I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out why the Israeli government is so keen to attack Iran, and why exactly now.
Some tactical answers to the 'why now' question are rather self-evident, and are directly tied to whatever leverage may be gotten from the American elections. In the best of all possible worlds, there will be enough saber-rattling from the GOP to back Obama into a corner, fearing the loss of Jewish votes and Jewish campaign contributions. The issue is a veritable bogeyman, of course, because the 78% of American Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 are not likely to vote for the GOP, even under Romney's presumed leadership, just because he cheers up an Israeli attack on Iran, nor are any campaign contributions that went to Obama or to Democratic candidates from Jewish sources in 2008 likely to dwindle because of that same reason. Nonetheless we can count on the American media to hype up whatever hysteria is necessary to obscure that simple fact, and maybe, just maybe, Obama would fold (although thus far, to his credit, he has resisted). Even more likely, what is at stake is not Obama giving Israel the green light, but rather, failing to do much if the Netanyahu government does go it alone.
So, now is the time to tighten the screws. But that is not, in actuality the main 'now' question. Rather, the main 'now' question is inherently tied to the 'why' question – why, I am still wracking my brain, is Israel so keen to attack Iran to begin with? The intelligence community, both in Israel and in the US is rather uniformly of the opinion that Iran is nowhere close to developing a bomb, that it is not even clear that Iran intends to develop a bomb, and that any attack is likely to make Iran more, rather than less determined to develop one. Those very same sources are also of the opinion that an Israeli attack is not likely to succeed in setting back any existing nuclear program by very much. And finally, the universal opinion within the intelligence community is that even if Iran did acquire a nuclear bomb, they are way too sane to actually use it. Not so conventional weapon, which those very same sources seem rather certain Iran will use, and to a significant effect, if attacked. Something rather lethal may actually drop on Tel Aviv that would seriously dwarf the Iraqi Scud missiles that created such massive panic in Israel in 1991, and that is likely to wreak substantial damage. Hundreds of Israelis, if not more, will die; oil wells will burn, oil supply world-wide will be disrupted. So why attack? And why now??
One common rationale one reads in the saner press is that Israel is determined to preserve its nuclear edge in the region, and hence to put a stop to any other efforts in that direction no matter how nascent. The rationale no doubt is solid insofar as Israel will probably go quite far to preserve its solitary Middle East membership in the atomic club. But given the chances of success as relative to cost, and given the actual state of the Iranian nuclear program, this rationale does seem somewhat unsatisfactory. Nor does the rationale address the question of why now and not, say, after sanctions will have been declared to have failed.
There is, however, an answer to the 'why' and to the 'why now' that has little to do with Iran's progress towards a nuclear bomb and that is rather sensible. Did we all notice, per chance, how the Palestinian issue has miraculously dropped off the agenda? Did we notice how the increasingly louder criticism of the Israeli occupation in the American media has somehow vanished, replaced by endless analyses of the body language in the Obama-Netanyahu encounter? As reported by the Jerusalem Post on November 19, 1989, Binyamim Netanyahu, at the time a deputy foreign minister in a Likud government, told a public audience in Bar-Ilan University that the Israeli government has failed to exploit internationally favorable situations, such as the Tiananmen Massacre in June 1989, when world opinion was focused on China, to carry out 'large scale' expulsions at a time when 'the danger would have been relatively small.' Can we now imagine where the world's attention would be if our TV screens are filled with images of mushroom clouds in Teheran? With images of dozens of dead and wounded Israelis in the streets of Tel-Aviv? With burning oil wells? When our attention is on massive world-wide shortage in oil supply and the emergence of potential hostilities in the Persian Gulf between American boats and Iranian ones? There will also be, of course, thousands of Iranians, if not more, dead and wounded. It's just that we may not really get to see them on our TV screens...
Now how many Palestinians can be induced to cross the Jordan River during such times, if not worse? One should never underestimate the amount of destruction that can be wreaked in a relatively short time. After all, in 1994, it took 8 weeks to butcher some 800,000 Tutsi with machetes, while the US army was trying to decide what color to paint its intervention vehicles!
And once the burning will have ended, if it does, and once the dead will have been buried and mourned, and once the pundits will have had their say, who, indeed, would be noting the Palestinians, now gone? Where, in the general woe, would there be room for their plight, for the latest phase of their dispossession?
And there, indeed, lies the answer to the 'why' and to the 'why now'. Iran may not be much of a threat, let alone an urgent one, but the world-wide increase in support for the Palestinian cause is. On that front, Israel is fighting very close to home, with massive sectors of the American Jewish population increasingly distancing themselves from Israel, and with the very core of Israel-Jewish society becoming more and more alienated. Never before was public debate about the Israeli occupation as open in the US, and never before was explicit criticism as commonly published in the main press. There remain, secure in the Zionist camp, but the most fundamentalist of American Christians and the most fundamentalist of Jewish population in Israel. Not for long will Israel be able to convince people that civilian boats attempting to reach Gaza or 300 peace activists landing in its airport are an existential threat. Not for long will Israel be able to count on American presidents, of any party, overlooking the resentment and the loss of opportunities in the Arab world that emerge directly from the nearly five decades of political impasse. Not for long will Israel be able to count on Sheldon Adelson, single handedly, controlling the outcome of congressional elections, when public opinion is turning against Israel. Now that is urgent.
By way of a solution, a halt to the dispossession agenda is, of course, not an option, and never has been, for any Zionist government. Rather, it appears, what is on the agenda, and not for the first time, is a cynical manipulative calculation. Let's use the cover of war to load people on trucks and drive them away (1948-1949; 1967); let's bomb us an American library or two and blame it on the Egyptian revolutionary regime to sour up its relationship with the US (in 1954); let's impose a military closure on Palestinian agricultural land and then take it away some years later on the grounds that it's owners have failed to cultivate it (from the '50s onwards); let's contrive to put defenseless refugee camps in the path of murderous Phalangist gangs and retreat to lick our lips as we watch the killing (1982). The list goes on. To be added – let's light a fire in the Middle East that will burn so fiercely and that will create so much damage – including to some of our very own – that nobody will notice that we have kicked out some million Palestinians or so and have finally accomplished what Ben-Gurion, lamentably, has left unfinished.
Hell, No! Let's not!