LAST August I predicted that as the US election drew closer, and as the President’s re-election became certain, a credible scenario would be for Israel to strike Iran, pre-empting Barack Obama’s new term in the White House. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly deflated that possibility.
From his speech it seems an Israeli strike is now less likely, not only because Obama’s re-election next Tuesday is now less certain, but also because Netanyahu was a victim of his own vain, swaggering arrogance.
Politicians tend to get intoxicated in private meetings, losing their inhibitions when articulating, off the record, their candid opinions. For example, in a 2001 closed meeting, unbeknown to him, Netanyahu was caught on video bragging to an Israeli settler’s family about how easily he could manipulate the US: “I know what America is… America is a thing you can move very easily,” he said. He also boasted about his plans to sabotage the Oslo Peace Accord with the Palestinians. “I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67 borders.”
On Iran, Netanyahu was blinded by his condescending view of American democracy, failing to appreciate the role that the US military might play. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is undeniably one of the strongest lobbying groups in Washington, DC and arguably the undisputed foreign lobby leader in the US capital, but it is no match for the US military’s influence.
Pre-empting Netanyahu, AIPAC and Israel-first members of both parties, Obama mobilised his military and sent the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to Tel Aviv in late January to reiterate the President’s demand that Israel refrain from any unilateral military move on Iran without giving prior notice to Washington.
In a characteristic bluff worthy of an ex-furniture salesman, Netanyahu responded by cancelling the largest ever US-Israel military exercise scheduled to take place in April. The Prime Minister wanted to send an indirect message to the Obama administration that a possible unilateral strike could take place in the spring.
The US military was unmoved by Israel’s tactics and continued to state its opposition to war. Its public position neutralised Israeli supporters and war advocates in both houses on Capitol Hill.
The Israel lobby’s inability to put pressure on the US military meant a back-pedalling Netanyahu surrogate told Ynet news on August 11 that Israel was willing to “reconsider” a unilateral attack if Obama set an ultimatum for Iran to stop uranium enrichment.
Refusing to back down, the US military went on the offensive. General Dempsey was quoted in Britain’s Guardian newspaper on August 30 saying that an Israeli strike would only succeed in unravelling “crippling international sanctions” against the Iranian government. He went further by making a statement that no US politician would dare to utter: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”
Only American military leaders are free from political intimidation by Israel-firsters and lobbyists. Unlike the myopic view of elected officials, military leaders understand the cost of war and the limitation of their own might in what could be a very costly, protracted conflict.
Next Wednesday America will wake up to a re-elected President Obama or a new President-elect. To the chagrin of Israeli leaders, the US military might have derailed, for now, another world disaster.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.