Tuesday, March 9, 2010

U.S & Israel: Dangerous Rhetoric, Blurred Signals

Biden's initial (presumably planned) remarks during his current trip to Israel seemed open to enormously different interpretations. One could only wonder how the various parties concerned in fact would interpret them. In a moment of euphoria perhaps left over from an idyllic childhood growing up in the mountains, I might read between the lines a message that Israel is protected by the US and therefore has no further excuse to attack its neighbors, much less try to trick the US into destroying Iran on behalf of Israeli rightwing expansionist dreams. In a moment of cynicism learned during years working in Washington, I might read between the lines a message that Washington will guarantee permanent Israeli military hegemony over the Mideast, a guarantee that would be seen not just in Tehran but widely throughout the capitals of every other regional state with aspirations for independence as mandating the acquisition of advanced armaments and the building of an anti-Israeli coalition.

If there is "no space" between the US and Israel in terms of Israel's "security," then Israel does not need superpower-level armaments (rather, just enough for police actions and holding on against whatever militia might try something). And Israel certainly does not need a nuclear monopoly in the region.

Might some Israeli expansionist interpret "security" as a carte blanche for violating Lebanon's airspace or telling any number of its neighbors what arms they are "allowed" to possess or what technology they are "allowed" to develop? One can only hope that Biden added a bit of explanation in private, but Clinton's recent remark (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136258) that Washington refuses to prevent Israeli aggression against Lebanon as long as Hezbollah is arming suggests that he did not.

The "layer of mistrust" he referred to I assume refers to Israel vs Palestine, not Israel vs the US (though that would be a topic worth discussing) and is a statement ludicrous beyond description. When a burglar is in your bedroom (literally, with Israel not only occupying the West Bank but kicking Palestinians out of their homes to make way for more illegal colonists), you don't talk about a "layer of mistrust;' you remove the burglar.

Finally, on the issue of taking risks for peace, Biden told Netanyahyu, "You're prepared to do that." The remark is either laughable or along the lines of a general telling a private to volunteer.

I am open to being surprised. Perhaps Netanyahu will once again remake himself and take a risk for peace by stopping his campaign to push the US into war with Iran or by accepting the vision of a non-nuclear Mideast or by returning the Israeli army to its legally recognized 1967 borders or by halting fighter-bomber violations of Lebanon's airspace or by ending collective punishment of the prisoners in the Gaza Ghetto.

Come what may, those were some of the possibilities inherent in Biden's visit as it got started.

Then Israel slapped Biden (and Obama) in the face, announcing with exquisite timing to show who is boss in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, an expansion of illegal colonialist settlement on the West Bank. This time, Biden's words were pretty clear:

I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them.

Just words, but it does change the tone of the visit. The world waits breathlessly to see if Washington will have the guts to follow up these words with action.

For the moment, the U.S. continues to play a very dangerous game by dangling war with Iran just out of the reach of Israeli militarists while practically burying them in arms designed for precisely such a purpose. Drug addicts should not be counseled in a room full of drugs. On the eve of Biden's visit, the Israeli press depicted one of the dangers in no uncertain terms (Barnea in Yediot, as quoted on Coteret):

Netanyahu has upgraded Ahmadinejad to the dimensions of a Hitler.  [links in original] Against Hitler, one fights to the last bunker.  This is what Churchill did, and Netanyahu wants so badly to be like Churchill.  His credibility—a sensitive issue—is on the table.  If he retreats, the voters will turn their back on him.  Where will he go?  In his distress, he may run forward.

Nothing would be easier than for Israeli militarists to read into US behavior clearance to launch a war against Iran, and nothing would be easier than for Tehran to conclude that violence is the only way it can save itself. Once war starts, it will not matter that someone may have "misunderstood" someone else's clumsy signals. Judging from the public record to date, Biden's trip has further undermined Mideast...and American national security.
For further thoughts on the games that boys with toys play, see Haselkorn's article in the March 9 issue of Haaretz about the signals Iran may be sending by publicly (in the presence of IAEA inspectors) moving most of its refined uranium into unprotected storage. But don't worry - world leaders are all competent professionals.

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