Neo-Conservatives And The Israeli Lobby Are Promoting War With Iran, As They Did With Iraq

Who's to Blame for the Iraq War

By Allan C. Brownfeld
April 2015

Neo-conservatives, together with other elements of the Israeli lobby, the same people who successfully pushed the nation to war with Iraq, a country which never attacked us and never possessed the Bush administration’s claimed “weapons of mass destruction,” are now promoting war with Iran—-a country more than three times the size of Iraq.

The war in Iraq did not go well, defying the neo-conservatives’ prediction that U.S. troops would be welcomed with open arms. The war had a series of unintended consequences, as wars often do. It left a regional power vacuum that helped promote the growth of ISIS, helped increase the chaos in Syria and increased the regional importance of Iran.

Writing in The New York Times, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has this advice: “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran…Force is the only option.” Writing in The Washington Post, Joshua Muravchik, a longtime neo-conservative and regular contributor to Commentary, now at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, asks the question, “Is our only option war?” His answer: “Yes.” William Kristol, an advocate for Israel’s far-right political agenda, whose Weekly Standard is a voice for neo-conservatives, echoes these views. He has even suggested that Dick Cheney would be a worthy Republican candidate for president in 2016.

Evidently, Bolton, Muravchik, Kristol and the others have learned nothing from the Iraq war, which they successfully promoted. For Americans to follow their advice again would be folly.

Neo-conservatives have been obsessed with Iran for years. Norman Podhoretz, for many years editor of Commentary, wrote an essay in 2009 depicting Iran’s president as a revolutionary
“like Hitler…whose objective is to overturn the going international system and replace it…with a new world order dominated by Iran…The plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force.” Now, Commentary is part of the campaign against any nuclear agreement with Iran.

The panic about Iran seems in retrospect to have been mostly emotional hyperbole, as it is today. In 2006, Princeton scholar [and Israel advocate, his son works for AIPAC] Bernard Lewis, an adviser to President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney, predicted in a Wall Street Journal op-Ed that Iran’s then-President Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, “is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to the farthest mosque, usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary the world.”

Lewis’s fanciful analysis, which was welcome in the Bush White House, did not come to pass. And President Ahmadinejad is long gone.

What motivates the neo-conservative desire for war in the Middle East is less than clear. Many have pointed to the close ties of many neo-conservatives with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s right-wing. Prominent neo-conservatives Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, James Colbert and David and Meyrav Wurmser wrote a memo to Netanyahu in 1997 entitled “Clean Break,” which recommended the reordering of the entire Middle East to the benefit of Israel.

Republican presidential candidates have embraced Netanyahu, his policies and his belligerent posture toward Iran. In March, speaking to J Street, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III declared that Israel’s leader was undermining the chances of peace in the region. This, The New York Times pointed out, was “nothing more than the kinds of things he had said when he was in office a quarter century ago.” Jeb Bush, the son of Baker’s best friend, immediately distanced himself from Baker’s remarks.

Baker had recently been listed as an adviser to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor now poised to run for president. The morning after his talk to J Street, Jeb Bush authorized his spokesman to publicly differ with Baker. His spokesman declared, “Gov. Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering.”

Few now remember that Republican presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Njxon, and George H.W. Bush were not always unequivocally supportive of Israel. Eisenhower pressured Israel to withdraw from Egypt after it sent troops into Sinai in 1956. President Ronald Reagan defied Israeli objections to sell Awacs reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia and supported a U.N. resolution condemning Israel after it bombed a nuclear plant under construction in Iraq without telling the U.S. first. President George H.W. Bhsh suspended $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel after it expanded settlements in the occupied territories.

Today’s Republican embrace of Israel’s right-wing has, it seems, been bought and paid for by the influence of wealthy donors like Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate. Few remember that Adelson once lamented that while he once served in the U.S. Army, he wished he had served in the Israeli army. He has publicly said that he doesn’t care if israel is a democracy, because the term “democracy” cannot be found in the Bible. He has called for bombing Iran.

Israel partisans fund Tom Cotton

Consider the case of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) who was unknown before he prepared a letter signed by 46 Republicans to leaders in Iran warning against an agreement. He echoed all of the points made by Netanyahu and by neo-conservative spokesmen, The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, spent $960,000 to support Cotton in his Senate race in Arkansas. In that same race, a firm run by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, an independent expenditure group. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000 through his investment firm.

The political action committee run by John Bolton spent at least $825,000 to support Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 per cent of their $1.1 million in 2012 to Republican candidates. During the last four years, Sheldon Adelson and his wife have contributed at least $100 million to Republican causes.

Sen. Cotton says that he personally composed the letter to Iran’s leaders. This seems less than likely. It is highly unusual for a freshman senator to take a bold step like the Iran letter and then persuade dozens of colleagues to endorse it. William Kristol admits that he had a conversation with Cotton about the letter. There continues to be much speculation about who really wrote it. One thing, however, seems clear. The embrace of Netanyahu and the calls for war with Iran seem to have been bought and paid for.

Political commentator Daniel Larison, writing in The American Conservative, notes that, “It may be obvious, but it is worth emphasizing how deranged all of this is. It is already quite strange when anyone in this country has such a strong ideological attachment to another state, but to demand that all of a party’s candidates must share that attachment and share it to the same degree is madness. If the relationship with that other country were extremely useful to the U.S. it would still be absurd, but it might be a little easier to understand. When the relationship does virtually nothing for the U.S. and imposes significant costs on the U.S., as is the case with Israel, requiring all candidates to give reflexive support to the other state is bizarre and indefensible.”

