Mark Perry speaking on Al Jazeera (Photo via DJIA TV)
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) has smeared a distinguished journalist, Mark Perry, as an "'anti-Israel warrior'" as part of a partisan battle over whether the Obama administration is leaking information to the press to head off an Israeli attack on Iran.
The NJDC went on the offensive early this month against the rival Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for claiming that the "Obama administration leaked highly sensitive information in an effort to hinder Israel’s ability to defend herself against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons." The impetus for the RJC statement was Perry's March 28 article in Foreign Policy magazine reporting that US officials say that "Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border [through Azerbaijan]."
The NJDC, trying to score partisan points, attacked Perry's report on April 2:
It is pathetic that in their zeal to score political points, John Bolton, the Republican Jewish Coalition and their allies in the conservative blogosphere would go so far as to amplify this ridiculous, debunked story by standing with Mark Perry—a former Arafat Advisor and a ‘veteran anti-Israel warrior,’ to coin vaunted Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari’s phrase. They should be ashamed of themselves for pushing this dangerous and offensive smear of the Obama Administration, for purely partisan purposes—damn the cost. Now that it has been debunked both in Washington and by Israeli military sources, those advancing this false story should apologize—especially the RJC, which issued a press release touting Perry’s words as holy writ [RJC, March 30, 2012]. Not that we think they will, but the time has come once and for all to put Israel’s and America’s security above partisan politics. Enough is enough.
It's no surprise the NJDC is going after the RJC for pushing the line that the Obama administration is unfavorable to Israel. But the more important development here is that Perry's reporting is being unfairly attacked by a Democratic Party-linked group, another reminder that the Israel lobby, and with it the Iran-war drumbeat, have a home inside the party.
The NJDC's "debunking" of Perry relies on the words of the White House, Israeli military officials and an Azerbaijani official.
There's no surefire way to know whether Perry's report was 100% accurate, but taking the words of officials with an interest in denying the story at face value is irresponsible. The White House does not want to be seen as leaking unfavorable stories about an Israeli attack on Iran to the press; Israeli officials, of course, don't want their attack plans broadcast to the world; and Azerbaijan does not want to be seen as acquiescing to an Israeli attack using their airspace. So all the sources the NJDC uses to "debunk" Perry have a vested interest in doing so.
The hysteria over Perry's report smothers the importance of his story. Even if Israel has not been granted access to Azerbaijani's airspace, the deepening of ties between the two countries is an important development to look at when examining the potential for an Israeli attack on Iran.
From Perry's report:
Israel's deepening relationship with the Baku government was cemented in February by a $1.6 billion arms agreement that provides Azerbaijan with sophisticated drones and missile-defense systems. At the same time, Baku's ties with Tehran have frayed: Iran presented a note to Azerbaijan's ambassador last month claiming that Baku has supported Israeli-trained assassination squads targeting Iranian scientists, an accusation the Azeri government called "a slander." In February, a member of Yeni Azerbadzhan -- the ruling party -- called on the government to change the country's name to "North Azerbaijan," implicitly suggesting that the 16 million Azeris who live in northern Iran ("South Azerbaijan") are in need of liberation.
And this month, Baku announced that 22 people had been arrested for spying on behalf of Iran, charging they had been tasked by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to "commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli, and other Western states' embassies." The allegations prompted multiple angry denials from the Iranian government.
More evidence of deepening Israeli-Azeri ties, as well as a strengthening of the US-Azeri relationship, is easy to find. For instance, the American Jewish Committee, an ally of the Israeli government, has cultivated Azeri officials for years.