When we say ‘Syria’ we mean ‘Iran’
This posting has many items each focussing on an aspect of Iran’s position as Syria’s ally and the extent to which Iran is the real target of rumours and promises of war:
1) Tikun Olam: Gloves Come Off: Israel Lobby Goes All-In for Syrian Intervention, While New York Times Self-Censors, Richard Silverstein is not surprised that AIPAC has broken cover to lobby for airstrikes – as a display to Iran;
2) FT: Iran ex-president hints at divisions over support for Bashar al-Assad, Monavar Khalaj reports on signs of cracks between Syria and Iran, September 3rd ;
3) The Nation David Grossman Speaks Out Against War With Iran, Israel’s best-known writer talks to Larry Derfner, 2012;
4) Ha’aretz: U.S. Jewish groups call on Congress to approve use of force against Syria’s Assad, Chemi Shalev, September 4th;
5) AFP: Strikes on Syria will leave Israel in flames: Iran army chief, August 29th;
6) Ha’aretz: Obama, Syria and the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran, Amos Harel;
7) Mondoweiss: Dubious Intelligence and Iran Blackmail: How Israel is driving the US to war in Syria, Max Blumenthal;
8- Reuters: Netanyahu mum on Obama’s Syria delay but says Israel strong alone;
9) Times of Israel: Obama shows Netanyahu that Israel is truly alone, as Obama is so weak Israel must fend for itself against Iran, September 1st;
10) AP: With eye on Iran, Israelis seek US action in Syria, Josef Federman says Israel wants US show of power not to topple safe-hands Assad, September 2nd;
11) Ynet news: Kerry to Senate: Iran is hoping you look the other way, Yitzhak Benhorin on Kerry’s argument that Iran, Hezbollah and N.Korea must see US will act. September 4th;
And some links to other articles at foot if this is not enough.
Buildings wrecked by Israeli airstrikes May 2013.The IDF was aiming to destroy missiles which, it said, were on their way from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Photo by AP/SANA.
Gloves Come Off: Israel Lobby Goes All-In for Syrian Intervention, While New York Times Self-Censors
By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
September 3, 2013
Today’s the day I knew was coming. Despite the fact that Jodi Rudoren mistakenly said that the Lobby would maintain radio-silence about Obama’s plan to strike Syria, I knew she was wrong. And she was. Today, Obama pulled out all the stops and the Jewish leadership responded: virtually all the major organizations announced their support for military intervention.
This statement by the hawkish, pro-Israel Conference of Presidents highlights the real reason for the turnabout:
…Failing to take action would damage the credibility of the US and negatively impact the effort to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity.
So, Syria is really a sideshow. It’s a sort of precursor to war against Iran. That’s the main attraction and all Israel or the Jewish leadership cares about. All the mumbling about setting a moral example and parallels between Syria and Jews being gassed by the Nazis is a smokescreen. We want the Ayatollahs and we want ‘em bad.
Aipac will let loose a lobbying barrage that will leave few members of Congress uncertain about which way they’re expected to vote (unless they’re prepared for a primary challenge from an amply endowed pro-Israel opponent). It’s safe to say that Obama is going to win this round handily. This will allow him the first opportunity in his presidency to bring the full force of U.S. military might on a Middle Eastern country. You’ll recall a prior president who enjoyed that opportunity twice. Obama will score a big gain in his popularity ratings. Americans love a good Shock and Awe display. But they will soon come down to earth and wonder what we’ve gained from raining cruise missiles on Damascus. The answer will be: precious little.
An interesting sidebar to this story is a neat little bit of N.Y. Times self-censorship that M.J. Rosenberg noted. In this story, the following passage originally appeared, but then mysteriously disappeared, apparently a product of pre-emptive censorship:
Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group Aipac was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel. In the House, the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, has long worked to challenge Democrats’ traditional base among Jews.
One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called Aipac “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, “we’re in trouble.”
In its own explanation, the Times noted that the second paragraph had already appeared in an article the day before. Thus the paper was apparently trying to avoid redundancy. The public editor, Margaret Sullivan, falsely stated that the entire quotation had appeared previously: “the quotation remains in the earlier article.” It hadn’t, as I said. So why not retain the first paragraph?
I’d have thought the first paragraph was dropped both because it referred to Eric Cantor as Jewish (fear of the “A” word), and because it explicitly notes the muscular role Aipac was planning to play in the intervention debate. Aipac is notorious for not wanting its fingerprints to appear publicly. It prefers to operate off the radar as much as possible so when the shit hits the fan, it can’t be blamed for policy failures.
M.J., who worked for Aipac for ten years and knows the organization pretty damn well, believes there were explicit conversations between it and the Times and that it made its displeasure known at the negative portrayal in the offending passage.
On a related matter, yesterday the Russians announced that their early warning tracking system picked up a mysterious missile launch in the Mediterranean. The trajectory took the missile from its launch in the central Mediterranean to its fall in the eastern Mediterranean. Within hours, the Israeli government confirmed that it had launched a “Sparrow” missile in a routine test. The Sparrow is the missile used to test the Arrow anti-missile system. It’s the missile which the Arrow hunts and kills.
