Netanyahu can ‘squeeze’ Obama because media and Congress will take his side if he attacks Iran

What is the role of the Israeli government in American political life? Well, apparently we must defer to Netanyahu. “To Attack of Not to Attack” is by Zaki Shalom, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University, writing in a journal of the French Institute for International Relations. Breathtaking. Boldface is mine:
 

We must take into account that the Prime Minister is raising the bar for threats toward Iran, inter alia, because he recognizes that the current US administration is seeking to prevent an Israeli action before the elections at any price. It would probably be no exaggeration to say that the prime minister is going around with the feeling that the political future of President Obama is to some extent, perhaps even a large extent, in the Prime Minister’s hands. An Israeli action at the present time would almost certainly expose the president to serious criticism for his fecklessness, which forced Israel, a close ally of the United States, to act alone. Various segments in the US administration, especially the Congress, will make demands to support Israel.
All this, when the consequences of an Israeli action for the stagnant US economy are liable to be serious. Under these circumstances, it is not inconceivable that the Prime Minister believes that currently, he can “squeeze” from the president far-reaching commitments in Israel’s favor in exchange for Israeli restraint on Iran. This compensation will presumably be mainly in the areas of defense and the economy. Israel, the prime minister can argue, is prepared to take a strategic risk on the Iranian issue, if it knows that the US administration will support it and will be prepared to give it aid that under normal circumstances, it would not be prepared to give…

The Prime Minister can assume that an Israeli attack prior to the November 2012 elections will make it very difficult for the Obama administration to criticize Israel openly. He can assume with near certainty that as soon as the attack begins, members of Congress, the media, Jewish leaders, and Republican Party leaders will issue statements supporting Israel and even demand that the administration back Israel and defend it. The Obama administration cannot ignore such expressions of support in the period leading up to the elections.

Bruce Wolman, who tipped me off to this article, adds:

It’s a win-win for Netanyahu. If he is not serious about attacking Iran, he still gets the max from the USA with his blackmailing. If he is serious, he puts Obama in a box such that he has to rescue the IDF. Netanyahu doesn’t even have to decide between the two until the day of the election. He can just keep us all guessing. (However, I can’t believe our $300B intelligence services don’t know whether Israel is serious or not.)

I disagree that Obama has no choice. He could take on Netanyahu and AIPAC and win. Why? The military has his back on this one. But Obama is not such a risk taker. He is a campaign machine, nothing more. If he has an ideology, it is moderate Republican economic values. If he faced Netanyahu head on, a lot of non-Jewish Americans would support him. There is war fatigue in this country and in the military. But the longer he waits, the more trapped Netanyahu has him. 

If Obama had led on this issue, he could have used it to his political advantage. Obama could easily parry the statements of Republican leaders, and he is not going to get the Christian Zionists to vote for him anyhow. Even many Jews do not want us to go to war with Iran. But Obama won’t take this risk, because he doesn’t want to upset his Jewish donors. 

Netanyahu traps him with each passing day because the U.S. administration keeps validating Israel’s talking points in an effort to appease the Israeli government. That makes it harder for Obama to reverse the rhetoric and not look opportunistic. 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

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  1. BillM says:

    I’m old enough to remember a time when that position would be considered absurd. That time was 3 days ago, when conventional wisdom held that Obama had called Bibi’s bluff and forced him to back down. I can’t think what’s changed in the last couple days…

    • Theo says:

      What happened?

      Let´s speculate: Obama got a call from Nini, AIPAC consulted with our President, a zionist think-tank gave an opinion, etc.
      What is the difference between politicians in general and the Mafia?
      The Mafia are men of honor!!

  2. braciole says:

    “a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies”

    An impartial fellow? I doubt it when he works where he does. So why should anybody pay any attention to this?

  3. “It would probably be no exaggeration to say that the prime minister is going around with the feeling that the political future of President Obama is to some extent, perhaps even a large extent, in the Prime Minister’s hands.”

