Israel is trying to “suck America into” a war with Iran that could destabilize the Middle East and lead to a world war in much the way that the imperial rivalries in 1914 led to the First World War, Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, warned in Washington last week.
A war with Iran, he said, could “perhaps terminate the experiment that is Israel and do irreparable damage to the empire that America has become.”
But Israeli leaders want a war, and they are pushing one with the support of their American political friends, including Democrats like Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, whose overheated rhetoric about Iran recalls Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, Wilkerson said. Another pro-war faction are “warmed-over neoconservatives” who got us into the Iraq war.
“I’ve been there, done that; I don’t need the tour,” he said.
Wilkerson, a retired army colonel who now teaches government at Washington-area universities, served Powell during the runup to the Iraq war. He spoke last Friday at the annual Israel lobby conference at the National Press Club, sponsored by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and Institute for Research: Middle East Policy. The conference aired on C-SPAN.
I have transcribed his speech below. Wilkerson’s remarks are important because his analysis of the tail wagging the dog is so cogent and frightening at a time when the premier Israel lobby group AIPAC is pushing for action against Iran in Syria. Also for Wilkerson’s respectful take on Vladimir Putin; for his unvarnished opinion of the Israel lobby, so different from the tame piece he published in The New York Times a month ago; and for his comments about Israel attacking the USS Liberty in 1967 and stealing US uranium to build a nuclear weapon with LBJ’s knowledge.
Wilkerson’s speech [with minor cuts]
I’m the last speaker of the day. If this were a military audience I’d ask you to stand up and do five minutes tell you to drop and do so you wouldn’t doze off.
I want to identify myself with the remarks that were just made. Over some 400 students, graduate and undergraduate over twelve years on two university campuses, and six years with about 1000 students at two of the nation’s most prestigious military war colleges, we have determined though it’s probably be difficult to prove and that’s the reason we have covert operations– that Lyndon Johnson not only knew the gory details of the Israeli attack on USS Liberty in the eastern Mediterranean, he also knew about what was just told you. That is to say, he knew that uranium was being diverted, he knew Israel was building a bomb, and he chose not to do anything about it.
That’s not my subject today, although I could talk on that sort of thing forever, as I’m sure Jefferson [Morley] could too.
These days I believe one gets the best insights into Israeli security policy and perhaps even into Israeli policy writ large from the Russian emigre to Israel, a former foreign minister, now its defense minister Avigdor Lieberman. Whether it’s his calling Arab members of the Knesset war criminals or declaring that Jewish people should leave France, or claiming that the next military action against Hamas in Gaza will be the last, or by contradicting his own military chief by denying there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, or stating categorically that the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] will stop at nothing to win, reminding me a great deal of Dick Cheney, Lieberman is the living face of Bibi Netanyahu’s Zionist policies.
I sometimes think he would rather have remained in Russia, so long as it was the Soviet Union and so long as he were in a significant position of power there.
In addition to reminding me of Cheney, he is reminiscent of and indeed might be a latent version of Josef Stalin.
As an aside, it is intriguing and I think well outside the usual conspiracy theory to consider whether Lieberman has been as is intimated of our President Trump might be an NKVD GRU KGB FSB you name it plant, that is an agent of Vladimir Putin.
He has more or less forged most of the 1 million Russian emigres since 1991 into a formidable political force, forming the political party which has more than once played kingmaker in the Israeli political scene.
What a strategic coup for Vladimir the master chess player in the world today, in my estimation, while everyone plays a lousy job of checkers– it would be quite a coup for him.
Of far more concern to him and readily provable, unlike what I just said, Lieberman exemplifies where Israel is headed. Toward a massive confrontation with the various powers arrayed against it, a confrontation that will suck America in and perhaps terminate the experiment that is Israel and do irreparable damage to the empire that America has become.
Lieberman will speak in April in New York City at the annual conference of the Jerusalem Post. The title is, “The New War with Iran.” It is clear that he’s in the forefront of promoting this war
And nowhere does my concern about such a war focus more acutely at the moment than Syria. As president of France Emmanuel Macron described it recently, “The current rhetoric of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel is pushing the region toward conflict with Iran.”
In that triad no state is doing that more than Israel.
Listen to Netanyahu in January at the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.
“The greatest danger that we face, of hatred for the Jewish people and the Jewish state … comes from Iran. It comes from the ayatollah regime that is fanning [the] flames [of anti-Semitism].”
This antisemitism bit of course as we’ve heard today is almost always a weapon of choice for Israeli politicians under stress hurled in this case at the country whose Jewish population by the way, the largest in the Middle East outside of Turkey and Israel, lives in Iran in reasonable peace.
And don’t forget that these words were uttered by the man who as we’ve heard today is doing everything he can to expel dark skinned African refugees largely from Eritrea and the Sudan from Israel, where most have come as legitimate refugees.