Frankly, there is something fishy about this story. Israel never intended for the launch to be public. But Russia called Israel’s bluff and did so. Either the Israelis tested a far more ambitious weapons system and lied about it being the Sparrow; or else they launched a missile as a shot across Assad’s (and Russia’s) bow, warning them that Israel would unleash its missile cache to defend from and respond to any Syrian attack.
Haaretz reporters, writing on behalf of their government sources, say Israel never dreamed of using the test as a warning to Syria. Again, I don’t buy it. If they didn’t, and the original government version of this report is true, then Netanyahu is an incredibly naïve figure who ratcheted up tension in a tinder box situation without even realizing how a missile test would be received by Israel’s enemies. Israel’s leadership is many negative things, but certainly not naïve.
Even if you accept the government version of events, the Israeli military exhibited extraordinary stupidity. It lit a match in an oil refinery. Luckily the whole place didn’t blow up. It could have.
By Monavar Khalaj in Tehran, Financial Times
September 03, 2013
Comments by a former Iranian president and pillar of the country’s political establishment have shone a light on possible disagreements within the country’s elite over its support for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
In a hotly disputed statement posted on the internet, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president, accused Mr Assad’s government of using chemical weapons against the Syrian people in what analysts saw as a warning to the government to rethink its support for its main Arab ally.
“God bless the people of Syria . . . they were subjected to chemical weapons by their own government and now they have to expect a foreign invasion,” Mr Rafsanjani, who heads the powerful Expediency Council, said last week at an event in the northern province of Mazandaran.
The remarks, quoted by the semi-official ILNA news agency, sparked an uproar in Iran, where officials have accused Mr Assad’s opponents of being behind the attack. They were quickly scrubbed from the news website. Later, Marzieh Afkham, Iran’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, denied the comments, saying they were “distorted”.
But an audio recording that appeared on Tuesday confirmed Mr Rafsanjani’s accusation that the Assad regime had launched chemical attacks against the Syrian people, a view shared by the US, Britain and France.
Mr Rafsanjani’s speech also referred to thousands of Syrians who had been thrown into prison, painting a dire picture of human rights under the Assad regime and reflecting what some say is widespread Iranian sympathy for the Syrian uprising against Mr Assad.
“Mr Rafsanjani has said what millions of Iranians believe in their heart but they either do not dare to express it or they face censorship [by Iran’s regime],” said Sadegh Zibakalam, a reform-minded political scientist.
“This is that there is no difference between this repressive regime [Assad] and that of [former president] Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, [the late dictator] Muammer Gaddafi in Libya and the Bahraini and Saudi Arabian regimes.”
Despite Mr Rafsanjani’s comments, many Iranians remain sceptical that Mr Assad was responsible for the alleged chemical attack in eastern Damascus on August 21 and support the official view that armed opponents of the Syrian regime, including the Saudi and western-backed rebels, were behind it.
But Mr Zibakalam said “not only millions of Iranians” but also officials such as newly elected President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif “welcomed Mr Hashemi’s remarks inside their hearts”.
Iranians suffered immensely under Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks in the 1980s and continue to be traumatised by the inaction of the international community in their aftermath.
Implicit in Mr Rafsanjani’s comments, analysts suggest, was the warning that Mr Rouhani’s new government should no longer support the Assad regime unconditionally and should reconsider support that is said to include financial help and military advice as well as the military support of Iran’s staunch ally in the Levant, Hizbollah.
Though there has been little sign of change in Iran’s support for Syria and the Assad regime is still seen by Tehran as a critical link in its effort to increase its influence in the Arab world, Mr Rouhani’s government is keen to break the deadlock in talks with the six big powers over the nuclear programme, and appears to have toned down its rhetoric on Syria and avoided direct involvement in the conflict.
Despite some bellicose rhetoric by military officials, most remarks on Syria appear cautious and carefully calibrated, warning, for example, that a US attack on Syria would further damage its interests in the region.
“Iran has no longer put all its eggs in Assad’s basket,” said a reform-minded university professor of international relations who asked not to be named. “It is in the country’s best interest for the new government to find an alternative to him.”
Addressing the issue publicly for the first time, Israel’s leading novelist says an attack would set in motion a “nightmare.”
Larry Derfner, The Nation
March 08, 2012
Jerusalem–In his first public statement on the conflict with Iran, David Grossman, the leading Israeli novelist of the past generation and the strongest voice of his country’s moral conscience, told The Nation that he opposed an attack on the Islamic Republic by Israel or the United States, saying the likely consequences were more daunting even than those of Iran building nuclear weapons.
“I don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I think that if the sanctions do not work, Israel and the whole world, painfully, will have to live with it,” Grossman said, warning that bombing Iran would set in motion “a nightmare that’s hard to describe.” Nonetheless, he said he had “a very bad feeling” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were going to order an attack, even against America’s wishes. “There is a dynamic to all these warlike declarations,” he said.
He spoke by phone from his home outside Jerusalem on Tuesday. The day before, Netanyahu had brought his militant views on Iran to a White House meeting with President Barack Obama, and later delivered a fright-inducing speech to the AIPAC convention, employing Holocaust analogies and vowing that “never again” would the Jewish people entrust their survival to any nation but their own.
