Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump embrace in Washington, on March 25, 2019..
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
A growing chorus of voices in the US has singled out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the bogeyman behind US President Donald Trump’s Iran policy.
Former Barack Obama adviser Ben Rhodes wrote this past week that Netanyahu was one of those “pushing to confront Iran.” US Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard also blamed “Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu [and] al-Qaeda” this last week for pushing for war with Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has sought to fuel this blame game by claiming the US administration has been taken over by “Netanyahu firsters.”
Blaming Israel for US tensions with Iran has a long history in US foreign policy circles. In the 2006 essay "The Israel Lobby," by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which later became a book, the authors argued that Israel and pro-Israel groups worked to shape the US administration’s policy toward Iran as part of a “grand scheme for reordering the Middle East.”
In wider circles on the far Left and far Right, Israel is often seen as the shadowy manipulator of US Iran policy.
“Who wants this war with Iran?” Patrick Buchanan’s official website asked on Friday. “Answer: [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and [national security adviser John] Bolton, Bibi Netanyahu, [Saudi] Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
This talking point, linking John Bolton, the Saudis and “Bibi” is remarkably consistent on both the Left and Right. Rhodes tweeted, “Bolton, MBS [Mohammed Bin Salman] and Bibi [are] pushing to confront Iran,” for instance.
At the same time, the antisemitic far Right has also blamed Israel for Trump’s policies. One website that openly praises Hitler said “Bibi Satanyahoo” was pushing for a war with Iran.
“When did the US elect Bibi Netanyahu president? John Bolton, the Saudis and hawkish forces pushing White House toward war,” tweeted another person, partially quoting the headline of an article at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
On the far Left, the website Mondoweiss also ran a headline that claimed, “Israel wants the Trump administration to attack Iran, but US mainstream media ignores Netanyahu’s instigating.”
It is sometimes hard to distinguish if social media commentators are from the far Left or far Right, or are centrists who have simply imbibed this talking point in the US. Greg Hall, a property manager, tweeted, “Trump’s Iran threat is actually Bibi speaking.”
None of the major media articles that have also taken on this narrative provide any evidence that Israel actually wants war with Iran, but that didn’t stop NBC from running the headline: “From Bolton to Bibi, Trump faces calls for confronting Iran.” The headline appears to have been changed to “Israel, Saudi Arabia and Trump aides want confrontation with Iran. Will Trump listen?” A New York Times article pushed back against that narrative, noting that while Israel has pressed the case against Iran, it has not pushed for war.
In a review of hundreds of tweets that sought to blame “Bibi” for war with Iran, the talking point was similar, clearly linking both far-left and far-right critiques of US foreign policy, both of which seem to see an Israeli conspiracy behind the Trump administration’s recent escalating rhetoric with Iran.
Many of the arguments assert that there is a kind of direct alliance between “Bolton and Bibi,” with the Saudis often part of the triumvirate. This feeds a need to find a scapegoat for US policies that are more deep and complex than these arguments recognize. It’s easier to blame Israel and “Bibi” than to blame larger US policies.
The narrative is also pushed by Iran’s regime and particularly Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He has invented a conspiracy involving Israel and what he calls the “B team” that he seeks to argue are behind US foreign policy decisions. His tweets in English are designed to cater to Western audiences and feed the idea that a small cabal is responsible for recent US decisions.
Zarif blames “Netanyahu firsters” for US decisions in the Middle East, also singling out Israel’s prime minister for disparate policies from Syria to Yemen. Feeding the link with the antisemitic far Right in the US, Zarif even put a photo of Trump with Jewish donor Sheldon Adelson next to a photo of John Bolton, and on April 7, claimed the US had been taken over by “Netanyahu firsters.”
The desire to find an Israeli scapegoat is one that Iran’s regime would like to push in order to get Americans to blame Israel. This serves Tehran’s interests as it seeks to influence US domestic policy via its own Iran lobby. It hopes that the next US administration will be more pro-Iran, and pinning US policies on Israel is part of that policy.
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