US and Israeli Tensions
Over Iran Strike Bared


Israeli air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities


What follows is a highly biased report by Gary Leupp regarding tensions between Israel and the United States. Leupp is clearly no friend of the state of Israel - and that is made plain in the article. BUT, what he has to say regarding tensions between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is very, very accurate – and underscores the apprehension Israelis have regarding Obama that we described in our article, "Precipitating a Cascade of Prophetic Events."

Leupp's attitude here makes plain the cavalier posture that the Obama administration takes regarding Israel's security – and why, as Bret Stephens explains –

"... when President Obama calls a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable," he means it approximately in the same way a parent does when fecklessly reprimanding his misbehaving teenager."

-- Antipas


It's been clear for some time that there's a real difference of opinion between Washington and the Israeli leadership about how to deal with Iran's nuclear program ...

The U.S. position is that it will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, meaning that if there are ever any indications of the diversion of nuclear fuel towards bomb production ... the U.S. will act decisively. That's what Obama means when he says "I have your back" to Israel ... But while Obama says the U.S. in marching in "lock step" with Israel on the Iran issue, the differences have become clear.

Netanyahu's Argument

Bombed-out Osiraq facility in Iraq, 1981

Netanyahu wants the U.S. to promise to destroy Iran's nuclear program (on Israel's behalf, to mitigate Israeli anxiety) immediately, or at least within months.

He argues that the "red line" for action should not be the point at which Iran appears about to develop nuclear weapons, but the moment at which it acquires the capability to do so. In other words, Iran must be denied the sort of nuclear programs that exist in normal countries like Japan, Brazil and the Netherlands. It must be denied the right to master the nuclear cycle guaranteed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty as an "inalienable right" to all signatory nations (which include the U.S. and Iran—but not Israel, which with India and Pakistan remains outside its scope). The U.S. must break international law to satisfy Netanyahu. Or if it doesn't, Israel will pull another Osiraq (the 1981 attack on the Iraqi French-built reactor that was condemned by the whole world, including the U.S. which voted with the unanimous opinion of the Security Council). It will act unilaterally if the U.S. doesn't act first.

Why? Because Iran, in the Israeli prime minister's view, is not a normal nation. It constitutes an "existential threat" to Israel; its leaders have supposedly repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel; its leadership is Holocaust-denying anti-Semites; it supports Hizbollah and Hamas. Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, is a dictator, the new Hitler. Therefore, Iran's nuclear program (begun with U.S. support during the Shah's reign) can have one rational only: to produce a "nuclear holocaust."

Netanyahu's been predicting the imminent appearance of an Iranian Bomb since at least 1992, when he declared, "Iran will have the bomb by 1997." He's a Chicken Little. The sky has not fallen on Israel.

Netanyahu's a Boy Who Cried Wolf. Year after year, the intelligence reports confirming a military program just don't come in. Obama, who was caught on open mike agreeing with Sarkozy's depiction of him [i.e., Netanyahu] as a liar, no doubt knows the Israeli prime minister is a master of sensationalistic distortion. It's there in every piece of his argument.

Iranian leaders—like most Muslim leaders and perhaps most people on the planet—oppose the existence of a specifically Jewish state established at the expense of Palestinian Arabs. But they do not threaten an Iranian attack upon it. Indeed they have repeatedly expressed support for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative calling for a two-state solution, including in a letter to the U.S. State Department in 2003.

Ahmadinejad is no Hitler-style dictator but a lame-duck leader with very limited constitutional powers. He never said he wanted to "wipe Israel off the map;" he's said, quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini (d. 1989) that just as the regime of the Shah had fallen, and the Berlin Wall fallen, so "the occupation of Quds [Jerusalem] will vanish from the page of time."

NOTE: In making such a statement, one would be excused if one believed that Leupp was smoking grass. Charles Krauthammer recently reported on some of the ANNIHILATIONIST threats emanating from Iran's leaders. For example,

  • Israel's existence is "an insult to all humanity" (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).

  • "Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime." (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad)
  • Explains the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Israel is "a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off."

He has asked western journalists to explain how Iran is anti-Semitic when the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel, dating back over 2000 years, continues to run kosher shops, Hebrew schools and synagogues and has guaranteed representation in parliament?

NOTE: While this was true under the Shah, it is simply not true any longer. Jews in Iran are increasingly coming under pressure from "unofficial" sources (so-called) and their "rights" have been severely restricted in recent years. [Please see our article, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin."]

Yes, Iran supports Hizbollah, which is a large, respected political party based among the Shiites of southern Lebanon. Their militia was born out of the Israeli invasion of 1982, directed at Palestinian refugee camps and resulting in the massacres of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut; it is widely credited in Lebanon with finally driving out the occupiers in 2000. It is no wonder Iran, as preeminent Shiite power, would support Hizbollah, which now has 11 seats in the 30-seat cabinet. But Hizbollah is not so much a threat to Israel as Israel is a threat to Lebanon, most recently invading again in 2006.

