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Weissman writes: "The current uproar over the very limited use of poison gas by either Basher al-Assad's government or the rebels is much less about Syria than about Iran."

Anti-Israeli demonstration in Tehran, Iran. (photo: AFP)
Anti-Israeli demonstration in Tehran, Iran. (photo: AFP)

It's Iran, Stupid, Not Syria

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

04 May 13


he current uproar over the very limited use of poison gas by either Basher al-Assad's government or the rebels is much less about Syria than about Iran. As Gideon Levy wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz, "The fear campaign calling upon Obama to bomb Syria has one real goal in mind. It's not helping Syria's civilians. It's a strike on Iran."

A powerful voice on the usually impotent Israeli Left, Levy says what Americans need to hear. "Israel wants to reveal the president's nakedness on the Syrian matter in order to present him as naked on the Iranian issue," he warns. "Perhaps he won't bomb Syria, as Israel requested. The key thing is that he should bomb Iran."

That, in Levy's view, is what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his government want. They and their supporters are now denying that.

At a Jerusalem Post conference in New York last Sunday, Yuval Steinetz, the minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, tried to shoot down any idea that Israel was pushing Obama to respond aggressively. "We never asked, nor did we encourage, the United States to take military action in Syria," he insisted. "And we are not making any comparison or linkage with Iran, which is a completely different matter."

These denials contrast with the carefully staged release of the report by Brigadier-General Itai Brun, Israel's top military intelligence analyst, in which he accused Basher al-Assad's forces of repeatedly using chemical weapons, probably Sarin gas, against Syria's armed rebels. It was Brun's report that sand-bagged Obama into having to confirm that U.S. intelligence had similar information.

Israel's neo-con allies then used Brun's report to jump all over Obama, who had foolishly declared that any use of chemical weapons would be "a red line" for the United States. The speed and intensity of the neo-con offensive raises some fascinating questions.

Were Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, and Dan Senor - the directors of the neo-con's Foreign Policy Initiative - speaking for the Israelis when they called on Obama to take greater action to end Assad's rule?

Are they speaking for Tel Aviv when they now call for Obama "to provide weaponry, ammunition and equipment to constituent groups of the Free Syrian Army" and to "establish and protect a humanitarian safe zone," which would entail "limited military strikes against Assad's forces?"

And do they speak for Israel or just for themselves when they tie Obama's response to Syria to his misguided promise to keep Iran from achieving "a nuclear weapons capability?" If the U.S. government itself declares that the use of poison gas in Syria crosses "a red line" but the takes no action, they declare, "this may give Iran, in particular, confidence that it can move forward in developing a nuclear weapon without fear of any action by the United States. It may choose to ignore President Obama's repeated warnings that development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable to the United States."

The Israelis and the neo-cons appear to be having it both ways. Through Minister Steinmetz, the Netanyahu government denies putting any pressure on Obama or making any link between Syria and Iran, while their neocon allies escalate the pressure and make the linkage explicit.

As Gideon Levy suggests, the Israelis are being disingenuous and self-serving in their diplomatic denials. That said, the neo-cons and those who work with them pose the greater threat - for Israel as well as for the United States. Their advice to run roughshod over the Palestinians endangers any long-term future that Israel may have. Their earlier effort to drag George W. Bush into a war in Iraq greatly strengthened Iran, in what has to be one of the greatest historic blunders ever in U.S. foreign policy, to say nothing of its enormous cost in blood and treasure both to Americans and Iraqis. And now, if the neo-cons drive Obama to Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran, they will make the Bush disaster look like a B-list opening act to a star-studded Armageddon.

One other point needs making. Anti-Semites, who often reveal themselves in their comments to (and out-of-nowhere assumptions about) my columns because I happen to be Jewish, will have a field day accusing the neo-cons of following "blood-ties" or "traitorous loyalty" to the Jewish state. Racist thinking like that has no place in this debate. It also fails to understand the neo-cons and their ├╝ber-nationalist friends like Senator John McCain and former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Jewish or whatever, these movers and shakers have their greatest loyalty to the most red, white, and blue of all institutions, the military-industrial complex, and to an arrogant exercise of U.S. power that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East. That - and not some bullshit Jewish conspiracy - is what decent Americans need to fight against.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes on international affairs.

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