Monday, February 2, 2009

The Relevance of Gaza to Israeli Plans for Iran

EXCERPT: Gaza may, as I have argued, be a laboratory for testing hypotheses about the larger Western conflict with Islam, but that still leaves open the question of exactly what those hypotheses may be, and which external actor is testing which one. Is there a link between Israel's decision to attack Gaza and an Israeli plan to attack Iran?

TEXT: It seems quite clear that Israel is using Gaza to test the hypothesis that military force can persuade Palestinians to give up thoughts of liberty and submit to Israel. Here I wish to address a separate hypothesis:

if military force can compel the people of Gaza to submit to Israeli dictates, then Israel can successfully attack Iran.

Inter Press Service did an interview with noted Mideast politics author and ex-CIA operative Robert Baer that has been getting some well deserved attention. The quote that follows is taken from Norman Finkelstein's site:

IPS: Some analysts believe that attacking Hamas in Gaza, two years
after the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, is a part of a
bigger plan which will end with attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Is
Israel walking this path?

Robert Baer: No. I think that there is a military veto in attacking Iran. It's just not possible.

IPS: Why is that impossible?

RB: Well, for one thing, we know there will be an Iranian reaction in
the Gulf. Iran will not be attacked like Hamas and just respond
locally. It will respond internationally. It has no choice. This is
their deterrence power. In Iran, it is very important to understand a
lot of lessons.

I admire Mr. Baer and realize that this is just a tiny part of a short interview, so perhaps one should not be too picky about his wording. In addition, I certainly hope he is correct in asserting that there is a "veto" against an Israeli attack on Iran and that such an attack is "impossible." Moreover, recent press reports have supported Baer's statement that a "veto" exists, at least for the moment. But on an issue as important as this one, logic needs to be tight.

To the degree that Mr. Baer was arguing that an Israeli attack would open a Pandora's box, I agree; that makes such an attack irrational, but it does not make it "impossible." This is the same Israel that attacked Lebanon in 1982, 1996, 2006; Gaza in 2008. No law of nature prohibits self-defeating stupidity by hubris-addicted politicians in Israel any more than anywhere else; quite the contrary.

So, is Israel "walking this path?" There have been many public statements in recent years by Israeli politicians calling in the most thinly veiled terms for war against Iran to protect Israel from the possible threat that could result from the potential development of weapons Iran might someday possess. Netanyahu's extraordinarily irresponsible references to Iran as "Nazi"--a reference one would expect a Jew to think about before tossing around--come to mind. (Whatever one may think of Iranian Shi'ite jurist-politicians or anti-Saddam war generation followers of Ahmadinejad, the thought of a Persian jackbooted blitzkrieg sweeping across the Mideast is simply laughable.)

What "Israel" is thinking is hard to say and almost beside the point. What the average member of the Israeli ruling elite is thinking is a bit more relevant but still averages across a large number of individuals. Perhaps others can contribute relevant information here.

What does seem safe to state is the following: the lessons that various leading members of the Israeli ruling elite such as Netanyahu and Liebermann (as well as the Livnis and Pereses and Olmerts, who may on a good day be a degree or two more rational) draw from the recent attack on Gaza are likely to influence greatly the prospects for Mideast violence over the foreseeable future.

The argument that an Israeli victory in Gaza would constitute evidence that force would work against Iran is so full of holes I could not even imagine where to start debunking it. Nevertheless, it is a historical fact that the "Big Lie" has been tried before.

Does any Israeli actually believe this argument? I don't know. Someone please pass me the evidence.

More to the point is a subtler process known (pardon my use of technical terminology) as a "slippery slope." That great old political scientist Dante had something to say about slippery slopes. If any Muslim population can be terrorized into submission, then one might convince oneself that a slightly larger group could be so persuaded as well. From Gaza to the West Bank to Lebanon to Syria to Iran...And even if no Israeli ever actually bought such a tenuous chain of inference, there is no guarantee that insecure officials in Iran--subject as they are to economic warfare, terrorist attack, and all manner of threat from countries far more powerful than they--might not come to believe that Israeli leaders were buying into this chain of reasoning. One side might take steps that another side might misinterpret. Israel might end up walking a path it never knew it was on.

One might overlook, in the heat of the moment, that Iran is different from Gaza: there is no wall around Iran.

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