“Israel,” said Grossman, “is a deeply traumatized community that finds it very difficult to separate between real dangers and echoes of past traumas, and sometimes I think our prime minister fires himself up in mixing these real dangers with those echoes from the past.”
He said he feared that Netanyahu and Barak would bomb Iran partly out of a perceived strategic need to back up their threats with action, but also because of what he sees as Netanyahu’s sense of historic responsibility to save the “people of eternity.”
“He has this idea that we are the people of eternity, am ha’netzach from the Bible, and our negotiations, as he sees it, are with eternity, with the primal currents of history and mankind, while the United States, with all due respect, is just another superpower like Rome or Athens or Babylon, and we’ve survived them all,” said Grossman. “I’m afraid that this way of thinking might encourage Netanyahu to take the step” of attacking Iran.
Grossman’s son, Uri, was killed in the 2006 Lebanon War two days after the author called publicly for a cease-fire, and while he was writing the last chapters of his greatly acclaimed epic of war and peace, To the End of the Land. An impassioned critic of Israeli militarism and treatment of Palestinians, he deplored the overkill of the December 2008–January 2009 war in Gaza, and took part in last year’s weekly protests against the dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, getting beaten by Israeli police at one of them.
The 58-year-old author said the prospect of war with Iran was “the most basic concern of my life in this period. I wake up with it, I go to sleep with it, and I spend hours every day trying to understand it.” He said he discusses it with colleagues, acquaintances and “people who have influence,” and everyone he’s spoken with is “reluctant” for Israel to initiate a war.
Asked why he hasn’t, until now, spoken out on this matter when he’s been so vocal in his dissent against past Israeli wars and the occupation of Palestinian territories, Grossman said he is beset by the same doubts and hesitations that have quieted the public at large, including the peace camp.
“We are dealing here with the most crucial existential problem that the State of Israel may ever have faced in all its history,” he said, “and most people are reluctant to express their opinions because they feel they just don’t have all the necessary information.
“Remember,” he said, “we are talking about fanatic, fundamentalist leaders in Iran who have declared openly that they want to eradicate Israel. And they may come into possession of nuclear bombs. It’s important to face the complexity of this dilemma—it’s not an abstract moral debate, but something very, very concrete.”
Nevertheless, Grossman said that if sanctions and diplomacy could not stop the Iranian nuclear program, trusting to deterrence was less dangerous than starting an open-ended war.
He said that in view of Iran’s chemical and biological weapons, Israel was already living with a “balance of terror.” While acknowledging that Iran’s nuclearization would make the standoff “more dangerous and acute,” he feared that an Israeli attack would prove “so destructive that it might itself create an existential danger for us. I think we shall find ourselves, Israel and Iran, in a nightmare that’s hard to describe.
“True, it would have been created in order to prevent a worse nightmare in the future, but does everyone have the right,” he asked, “to make so many people die in the name of this anxiety over an outcome—an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel—that might never take place?”
The author said that while it may be possible to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, it was impossible to destroy the knowledge of how to recreate it. “And the people who have that knowledge will rise from the rubble after we attack,” he said, “and they will start to create a new nuclear infrastructure, only this time they will be heavily loaded with humiliation, hatred and desire for revenge, and this time they will have the support of the entire Iranian people.”
Citing the large presence of “more secular, educated, realistic” people in Iran, masses of whom protested bravely in 2009 against the regime, Grossman said this face of Iran held out the hope of a future leadership that might be less hostile to Israel. But he warned that this hope would be destroyed, too, in an Israeli attack.
“If Israel bombs Iran,” he said, “I think it will be seen as an arrogant, megalomaniacal, violent nation even by the most sober, moderate Iranians.” Israel’s hope for peace, or even just quiet, with a future, better Iranian government “would be eradicated for generations.”
Republican support for Administration’s offer allays concerns about Jewish intervention. Hoenlein: Reflects general consensus; Foxman: Our people’s experience with gas mandates moral response.
By Chemi Shalev, Ha’aretz
September 04, 2013
The American Jewish establishment jumped off the fence on Tuesday and came out in full support of Congressional approval of President Barack Obama’s plans to launch a military strike against Syria’s chemical weapon capacity.
Jewish leaders told Haaretz that the public support expressed in the past two days by leading Republican figures such as Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor, as well as the qualified backing shown by Senator John McCain, allayed concerns that the Jewish groups would be accused of taking sides in a political feud between the two parties. “The dynamics changed overnight,” one source said.
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations said in a statement that “failing to take action would damage the credibility of the U.S. and negatively impact the effort to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity.”
The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC urged Congress to “grant the President the authority to protect America’s security interests.” The lobby’s statement said that “barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass.” And sources said that AIPAC would henceforth lobby Congress to support the use of force against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Anti-Defamation League went a step further, lauding Obama’s “demonstration of U.S. leadership” and calling on Congress to “swiftly add its voice to hold Assad accountable for the wanton slaughter of his own citizens.”
ADL National Director Abe Foxman told Haaretz that from a “moral perspective” there was “nothing to debate” because of “our own people’s experience with gas.” In addition, he said, the threat to America’s national security interests in the Middle East, in which Israel has such a high stake, “go above and beyond any political consideration.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents, said on Tuesday that the statement reflects the “general consensus” of the American Jewish organizations. He said that some organizations expressed concerns about taking sides in a political battle, but that briefings by the Administration helped to forge the Conference’s statement, which reflects the “middle ground” of various Jewish opinions.