    Luttwak( Was with JINSA and was with US adminsitations at different times ) wrote a book – Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook by Edward N. Luttwak in 1968. It seems his plans have borne fruit. US is now run by inetrconnected interest groups with Israel at the top of that interest groups.

  4. Krauss says:

    That argument is old nonsense.

    Bibi isn’t going to attack pre-election simply because that’s what the Israeli press(who have been given marching orders by the IDF and the security establishment) have been printing for weeks like madmen.

    Of course, they’ve been publishing one breathless story after another of an ‘imminent attack’ for years now.

    Israel’s record is very clear: never, ever give warning. Operation Cast Lead is a good example of that principle.

    The Iraq strike in the 1980s or the Syrian strike in 2007 follow the same principle – again.

    Second, Israel can’t strike alone on Iran. It cannot.
    It doesn’t have the military power necessary, new bombs or not.
    Part of the reason is because an Iranian operation, as I keep repeating, is not just a bombstrike.
    People need to understand this.

    An Iranian operation means that you need to secure the Strait of Hormuz stright away. No Navy can do this except the U.S. navy. Israel is a tiny gnat as a naval power.

    America would have to become involved and the notion that Israel would gamble everything just to drag the U.S. into war is ridicolous. If they attack Iran, the world economy is crashing already. Why would Obama help them on that issue since he’ll lose the election anyway? It doesn’t make any sense. What pressure does he have?
    It’s all over for him anyway.

    Third, this goes beyond party politics.
    If Israel went rogue like that, the entire American military/intelligence/defence establishment would go from lukewarm to icecold towards Israel. They’ll leak stories all day, every day for a very, very long time ahead to sabotage Israel’s plans constantly and work overtime to distance themselves. A president can shuffle a few chairs, but he cannot replace an entire cadre of tens of thousands each with multi-decade careers.

    If Israel attacks, it will not be warned in the media or in academia.
    And it will be tightly correlated with the U.S. before the attack, which is exactly why a strike hasn’t happened. Because the U.S. hasn’t been willing so Bibi is a sitting duck.

    That’s why Bibi wants Romney because behind Romney you find Senor, Kristol, Adelson and the others behind the throne.

    Until Bibi gets the green light from the U.S. he will not do anything.
    He hates being in that positions but he cannot change it.
    Israel didn’t seek approval of the U.S. in the early 80s or the late 00s.

    It wouldn’t in this case either if it had that option – but it doesn’t – which is why you see so much hysteria in the Israeli press.

    • braciole says:

      I doubt even the US Navy on its own could secure the Straits of Hormuz – it would most likely require an invasion of Iran and occupation in considerable depth to guarantee that the straits could be kept open. Once parts of Iran are occupied, regime change would follow and the United States will be occupying Iran for the next twenty years. I doubt the American public will forgive Israel for initiating an elective war that sucks in the United States.

  5. doug says:

    Any concessions “squeezed” out of Obama will not impact Bibi’s decision on going to war with Iran simply because these concessions don’t change the calculus on attacking Iran.

    Further, I don’t believe the recent leaks re pushback are material evidence the US will refrain from promptly joining Israel’s attack. Perhaps it is evidence we don’t want to join the attack but getting people that don’t want to do something to do it is one of the classic displays of “power.”

    Israel will attack Iran if Netanyahu believes it is in Israel’s interest. Since it is clear the maximum leverage is prior to the US election, he will not postpone the decision.

    Netanyahu’s current concern is that the degree to which discussion now could have adverse effects on Israel’s relations with the US subsequent to an Iran attack. Especially if the war becomes protracted and ugly. This is why Netanyahu is ticked at his cabinet’s leaks.

    • MarkF says:

      If Bibi has decided to go to war, what better time than about an hour before Obama’s acceptance speech? I wouldn’t put it past him.

  6. Theo says:

    ” the present administration is seeking to prevent an attack on Iran before the elections at any price….”

