Over the last few days Nick Robinson and Mark Mardell have been speculating about likely topics of conversation between David Cameron and President Obama. They predict that having settled Afghanistan, the new buddies will turn their attention to Iran. Or rather Israel, because the question they will be tussling with is not “How to make sure Iran doesn’t acquire nuclear weapons” but “how to stop Israel taking unilateral military action”.
Because the BBC frames Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons as “Israel’s problem,” the prospect of pre-emptive military action against Iran’s nuclear activities is contemplated with pre-emptive righteous indignation.Israel is blamed in advance for the anticipated consequences such as oil price rises, perhaps Western armed forces being ‘sucked in’, and the probability that it would hand the Islamists in our midst an additional excuse for home-grown grievance-based terrorism. People are preoccupied with the understandable concern that they may suffer because of “Israel’s war”, but their trepidation completely overshadows Iran’s culpability.
Arguments against military intervention are boosted by speculation that Iran hasn’t got nuclear weapons yet, and is a long way off acquiring them. People cite Iran’s repeated reassurances that their nuclear activities are one hundred percent peaceful; yet still they retain, as back-up, the theory that even if the Iranians have lied, perish the thought, diplomacy and sanctions will rescue us.
This argument comes with yet another back-up. If Iran has been fooling us all along, and should sanctions and diplomacy fail, we can always fall back on Mutually Assured Destruction – the all-time, ultimate deterrent. However, in a country ruled by people who are awaiting the End Times with joyous anticipation, an event that entails the coming of the Shia Mahdi accompanied by the apocalypse, the Mutual part of this deal doesn’t seem quite so relevant. Which just leaves the Assured Destruction.
It could be that if we wait too long, we’re in permanent thrall to nuclear-armed Ayatollahs. However, meantime we could bombard Iran with a concerted programme of overt sabre-rattling.
“The dirty secret about President Obama’s generally successful effort to put more pressure on Iran through sanctions and diplomatic methods is that in the last resort its effectiveness depends on exactly the military threats that he would like to downplay. “
It hasn’t occurred to the BBC’s political analysts that if we stick together and threaten, we could give Ahmadinejad the serious willies, which, End Times notwithstanding, could be more effective than trying to ingratiate ourselves with him by pacifying, tolerating and being patient. It’s known as Brinkmanship.
On Tues 6th March 5:05 am the BBC World service featured the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu. I couldn’t blog it at the time because my internet connection was down. Their interpretation appeared to be that Netanyahu is making a big fuss about nothing. Though President Obama’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s clearly expressed preference for diplomacy was mentioned briefly, it was all but cancelled out by extremely misleading hinted-at images of Netanyahu straining at the leash like a mad dog, with peace-loving Obama wrestling with all his might to rein him in and save us all from Armageddon.
Mark Mardell and Nick Robinson are not alone in believing Obama is insincere in his friendships, both with the UK and, even more so, with Israel. The BBC portrays Netanyahu as a warmonger simply because they dislike him. They undoubtedly remember Sarkozy saying he can’t stand Netanyahu, and calling him a liar, with Obama’s apparent approval. Why, they may argue, pretend otherwise?
The president sees the Israeli PM “as a liar who uses subversive tactics, shamelessly meddles in American politics and is encouraging the Republican campaign to topple him,” [Haaretz] while “Netanyahu sees Obama as a spineless leftwinger whose fantasies about world peace are threatening Israel with the prospect of a second Holocaust.” So, not exactly chums, then.”
The BBC attributes President Obama’s abrupt recollection of the unshakeable solidarity between the US and Israel to the upcoming US election. Why else, they imply, would the esteemed Obama bother with a hard-line leader of such a despicable country as Israel?
Obama undoubtedly does hope to curry favour with the Jewish voter, but since the majority of US Jews traditionally vote Democrat come what may, all this does seem an unnecessarily elaborate strategy.
However, whether or not the BBC should really be putting such ideas into people’s heads, it certainly isn’t their job to inspire people like Peter Oborne and Jenny Tonge to scatter sinister warnings about the Jewish Lobby, or to boost the credibility of people who talk about tentacles and tails that wag dogs.
If military action does eventually prove unavoidable, can a pre-emptive surgical strike with a clearly defined target be compared unfavourably with an open-ended military adventure like the one in which we are currently embroiled? The one popularly believed to have an undefined, ever changing, unachievable goal, the success of which is impossible to evaluate and the end of which is likely to be never, ever?
The possibility of a surgical strike specifically targeting Iran’s nuclear activities is not the same as an all-out attack against Iran. Who knows if such a thing is, or ever was, feasible, but the window of opportunity, if there is one, is closing – or closed. What would the situation in Syria be now, if such a thing hadn’t (allegedly) occurred in 2007?