The sources said that their support also stemmed from conversations with Israeli leaders who expressed concern about the negative ramifications of a Congressional veto on Obama’s proposals both for Israel and for America’s standing in the Middle East.
Any military action against Syria will have consequences beyond the region and leave Israel in flames, Iran’s army chief of staff General Hassan Firouzabadi said in remarks reported Thursday.
“Any military action against Syria will drive the Zionists to the edge of fire,” Firouzabadi said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.
His remarks came in response to reports of possible US-led military strikes against Syria — Iran’s chief regional ally — in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus last week.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebel forces fighting to oust it accuse each other of carrying out the attacks that are said to have killed hundreds of people.
Firouzabadi, Iran’s most decorated general, said: “The US, Britain and their other allies will face losses by marching their armies into the region and Syria.”
“Any new (military) operation in the region will leave behind a lot of damage, which will be of interest to no one except the Zionists,” he said, while warning that the fallout from the conflict would not be limited to the region.
His remarks echoed those of Iranian officials in recent days.
“The US intervention will be a disaster for the region,” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s most powerful authority, said Wednesday.
“The region is like a gunpowder depot. (Its) future cannot be predicted” in case of any military strikes against Syria.
US President Barack Obama said he has yet to sign off on a plan to strike Syria over the chemical attacks, drawing the West into the brutal 29-month conflict.
Western strikes had appeared imminent earlier this week, but US allies were increasingly reluctant to act before hearing the results of a UN probe into the alleged poisonous gas attacks.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lonely sense of mission regarding Tehran’s nuclear program has surely been strengthened by the U.S. president’s surprising speech.
By Amos Harel, Ha’aretz
September 02, 2013
The main consideration facing U.S. President Barack Obama in reaching his surprise decision to postpone the attack on Syria was actually Iran, the New York Times reported.
Obama is convinced he will need Congress in the future if he decides to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities, and therefore was not interested in bypassing the Senate and House for now in making a decision about Syria.
Haaretz in depth coverage of the crisis in Syria: :Israel and lobby likely to get embroiled in Congress debate on Syria (Chemi Shalev) || Obama informed Netanyahu prior to speech of plans to delay Syria strike (Barak Ravid) || Obama seeking Western legitimacy, but Arabs perceive him as weak (Amos Harel) || U.S. intervention in Syria – humanitarian action or a new imperialism (Aeyal Gross)
The last-minute change in Obama’s approach could well have stemmed from a combination of strategic, political and moral considerations, but it seems the mention of the Iranian connection in the leak to The Times was intended for additional purposes. If in the end Obama chooses the military option against Syria, he will need broad support from pro-Israel elements in both parties of Congress to gather the necessary votes. The Iranian card is an important justification to enlist support for his efforts on Syria. Given the absence of an international coalition to support the attack, Obama reached the conclusion that he needs political support at home – and constitutional justification – to act militarily in Syria.
But Obama’s decision to delay the attack on Syria at the last minute was received as very bad news by a different coalition: the alliance, which can be called “dovish” on the Iranian issue, among the senior officials in Israel’s defense establishment. According to a long list of reports, three times – in the summer and fall in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to push forward a decision on a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, despite American objections. In each of those cases, an internal opposition stopped them. This opposition included senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces, including those from the Air Force and Military Intelligence, the Mossad and Shin Bet security service and ministers from the inner cabinet at the time: Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor. The scheduled replacement of the heads of the various defense institutions did not help Netanyahu. Their heirs continued to stick to the same positions. Netanyahu and Barak did not succeed in enlisting enough strength to overcome the broad resistance and lead an attack on Iran.
Iranian army troops march in a military parade commemorating the start of the Iraq-Iran war 32 years ago, in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, Sept. 21, 2012. Photo by Vahid Salemi/AP
The opposition camp raised a long list of claims to delay the strike. Some cast doubt on Israel’s ability to effectively act by itself to remove the nuclear threat; others argued that the time was still not ripe to act and all the alternatives had not yet been tried. But the central claim made by all related to the special relationship with the United States. An operation that was opposed to American interests, it was claimed, would mortally damage the administration’s support for the Israeli government, especially as there was still a reasonable chance that Obama, given his pointed promise to prevent, not just contain, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, would act himself if and when he could no longer put it off.
In recent months, it seemed as if the option of an independent Israeli attack on Iran was slipping away from Netanyahu. A relative moderate was elected as president, Ayatolah Hassan Rohani, whose declarations have strengthened the will of the international community to fully exploit the diplomatic channel with Tehran. Also, instead of Barak, Moshe Ya’alon now sits in the defense minister’s office, and he was one of the leaders of the faction against a unilateral attack on Iran. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s new partners in the government, in particular Finance Minister Yair Lapid, have different political agendas, with which a strike on Iran would only interfere.