    Really? All it would take is to tell Netanyahu that we forbid such action and order our military to stand ready to shoot down all israeli planes and missiles, and you can believe me, they would love to get that order.
    That is what I call doing something to prevent such attack, Nini has no taste for carrots so let´s use the big stick!!

  7. ritzl says:

    It’s a little confusing who wrote the blockquote, Shalom or Wolman.

    Assuming it was Shalom, I’m always amazed that the starting point for that type of analysis is, “We have this power, therefore we have this power, and will always have this power.” It’s all so self-defining, self-congratulatory, open-ended – and yet chimeric. It’s predicated on what the influencers can get people to believe, rather than what people are actually experiencing in their own lives. A “your own lyin’ eyes” thing. That never lasts.

    The flaw in his analysis is that if Israel did attack Iran and it caused the predictable hardships on all US voters, any opportunistic (heh) and astute politician would immediately pivot to “We have no more special relationship with a country that would do this to us/you. We won’t let it happen again.” and win in a landslide. No election complications. No political downside. Poof! goes the pre-election “power” play.

    The extensive ability to pressure that Shalom assumes is completely contingent upon the severity (or even the prospective severity) of the consequences. In this case it’s apocalyptic severity given the economic devastation for the people and the [risk of] evisceration of Israel’s influence in US politics. The Israelis have to be aware of this as part of their gaming strategy.

    Is Israel willing to risk literally everything to get a few near-term concessions from Obama? Maybe, but there again it would be signs of desperate, all-in endgame and callable weakness. A bluff begging to be called.

    So when Shalom assumes the ability to influence to the extent he describes, he’s believing his own BS and ignoring the real-world “knees” in the political power curve. There’s little upside for Israel and extensive downside in playing the “attack Iran” game. Yet they persist. Go figure.

    • Bruce says:

      @Ritzl

      The first block quote is all Shalom. The second is my email response to Phil’s reaction to Shalom.

      • ritzl says:

        Thanks Bruce. When I wrote that only the Shalom piece was blockquoted. I agree with most of what you say, but I’m still struck by the the fragility of the assumptions Shalom uses to support his contention, particularly in light of the stakes. Smouldering rope fragile.

  8. Obama can’t ignore an Israeli attack on Iran, but if he had the cajones and the principles, he could deal with the hasbara and the political pressure effectively.

    The US public supports Israel reflexively–”Israel?, yeah sure, they’re an ally”, but I think that’s about it. There will be no public support for the US to enter a war on behalf of Israel. There will be no US military establishment support for that war. The intelligence community will not support that war. Whatever economic thinkers Team O has around will not support that war.

    By refusing to jump in, I think Obama’s electoral position would actually improve despite the heavy sniping from the media and the political establishment.

    There’s an easy way to thread that needle–Obama could flat out refuse to directly engage the US military, but still supply Israel with war materiel, and make threatening noises to Iran about US interests, all the while working publicly–and behind the scenes–to negotiate an end to the war.

    That position worked in the Falklands War.

    Will he do any of that? Probably not.

  9. seafoid says:

    It’s a win-win for Netanyahu. If he is not serious about shooting himself and Israel in the head , he still gets the max from the USA with his blackmailing. If he is serious, he puts Obama in a box such that he has to resort to using socialised medicine to take care of the mess that’s left after TSHTZF.

  10. bindup says:

    I believe Wolman seriously miscalculates the Obama administration’s strategic smarts when he writes that Obama is a mere “campaign machine”.

    In fact, one could argue that it’s Netanyahu’s strategic position within the spectrum of US public opinion that’s at risk, not the President’s. Given that everyone knows a solo attack would produce no benefit, substantively or strategically, why do it? Especially as it would put the Israeli government’s influence on US public opinion at mortal risk?

    The danger, of course, is that all sides (including Iran) fundamentally miscalculate not only their own, but the other players’ military & political capacity. -Lea

    • Bruce says:

      @bindup

      I guess I am blind to the “strategy smarts” of the Obama administration. I see very little of it in domestic policy and none in foreign policy. Instead I notice a great deal of bumbling and a mean streak against weak players.