And in any case, the consequences of our existing interference in ‘Muslim Lands’ are already with us. Maybe it would be better to go for it now, before it’s too late; whichever party does the deed, Israel knows it would face retaliation from Hezbollah, and despite what Jon Donnison says, Hamas.
This is not an argument for war. It’s simply about the BBC’s inappropriate advocacy of appeasing the Ayatollahs on top of their willful misrepresentation of the Arab Spring as a benign and enlightened success story. And now, their delusional attitude to the monumental differences between the Western and the Islamic world, framed as though it’s a straightforward case of ‘war or peace, ‘either or’. Meaning either (Israel’s) war or (the world’s) peace.
BBC World service. ‘The World Today with Lawrence Pollard and Roger Hearing’ reported the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu. They called on the services of Professor Avi Shlaim of Oxford University. Prof Shlaim is an Israeli domiciled in the UK, and a harsh critic of Israel, so it’s no surprise that he would be consulted to reinforce the BBC’s stance. He did not disappoint.
He cited a warning to Israel not to take pre-emptive military action, made recently by “ex Mossad hard-liner” Meir Dagan. According to Haaretz Mr Dagan did indeed issue such a warning, but Ynet adds:
”Ultimately, the former head of Mossad said the Iranians cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, but an attack on their nuclear sites now would be a mistake.” So Dagan wasn’t playing down the threat from Iran, but, for better or worse, handing the hot potato of what to do about a nuclear-armed Iran, back to President Obama.
In the programme, after short sound-bites from Netanyahu and Obama, came Professor Shlaim’s analysis.
He kept referring to the Israeli government as ‘reckless’, without acknowledging that, even if it’s really all bluff and bluster, sabre-rattling is a necessary piece of the jigsaw.
I transcribed this programme, because it ticked all the above mentioned boxes.
Intro: “We don’t know exactly what went on at the meeting between president Obama and the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington but we can be pretty sure Mr. Netanyahu strongly argued the case for urgent military action against Iran to stop it developing nuclear weapons, and that president Obama pressed the case for seeing what sanctions and diplomatic pressure could do before sending in the bombers. In a speech before the American Israel and Public Affairs Committee AIPAC Mr. Netanyahu said time was running out.”
“My friends, Israel has waited, patiently waited for the international community to resolve this issue we’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
Well, earlier Mr. Obama said that both he and Mr. Netanyahu preferred a diplomatic to a military solution.
“I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy prevention Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, and as I indicated in my speech when I say all options are on the table I mean it. Having said that I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.”
But what complicates this is that in a presidential election year Mr. Obama has to be very careful of alienating the large number of pro Israeli US voters by appearing not to be safeguarding the security of the Jewish State. Avi Shlaim is the professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, here in Britain. he doesn’t think President Obama does have to make concessions to the Israelis.
“I question whether Israel has the ability to take unilateral action against Iran. The whole of the Israeli strategy for a long time has been geared to getting America to take military action against Iran. That hasn’t succeeded, so now there are rumours and speculation that Israel will be forced to take unilateral action.”
“You think that’s bluff?”
“I do think that it is bluff and more than that I think it is reckless. It’s not I who thinks that Mr Netanyahu and his defence Ehud Barak are reckless. It is the former director of the Mossad Meir Dagan who is a hard-line and former general who said that Israel cannot carry out unilateral military action against Iran, and that Israel shouldn’t be talking about unilateral action, and he called the prime minister and the defence minister of the state of Israel ‘reckless’. So I do believe he is right on this issue.”
“Many in Israel would say it was reckless to ignore what they see as a very real threat from Iran, after all the Iranian president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map, and I suppose, with nuclear weapons they would have the capacity to do that. Isn’t it reckless not to take any action?”
“No, because Netanyahu keeps repeating that a nuclear-armed Iran will be an existential threat to the State of Israel. Well first of all, it would not be an existential threat, because Israel already has nuclear weapons, and therefore Israel’s nuclear weapons would deter Iran from launching an attack. So the worst case scenario would be a nuclear-armed Iran, and there would be a balance of terror, and the Iranians would be committing an act of suicide if they attacked Israel, and They are Not Irrational. That’s the worst case scenario. It wouldn’t be a good scenario, because if Iran had nuclear weapons, other countries, and first and foremost Saudi Arabia would want to have nuclear weapons, so it’s not a good scenario, but we are a very very long way from that worst case scenario because Iran hasn’t got nuclear weapons, it has a peaceful nuclear programme, and the best estimate from the American experts is that Iran has not made the decision yet to acquire a nuclear capability. That Iran’s programme is still peaceful and the decision to weaponize has not been taken yet so at the moment what we have is very serious severe western sanctions against Iran, so there is still the possibility of a diplomatic solution and this is what Obama should be concentrating on rather than threats of military action.”
“Professor Avi Shlaim.”