[THS] Uri Avnery: Israel, Obama and the Doomsday Weapon
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Thu Mar 25 13:05:00 CET 2010
Israel, Obama and the Doomsday Weapon
The Root Cause
By Uri Avnery
It is already a commonplace to say that people who don't learn from history are
condemned to repeat their mistakes.
Some 1942 years ago, the Jews in the province called Palaestina launched a revolt
against the Roman Empire. In retrospect, this looks like an act of madness. Palestine
was a small and insignificant part of the world-wide empire which had just won a
crushing victory against the rival power the Parthian Empire (Persia) and put
down a major rebellion in Britain. What chances could the Jewish revolt have?
God knows what was going on in the mind of the "Zealots". They eliminated the
moderate leaders, who warned against provoking the empire, and gained sway over
the Jewish population of the country. They relied on God. Perhaps they also relied on
the Jews in Rome and believed that their influence over the Senate would restrain
the Emperor, Nero. Perhaps they had heard that Nero was weak and about to fall.
We know how it ended: after three years, the rebels were crushed, Jerusalem fell
and the temple was burned down. The last of the Zealots committed suicide in
The Zionists did indeed try to learn from history. They acted in a rational way, did not
provoke the great powers, endeavored in every situation to attain what was possible.
They accepted compromises, and every compromise served them as a basis for the
next surge forward. They cleverly utilized the radical stance of their adversaries and
gained the sympathy of the whole world.
But since the beginning of the occupation, their mind has become clouded. The cult
of Masada has become dominant. Divine promises once again start to play a role in
public discourse. Large parts of the public are following the new zealots.
The next phase is also repeating itself: the leaders of Israel are starting a rebellion
against the new Rome.
* * *
WHAT BEGAN as an insult to the Vice President of the United States is developing into
something far bigger. The mouse has given birth to an elephant.
Lately, the ultra-right government in Jerusalem has started to treat President Barack
Obama with thinly veiled contempt. The fears that arose in Jerusalem at the
beginning of his term have dissipated. Obama looks to them like a paper black
panther. He gave up his demand for a real settlement freeze. Every time he was spat
on, he remarked that it was raining.
Yet now, ostensibly quite suddenly, the measure is full. Obama, his Vice President
and his senior assistants condemn the Netanyahu government with growing severity.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has submitted an ultimatum: Netanyahu must stop
all settlement activity, East Jerusalem included; he must agree to negotiate about all
core problems of the conflict, including East Jerusalem, and more.
The surprise was complete. Obama, it seems, has crossed the Rubicon, much as the
Egyptian army had crossed the Suez Canal in 1973. Netanyahu gave the order to
mobilize all the reserves in America and to move forward all the diplomatic tanks. All
Jewish organizations in the US were commanded to join the campaign. AIPAC blew
the shofar and ordered its soldiers, the Senators and Congressmen, to storm the
It seems that the decisive battle has been joined. The Israeli leaders were certain
that Obama would be defeated.
And then an unusual noise was heard: the sound of the doomsday weapon.
* * *
THE MAN who decided to activate it was a foe of a new kind.
David Petraeus is the most popular officer of the United States army. The four-star
general, son of a Dutch sea captain who went to America when his country was
overrun by the Nazis, stood out from early childhood. In West Point he was a
"distinguished cadet", in Army Command and General Staff College he was No. 1. As
a combat commander, he reaped plaudits. He wrote his doctoral thesis (on the
lessons of Vietnam) at Princeton and served as an assistant professor for international
relations in the US Military Academy.
He made his mark in Iraq, when he commanded the forces in Mosul, the most
problematical city in the country. He concluded that in order to vanquish the enemies
of the US he must win over the hearts of the civilian population, acquire local allies
and spend more money than ammunition. The locals called him King David. His
success was considered so outstanding that his methods were adopted as the official
doctrine of the American army.
His star rose rapidly. He was appointed commander of the coalition forces in Iraq and
soon became the chief of the Central Command of the US army, which covers the
whole Middle East , except Israel and Palestine (which "belong" to the American
command in Europe).
When such a person raises his voice, the American people listen. As a respected
military thinker, he has no rivals.