      Bob Woodward has a new book coming out about the deficit and debt ceiling negotiations. Woodward is clueless himself on economics, but he portrays a President wedded to his own homilies, a bad reader of the opposition, and a bit of a bumbler.

      Why do the attack on Iran? Read the article by Zaki Shalom. He believes that are substantial benefits even if you and I are not convinced.

      Don’t underestimate the ability to manipulate public opinion once war breaks out.

  11. seafoid says:

    Something like this will be the catalyst for the fall of Zionism. the system is rotten to the core and there is only so much injustice people can take

    link to haaretz.com

    Economic protests in the West Bank are gaining steam: Thousands of people demonstrated throughout the territory on Wednesday to protest the high cost of living, and especially the recent increase in fuel prices.
    The increase in the cost of fuel stems from the recent hike of fuel prices in Israel, where the Palestinian Authority buys its fuel.
    Demonstrators denounced Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, even burning copies of his picture, and demanded that the government step down. They also urged the PA to cancel the 1994 Paris Protocol, which created a customs union with Israel.
    Bus, truck and taxi drivers went on strike for one hour as part of the protests, effectively shutting down the West Bank’s public transportation system.
    One 30-year-old man tried to set himself and his 6-year-old daughter on fire in Ramallah’s Manara Square, but was stopped by fellow demonstrators who jumped on him after he doused himself and the girl with fuel to keep him from lighting it.
    Hasan Qahwaji’s attempt to set himself on fire was the third such attempt in the territories of the last week. On Monday, Ehab Abu Nada, 18, of the al-Shati refugee camp near Gaza City died of his injuries after having set himself on fire a few days earlier to protest his family’s economic distress. On Tuesday, Khaled Abu Rabee, a 42-year-old father of 10 from the al-Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, tried to set himself ablaze in front of Hebron’s city hall to protest his economic troubles, but an alert security guard outside the building managed to stop him before he actually lit the fuel.
    Qahwaji claimed that he had asked the PA to help him finance medical treatment for his daughter, but that it had refused. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ office denied this, saying that not only did the PA offer financial help, but so did the king of Jordan. It said the PA also arranged the necessary permits for Qahwaji and his daughter to leave the Gaza Strip, where they live, and come to the West Bank for treatment.
    Earlier this week, the PA tried to appease demonstrators by saying it was considering buying fuel from Arab states instead of Israel. But it signed a new agreement with Israeli fuel suppliers just a few months ago that obligates it to buy Israeli fuel for at least the next two years.
    The West Bank’s economy has slowed noticeably this year. Growth so far this year has been about five percent, much lower than in 2008-2010. The unemployment rate is 18 percent, and most of the unemployed are university graduates who haven’t been able to find suitable work.
    Moreover, the situation is expected to worsen in the coming months, due to the PA’s severe fiscal crisis. Because of this crisis – which stems largely from a decline in international donations, particularly from Arab states – the PA is having trouble paying both its workers and its suppliers. It therefore plans to seek additional aid at a conference of donor states later this month.

  12. American says:

    I saw this yesterday on the breaking news section at the JP….evidently Nettie really does want his cabinet polygraphed. LOL…….more and more like a mad king rooting thru his court for traitors to purge.

    Scared of Leaks, Netanyahu Mulls Forcing Cabinet to Take Polygraphs

    Cancels Cabinet Meeting, Promises Investigation

    by Jason Ditz, September 05, 2012

    Having seen months of war rhetoric imperiled by recent US criticism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be growing even more insular and distrustful of outsiders, even turning on his own security cabinet today, announcing that he is canceling meetings with them because he doesn’t trust them not to leak the details of the meetings to the press.