President Trump’s wall on the Mexican border is nothing compared to Bibi’s actual policies.
More recently Bibi’s performance at the Munich Security Conference bordered on the infantile, and yet effective when you think of the audience to whom he was speaking as he held aloft an alleged piece of an alleged Iranian drone, and asked Mr. Zarif if he recognized it.
Of course Mr Zarif later took his occasion at the microphone to characterize Netanyahu’s performance as like that of a circus clown—a pretty good characterization.
But I like the comment of Lebanon’s defense minister even better. It went to the point. He said that he had an Israeli drone over his head virtually 24/7.
That comment put the hypocrite that Netanyahu is in the right perspective.
Of late of course, Tel Aviv is increasingly using Iran’s presence in Syria, its support for Basher al-Assad, and its alleged drive– and I love this one, and my military comrades loves it too– for a Shia corridor from Tehran to Aden, as the hoary beast that must not be at any cost, including of course America’s treasure and lives, as his probable cause and existential prompt for action.
That Israel has in its support such disparate forces, as Nikki Haley at the United Nations, Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Rex Tillerson at State, as well as the usual suspects from the outside the world of warmed over neocons, is indicative of such policy.
But it’s not the usual suspects from the world of neocons, about whom I know quite a bit having experienced them in 2001 and ‘02 and ‘03.
Take for example my fellow South Carolinian [Senator] Lindsey Graham. Speaking four days ago after a breathless trip to Israel, a bipartisan trip he called it– I don’t know how anybody can use that term. And I caution– don’t laugh, because Lindsey was serious I think, but anything bipartisan when it comes to Israel? Call it unanimity, call it absolute unanimity– anything but bipartisan. In fact, the proper words are probably overwhelming and unprecedented unanimity– in fact the only issue that does unify the United States Congress other than mom and apple pie.
Graham had this to say. “Any time you leave a meeting where the major request is ‘ammunition, ammunition, ammunition,’ that’s probably not good.”
That’s Lindsey. I know Lindsey well.
“This was the most unnerving trip I’ve had in a while,” he said breathlessly again.
Graham went on to assert, “When they tell you we want help to deal with the blowback that might come from attacks on civilian targets where Hezbollah has integrated military capability, that was so striking, that was striking.”
And then Senator [Chris] Coons who up until this time I’ve had some respect for—a fairly sane and sober senator from Delaware reported that
“The tempo in terms of potential for conflict in Syria has gone up astronomically; the technologies Iran is projecting into Syria and southern Lebanon has gone up; Iran’s willingness to be provocative, to push the edges of the envelope, to challenge Israel, has gone up—”
Coons reported this almost as breathlessly as Lindsey.
With the highest tech nation on earth in Syria– the United States of America– that is all Coons could derive from his visit. That the country that spends less than 1 percent of what the U.S. spends on its national security, has introduced new technologies in Syria, technologies that threaten the country, Israel, to whom U.S. bounty is limitless.
This is Joseph Goebbels territory. Karl Rove is envious.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as the heir to the Project for a New American Century, Bill Kristol’s Iraq-bound thinktank, leads that pack of wolves disguised as warmed over neocons lavishly funded by the likes of Paul Singer. It’s even spawned the Institute for the Study of the War, a fascinating Orwellian title if there ever was one. It should be the Institute for War.
I’ve been asked why is it that you ascribe to the FDD and now the ISW such nefarious motives– I was asked this by the New York Times editorial staff when they published my op ed on Iran a few days ago. My answer is simple: Because that is precisely what FDD is attempting to do. Just as Douglas Feith, the under secretary of Defense for Policy, Office of Special Plans, did in 2002 and 2003 for Richard Bruce Cheney, to lead us into the war with Iraq.
I’ve been there, done that; I don’t need the tour.
The salient question, though, Why do you believe that America is headed for a struggle with Iran? needs an answer.
Certainly, America’s unquestioning support is required, as has been the case from George Bush to Barack Obama to the rapture-seeking Mike Pence and the tweeter in king Donald Trump.
But it seems that recently that Lieberman and Netanyahu and their acolytes in this country, amongst which I put at the top, Nikki Haley, have determined that it would be best if American troops also participated in the overthrow of the Tehran regime.
From one point of view, I suppose this is understandable– the crassly opportunistic point of view, that is, better to squander your ally’s blood and treasure than your own. But it is certainly not in the character that I’m used to with regard to the state of Israel and certainly not with regard to the Israeli Defense Force. That that force could handle anything that Iran threw at it militarily is undeniable. Any military professional will tell you that. And that Israel’s more than 200 nuclear warheads could decimate Iran is equally undeniable.
So why this attempt to suck America into this conflict?
I believe the answer is fairly clear once you push aside the cobwebs that surround it. The legitimacy of great power is what I call it. And that is precisely what Netanyahu and Lieberman desire.