Watching Obama zigzag
Publically Netanyahu is very careful not to embarrass the Americans over the decision on Syria, and even reprimanded Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, who insulted Obama despite explicit warnings from the prime minister. But from following Netanyahu’s previous declarations on the Iranian issue, it is possible to surmise with confidence that since Saturday night, when Obama announced he was turning to Congress, the prime minister is burning with even more faith than usual in two fundamental assumptions with which he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009: First, that only he, out of everyone, understands the Iranian threat properly, the dangers and global forces involved in it. And second, that only Israel, lead by him, can in the end remove the Iranian nuclear threat because it is impossible to trust any other nation to do it. The problem, from the Israeli perspective, with Obama’s decision to postpone the attack on Syria is not in the decision itself – which Israel is not going to get involved in – but in the hesitant, zigzagging approach the U.S. president took to the Syrian challenge before making his speech. In various forums, Netanyahu has said the United States’ actions in Syria are being watched and analyzed in Tehran.
The decision on whether Israel will attack Iran on its own seems to have been put off until next year, after an additional round or two of nuclear talks between Tehran and the powers are exhausted. Even if these contacts fail, a bitter conflict is expected at the heights of the Israeli government – and it is not at all clear if it will end in favor of those wanting to strike Iran. But if in the end Netanyahu does order such an attack, despite the objections domestic and foreign, it is likely that Saturday night, August 31, 2013, will be remembered as a critical juncture on the road to his decision.
Dubious Intelligence and Iran Blackmail: How Israel is driving the US to war in Syria
By Max Blumenthal, Mondoweiss
September 01, 2013
President Barack Obama’s August 31 announcement that he would seek congressional authorization to strike Syria has complicated an aggressive Israeli campaign to render a US attack inevitable. While the Israelis are far from the only force in bringing the US to the brink of war – obviously Assad’s own actions are the driving factor – their dubious intelligence assessments have proven pivotal.
On April 25, the head of the Israeli army’s Military Intelligence research and analysis division, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, delivered a high profile lecture at the military-linked Institute for National Security Studies. “To the best of our professional understanding, the [Syrian] regime has used lethal chemical weapons,” Brun declared, referring to March 19 attacks near Damascus and Aleppo.
“The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction,” Brun said, “is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate.”
The stunning statement by the Israeli army’s top intelligence analyst was significantly stronger than suspicions expressed days before by the UK and France about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. It was clearly aimed at Obama, who had declared in the summer of 2012 that chemical weapons attacks on civilian targets would transgress a “red line” and trigger US military action. But the White House pushed back against the Israeli ploy, dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supply more conclusive evidence.
“I don’t know yet what the facts are,” Kerry said after a phone call with Netanyahu, “I don’t think anybody knows what they are.”
Specious intelligence brightens the red line
Flash forward to the August 21 Ghouta massacre, where over 1000 Syrian civilians died without any sign of external wounds in a series of attacks. As in April, Israel has come forward with intelligence supposedly proving that the victims of the attacks died from nerve gas deployed by units from Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
On August 24, Israel’s Channel 2 broadcast a report claiming that the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of Assad’s SAA fired the nerve gas shells on Ghouta. Channel 2 added that Israel was relaying its concerns to Washington, suggesting an urgent demand for US action. The report was echoed by an August 30 article in Germany’s Focus magazine claiming that Israeli army’s Unit 8200 — a cyber-warfare division that functions much like the American NSA — had intercepted communications of top Syrian officials ordering the chemical attack.
Oddly, neither outlet was able to reproduce audio or any quotes of the conversation between the Syrian officials. Channel 2 did not appear to cite any source at all – it referred only to “the assessment in Israel” – while Focus relied on an unnamed former Mossad official for its supposed bombshell. The definitive nature of the Israeli intelligence on Ghouta stood in stark contrast to the kind introduced by other US allies, which was entirely circumstantial in nature. At the same time, it relied on murky sources and consisted of vague assertions.
The Assad regime may indeed be responsible for the Ghouta massacre, but Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus does not exactly have a reputation for trustworthiness. (Consider, for example, the Israeli army’s shameless attempt to link the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to Al Qaeda by plastering Israeli media with crude and easily discredited propaganda, always sourced to anonymous national security officials.) Yet in his determination to see the US attack the country he recently referred to as “Iran’s testing ground,” Netanyahu appeared to be succeeding in his campaign to bring Obama’s red line back into focus.
The rush to war, interrupted
On August 26, an Israeli delegation containing Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and a collection of Shin Bet and top army officials arrived in Washington for a series of meetings coordinated by US National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The agenda was to plan for the aftermath of a US strike on Syria that was already inevitable, at least from the perspective of the meeting’s participants.
The following day, Vice President Joseph Biden became the highest level US official to blame Assad for Ghouta, declaring, “There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: The Syrian regime.” The Obama administration supported Biden’s claim by citing classified communications intercepted from Syrian officials – intelligence that appeared to have been supplied by the Israelis.
Giora Inbar, a former Israeli intelligence officer, told Channel 2 that the US was not only “aware of” Israel’s intelligence gathering efforts in Syria, it “relies upon it.”
With Kerry and Rice joining Biden in the spotlight to make the case for bombing Syria, the White House released an intelligence report “assess[ing] with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.”
