The Iran-Israeli War

There is an article in this morning’s Washington Post by Ishaan Tharoor entitled, “Is regime change in Iran part of Trump’s agenda?” The answer offered is an assertive “yes.” The following evidence is offered:

  • Rudy (Rudolph) Giuliani, The Donald’s newly-appointed personal lawyer, just said so in an unexpected speech (both in timing and given his role as Trump’s personal attorney with no role in the White House) on Saturday to the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights (IFCDHR) a front for the MEK, Mujahidin e-Khalq, stating that Trump was “committed to regime change” in Iran
  • Giuliani also said that, “We have a president who is tough… a president who is as committed to regime change as we are” and that confronting Iran is “more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal.”
  • Giuliani has been a lobbyist for over a decade for the MEK (see Jonathan Vankin in the INQUISITR)
  • In 2012, Giuliani was widely credited with getting the MEK delisted from its fifteen-year-old U.S. State Department designation as a “terrorist organization” under a court-imposed deadline for a decision (cf. Spencer Ackerman in Share 12/09/2012)
  • The MEK as a proxy for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq had been held responsible for the deaths of three American military officers and three military contractors
  • The MEK, following a 2004 NYT Magazine report, is widely regarded as a husband-and-wife cult led by Massoud and Maryam Rajavi given its controls over the sex lives and reading of its members, though it now presents itself as a pro-democracy organization and implacable enemy of the Islamic Tehran regime that provides intelligence (usually fake) on Iran’s nuclear program
  • In 2012, the MEK, in spite of the support it had gained among some American politicians and policy buffs, was still largely considered a fringe cult with limited appeal to Iranians
  • However, currently both John Bolton, Trump’s newly-named National Security Adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the newly-minted Secretary of State, are known supporters of the MEK
  • Trump in his campaign to be the Republican nominee, in his presidential campaign and as president, has repeatedly denounced the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a “bad one,” the “worst deal ever”
  • This week it is widely believed that he will renounce the nuclear deal and re-impose economic sanctions contrary to the dire warnings against such a move by world political leaders such as Emmanuel Macron, President of France, and UN Secretary General António Guterres because of the imminent prospect of war (Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, arrived in Washington yesterday to continue Macron’s lobbying campaign)
  • May 12 is the deadline for making a decision about renewing sanctions by the U.S.
  • Trump is highly unlikely to go to war against Tehran given his dedication to pulling troops out of the Middle East and Far East (“We are going to stop spending US$7 trillion abroad and start focusing on infrastructure at home.”) in spite of the propensities and preferences of the hawks among his reborn foreign policy personnel

By all reputable accounts and inspection reports, Iran has kept the terms of the nuclear deal, but it has not curbed, and likely enhanced, its missile program as well as its troubling interventions in Syria, not just to back the Assad regime, but to establish long term military and missile bases in Syria. If the U.S. re-authorizes economic sanctions, thereby renouncing its commitment to the nuclear deal, a deep schism will result between the U.S. and its European allies who are intent on continuing their support for the nuclear deal.

The likely result will be that the U.S. will give, and has already probably committed itself to giving, Israel permission to act as its surrogate in attacking Iranian targets in Syria. Note the following:

  • Retired Israeli military generals and intelligence officers have become very vocal and have openly warned that withdrawal from the nuclear deal will make matters worse
  • In The Guardian on the weekend, Mark Townsend and Julian Borger reported that an Israeli intelligence firm had been employed by the Trump campaign to discredit those in the Obama regime (Kerry, Rhodes, Kahl, Biden) that had been active in forging the deal by means of “dirty ops” thereby helping to discredit the deal
  • Netanyahu in the week before presented an elaborate show-and-tell with an impressive array of detail captured by the Mossad on the well-known pre-deal record of lying and cheating by the Iranian regime on the Iranian nuclear program
  • Netanyahu almost explicitly claimed that Iran was continuing its past practices of lying and cheating in the post 2015 nuclear deal period but provided absolutely no evidence to that effect
  • Most ominously, Netanyahu insisted that Iran had to be stopped and it was better to do that now rather than later
  • Israel insists on continuing its policy of absolute control over the skies concerning any threats emanating from Syria as evidenced when Israel shot down an Iranian drone in February
  • In the past several weeks, Israel has upped the ante in attacking Iranian facilities in Syria; in the most significant action, Israeli F-15 fighter jets destroyed a cache of Iranian missiles and, in the process, reportedly killed dozens of Iranian military personnel
  • On 30 April, the Knesset voted to give Netanyahu authorization, if the Defense Minister agreed, to “declare war under extreme circumstances,” thereby amending the Israel’s Basic Law Clause 40A that states that the “state shall not start a war save by force of a government decision” and that such a decision will be conveyed to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee ASAP; the revised procedure would sideline the traditional pattern that the IDF, the intelligence institutions and the Foreign Affairs Ministry would all be consulted before such a decision
  • Netanyahu has repeatedly drawn a red line in the sand insisting that Israel will not permit Iran to establish military bases in Syria; in fact, there are three red lines: 1) no Iranian or Iranian proxies (e.g. Hezbollah) on Israeli borders; 2) no Iranian precision-guided missiles in Syria; 3) no expanded Iranian military entrenchment in Syria
  • Putin’s meeting this week with Netanyahu is unlikely to dissuade Israel from any further military action in Lebanon but will seek reassurances and mechanisms that Russian facilities will not be targeted
  • Hawkish Israeli cabinet members have insisted that Israel’s security will remain in dire jeopardy unless Assad is removed, an unlikely prospect, but holding that goal up will make Netanyahu’s military initiative against the Iranian presence in Syria appear as a more modest effort, even if quite disproportionate to the provocation, and will put further pressure on Assad to accede to Israeli demands that Iran be required to remove its military bases from Syria
  • A distraction from the eruptions expected from Palestinian quarters to the imminent U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem in a week adds fuel to the increased prospect of a much higher military engagement of Israel against Iran in Syria
  • The disproportionate Israeli response to the Hamas efforts against the fence received relatively muted international criticism and Hamas has now been reduced effectively to pleading for a long-term military truce

Iran has become both very circumspect at the same time as it has been more vocal in warning the U.S. not to cancel the nuclear deal. More specifically,

  • Until 12 May, Iran has put further military initiatives in Syria on “pause”
  • On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not only threatened the U.S. if it reneged on the nuclear deal, but also announced that, “We have plans to resist any decision by Trump on the nuclear accord…Orders have been issued to our atomic energy organization … and to the economic sector to confront America’s plots against our country”
  • American and/or Israeli diplomatic and/or military initiatives will weaken Rouhani and strengthen his rival hard line Revolutionary Guard Corps leader, Qassem Soleimani and solidify support for him by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
  • Soleimani is almost surely planning a quid pro quo attack on an Israeli military operation after 12 May even though it will almost surely result in a much larger retaliation against the Iranian military presence in Syria
  • In the May 6th elections in Lebanon, Hezbollah has run candidates, even more hawkish than before and in all constituencies for the first time in an effort to extend its control over Lebanese political and military policies and put Lebanon even further into Iran’s back pocket
  • The prospect of war with Israel and the imminent likely cancellation of the nuclear deal has led to a further precipitous decline in the value of the Iranian currency, putting more pressure on the regime to find a distraction and a nationalist rallying cry
  • The radical forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, especially the Al Quds division, is highly unlikely to retreat from its efforts to provide the point of attack for Iran to project power in the region even though in the past it moved into vacuums created by others; Soleimani likely views himself at a point of no return or retreat, but this is the critical breaking point on which Israel is forging its new activist agenda against Iran (cf. the recent piece by Jonathan Paris in the Fathom Forum)

I have been a strong supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. I have also warned that the debates over the Iran nuclear were really over differences in how to respond to the increasing threat of a more conventionally militant Iran. Both issues are now merging once again and the most likely prospect is an Israeli enhanced military involvement in Syria targeting Iran and with an implicit backing of the U.S. I believe that such an enhanced response would be more effective if it was de-linked from the Iranian nuclear deal but the Netanyahu government seems to believe otherwise and that now is the time to take action in the interest of long-term as well as immediate strategic goals.

Expect war unless Soleimani backs away temporarily (unlikely) to increase his forces fighting in Yemen and with Turkish forces against the Kurds.