It’s also what Riyadh desires, especially with the new boy king Mohammed bin Salman, now an erstwhile ally of Israel.
In short, the IDF could defend Israel but it could not attack Iran. Not successfully anyway. And were it to do so it would be damned internationally and thus isolated even more than it already is today, perhaps devastatingly so.
But America, already damned by well more than half the world– polls show at least 4 billion people think we’re the number one threat to their security in the world; think about that for a minute– We’ve already done Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. We’d just be seen as continuing the trend.
Besides America has the military capacity and here’s the long pole in the tent– to project the power needed to unseat swiftly the regime in Tehran. Swiftly in terms of Saddam Hussein for example. Not swiftly in terms of taking care of 75 million people, each one of which in a very rugged and strategically deep terrain would want to kill every damned American in the country– along with probably half the Arabs in the area.
So there’s only one significant hangup that I see with this strategy that Netanyahu and Lieberman are pushing.
Embroiled in his own legal problems that just might send him to jail, as such problems would likely have sent Arik Sharon to jail, had he had not been in really bad shape at the end of his prime ministership– they’re both headed for war. Of that I’m convinced. They will use Iran’s allegedly existential-to-Israel presence in Syria, which is becoming even more so from a military perspective every day; Hezbollah’s accumulation of some 150,000 missiles if we believe our intelligence agencies; the need to set Lebanon’s economy back yet again– That’s important. Look at what they’re deliberating right now with regard to the new very very rich gas find in the eastern Mediterranean, with Israel claiming section 9 and Lebanon claiming Section 9; “take that Lebanon, we’re going to bomb you, then you’ll let us have it”– and that will be their excuse.
We’re looking at them taking on, and this is a point that all military people understand, a country that couldn’t beat Iraq in eight years of brutal bloody war– an Iraq that we beat in 19 days.
So this is the colossal threat that they’re up against.
And men such as [National Security Adviser] HR McMaster are helping them. The much-heralded author of Dereliction of Duty—great title– and a man who knows about as much about Iran as I do about the 8th planet in the 95th solar system in the 50th galaxy past our own.
Here’s a hope I have. Let’s hope that the chessmaster-in-chief, old Vladimir Putin who ruins elections from Paris to Peoria is smart enough once again not to let this happen.
I fear he will not be, and we might have the stirrings of 1914, as utterly stupid as we now know now those stirrings to have been.
People to whom I mentioned such possibilities, people who are critically analytical and normally fairly sound in their thinking respond, Don’t you regard that dreary prognosis as a little bit overdrawn?
My rejoinder is a little bit too clever perhaps but along these lines. Don’t you think a number of people said that in the summer of 1914?
Ah, they respond, But have we not learned so much since then?
I’ll let you be the judge of that. And inform you only that in my considered view, we have learned very little, and there are the ingredients right now with Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia– losing dramatically in Yemen right now– and the United States and Russia at the peak of all of this, to get engaged. A very distinct possibility.
I look at this from the perspective of the political parameters. What is it that we are confronting today in this country? And this took me down an entirely different path as I tried to figure out just how this team of McMaster Tillerson Kelly et al and Trump at the top of it will face this sort of decision-making process. The only place I could find that remotely resembled where we are today in our past was the period 1850 to 1860. And so about six months ago I started reading as voraciously as I could on that period… It is stunning the similarities between that period and now, particularly in the political situation, where one side of the country wouldn’t talk to the other side of the country and vice versa. And I was struck today by some of the comments that were made that resemble the comments made by my region– my state fired on Fort Sumter, after all– back in those days.
If that is the political situation in which this government will do its national security decision-making, then we are in deeper trouble than even the prospects of a region wide and perhaps even bigger war in the Middle East.
And the country that will have started it all, the relationship, unbalanced as it is, that will have made it possible, is Israel, and that’s the danger that we face.
[What would Iran do in response to a U.S. attack on Iran.]
This has been war-gamed ad nauseum almost by the U.S. military. And there are a number of different scenarios. There’s one where the U.S. around the clock three carrier bomber group bombing does so much damage that Iran as you can well imagine is pretty shocked in those 14 to 21 days of bombing, much as you saw Saddam Hussein in the first gulf war. Then Iran comes out from the dust so to speak, counts its casualties, mans its hospitals and so forth, and essentially goes into guerrilla war.
That means that if we want to do anything other than just bomb them, which is simply going to drive their nuclear program underground, speed it up, they’ll coordinate with the North Koreans, they’ll have a nuclear weapon in 18 months. Then watch us hesitate to invade, because that’s what they know they’ll be doing by building that weapon.