The content of the report was extremely general in nature, containing a caveat that some intelligence had been omitted “to protect sources and methods.” One of the report’s strongest passages referred to “intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.” Though no source was named, the language tracks almost exactly with the Israeli intelligence leaked to Channel 2 and Focus magazine.
It was August 30 when the report appeared. By this point, the question was not whether the US would bomb Syria, but how soon.
And then Obama blinked.
Iran blackmail, the coming campaign
Now that Obama has turned to Congress to authorize force against Syria, he is under relentless attack in Israel, with a chorus of pundits and politicians hammering him for his act of betrayal and cowardice in the face of evil. Amidst the din of condemnation, a talking point has emerged that will likely figure at the heart of Israel’s case to Congress and the American public this week.
The message was neatly summarized in the headline of a piece by the Likud-friendly correspondent Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post: “Weak world response on Syria boosts chance of strong Israeli action on Iran.” Referring to Obama’s decision and the British’ parliament’s vote against participating in a strike on Syria, Keinon wrote, “That kind of international dallying is not the type of behavior that will instill confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran.”
At Haaretz, Amos Harel reinforced the talking point in a piece of analysis that claimed “Arabs perceive Obama as weak” – but which cited absolutely zero Arabs. Running through a litany of examples of supposed American weakness, Harel concluded, “it’s no wonder that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly persuaded that no one will come to his aid if Iran suddenly announces that it is beginning to enrich uranium to 90 percent.”
The threat of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran if the US does not act on Syria is slowly seeping into American media, and will almost certainly grow more pronounced this week as pro-Israel pundits and members of the Obama administration unite on their message. AIPAC may also join the push for congressional authorization, a move the night flower-style lobby managed to avoid during the run-up to invading Iraq. If the Israel lobby is forced into the open, it could hold the prospect of an attack on Iran like a gun to the heads of members of Congress, warning them that the price of inaction is a regional conflagration.
Though Congress will be under unrelenting pressure from powerful forces to authorize force, the vote provides an unprecedented opportunity for opponents of US military intervention in the Middle East to mobilize. Anti-war forces may not be able to match the financial muscle or public relations power of pro-war elements, but they have opinion firmly on their side. And a direct conflict with the American public may be the one fight Netanyahu does not want to pick.
By Dan Williams, Reuters
September 1, 2013
JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played up Israel’s ability to take on its enemies alone on Sunday after Washington delayed attacking Syria in a surprise move that prompted some Israelis to question their main ally’s resolve on Iran.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday he would ask Congress to vote on whether to launch strikes to punish the Damascus government for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians.
The hold-up jarred Israelis who see in the Syria showdown a test of the Americans’ ability to make good on a pledge to deny Iran the means to make a nuclear bomb through military force if diplomatic alternatives fail.
“Israel is serene and self-confident,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet before its weekly meeting.
“Israel’s citizens know well that we are prepared for any possible scenario. And Israel’s citizens should also know that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our power and not to test our might,” he said.
He did not mention Iran nor Syria by name, but in previous statements he has linked the two cases.
Army Radio, a major Israeli broadcaster, quoted an unnamed government official in far less elliptical terms.
“If Obama is hesitating on the matter of Syria, then clearly on the question of attacking Iran – a move that is expected to be far more complicated – Obama will hesitate much more, and thus the chances Israel will have to act alone have increased.”
Netanyahu has sparred with Obama over Iran in the past. Obama wants more time to pursue Western sanctions and negotiations to curb a nuclear program Iran says is peaceful.
Obama has not ruled out war. On Saturday he appeared to allude to this in remarks urging support for attacking Syria.
“If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms?” he said.
Polls show, however, that attacking Syria would be strongly opposed by Americans weary of the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns.
Commentators in Israel are deeply divided on whether Syria has much to do with the Iranian situation.
Naftali Bennett, an ultranationalist partner in Israel’s coalition, said on Facebook, “More than 1,000 civilians, many of them babies and children, were murdered by a dark regime using poison gas. And the world hesitates. This is a major lesson. At the moment of truth, we will depend only on ourselves.”
Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister, spoke in favor of Obama’s Syria deliberations, arguing that the U.S. president was reluctant to take sides in the conflict between Assad and rebels who include al Qaeda-linked radical Islamists.
He also dismissed any link between crises in Syria and Iran.
“There is no analogy here. In Iran the enemy is clear, the objective is clear and what has to be done is clear,” he said. “It would illusory to think that if Obama does not make good the commitment he made to lob a few Tomahawks at Syria that is a sign that in Iran, too, he will not do what is required.”
In Syria, Iran and Lebanon, the president’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike is recognized as proof of weakness and hesitancy. In Jerusalem, too
By Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel
September 01, 2013
Bashar Assad can relax. Barack Obama blinked, and entrusted the decision on whether to attack Syria to Congress.
It may be that this was a necessary step from Obama’s point of view. It may be that it was a wise decision politically, in an America traumatized by Iraq and Afghanistan. But the smiles on the faces of decision-makers in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, on hearing Obama’s Saturday speech, tell their own story.
Until Saturday, Obama’s Middle East policies were generally regarded by the Arab world as confused and incoherent. As of Saturday, he will be perceived as one of the weakest presidents in American history.
