US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
As next year’s presidential election approaches, US President Barack Obama’s
policies have moved in a more pro-Israel direction and his supporters have been
desperately trying to make the case that he is Israel’s friend.
week’s comments by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have done much to undermine
that case, however, and appeared to make Israel the scapegoat for any negative
consequences that could arise from the Jewish state having the audacity to
defend itself against the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear
Worse than the actual comments were the disturbing anti-Semitic
undertones inherent in Panetta’s remarks. The secretary warned of the potential
negative consequences to the world economy of a military strike against Iran,
but he only raised the danger to the world economy before the discussion with
Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The impact on the economy would apply to any
country attacking Iran, but the timing of his remarks were clearly aimed at
Israel as that meeting took place amid a flurry of reports about Israel
considering an imminent attack.
Panetta also suggested an attack on Iran
would have “a serious impact on US forces in the region.” This comment appears
to reflect the view of Arabists within the Obama administration that Israeli
actions and US support for Israel endanger Americans. This noxious idea surfaced
earlier in a Pentagon paper submitted to Congress, which said the
Israel-Palestinian conflict and the “perception of US favoritism for Israel”
were responsible for anti-American sentiment.
The truth, however, is that
US troops are targets of Islamic extremists and other anti-American elements in
the Middle East because of who they are, what they represent and their presence
in the region, not because of anything Israel says or does. Shouts of “Death to
America” in Tehran, Iranian aid to insurgents in Iraq and plots against a Saudi
diplomat in Washington have nothing to do with Israel.
Israel for a moment, Panetta’s comments also undermined US policy toward Iran.
In the past, the president had said that all options were “on the table” for
stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Now, his defense secretary has taken the most
serious threat out of the equation.
If you combine jettisoning the
military option, with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the refusal to
impose crippling sanctions on Iran, you are left with a policy that poses no
danger to the Iranian regime or any incentive at all to abandon its nuclear
THIRD, IT pays to note that the countries most scared of Iran
are its Arab neighbors. As we learned from Wikileaks, it is not Israel that has
been demanding military action, but rather Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are
not worried about the impact on the world economy or US forces, they care only
about ensuring their royal heads stay attached to their royal
Meanwhile, some analysts argue that Israel could conceivably
live with a nuclear Iran because of Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Even if you
ignore the theological views of Iranian leaders that suggest a willingness to
launch a jihad against Israel without worrying about the consequences, or the
possibility expressed by some Iranians that they could win a nuclear war with
Israel, a nuclear Iran would create a broader problem for Israel and the
international community because of proliferation. If Iran gets the bomb, its
neighbors will seek one for deterrence.
Will Israel eventually be
expected to deter multiple nuclear powers? Would a nuclear Middle East be in the
Anyone knowledgeable about the Iranian threat understands that the
military option is problematic and that it could have serious consequences. The
question is whether those consequences outweigh the danger posed by a nuclear
Jews have been blamed for the world’s ills, especially economic
ones, for centuries. The suggestion that by defending itself from extermination
the Jewish state is somehow responsible at the current time for leading the
world toward nuclear Armageddon is reprehensible and odious.
the only country Iran has threatened to attack and destroy, and it has done so
repeatedly. Jews have some experience with genocidal threats, as well as
experience with relying on the good will of the international community to
respond effectively to those threats. It is understandable if they are not
willing to entrust their future survival to the United Nations, the Europeans,
or the United States.
In contrast to 1981, when prime minister Menachem
Begin decided Israel could not tolerate a nuclear Iraq, Israel has so far held
its fire. Jerusalem has not taken action yet, hoping rather that the
international community will take effective measures to stop the Iranian nuclear
program. At some point, Israel’s leaders will have to decide if they can
continue to wait.
Until that time, it pays to recall the initial
reactions to Begin’s historic decision, and subsequent history.
destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor was condemned by the United States and the
rest of the world, but a decade later, the US defense secretary thanked Israel
for that military strike and said it likely saved American lives during the
first Gulf War.
Panetta would do well to reflect on that history before
he speaks again.The writer is a foreign policy analyst whose latest book
The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in
the Middle East (Harper- Collins Publishers).