NOTE: For the complete story of what happened in Sabra and Shatila, please see our 2001 article, "The Coming War in the Middle East." We present a very abbreviated report below.

According to the standard explanation of the events surrounding the massacres at Sabra and Shatila (i.e., the one accepted at the UN, in Europe, and in much of the rest of the world), on September 16, 1982,

"Israel sent its proxies - the [Christian] Phalanges and members of the [Christian] South Lebanon Army - into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps ... They [i.e., Phalanges] vowed revenge for the death of Gemayel [the former Christian president of Lebanon] and pledged to eliminate the remaining Palestinian presence in Lebanon after the PLO's ouster by Israeli forces. UNDER THE APPROVING AND WATCHFUL EYE OF THE ISRAELIS stationed around the camps, the militiamen went on a rampage, indiscriminately slaughtering children and the elderly, raping young girls and women, and butchering unarmed men. About 36 hours later, approximately 2,000 civilians lay dead - some so badly dismembered that they were unrecognizable." [Please see Ghada Khouri, "15 Years After the Sabra & Shatila Massacre," in Fertile Crescent Magazine. Ghada Khouri is a Palestinian freelance writer on Middle Eastern affairs.]

But the problem in all of this (i.e., the accusation that "Israel sent its proxies - the Phalanges and members of the South Lebanon Army - into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps"), is that it simply is NOT true. The Phalange was NEVER Israel's proxy; the truth is, the relationship between Israel and the Phalange was NEVER a good one; neither trusted the other.

THE PHALANGE WAS THE CIA's PROXY. It was the CIA that controlled the Phalange, not Israel. It was the CIA that monitored the Phalange's entrance into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps - and let me assure you, that my background permits me to say that it is beyond ALL reason to believe that the CIA didn't know - even on a moment by moment basis - what was going on in the camps. When dealing with agencies like the CIA one does not have to suspend common sense.

Think about it! Who would have benefited from the massacre at the camps? Israel? - but the PLO was already on its way out! That's all the Israelis cared about (and even then, much less so than did the CIA). It wasn't Israel that necessarily wanted Lebanon rid of the Palestinian refugees; better to have the Palestinians in Lebanon than in Jordan. It was the CIA that wanted the refugees out of Lebanon. The presence of the Palestinians in Lebanon threatened Phalange control of Lebanon, and if the Phalange lost control of Lebanon, then the CIA and the oil companies were the losers, not Israel. THE MASSACRES WERE MEANT TO SEND A MESSAGE - and that message was clear enough: Don't threaten the Phalange, and - ipso facto - the CIA's control of Lebanon.

Normally, that message would have gotten through. The massacres would have been sufficient to cower the Muslims - and no one would have been the wiser! But not this time! Why? - because the "game" had changed. The presence of the Islamic Revolution (which had just recently occurred) was beginning to make itself felt, and the Mullahs made sure the world found out about the carnage at Sabra and Shatila.

What was the CIA to do now? - after all, the Mullahs knew whose puppets the Phalangists were. The answer was clear enough - get Israel to take the "fall." And that's exactly what happened. An official hearing into what had occurred in Sabra and Shatila was convened in Israel under heavy U.S. pressure - some would say, under U.S. "DIRECTION" - and concluded that Sharon, as defense minister and "architect of the invasion," bore "indirect responsibility" for the mass killings. Sharon was made the "scapegoat." The Muslims let it drop at that - refusing to pursue the obvious question, Who really controlled the Phalange - Israel or the CIA? And more than that, Whose war had it been anyway - again, Israel's or the CIA's?

In addition, one should ask himself, Was it just coincidence that millions and millions of dollars began flowing into the coffers of the Islamic Revolution from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc. shortly thereafter? Hush money maybe? One thing is for sure, the CIA's participation in all this was simply swept under the rug - as if it never existed, and the American and European press went to work trumpeting Israel's (and Sharon's) blame for the massacres - and so much so that Sharon was branded a "war criminal" throughout Europe and in certain sections of the United States.

The religious (Sunni) based Hamas organization started with Israeli encouragement as a movement to challenge the secular PLO. But it became an alternative resistance movement, not saddled with the reputation for corruption Palestinian Authority officials had acquired.

NOTE: This statement is also not true: Hamas is the creation of the CIA, as are almost all similar Islamist organizations in the Middle East. The fact is, Israel warned the CIA that in helping to create these entities, they were unleashing a monster. [Please see our article, "Radical Islam."]

