Bibi-Barack vs. the Iranians

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On a recent trip to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid down the law: America must threaten the Iranians with war if Tehran insists on pursuing its nuclear energy program. We are supposed to take seriously Netanyahu's threats to strike Iran himself, in spite of the fact that Israel has neither the means nor the political resolve to do so. However, this is not the way Israel operates: their preferred method is to let Uncle Sam do their dirty work, as in Iraq, while they save their resources for aggression closer to home. The Israel-is-about-to-attack-Iran meme gives the Americans cover to take action in the name of preventing a supposedly greater catastrophe. With Israel playing the part of the unhinged pit-bull, Obama's assigned role is that of the statesman, who is going to give the Iranians one u201Clast chance,u201D as he put it.

In any case, the results of Netanyahu’s mission were unveiled on Saturday, when the New York Times revealed the opening negotiating position of the US and its European allies in the upcoming talks with Iran: the Western alliance is demanding the dismantling of the heavily fortified Fordo facility and the unconditional surrender of their entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium.

Or else.

That Iran has every right to enrich uranium to 20 percent under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is considered irrelevant by the West: as in the case of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the Iranians are considered guilty until proven innocent. They must somehow prove they aren't building weapons: the logical impossibility of proving a negative is also considered irrelevant.

The official position of the US intelligence community remains the same: that the Iranians stopped work on a weapons program in 2003, haven't resumed it, and there is no evidence they've decided to go that route. But why should a US President listen to his own intelligence agencies when the Israelis – and the British – are demanding action? We are apparently a prisoner of our own u201Callies,u201D and it is they who are pushing us to war with Iran. That is what this administration's vaunted u201Cinternationalismu201D is all about.

That the push for war is happening in the context of a presidential election season is all the more cause for worry: you'll note Obama has taken to invoking Republican icons of late, from Eisenhower to Reagan, in order to justify his domestic policies, and there's no doubt he wants to move to the u201Ccenteru201D on the foreign affairs front, too. This means more than just toughening his rhetoric: as the issuing of this ultimatum shows, it means making real moves toward what seems nearly inevitable at this point – armed conflict with Iran.

For all this administration's alleged attempts to u201Cengageu201D the Iranians, there were never any serious efforts to come to any kind of agreement: unconditional demands, exemplified by this latest ultimatum, were always at the core of various Western u201Cpeaceu201D proposals. Now that the Iranian drama is coming down to the wire, virtually all pretenses at real negotiations have been rapidly discarded.

While most Americans have no understanding of the highly technical issues that revolve around determining the nature of Iran's nuclear energy program, polls show they can be easily frightened into giving their tacit consent to a ruinous war – just as they did in the case of Iraq. It is this, and not the question of whether the Iranians are actually intent on building a nuclear arsenal, that drives administration policy. In the end, and especially with this current crew in the White House, it's all about politics – as the extraordinary leaking of a highly secret US surveillance program conducted over Iranian skies clearly shows.

In Iran, too, this politics-in-command principle holds: the currently divided Iranian leadership is using the nukes issue as a political football, with one faction accusing the other of going soft on the Americans. Inside Iran, the nuclear issue has become a matter of national pride, rather than economic development, with hardliners mobilizing nationalist sentiment against the opposition. The result is that the leaders of both countries are under enormous pressure to continue their intransigence to the end, which means the drift toward war can never be reversed, only delayed temporarily.

Barack Obama won the White House on the strength of his reputation as a u201Cpeaceu201D candidate: the US electorate, weary of nearly a decade of constant war, embraced him over both his Democratic primary opponent and war enthusiast John McCain because they wanted a break from the crisis atmosphere of the Bush years. Yet that atmosphere was not about to dissipate just because the Republicans were out of office: indeed, it thickened perceptibly the moment he took office, due largely to the well-funded and hyper-active Israel lobby, and its neoconservative vanguard.

In mortal fear Obama might actually act on his campaign promises – half of them unspoken and largely imaginary – the War Party went on the offensive, in the US media, in the US Congress, and overseas, constantly hyping the alleged u201Cthreatu201D posed by the nuclear-armed u201Cmad mullahsu201D of Tehran, and flooding the country with war propaganda. Much of this was based on the claims of the Israelis that they face an u201Cexistential threatu201D from Iran's purported nuclear ambitions: Holocaust imagery is routinely invoked by both Israeli leaders and their American amen corner. That Israel possesses a substantial nuclear arsenal of its own, which it has never acknowledged, and has steadfastly refused to sign the NPT, as virtually all civilized nations in the world have done – well, we're not supposed to breathe a word of this out loud, because to do so is to commit a hate crime.

Israel's avid defenders complain the Jewish state is held to a different standard: that its routinely brutal behavior toward its Arab helots in the occupied territories is judged and condemned by those who are silent when it comes to the depredations of various other regimes. Or something like that. In any case, what is striking about this argument is that, in the case of the NPT, Israel is not being held to a standard applied equally to all others – and almost no one so much as mentions this astonishing fact. The last prominent person to bring it up in an international context was Bashar al-Assad – and look what happened to him.

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