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My Promised Land: XIII Israeli Arabs, Hezbollah and the Jewish Youth Occupy Movement

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

Ari Shavit

 

XIII     Israeli Arabs, Hezbollah and the Jewish Youth Occupy Movement

Chapter fourteen entitled, “Reality Shock, 2006,” suggests a rude awakening. Ari argues that Israel experienced seven different revolts within thirty years, presumably between 1976 and 2006: the settler’s revolt, the peace revolt, the liberal-judicial revolt, the Oriental revolt, the ultra-Orthodox revolt, the hedonistic-individualistic revolt, and the Palestinian-Israeli revolt.” (327) I had trouble aligning this list with his chapters. To call the settler movement of the seventies a revolt is a little puzzling. To call the peace movement – Peace Now – a revolt also seems an exaggeration. What was the liberal-judicial revolt? Was Ari referring to the 1989 Supreme Court ruling that 16 miles of the separation fence had to be re-routed because its path caused undue and unnecessary hardship to Palestinians when an alternate route providing for security was available while, at the same time, determining that the green line was not a political border? As I read on, it was clear he was really referring to the liberal-economic rather than liberal-judicial revolt against the nanny state rather than against the military state. But there is no specific chapter to provide guidance; his confused language does not help. And wasn’t the Oriental and the ultra-Orthodox revolt the same as he told the story of Deri? And why call the explosion of the club scene by hedonist-individualists (and ordinary young Israelis) a revolt?

In any case, at least the last revolt, the uprising in the Galilee in 2003 when 12 Arab-Israeli citizens were killed, is clear for Ari deals with that in Chapter thirteen as he features Mohammed Dahla, an Arab-Israeli lawyer, who insists that Jewish Israelis fail to recognize that they need Arab-Israelis as their partners in the turmoil of the Middle East and set aside their distrust which can be rooted in the effort to define Israel as a Jewish state instead of a state for all Israelis. Mohammed hates the imported architecture imposed on the landscape. The only natural architecture suited to the terrain is traditional and Arabic. Mohammed objects to the absence of Arabic on most highway signs. But most of all, he objects to the exclusion of the Arabic history and identity from Israeli history. This is a charge hard to refute since the state was created in dealing with the insistence that this competing national identity and history be the ruling one. Further, the Israeli-Arabs cannot get over the fact that the guests who were a minority have become the masters. So Mohammed resurrects the vision whereby the Arabs will realize their “natural” role by surrendering the two-state solution in favour of one state, the very reason Jewish Israelis will never agree and remain suspicious of their own citizens of Arab background.

The exclusion and discrimination of Arab-Israelis is appalling. But the Israeli Arabs tell the same stories as the enemies of Israel – the Jews have no rights to the TempleMount and the story of the Jewish temple is a fiction. Further, if a single state is not forthcoming, Arab-Israelis want an autonomous Galilee in an echo of ethnic conflicts everywhere. And Mohammed envisions and hopes for the return of the Palestinian refugees by the hundreds of thousands.  “We will be masters and you will be our servants.” (323) That Mohammed Dahla would openly say this to Ari is a credit to Ari’s interviewing skills. As long as Azmi Bishara remains a hero of the Israeli-Palestinians, Jewish Israelis will continue to distrust Arab-Israeli citizens.  Of course, there are far more moderates as the Palestinian directed Israeli film, The Attack, made clear. But the dilemma remains – how to be a democratic state respecting the equality and rights of every single citizen regardless of ethnic origin or religion while also being a Jewish state that has a minority that dreams of once again being a majority and, therefore, still not accepting the UN partition resolution to divide the land between an Arab and a Jewish state. How do you defend the equal rights of Mohammed Dahla who is one of the foremost defenders among Israeli-Arabs of human rights when Dahla himself at a deeper level believes in overturning the system and establishing Arab culture as the dominant and superior one?

In any case, Ari claims that these seven revolts all contributed to “the disintegration of the Israeli republic.” (328) Until I read this I had no idea Israel had become a failed state. But that is not what Ari means. He says that instead of a mature and stable state, Israel had become a bazaar. Has Ari not paid any attention to what has happened to other states around the world and the difficulties of governance in our time in history?

“The settlers rose against political discipline and restraint. The peaceniks rose against historical and geostrategic reality. The liberals rose against the all-too-powerful state. The Orientals rose against the Occidental domination. The ultra-orthodox rose against secularism. The hedonists rose against the suffocating conformism of Zionist collectivism. The Palestinian-Israelis rose against Jewish nationalism.” (328) The previous seven revolts resulted in a “lack of leadership and lack of direction and lack of governability.” (328) The key turning point had been the Yom Kippur War which “promulgated a deep distrust of the state, its government, and its leadership.” (329) Moral authority and hierarchy broke down. The 2006 crisis was the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon that lasted only 33 days. According to Ari, it delivered a shock from which Israel has not yet recovered. The one institution in which all Israelis still had faith, had failed them. The IDF was not able to defeat a militia with only 8,000 militants.

Do I hear echoes of William Yeats’ The Second Coming?

