Israel left with no friends apart from America (& Micronesia, Palau et al)

By M K Bhadrakumar

Israel has been steadily losing its strategic dominance in the Middle East ever since the Hezbollah defied it in the Lebanon War in 2006, but its global dominance as spin masters remained unchallenged. The high noon might have been the famous dare-devil attack by Israeli pilots on the secret Syrian nuclear installation in 2007.

2007 was indeed Israeli spin of the highest grade. Read the report on the  Dutch government website. Or, in the Washington Post blog. What prompted such a magnificent spin four years ago? Obviously, in order to cover up their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, Israel crafted the Syrian spin, which they thought would make them look like Martians all over again.

Isn't what we are seeing today a replay of the rare genius for spin - that israel is straining at the leash to attack Iran? I have 4 reasons for calling the Israeli spin by its name. One, Israeli leaders would know as much as the former chief of Mossad Ephraim Halevy, who repeated last week that in reality, Iran's nuclear programme does not pose an existential danger to Israel.

Two, Israeli leaders understand politics. They can grasp that in Europe and US, the leaders are caught in the whirlpool of economic crisis and are barely staying afloat. They know well enough that Israel lacks the capability to fight a war on its own without seamless US support, and US, in turn, won't have allied backing for any war today — especially, a war in the Middle East that will drive up the price of oil. [Of course, the first thing Iran will do will be to choke the narrow sea lane of Strait of Hormuz through which one-third of the world's oil supply passes.]

Three, all 3 service chiefs of Israeli armed forces and the bosses of Mossad and Shin Bet have spoken against an attack on Iran. The Israeli leaders know why they are so dead against war with Iran. They know Hezbollah will rain tens of thousands of rockets on every little town and city and settlement in Israel wreaking colossal loss of civilian lives. Despite their swagger, politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak know what such a horrific tragedy could do to their successful careers in public life.

Finally, Israelis are brilliant minds and would surely ask the one fundamental question before starting a war with Iran: What is the objective? To destroy Iran's nuclear programme? But, for that to be achieved, Israel should know in the first instance where exactly are Iran's nuclear installations located. In short, Israeli leadership will be staking hundreds or thousands of innocent Israeli lives for a war with no clear-cut objective. Indeed, at the end of it all, the Iran that emerges out of an israeli attack will go for the atomic bomb, finally, and will pose existential threat to Israel for at least a few millennia. So, why this Israeli spin, which is driving the world crazy?

I see three factors at work. First, Israeli regional policies are at a dead-end and the impending recognition of Palestine by the UN general assembly is too bitter a pill to swallow. The ring of regional isolation around Israel is complete. Second, the social protest movement in Israel is gathering strength. Israel's political economy badly needs reforms, but the government is caught in a bind as it doesn't have money.

The leadership needs a big diversion on both these counts. The spectre of war is the ultimate spin that desperate politicians get to use to rally the nation.

Third, this is the best time to "squeeze" Barack Obama. And, of course, Netanyahu knows how eminently Obama is "sqeezable" — from the manner in which Obama was forced to back out of his famous Cairo speech of 2009. As Obama begins his re-election bid, Netanyahu will estimate that he is vulnerable to blackmail — and Israel is good at that game. Experience shows that when pressure mounts in the Middle East, US instinctively loosens its purse strings for Israel. Obama is about to do that.

The funny part is, there is no evidence that Iran actually worked for its dramatic surge as regional power. It didn't choreograph the Arab Spring or the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Much happened by default - due to the follies in the US and Israeli policies.

Now, this would probably imply that the Israelis are not infallible. Maybe so, but I still don't think the Israeli leaders are stupid. On balance, what they desperately need is some spectacular spin— like in 2007— which displays Israeli valour and might and highlight Iranian cowardice and bluster. For that spin to work, Israel must have a tacit understanding with Iran so that the latter takes the Israeli attack lying low and won't retaliate. But Iran isn't obliging. Can Israel be spinning its last spin?

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2011 on page no. 25

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