We’ll have forced them to have made that decision…
So if we invade immediately, we’ll be invading a country that is huge…. It’s a tough country. So either way, an immediate invasion is going to take 5 or 6 trillion dollars and ten years of occupation to even begin to say that we’re in control of the country. Look at Iraq– it’s one third the size of Iran! And it’s probably going to put red bullseyes on the back of every soldier and Marine in the country, red bullseyes that every terrorist group will flock to, to engage.
If we take the other scenario and invade immediately, you’re going to have the same thing but you’re going to have it quicker. And you’re going to at least obviate the possibility that they’ll go underground and build a nuclear weapon.
[How far will Russia go to help Iran in a Syrian confrontation with the U.S.?]
The difficulty there is the imponderable. As von Moltke pointed out, No plan outlasts the first bomb being drop. Once you start killing Russians, once you start shooting SU-27s down, and they start shooting F15’s, F-16’s, and F22’s down, you have a whole new dimension. You’ve got a real problem here. Controlling that, escalation theory says you’re probably not going to be able to control it. That’s what worries me.
That being said, Putin realizes that, and Putin has shown that he knows he doesn’t have a whole lot of assets behind him compared to the United States, were it being serious, and so he’s been very careful about how he moves into gaps, exploits them, moves back and so forth. He’s getting ready to do it in Kosovo right now. Mitrovica, the northern province is being infiltrated by the Serbs. Watch that. McMaster and others aren’t even aware it’s happening.
But he’s very smart. So the thing that ought to be happening right now is that the United States and Moscow despite all this mess that’s been created between us ought to be cooperating to bring the two parties that really need to talk, to talk, Riyadh and Tehran, and get them to deal with their problems diplomatically and then turn that diplomatic success on to the Syrian conflict, which is being fueled principally by Saudi money, with Prince Bandar in charge.
[Based on the increasing trend of impunity for military action and genocidal warfare. What stops Israel from launching a similar final solution to the Palestinian people?]
At this point, I don’t think Lieberman or Netanyahu or any of the more ultra-right wing aspects of the Zionist political movement, Israeli government, whatever we want to call it, are suicidal. I don’t think they are that fatalistic either
I think they really think they would wind up, or some subsequent prime minister can wind up, with Jordan, with probably pieces of Syria, certainly the Golan, and Israel can be greater Israel. And they’re willing to back off from some of that as powers interpose themselves and from some of that when powers and give them a problem with that. but they want a greater Israel.
For various reasons. Security reasons, the old biblical prophecies and so forth.
I think They’re going to keep this in the air to start with. You’re going to see some bombing. In the next six months, I think they’re going to take Lebanon on, they’re going to take Hezbollah on in Syria and Lebanon. When that doesn’t work or when Hezbollah presents them as they did in July 2006, with some new options in terms of what Hezbollah can do to them– and maybe even the Lebanese armed forces do, too– it might get tricky. There might be armored formations, ground units, infantry and so forth, and that’s when the door opens for general conflict…
We put the base there [in Sept. 2017, on Mashabim Air Base near Dimona, Israel] for the same reason we have trip-wired forces in other places. We put the base there so that there can be no question in the minds of the American people when the president directs U.S. forces into Israel equipped to go into Syria. Because we will have been attacked. The disposition of that base is just sitting on an Israeli air base, and we put the stars and stripes up and declared it a U.S. air base. It’s four Patriot batteries as far as I know. But it’s there, and it’s US territory. So when missiles start flying, or God forbid the IRGC actually tries to put guerrillas into Israel proper, then we are being attacked too. And so when we go to Congress– if Trump feels like he has to go to Congress. He isn’t going to have to probably. Congress is going to be demanding that the president take action.
[What are the possibilities of a 911 Mossad strike to propel us into a war?]
I think you’ve got the adequate ingredients right now. We have about 3200 troops in Syria, you’ve got Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson both saying we’re staying there because we need to confront the Iranian elements that are trying to establish this corridor, and are too close to Israel.
You have got the President of the United States contradicting them, saying, No, when we’re done with ISIS, we’re leaving. Of course that’s an ambiguity, when are you done with ISIS. You could say you’re never going to be done with ISIS, not clearly.
The policy is not clear right now, but there are all the ingredients in place including Russian US aircraft being deconflicted on an hourly basis by direct communications– you’ve got all the ingredients for a wider war. And for a –PANG— like that [snapping fingers] that suddenly becomes–
You’ve got the same thing in South China Sea when the Chinese sink a US aircraft carrier. What are the American people going to do when there are 5000 souls, 14 billion dollars is on the the bottom of the ocean? Because the Chinese are going to sink a US aircraft carrier, I can guarantee you. What are we going to do?
Is it going to be over Taiwan, are we then going to defend Taiwan? Probably not. Most Americans will probably get anxious about that.
But this is what we’re courting in the world now at a time when our power has been dramatically reduced from what it was in 1945, and we don’t recognize that. We simply don’t recognize that.
Too many enemies.