargo?

#39 Comment By Observer On September 25, 2012 @ 7:21 am

Should we move White House to Tel Aviv?
It looks like we lost our sovereignty to a foreign lobby…

#40 Comment By Yuri Klevnikov On October 20, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

“Republican David”…you look young enough to enlist…whether in the U.S. Army or the IDF, I’m not sure. It seems the neocons aren’t making much of a distinction between the two. But it don’t matter none. You’re a soldier in the Army of God! Go get them there Iranians!