* * *
THIS WEEK, Petraeus conveyed an unequivocal message: after reviewing the
problems in his AOR (Area Of Responsibility) which includes, among others,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Yemen he turned to what he called the "root
causes of instability" in the region. The list was topped by the Israeli-Palestinian
In his report to the Armed Services Committee he stated: "The enduring hostilities
between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to
advance our interests in the AOR
The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due
to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question
limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in
the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.
The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese
Hizballah and Hamas."
Not content with that, Petraeus sent his officers to present his conclusions to the Joint
Chiefs of Staff,
In other words: Israeli-Palestinian peace is not a private matter between the two
parties, but a supreme national interest of the USA. That means that the US must
give up its one-sided support for the Israeli government and impose the two-state
The argument as such is not new. Several experts have said more or less the same in
the past. (Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, I wrote in a similar vein and prophesied
that the US would change its policy. It did not happen then.) But now this is being
stated in an official document written by the responsible American commander.
The Netanyahu government immediately went into damage-limitation mode. Its
spokespersons declared that Petraeus represents a narrow military approach, that he
doesn't understand political matters, that his reasoning is faulty. But it is not this that
made people in Jerusalem break out into cold sweat.
* * *
AS IS well known, the pro-Israel lobby dominates the American political system
without limits almost. Every American politician and senior official is mortally afraid
of it. The slightest deviation from the strict AIPAC line is tantamount to political
But in the armor of this political Goliath there is a chink. Like Achilles' heel, the
immense might of the pro-Israel lobby has a vulnerable point that, when touched,
can neutralize its power.
It was illustrated by the Jonathan Pollard affair. This American-Jewish employee of a
sensitive intelligence agency spied for Israel. Israelis consider him a national hero, a
Jew who did his duty to his people. But for the US intelligence community, he is a
traitor who endangered the lives of many American agents. Not satisfied with a
routine penalty, it induced the court to impose a life sentence. Since then, all
American presidents have refused the requests of successive Israeli governments to
commute the sentence. No president dared to confront his intelligence chiefs in this
But the most significant side of this affair is reminiscent of the famous words of
Sherlock Holmes about the dogs that did not bark. AIPAC did not bark. The entire
American Jewish community fell silent. Almost nobody raised their voice for poor
Why? Because most American Jews are ready to do anything just anything for the
government of Israel. With one exception: they will not do anything that appears to
hurt the security of the United States. When the flag of security is hoisted, the Jews,
like all Americans, snap to attention and salute. The Damocles sword of suspicion of
disloyalty hangs above their heads. For them, this is the ultimate nightmare: to be
accused of putting the security of Israel ahead of the security of the US. Therefore it
is important for them to repeat endlessly the mantra that the interests of Israel and
the US are identical.
And now comes the most important general of the US Army and says that this is not
so. The policy of the present Israeli government is endangering the lives of American
soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
* * *
FOR NOW, this is being said only as a side remark, in a military document that has
not been widely aired. But the sword has been drawn from its scabbard and
American Jews have started to tremble at the distant rumble of an approaching
This week, Netanyahu's brother-in-law has used our own doomsday weapon. He
declared that Obama is an "anti-Semite". The official newspaper of the Shas party
has asserted that Obama is really a Muslim. They represent the radical right and its
allies, who argue in speech and in writing that "Hussein" Obama is a Jew-hating
black who must be beaten in the coming congressional elections and in the next
(Yet an important poll in Israel published yesterday shows that the Israeli public is far
from convinced by these insinuations: the vast majority believes that Obama's
treatment of Israel is fair. Indeed, Obama got higher marks than Netanyahu.)
If Obama decides to fight back and activate his doomsday weapon the accusation
that Israel puts the lives of American servicemen at risk this would have
catastrophic consequences for Israel.
For the time being, this is only a shot across the bow a warning shot fired by a
warship in order to induce another vessel to follow its instructions. The warning is
clear. Even if the present crisis is somehow damped down, it will inevitably flare up
again and again as long as the present coalition in Israel stays in power.
When the movie "Hurt Locker" won its awards, the entire American public was united
in its concern about the lives of its soldiers in the Middle East. If this public becomes
convinced that Israel is sticking a knife in their back, it will be a disaster for
Netanyahu. And not just for him.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a
contributor to CounterPunch's book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
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