    It gets better. Apparently Netanyahu is so convinced of the existence of a mole inside his cabinet that he is discussing the possibility of asking Shin Bet, the nation’s spy agency, to compel the whole cabinet to take polygraph tests to prove their innocence”
    link to news.antiwar.com

    • seanmcbride says:

      American,

      Check this out:

      “Mofaz: PM should face polygraph test on Iran leaks”

      link to jpost.com

      BEGIN QUOTE
      Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz on Thursday supported Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s call for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to investigate the security leaks following a recent closed-door cabinet meeting, but said that “the PM should be the first one to be subjected to a polygraph, as he who presides over the forum should be tested first.”
      END QUOTE

      The Israeli government is coming apart at the seams as the result of Netanyahu’s hysteria over Iran.

    • Shingo says:

      I saw this yesterday on the breaking news section at the JP….evidently Nettie really does want his cabinet polygraphed

      This could well lead to a coup against Netenyahu. If he’s that paranoid, he cold realyl make a serious miscalculation. Wouldn’t that make life interesting?

  13. Israel perhaps can count on the support of a deeply corrupt media and political system if they attack Iran, but the uniformed military is another matter entirely. There is much resentment towards Israeli efforts to touch off a US Iran war that could cost the lives of thousands of US servicemen (almost entirely gentiles) when no vital US interests are at stake.

    If Zionist fanatics are reckless enough to take this fatal step, they could well touch off a wave of anti-semitism that will forever destroy the power of the “invincible” Israel lobby, not to mention possibly triggering a new world war.

    • bindup says:

      “but the uniformed military is another matter entirely.”

      Yep, that’s a crucial point. And one major reason Netanyahu looks to me like he’s bluffing. So how is he going to “back off”, “save face”?

      Recent NYT reports of naval build-up in the name of “regional defense” seem to me to be the limit of what the US is prepared to (publically) offer at this time. Will Netanyahu take the opportunity to say “That’s an effective deterrent for now”? So far he seems entirely uninterested in that approach.

      So how will Netanyahu behave when he visits New York (UN) in a few weeks? How will he start climbing down from the tree he’s got himself stuck in? Can he up the ante without sawing off the limb he’s perched on?

  14. Dan Crowther says:

    Its funny how when a republican is in office, we just assume he wants war; when a democrat is in office, we create a roster of evil men pulling at him, leading him from the light and so on. We say he has no backbone, no guts – he’s just a fundraiser. Why not just own up to the fact that the guy indeed has an agenda, it’s just not yours. He’s part of the war party, just like Romney.

    Seems to me this is a win-win for Obama: he gets his loot, and gets to offload weapons to israel (aka further subsidize defense), while also lightening the load from the US and NATO when the war DOES begin.

  15. RE: “It’s a win-win for Netanyahu. If he is not serious about attacking Iran, he still gets the max from the USA with his blackmailing. If he is serious, he puts Obama in a box such that he has to rescue the IDF.” ~ Bruce Wolman

    MY COMMENT: This is nothing short of an “extortion racket” like those most commonly associated with organized crime groups. – link to en.wikipedia.org
    It is not insignificant that the head of Israel’s “extortion racket”, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be coming to the US next month in an effort to give the Romney/Ryan campaign a boost! Netanyahu has announced that he will address to the United Nations General Assembly and “tell the nations of the world in a clear voice the truth about the terror regime of Iran which represents the greatest threat to world peace”.
    Am I being overly suspicious in suspecting that Netanyahu’s “speech” to the UN might be a collaborative effort between Netanyahu’s office and the Romney/Ryan campaign with plenty of nice, juicy soundbites suitable for attack ads to be funded by certain billionaire-funded 503(c)(3) “super PACs” and/or even more secretive 503(c)(4) “social welfare organizations”?
    Would the Repub-Likuds stoop that low?

  16. Kathleen says:

    Ok Senator Kerry talking about U.S. foreign policy. Brings up Romney’s “neocon advisers”

    Talking about environmental issues

  17. Kathleen says:

    Kerry pledges allegiance to Israel and quotes Netanyahu

  18. Kathleen says:

    Obama “never said this journey would be easy”
    “you are the reason, you are the change, you are the hope” Great strategy placing the responsibility on the American citizens.