That scent of weakness has emphatically reached Iran. Amir Mousavi, the head of Tehran’s Center for Strategic Defense Studies, told Al-Jazeera in the immediate wake of the speech that Obama is uncertain and hesitant. At around the same time, Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari boasted that “the United States is mistaken if it thinks that the reaction to a strike on Syria will be limited to Syrian territory.” This was likely part of an effort to deter members of Congress from supporting military intervention against the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons. In an act of solidarity, meanwhile, an Iranian parliamentary delegation, led by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads the Security and Foreign Policy Committee and is close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is currently on a visit to Damascus.
Drawing the connection between Syria and Iran is unavoidable. If after Assad’s use of weapons of mass destruction to kill what Secretary of State John Kerry specified were 1,429 of his own people, Obama hesitates — when Assad has no real capacity to substantially harm American interests — what is he likely to do if Iran decides to develop nuclear weapons? Khamenei and his advisers recognize that the likelihood of this administration using military force against a country with Iran’s military capability are very low, if not nonexistent.
And they’re not the only ones who realize this. The same conclusions are being drawn by Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues, who will doubtless have been watching the Rose Garden speech, will have internalized what they had long suspected: that Washington will not be the place from which good news will emanate about thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive.
Meantime, Syria now returns to the routine of civil war. The Syrian army is fighting bitter battles against rebel forces across the country, and Assad is utilizing his air force to bomb residential neighborhoods — not, heaven forbid, with chemical weapons, merely with conventional weaponry.
It is clear to the Assad regime that an American response will ultimately come. But it will be limited and weak — of a scale that will enable Bashar Assad not merely to survive, but to hail victory.
By Josef Federman, AP
September 02, 2013
JERUSALEM — Behind an official wall of silence, Israel is signaling it wants the U.S. to strike Syria sooner rather than later, fearing that continued inaction could hurt American credibility in the region.
Yet at the same time, Israel appears to have little desire to see Syrian President Bashar Assad toppled, on the theory that a familiar foe is preferable to some of those who might replace him, especially the Islamist extremists who are increasingly powerful in the rebellion.
These contradictory forces have put Israel in a delicate position as the U.S. contemplates military action. In public, Israeli leaders have said little about President Barack Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis. But following his decision over the weekend to postpone military action by seeking the backing of Congress, the signs of confusion and consternation appear clear.
“I have full faith in President Obama’s moral and operational stance. I recommend patience,” President Shimon Peres said in a radio interview Monday, seeking to calm a nervous public. “I am confident that the United States will respond in the right way to Syria.”
Israeli leaders have been careful about voicing their thoughts about what the U.S. should do, wary of creating any perception that they are meddling in either American politics or the civil war in neighboring Syria.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked a junior Cabinet minister who publicly criticized Obama. In a radio interview, Housing Minister Uri Ariel compared the American foot-dragging to Western inaction during the Holocaust. He also said American inaction sent a message to terrorists and hostile governments that there was no price to pay for using nonconventional weapons.
Netanyahu ordered his Cabinet to keep their opinions to themselves, stressing the need to behave “responsibly” at such a sensitive time.
But in a meeting last week with the visiting French foreign minister, Netanyahu himself called for a tough response to Syria, saying the world’s reaction to the use of chemical weapons would have deeper implications for the international handling of Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel, along with many Western countries, believes Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and Netanyahu has repeatedly raised concerns that international pressure to curb the Iranian nuclear program has been insufficient.
“Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground,” Netanyahu said. “Now the whole world is watching. Iran is watching and it wants to see what would be the reaction on the use of chemical weapons.”
For this reason, many Israelis reacted with disappointment after Obama announced over the weekend that he would seek a congressional vote before a use of force against Assad. Israeli newspapers and commentators criticized the American leader for appearing weak and indecisive.
“You can’t count on someone who isn’t sure of himself,” said Hanna Tzikli, a resident of northern Israel.
Israelis have expressed their desire for American action with a mixture of moral and strategic concerns. Watching civilians die from poisonous gas is painful in a country built on the ashes of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis sent countless Jewish victims to their deaths in gas chambers.
It has also sharpened concerns that Assad might one day use these weapons on Israel. Special gas-mask distribution centers have been flooded with nervous people in recent days seeking to get their protection kits.
“If he used chemical weapons against his own people, he’d have no problem using them against others,” said Oded Eran, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank.
Still, the operating assumption appears to be that a U.S. strike would not necessarily precipitate a Syrian reprisal against Israel. With Assad believed to be gaining the upper hand in the war, Israeli decision makers suspect he would be careful not to weaken his military by opening up a new front against a strong rival.
Israeli lawmaker Nachman Shai said American credibility was on the line since Obama long ago said that Syria’s use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that could not be crossed. Similarly, Obama has promised Israel that he will never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
“We are watching America carefully. We rely on America on all fields of life, especially now when it comes to Iran,” said Shai, a former chief military spokesman who now sits on parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “We need to know that on D-Day we have America next to us.”
Shai, a member of the opposition Labor Party, nonetheless praised Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis so far. While Israel has a clear interest in how America responds in Syria, he said it is essential Israel avoid any perception of interfering in American decision-making.
