Gaza Is A Pawn: Iran Is The Prize
The story line does not start or end with the status of Gaza or the Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. It is not about the roots of the Arab-Israeli war going all way the back to the tumultuous and violent formation of the state of Israel in 1947-48 or the Six-Day War in 1967 that changed the map of the Middle East forever.
Nor is it really about the deep distrust that divides Arabs and Israelis or the blood-and-soil hatred between the extremists on both sides – the Zionists who hold Israeli politics hostage and the Islamists who have hijacked Islam. The Holocaust explains Israeli policy but it does not excuse it. "Never again" is a call to arms, not a justification for aggression.
No, the killing field called Gaza is not about the existential threat Hamas poses to Israelis. To be sure, the smuggling of weapons – rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – into the Gaza Strip is not welcomed by Israel, but then given the fact that Israel can obliterate Gaza in a matter of minutes at any time, it's fair to ask: Who's threatening whom?
In fact, that is precisely what Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister and IDF Major General Ariel Sharon, recommended doing in a Jerusalem Post op-ed only a few days ago.
Here's what Sharon actually said: "A strong opening isn’t enough, you also have to know how to finish – and finish decisively. If it isn’t clear whether the ball crossed the goal-line or not, the goal isn’t decisive. The ball needs to hit the net, visible to all. What does a decisive victory sound like? A Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated." And then this: "There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza."
Flatten all of Gaza. That sounds a lot like genocide, but let's skip the supreme irony, for now, and focus on what Benyamin Netanyahu was trying to accomplish by flattening some of Gaza as a possible prelude to flattening the rest. Indeed, Gilad Sharon himself hinted at the real reason for the timing of this new offensive: "The Netanyahu government is on a short international leash. Soon the pressure will start – and a million civilians can’t live under fire for long. This needs to end quickly – with a bang, not a whimper."
Is it a mere coincidence that this "war" started in the immediate aftermath of a divisive US election in which one candidate made all the right noises about Israel, the threat Iran supposedly poses, and what the US military response ought to be? Here's Mitt Romney, in a pandering speech delivered in Jerusalem on July 29, 2012: "Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles. But for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel…We serve the same cause and provoke the same hatreds in the same enemies of civilization."
Getting right to the point, Romney intoned: "My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country." And if there was any doubt what Romney meant, this: "We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."
But, of course, Romney lost. Netanyahu knows Obama. He has met with Obama face-to-face. He knows that Obama is no Mitt Romney when it comes to, well, pandering.
The biggest threat to Netanyahu's vision for the future of Israel is not Gaza or, for that matter, Iran. The biggest threat is that the United States will stop rubber-stamping everything Israel does, stop supplying Israel with billions of dollars in economic and military aid, stop retraining our NATO allies from actively siding with the Palestinians, and stop vetoing UN Security Council resolutions aimed at isolating Israel.
What did the convenient 8-day war in Gaza have to do with Israel's desire to emasculate Iran's nuclear program? If Obama will not simply cave in, as his predecessors in the White House have done, then Netanyahu needs a dramatic way to get Washington's attention. What better way than to threaten to do something nobody outside of Israel can bear to watch? Something, in effect, Netanyahu was giving Obama the power to prevent, namely the obliteration of Gaza now or in the future.
How? By giving the order to take out Iran's nuclear facilities or at the very least agreeing to participate in an all-out Israel military action and backstopping the whole operation. The Fifth Fleet – the US carrier task force in the Persian Gulf – is only one of the "assets" that would come into play.
Blackmail, you say? Call it high-stakes diplomacy or a game of chicken or hard-ball, but by any other name it is what it is.
Will Obama resist pressure from Israel and the powerful Israeli lobby? Will he turn the tables on Netanyahu and take advantage of his fresh mandate and the golden opportunity he's been handed to hit the reset button?
Imagine if the US played the "game" the way Israel does. Imagine if Obama were to call Netanyahu's bluff. If he threatened to tilt toward the Palestinians and embrace the emerging Arab new world order.
What if Obama were to declare in no uncertain terms that the US will not back Israel militarily, economically, or diplomatically; will not run interference anywhere (including the UN) or in any way unless it is in our own national interest; and will never again invade or attack any other country unless the US or a US ally is attacked first?
No more "pre-emptive wars" like Iraq.
No more ill-starred invasions like Afghanistan.
Note: A version of this article previously appeared in Nation of Change on 11/22/2012.
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