    Stepped out for a bit during the speech. I did not hear Obama say anything about Israel or Iran. Did I miss it?

  19. TwoRedDogs says:

    The blackmailing has been going on for months now, and Obama hasn’t bitten and has made no commitments outside of boiler-plates. Military has his back, Congress with 10% approval is viewed as treasonous, the public doesn’t want war outside of clear danger. I’m afraid the professor’s comments are just part of the hasbara noise of the last several months. Sure, the media is playing ball, but I’m sure someone is paying attention to the most-recommended user posts.

    As for the ‘squeezing of more commitment and aid’, they tried that few years ago as well.

    Obama knows he will win the election because the public won’t “Double down on Trickle down”. For the last couple of days, Israeli administration knows it as well, the tone of the headlines in major Israeli papers have changed.

    Button line: BRING IT ON.

    • Kathleen says:

      How about the blackmailing has been going on for decades now. I keep going back to Dennis Ross either quitting or being tossed out of the Obama administration. Now taking this “neutral” stand on the election. He must know something is up with Obama and his next term and the way he will deal with the I/P issue.

      Who knows about the details of when Bush 41 and Baker played as hardball as any administration had with Israel. I believe Carter said in his Palestine Peace: Not Apartheid that aid to Israel was going to be tied to whether they kept expanding the illegal settlements. Great threat but can’t remember if they followed through even for a little while. Don’t believe any President had ever even threatened Israel with any potential consequences for their continuous illegal activities. Is that right?

      • manfromatlan says:

        Bush41 did in deed threaten to apply sanctions (even if they never were carried out) but the champion of American presidents was Ike, the Suez Crisis 1956.

  20. manfromatlan says:

    The American people will never stand for it. And I’d add to TwoRedDogs comment, many of these ‘security’ think tanks are also viewed as treasonous.

    • i was just pondering on the meaning of treason yesterday. that is what it is.

      • Kathleen says:

        My favorite interview with Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson was with Bill Maher. They get into talking about the crimes committed against her and what the right punishment would be. Plame and Wilson I think both refer to it as “treason” Then Maher says but the punishment for treason is is…Valerie Plame’s eyebrows go up, she smiles that edgy smile of her and many of us of course think that some in the Bush administration deserve their just do

  21. Firstly, Bibi’s been bluffing about iran for at least two decades. When are people going to stop believing him?

    Secondly, the US is already at war with Iran. A war of economic sanctions, cyberwar, and assasinations. If a country was doing all that to the USA, wouldn’t the USA consider itself at war with that country.

    Thirdly, Iran is a great distraction from Palestine. While Ahmadinejad never actually said he wants to ‘wipe Israel off the map,’ Israel keeps repeating that lie, while it it Palestine which is actually in the process of being ‘wiped off the map’; talk of Iran re-enforces Israel’s sense of victim hood, excusing it from ethnic cleansing and house demolitions in Palestine.

    • manfromatlan says:

      I believe Israel’s strategy is to implement the Yinon plan, the breakup of the Muslim world and end up top dog in the region. They aren’t, yet.

      • seafoid says:

        5 million bots are going to rule the world? Pull the other one.
        They are slowly destroying their own society in the process of attempting to cement permanent regional hegemony

  22. chinese box says:

    Some people on here still seem to be holding out hope that Obama will do something substantive, and positive, on I/P. But in four years, it still isn’t clear to me what Obama’s core principles are and what he’s willing to stick his neck out for.

  23. manfromatlan says:

    @ chinese box, I think most of us know Obama’s an opportunistic centrist who can be counted to do nothing for Israel Palestine. Obama vs Romney are a bit like Peres vs Netanyahu, war criminals both, but one couched his awfulness with rhetoric and the other was more er, blatant about what he would do.