Belaboring the Obvious

Monday, July 06, 2009

Uh, Joe...

... while it's technically correct that the United States "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do. Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," it's a damned stupid thing to say in the context of world politics at the moment, and it's not really true in the context of U.S.-Israel relations for the last forty years.

What changes that political calculus? The fact that we provide Israel with more than a third of its capability to wage war. Israel's GDP is approximately $100 billion per year, and its military spending is, annually, about $10 billion per year. Of that $10 billion, about $3 billion comes from the U.S., as does a further near-billion in "economic aid" which Israel typically uses to start new defense and arms export companies. These amounts do not include loans to Israel which are often quietly forgiven by Congress after a few years.

The U.S. has bankrolled Israel's military expansion and, in effect, subsidized its military control of territory occupied through war and colonized through occupation (both of these actions are in violation of international law). The U.S. has provided Israel additional armaments most recently in its wholesale attacks on Lebanon. American weapons were used liberally in the attacks on Gaza a few months ago (in violation of our own Arms Export Control Act, if anyone wanted to check). There's no question whatsoever that the United States figures prominently in virtually every military action undertaken by Israel's military.

So, any suggestion that Israel, as a sovereign state, acts entirely alone and entirely honorably and only in its own defense, and that the United States stands apart and independent of Israel is a bald-faced attempt to deny the obvious--and to propagandize for a view of the relationship of the United States and Israel which is contrary to fact.

What Biden suggests here is that the U.S. is noncommittal on Israel's engaging in precisely the same sort of preventive war policy that led to the invasion of Iraq, which was condemned worldwide and is clearly not sanctioned by existing international law. There is a fundamental difference between an attack meant to deter an imminent attack on one's territory (the proper definition of preemptive war) and one which is meant to alter the relative deterrent capability between nations. The Israelis believe that they can maintain the fiction that they are not a nuclear power, and that by accentuating the potential threat of a nuclear Iran, they can justify a conventional or nuclear attack on that country as a defensive strategy, when, in fact, such an attack would be carried out to maintain a nuclear hegemony over other nations in the region.

Further, the evidence points to other motives on Israel's part. Just as the most trenchant analysis in 2002 of Iraq's threat to world peace showed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and that its conventional military was greatly compromised and posed no great threat (thereby suggesting that there were other reasons for a Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq), the current evidence available shows that Iran is not a serious nuclear threat to the region. So, what are those other motives? Certainly, the compromise of Hamas and Hizbollah. Both those groups have been the chief reasons why Israel has not completely succeeded in subjugating the Palestinians and in seizing southern Lebanon. Both of those groups are supported in some fashion by Iran. The other motive is no different than Bush's and Cheney's in their attack on Iraq--the use of overwhelming force as a smokescreen for regime change (also a violation of international law).

What Mr. Biden chooses not to say is the obvious--that the United States would not have objections to Israel engaging in regime assassination from the air (just as the U.S. attempted in Iraq in both 1991 and 2003), since U.S. planners continue to believe--foolishly--that this would open the door to a pro-Western government, if not a return to the days of a puppet such as the Shah.

The United States and Israel take policy cues from each other, and since the U.S. has effectively gotten away with a war of regime change in Iraq (and Afghanistan, for that matter) without suffering any substantive international sanctions, it seems certain that Israel contemplates the same, using American-made weapons and American cash, and likely with the aid of U.S. intelligence data.

Any consideration of history in this regard (Vietnam, the First Gulf War, the Iraq invasion, Angola, Indonesia, Iran, Haiti, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere), in more than just the very short term, would suggest that no good can come of preventive war for regime change, either for Israel or the United States or the region as a whole. Further, because the United States will have a role in such an attack, if only because our weapons will be used, the administration ought to be opening up dialogue about United States-Israel relations, especially, military relations, instead of trying to deny the extent and depth of the connections between the two countries by pleading Israel's sovereignty.


  • but if you google, you see that back in april, biden warned israel against attacking iran.

    see also gates saying the same thing, warning israel against attacking iran. admiral mullen on sunday warned if iran were attacked, that will have a "very destabilizing" effect in the region, creating unintended consequence.

    i take that to mean if israel attacks iran, our troops in iraq and afghanistan will feel the consequence. our troops stationed there make us vulnerable to iran retaliation. this is why obama has had to walk a tightrope in being measured in his condemnation of ahmadinejad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:09 AM  

  • juan cole surmises biden's current comment was meant to pressure iran into engaging with the US to negotiate on the nuclear issue by raising the specter of israeli aggression as a possible consequence of non-engagement.

    obama himself has come out to clarify he does not sanction or offer a green light for israel to attack.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:15 AM  

  • let's say for argument sake iran did develop a nuclear arsenal.

    look at this poll of how israelis would react:

    JERUSALEM: Only one in five Israeli Jews believes a nuclear-armed Iran would try to destroy Israel and most see life continuing as normal should their arch-foe get the bomb, an opinion poll published on Sunday found. The survey, commissioned by a Tel Aviv University think tank, appeared to challenge the argument of successive Israeli governments that Iran must be denied the means to make atomic weapons lest it threaten the existence of Israel.

    Asked how a nuclear-armed Iran would affect their lives, 80 percent of respondents said they expected no change. Eleven percent said they would consider emigrating and 9 percent said they would consider relocating inside Israel.

    this suggests the israeli public are far more pragmatic and rational about the issue than their reactionary government, peddling hysteria.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 AM  

  • i'm sure you've heard the suggestion before of obama/biden playing good cop/bad cop. doesn't this look like the case here?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:43 AM  

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