Israeli leaders who oppose war with Iran

In Israel itself, there are many who oppose any march to war with Iran. Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, says, “Even if the Iranians did obtain a nuclear weapon, they are deterrable, because for mullahs, survival and perpetuation of the regime is a holy obligation. We must be much more sophisticated and nuanced in our policies toward Iran.”

Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is critical of those who urge a pre-emptive attack against Iran. In his view, they overestimate its potential danger: “Though rich in oil, Iran is a Third World country with a population of 80 million and a per capita income of $2,440…It’s defense budget stands at a little more than half of Israel’s and less than two per cent of America’s. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the UAE.”

Prof, Michael Desh of the University of Notre Dame points out that, “Less fevered minds understand that, even if Iran developed a rudimentary nuclear capability, the U.S. and Israel would have a huge missile advantage. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has over 5,000 warheads deployed and a large number in reserve, while estimates of the Israeli stockpile range from 80 to 200 nuclear devices. At present, Iran has none and, even under the worst-case scenario, it is unlikely to have more than a handful in the years to come…Iran is a nuclear Pygmy; it has no long-range missiles that can reach the U.S. Its medium-range missile capability, which can theoretically reach Israel, is unreliable. In contrast, Israel has between 100 and 150 Jericho missiles, plus more than 200 F-4E Phantom and F-16 Falcon Aircraft, capable of delivering weapons. The U.S. has almost 1,500 nuclear delivery platforms.”

Attacking Iran would have an effect opposite of what the neo-conservatives and Netanyahu seek. Prof. Stephen Growley, chairman of peace and conflict studies at Oberlin College points out: “Since nuclear weapons provide the ultimate deterrent, nothing could better persuade Iranian hard-liners to abandon negotiations and to develop such weapons full speed than calls to bomb Iran. Mr. Bolton speculates that bombing could set back Iran’s nuclear program ‘by three to five years.’ What then, Mr. Bolton? Where does if end?”

Mr. Netanyahu’s role in pushing America to war should come as no surprise. When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was moving toward peace with the Palestinians, was murdered by a Jewish extremist who opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, his widow, Leah Rabin, publicly blamed Netanyahu for his opposition to a peace agreement and for creating the atmosphere of hate in which such an assassination became possible. Mrs. Rabin has never changed her view of Mr. Netanyahu.

Now, as the U.S. was engaged in sensitive negotiations with Iran concerning its nuclear program, Netanyahu has interfered in domestic American politics, criticized the President and Secretary of State as naive and about to enter into a dangerous agreement. No other foreign leader, much less the recipient of the largest amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars in our history, has ever acted in this way.

Mr. Netanyahu has a history of interfering in our political life. In 2002, he stated before a congressional hearing that Saddam Hussein was “pursuing with abandon, with every ounce of effort, weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons…Saddam is hell bent on achieving atomic bombs as fast as he can.”

He went on to charge that Saddam had sprinkled Iraq with “nuclear centrifuges the size of washing machines” and that nothing short of an American invasion or regime change would stop Saddam from passing out nuclear weapons to terrorist groups. An invasion, he concluded, would be a great success. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have enormous positive reverberations around the region,” he concluded. As everyone now knows, it didn’t quite work out that way.

The Netanyahu predictions about Iran have also been less than prophetic, but always alarmist. In 1995, he wrote that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” and in 1996, speaking before a joint session of Congress, he warned that the deadline for Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon was “getting extremely close.” In 2012, Netanyahu spoke at the U.N. warning that Iran was months from producing a nuclear weapon. Newly released information reveals that Israeli intelligence reports contradicted the information in Netanyahu’s speech.

Mossad’s formal assessment of Iran’s nuclear capacity and intentions clearly contradict the scenario outlined by Netanyahu at the U.N. According to the Mossad report, Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” declared The Guardian. “The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment.”

Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan notes that, “Iran does not have a nuclear bomb and is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation. Treaty…In contrast, Israel refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has several hundred nuclear warheads, which it constructed stealthily, including through acts of espionage and smuggling in the U.S. and against the wishes of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson…Iran has not launched an aggressive war since 1775 when Karim Khan Zand sent an army against Omar Pashain in neighboring Iraq…Modern Iran has not occupied the territory of its neighbors.”

In Israel itself, many commentators argue that Netanyahu’s focus on Iran is simply a means to avoid dealing with the question of the continued occupation of the West Bank. Editorially, the newspaper Ha’aretz (March 3, 2015) declared: “Netanyahu and other Israeli candidates are ignoring the real existential threat to Israel…the unending occupation of the territories. Israel’s insistence on ruling over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank who lack civil rights, expanding the settlements and keeping residents of the Gaza Strip under siege is the danger threatening the future.”

The idea that either Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign against an agreement with Iran, or the machinations of the far-right Israel lobby and its associated neo-conservatives, in any way represents American Jewish opinion—a view its advocates promote—is clearly untrue. Polls show that the majority of American Jews support efforts to achieve an agreement with Iran. The widely read Jewish newspaper, The Forward, has endorsed moving forward with an agreement. Groups such as J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace are seeing their memberships booming. Rabbi Brant Rosen, one of the founders of Jewish Voice for Peace, laments, “The State of Israel is now the living embodiment of Judaism as empire. It demonstrates all too tragically, the consequences of this quasi-Faustian bargain we have made with political nationalism. The Jewish people, for centuries the victims of empire and the guardians of a sacred tradition that promoted a spiritual alternative to the veneration of human power, has betrayed its unique spiritual vision in favor of idolatrous nation-statism and militarism.”

The U.S. permitted neo-conservatives and the Israel lobby to take us to war with Iraq on false premises and with disastrous results. To permit them to lead us down this path once again, this time with Iran, would be a repetition of folly.


Allan Brownfeld is Publications Editor at the American Council for Judaism. Additional biographical information.

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