It [Hamas] won the 2006 election, the first freely held among Palestinians. It has cordial ties with Turkey, a NATO member, with Russia and many other governments. It receives some support from Iran, partly as a statement that Iran wants to lead not only Shiites but the entire Muslim world. Gulf states and private charities in them donate much more, but Netanyahu is not calling Saudi Arabia an "existential threat."

The whole argument that Iranians speak badly of Israel, and provide modest aid to anti-Israel guerrilla movements, and therefore plan to nuke Israel at the earliest opportunity just doesn't make sense. It has to be bolstered with the racist accusation that the Iranians care so little about human lives, including their own, that they would be willing to provoke a massive nuclear counter-assault. This is precisely the argument Israeli leaders deploy.

NOTE: Very obviously, Leupp is mimicking the attitude of most of those connected to the Obama Administration who believe that Israel can and should (indeed, MUST) learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran – just as the U.S. learned to live with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union.

They believe that just as "MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION" ("MAD") prevented the leaders of the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S., so also "MAD" will prevent Iran's leaders from attacking Israel.

However, in making this assumption, the leaders of the Obama Administration are making a huge mistake; like "secular-humanists" everywhere, they are grossly underestimating the power or religion that grasps the imagination of the mullahs of Iran.

Israelis, however, are not making that mistake! They are more than cognizant of the fact that the religious zealotry of Iran's mullahs leads them to believe that they can prevail in a war against not only Israel, but the United States as well, all the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Like the U.S. neocons, Netanyahu cherry picks intel, chooses fear-mongering sound bites, and offers the most alarmist historical analogies (Hitler, Holocaust, "appeasement" etc.) in order to prod people to support military action. In 2007 neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz appealed to Bush to "Bomb Iran!" using all the same language, although while Podhoretz was shrilly pleading, Netanyahu has been glaringly, snarlingly demanding U.S. action to allay his concerns—which have been there in his head for at least twenty years—that Iran might be at the verge of getting a bomb. Smugly confidant of his influence over U.S. politics, the man should be utterly discredited, but the press accords him deference.

Obama's Response

Obama replies to Netanyahu, directly or through State Department spokespersons—that he cannot attack Iran before the election. And he does not want Israel to take action that virtually all experts predict would lead to disastrous results, including for U.S. bases and "interests" in the region. Anyway, he surely adds, Iran—according to the best intelligence reports—shut down any military nuclear program nine years ago.

Obama joins with Netanyahu in demanding a total halt to nuclear enrichment in Iran and the turnover of all such fuel to other countries. This, as the Russians involved in the Bushehr plant protest, is a preposterous demand—"illogical" as an Iranian diplomat put it. It is hard to imagine the Iranians agreeing, and to apply harsh economic sanctions against a country for refusing what they are legally entitled to do is an act of war. Obama is provoking Iran, which so far has responded with restraint.

Still, neither Obama nor the Pentagon brass want another war in the Middle East, especially since it will impact the war in Afghanistan and the situations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. Thus Obama has this year dispatched National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Director of Intelligence Tom Clapper to Israel to discourage Israel itself from attacking Iran. He has publicly rebuked Netanyahu for calling ongoing negotiations with Iran (including the U.S.) a "freebie" to allow secret work on nuclear weapons.

NOTE: While it is no doubt true that Obama and his cohorts do not want war in the Middle East, it is not true that the Pentagon and the neo-conservatives – as well as America's oil elites – do not want war; indeed, they are lusting for it. [Please see our article, "The Merchants of Tarshish" and "So Now It Begins."]

Obama had Dempsey state in London last week that the U.S. would not be "complicit" in an Israeli strike. (That's strong language, suggesting the strike would be wrong.) The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the U.S. is in talks with Iran, asking that in response to U.S. abstention from involvement in any strikes Iran not respond with attacks on U.S. bases and interests in the region. This appears to be a last-ditch effort by an administration genuinely alarmed by Netanyahu's rhetoric and war preparations to quash such plans.

I don't know if a U.S. president has ever told an Israel prime minister,

"We not only won't back you when you do something we thing wrong, or at least harmful to our interests. We'll also tell your adversary in advance that we won't back you, and won't want to be associated with what you do."

Reuters reports that a "stunned" and "chastised" Israeli leadership is now "preparing a climb-down strategy in its war of words over Iran's nuclear program." Would that it were so! And would that, after the election, we learn that secret negotiations between Iran and the U.S. have resulted in a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear program, aid to different organizations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other issues (as raised in the—rejected—letter sent from Tehran in 2003) allowing Iran to safe face while Obama avoids World War III.

But for that to happen the U.S. would have to back down on its illogical, uncompromising stance on nuclear enrichment. One can only hope that that's part of the plan.

  • GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.







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