 

                        Turning and turning in the widening gyre

                        The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

                        Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

                        Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

                        The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere

                        The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

                        The best lack all conviction, while the worst

                        Are full of passionate intensity.

So we have been presented chapter after chapter with the image of a falcon flying in wider and wider circles so that the centripetal and the centrifugal forces lose all sense of balance and everything spins out of control and the falcon loses its bearings which provide its basis for safety and security. But unlike Yeats who ascribes the passionate intensity to the worst, Ari celebrates the passionate intensity expressed by the rebels of different stripes. But the dominant image is the same – a society headed towards self-destruction and chaos. Like Yeats, Ari undertakes this book as an effort to kick start radical change, but since Ari is a Jew and not a Christian, he cannot exactly call it a “second coming”, but he can help us recall Yeats’ image of the lion with the head of a man. This is Ari’s image – a cool and deliberate head attached to a fearsome body which radiates predatory power as well as royal strength and authority. So the human face on the lion has a blank glaze as pitiless as the sun. But the common core of values had disintegrated. The melting pot itself melted. “They were not willing to take orders from anyone. They trusted no one. They became unknowing anarchists.”

So much for a prose version of a poet’s lament posing as a political analysis with not one whit of evidence to back it up and the economic, technological, pharmaceutical, gastronomical transformations yet to be described all belying the depiction. But none of these yet belong to Ari’s promised land. Instead, anarchic Israel keeps crashing into reality checks — in 2006, the Lebanon War in which Israel for the first time “was not able to defeat an enemy.” (331)

But this is what all wars are like that pit standing armies against revolts embedded in civil society rather than the state. That is why Israel can put down the intifada and win a series of battles but cannot win the war. Just as America was helpless and humiliated in the face of the Sunni revolt in Iraq, just as America was virtually helpless and humiliated by the Taliban revolt in Afghanistan, and just as America hesitated to repeat such a lesson in Syria, Israel cannot and should not be expected to win a war against Hezbollah.  The goal is only to beat it into a recognition of a superior enemy and create an unwillingness to wrestle with the mighty anytime soon.

Only two chapters ago Ari was celebrating the freedom and joy of casual sex and drugs. Now he is distressed that these hedonists do not recognize the need to maintain Israel’s might. Zionism, the nation, the army all had to be celebrated not denigrated. The hedonistic individualists regarded Jewish nationalism with contempt. As Netanyahu has said repeatedly, and Ari here echoes, Israel lives in a very tough neighbourhood.  “Israel is a Jewish state in an Arab world” (332) and an Arab world that is in turmoil. In the face of the contradiction of being “a democracy surrounded by tyrannies, a Jewish state in an Arab world and a Western state in an Islamic world. Israel must re-invent itself as a unique, positive anomaly.” (332) Because this contradiction is not just the current condition; it is “perpetual”. This, of course, ignores, the zig-zag moves of Arab states towards democratic regimes that have only been more or less reasonably successful in Tunisia.  

Everyone is to blame but Ari. “The constant attacks on nationalism, the military, and the Zionist narrative consumed Israel’s existence from within. Business inculcated ad absurdam the illusion of normalcy by initiating sweeping privatization and establishing an aggressive capitalist regime that didn’t suit the needs of a nation in conflict. (my italics) Academia inculcated ad absurdum a rigid political correctness by turning the constructive means of self-criticism into an obsessive deconstructive end of its own. The media promoted a false consciousness that combined wild consumerism with hypocritical righteousness. Instead of purpose and promise, the Israeli elite embraced self-doubt and cynicism.” (333) But if the privatization was an essential step for creating Israel as a start-up nation, how can one support clinging to the patriarchal nanny state in the name of a solid sense of the collective?

In any case, one might write that as well about Canada and the USA, but the difference was that Israel lived in a world in which it was always in existential danger. Israel could not afford such self-indulgent luxuries. Israel needed inspiring tales and solid norms. Israel needed equality and solidarity. Otherwise why would youth be willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation?  For Ari, the immediate challenge is not the occupation but “the challenge of regaining national potency”. But perhaps the challenge is really facing the fact, that other than the temporary aberration of Iran (tomorrow), in reality Israel is no longer under an existential threat for the time being.

However, for Ari, this is the perpetually perilous world Israel lives in: “Iran on the rise, Hezbollah building up in the south. Peace has failed. Occupation has failed. Unilateralism has failed….Faced with renewed existential danger, Israel has no relevant national strategy. It is confused and paralyzed.” (334) And Israel is schizophrenically divided between the soldiers who fight in the north and the clubbers in Tel Aviv indifferent to the war and in pursuit of sex, drugs and self-satisfaction.

