Phyllis Bennis and Trita Parsi zeroed in on the impact these latest threats out of Israel to bomb Iran are having on our election season. Or… is it the election season impacting the threats? Oops, can’t make up my mind, you be the judge.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: So when we hear this coming from Israel, particularly right now at this very vulnerable time of an election cycle here in the United States, what we’re hearing is that if there is going to be an Israeli strike, and with the political leadership saying there is, there’s not going to be a military coup in Israel where the military would refuse to carry out such an order. If they are told to do it, they will do it. The choice that the leadership has is, do we wait until after the election, when we might get a president we like better, meaning Mitt Romney, but we might get Barack Obama again, who might be in a stronger position? Imagine the problems facing President Obama today if we heard from the Israelis, “Oh, by the way, our planes are in the air. They are en route to bomb Iran. And we’re expecting your help to send refueling capacity, for instance, in the air. And if you don’t, our pilots might die.” Imagine what that would mean for a president running for re-election here in the United States. So we have a very dangerous moment despite the opposition of the military and the intelligence agencies of all across Israel, all across the United States, everybody disagreeing with this, the vice president, the president of the United States disagreeing with it. And yet, do we want to imagine that we would be certain there be no such attack and no such U.S. involvement at this moment of the election? I think it’s a very, very dangerous—a very, very dangerous moment.
It is true that in the past, when Israel has preventively attacked Arab countries, those being Iraq in 1981 and Lebanon in 2007, on the claim that they might someday be able to build a nuclear bomb, it was after silence. It was not after this kind of public campaign, public ratcheting up of the war rhetoric. This would be a very different scenario. But Bibi Netanyahu is a very different kind of Israeli prime minister in a host of ways, and I don’t think we can depend on those prior approaches to necessarily reflect what’s going on this time.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Trita Parsi, you’re with the National Iranian American Council. Can you comment on what the ambassador said?
TRITA PARSI: Well, I think the ambassador has played a significant role in bringing the debate in this country to a hysterical level in which a lot of facts are just simply thrown out the window. And we’re looking at it from a perspective in which—a frame in which we’re essentially saying we either have to take military action or accept an Iranian nuclear bomb. Those are not the options. That is not the accurate frame. There are plenty of other options. Diplomacy certainly has not been exhausted. In fact, it’s only in its very early phases so far. So, there’s a deliberate attempt there to push it towards a position in which the only options are bomb now or bomb later.
But I think, also go back and talk about why we’re seeing this flurry of threats from the Israeli side at this moment. I would agree with the previous panelist in that this is different from previous cases, and we have to be careful not to necessarily dismiss it. But we also have to keep in mind that there is a value for the Netanyahu government to continue to make these threats and continue to increase the pressure on the Obama administration. If these threats work, as they have had success in the past, it would mean that the United States would move further into pursuing more sanctions on Iran, further away from pursuing a diplomatic compromise, and moving closer into the U.S. itself taking military action. If the Obama administration, on the other hand, resists and pushes back against Netanyahu two or three months before the elections, it would accentuate the differences that exist between Obama and the Romney campaign, which the Netanyahu government, I believe, calculates will benefit Romney in the U.S. elections. And the Obama administration, I think, agrees with that, in the sense that they don’t want to have a public spat with the Israeli government right before elections. The alternative, that the Israelis actually will take military action, would bring very unpredictable repercussions. As it was mentioned earlier on, there’s a lot of opposition to this within the Israeli military. The proposition of just making the threat, however, seems to be a win-win for the Israelis. Regardless of what Obama does, it does bring some benefit to the Netanyahu government. It either increases the likelihood of a Romney victory in the elections, or it pushes the U.S. closer towards the U.S. using the military option.