Israel has not taken sides in the Syrian conflict, and Shai said it has no interest in doing so now. He said any American attack should deliver a “strong message” to Assad but should not seek to change the course of the fighting or oust the Syrian leader.
If Israel could be guaranteed that Assad would be replaced by a stable government that controlled the entire territory and the myriad of groups operating within it, it may be inclined to wish for his ouster, Eran said. But even though Syria and Israel are bitter enemies, the Assad family has kept the Israel front quiet for nearly all of the past 40 years — and many Israelis view Assad, a known quantity, as preferable to the Islamist factions, some of which are affiliated with al-Qaida, trying to oust him.
- “It’s hard to identify who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Probably they are all bad guys,” Shai said. “The interest of Israel is that no one will attack Israel and we will not be involved in any way.”
Secretary of state makes case for action in Syria, tells Foreign Relations Committee ‘people of Israel, of Jordan, of Turkey each look next door and they see that they’re one stiff breeze away from potential of being hurt.’ AIPAC backs strike on Assad regime
By Yitzhak Benhorin, Reuters, AP,
September 04, 2013
WASHINGTON – Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday to make the case for action in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the world wants “to know if America will rise to this moment and make a difference.”
“I will tell you there are some people hoping the United States Congress doesn’t vote for this very limited request the president has put before you. Iran is hoping you look the other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test, Hezbollah is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day,” he said.
“They’re all listening for our silence. And if we don’t answer (Syrian President Bashar) Assad today, we will erode a standard that has existed for those hundred years, in fact we will erode the standard that has protected our own troops in war. And we will invite even more dangerous tests down the road. Our allies and our partners are also counting on us in this situation. The people of Israel, of Jordan, of Turkey, each look next door and they see that they’re one stiff breeze away from the potential of being hurt, of their civilians being killed as a consequence of choices Assad might take in the absence of action. They anxiously await our assurance that our word means something. They await the assurance that if the children lined up in unbloodied burial shrouds were their own children, we would keep the world’s promise. That’s what they’re hoping.
“So the authorization that President Obama seeks is definitively in our national security interests. We need to send to Syria and the world to dictators and terrorists, allies and to civilians alike, the unmistakable message, that when the United States of America and the world say, “never again,” we don’t mean sometimes, we don’t mean somewhere. Never means never,” Kerry said.
The US’ top diplomat told the committee that President Bashar Assad crossed a line “that anyone with a conscience should draw” by using chemical weapons on Syrians.
At the first public hearing in Congress on potential military action in Syria, Kerry said “it would be preferable” not to preclude the use of ground troops to preserve President Barack Obama’s options if there was a potential threat of chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists.
“I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country,” Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The circumstances where troops should be used could be “in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else, and it was clearly in the interests of our allies and all of us – the British, the French and others – to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements,” he said.
Al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda affiliated group that operates in Syria.
Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were addressing lawmakers as part of the administration’s effort to persuade Congress to back Obama’s plan to launch limited strikes on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons last month.
One of the leading hawks on Syria in Obama’s cabinet, Kerry assured lawmakers it would be easy to word a resolution on military force to reassure Congress and the public “there’s no door open here through which someone can march in ways that the Congress doesn’t want it to, while still protecting the national security interests of the country.”
Kerry and Hagel told the committee that any military operation would be limited and specifically designed to degrade President Assad’s chemical weapons capability.
Hagel added that a failure to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons would damage US national security interests and American credibility.
“A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments – including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The word of the United States must mean something.”
As Kerry and Hagel pressed their case for limited military strikes in Syria, Obama won support for action from two top Republicans in the House of Representatives – Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“Only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated,” Boehner told reporters. “I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.”
Significant opposition remains in Congress, where many lawmakers, including Obama’s fellow Democrats, have said they are concerned the president’s draft resolution could be too open-ended and allow possible use of ground troops or eventual attacks on other countries.
The resolution authorizes Obama to use military force as necessary to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” to or from Syria of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.
Obama said on Saturday he would seek lawmakers’ approval for a possible military strike, slowing what had appeared to be plans for a swift action. Polls show strong public opposition to US action.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed Obama has failed to convince most Americans of the need for a military strike in Syria. Some 56% of those surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria, while only 19% favored action, the online poll found.
Meanwhile, America’s biggest pro-Israel groups are throwing their weight behind President Barack Obama’s plan for US military intervention in Syria.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, said Tuesday that congressional authorization for strikes against Assad’s regime would ensure that what it called “barbarism on a mass scale” does not go unanswered.
In a statement it said military action would send a message to Assad’s supporters — Iran and Hezbollah — that US won’t tolerate use of weapons of mass destruction.
The Anti-Defamation League also supports Obama.
Its statement cited “significant national security interests” at stake and said the US has a moral imperative to act.
AIPAC wields significant influence in Congress, which is expected to vote on authorizing use of force against Syria.
President: Iran to Continue Sending Relief Aids to Syria, and news of the Syrian groups’ National Dialogue Conference which Iran is hosting. Fars News Agency September 4th.
AIPAC calls for Congress to authorize Syria action, Politico September 3rd.
Syria crisis: US and Israel test defence missiles over Mediterranean as House backs military intervention, Independent September 4th;