In the next chapter, fifteen entitled “Occupy Rothschild, 2011” Ari tells the story of the immigration of the Strauss family from Nazi Germany in the thirties and the growth, largely due to the matriarch and her son, Michael, of a cheese and dairy multinational. The chapter is a paean to the industriousness, creativity, boldness and initiatives of the Israeli people themselves. The next example is Kobi Richter, an air pilot in the Six Day War who attacked the Egyptian airfields and aircraft at El-Arish and by 1989 controlled 60% of the worldwide AOI market with annual revenues of over $400 million and then went on to found Medinol which made the most flexible but rigid stents used in medical surgery.

Ari echoes many of the results of research that point out the cluster of factors that turned Israel into the greatest start-up nation in the modern world. Military investment and the infrastructure and close camaraderie and trust developed in the army along with the radical individualism and self-reliance encouraged and developed in Israeli society, the Russian immigration, the cross fertilization of various fields of expertise. are among the many factors that made Israeli society unique.

Stanley Fischer, the immediate past brilliant Governor of the Bank of Israel credits four other factors for its success and four dangers. One reason for success was the reduction of government spending from 51% of GDP to 42%, the huge reduction in the national debt from 100% to 7% of GDP, maintaining a conservative and responsible financial system and fostering the conditions that will encourage high-tech to flourish. The four worrisome problems are a deteriorating educational system, the low employment  rate among the ultra-Orthodox (45%), the low employment rate in the Arab-Israeli sector because most Arab women do not work and the concentration of ownership in a few firms thus reducing competition.  The perils the country faces all boil down to economics!!! Ari just takes it all in and regurgitates it back. What about the discovery of natural resources, the gas finds off the coast, as a serendipitous cause of success? What about the peril of religious fanaticism?

Dan Ben David, an economics professor at Hebrew U has his own perils – the fivefold growth in welfare payments over thirty years because money is being transferred to the ultra-Orthodox and Arab minorities instead of being invested in infrastructure, the slower rate of annual growth while social cohesion and social justice have been eroded, the inadequate investment in human capital, the demographic revolution whereby the ultra-Orthodox and the Arab population, the least productive sectors, are growing at an astounding rate thereby dooming Israel to becoming a backward nation, The few work harder and harder to support the many who proliferate more and more.

Itzik Shmuli, a Jewish kid from a Kurdish Jewish family from northern Iraq  who went on to become a leader of the protest movement against high rents that eventually led 450,000 Israelis, 6% of Israel’s population, to take to the streets, is Ari’s next narrator.  For Ari, the 2011 revolt is the most impressive. Why? Because it was moderate and nonviolent and won 80% of Israeli support. Or was it really because it seemed to die leaving hardly a trace and seemed to have no influence in producing more rental units or more affordable ones thereby echoing parallel protests in New York and Toronto? The absence of any comparative perspective, the inflation of Israeli problems as if they are exclusive to Israel, begins to pall.

It stands to reason that if you cut public expenditures to boost the private sector, investment in education will suffer. Since this was happening around the world in no relationship to the Yom Kippur War, why is the War the source of the change? As the health, education and infrastructure are starved for funds, they all deteriorate. As the rich grow richer and the spread between the super-rich and the poor expand greatly, and greater in Israel than almost anywhere else because Israel was more egalitarian than anywhere except Tanzania and is now more inegalitarian than anywhere but the USA, it is far more noticeable there.

Ari is a great story teller but a terrible analyst covered up in good part by giving many of those analysts their own platform. Look at this account as he boils all the stories he has heard down to lessons learned. “The secret of Israeli high tech is bucking authority, ignoring conventional wisdom, and flouting the rules of the game. The weakness of the Israeli state is bucking authority, ignoring conventional wisdom, and flouting the rules of the game.” (361) Clever, but they are all just one reason -an innovative spirit. Ari has boiled everything down to a tautology. The reason for innovation is innovation and it results in both success and failure. Other than ending up with an empty conclusion, Ari totally fails to distil what he heard. Further, how did the supposed suffocating conformism of Zionism yield such innovative individuality 

What happened in the streets of Tel Aviv is for Ari a wake up call. “out of disintegration and despair we must rise to the challenge of the most ambitious project of all: nation building. The resurrection of the Israeli republic.” (362)

Am I blind? Am I stupid? Why all the enthusiasm for this false prospector of doom and false prophet of the need for resurrection?