Saturday,19 January, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Saturday,19 January, 2019
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Israeli warmongering

Netanyahu is ramping up his rhetoric on Iran. But more worrying still is that the Trump White House seems to buy it, writes Hussein Haridy


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went on his newest disinformation campaign Monday, 30 April, regarding what he calls the nuclear ambitions of Iran. Not unlike similar campaigns orchestrated in the last few years, whether before a special joint session of the United States Congress, or before the General Assembly of the United Nations, it seems that the Israeli premier has nothing else to worry about.

After talks with the newly-sworn in US Secretary of State Mark Pompeo, Netanyahu addressed the world to warn against an alleged secret Iranian programme to manufacture nuclear weapons. He announced that Israeli intelligence got hold of highly-classified material from inside Iran constituting indisputable evidence that the Iranian regime has been pursuing a clandestine nuclear programme. He emphatically said that Iran has been lying to the world when claiming that it stopped its nuclear programme with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the nuclear deal signed between the P5+1 Group and Iran back in July 2016. This deal has been harshly and persistently criticised by President Donald Trump, when still on the campaign trail and ever since he entered the Oval Office in January 2017.

If the position of the Israeli prime minister comes as no surprise, the timing of his warnings is fraught with serious consequences for the security and stability of the Middle East. It was calculated to bear a direct influence on the White House, and President Trump personally, before 12 May, when the US administration will announce whether it will withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran and re-impose sanctions or not. The odds are it will. The Israeli prime minister would like nothing better than the United States jettisoning JCPOA. Such a decision would serve him well in the next few months and into the future, in achieving a short-term goal and a longer-term objective. The former is concerned with the Iranian presence in Syria. Ever since the Arab Syrian Army has been advancing militarily, with Russian and Iranian assistance, the Israeli government has left no stone unturned to warn against Iranian plans to have a permanent military presence in Syria once a political solution is agreed upon and implemented. The Israelis, the Americans and some of their regional allies and partners are claiming that Iran is bent on regional expansion, ultimately seeking a foothold on the Mediterranean, through Hizbullah in Lebanon and extending what is called the “Shia Arc” in the Levant. In this respect, Israel has made it known to the Russians, the Europeans and the Americans that it would resort to military force, if need be, to forestall such an eventuality. So far, it has carried out more than one hundred raids inside Syria targeting what it has called Iranian bases on Syrian territory. The latest attack came last week against a military base in the province of Homs where at least 12 Iranian soldiers were killed.

The longer-term objective is two-fold. The first is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capacity once JCPOA expires. The second has to do with which power or constellation of powers would have mastery over destinies in the Middle East. The US administration of President Trump and the Israeli government of Netanyahu are cooperating to make sure that Iran in the long-run never poses a threat, direct or indirect, to American and Israeli national security interests in the Middle East and the Gulf region. Both Washington and Tel Aviv claim that some Arab countries are willing to enter into a regional alliance with Israel as an “ally” to contain and defeat Iran.

On the other hand, the tactics of Netanyahu serve another purpose; namely, putting the Palestinian question on the back burner and reducing it to a mere security question from an Israeli point of view. In this respect, he has benefited from the full understanding and unlimited support of the Trump administration.

Before heading for Israel from Saudi Arabia, Pompeo, on his first Middle East tour after his confirmation, said that Iran is “indeed the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world. We are determined to make sure it never possesses a nuclear weapon.” And went on to criticise the nuclear deal with Iran, stressing that it “does not provide that assurance”. He reiterated that the United States will continue to work with the Europeans “to fix that deal”. “But if a deal cannot be reached, President Trump has said he will leave that deal.”

In Israel, Pompeo emphasised that the United States is deeply “concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and to the region, and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains”. He spoke of unwavering American support for Israel and that the United States is with the Hebrew state “in this fight, and [it] strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself”. Certainly, that was music to the ears of Netanyahu and Israeli hawks.

To add fuel to the smouldering fire in the Middle East, the Israeli prime minister told his eminent American guest that the “greatest threat to the world and to our two countries… is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons and specifically the attempt of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons”.

In reality, the gravest threat is not Israeli warmongering as such. Rather, it is the fact that the White House of President Trump buys into it, probably suiting its own plans and designs in the Middle East at large, including the Palestinian question. According to press reports, senior Israeli military leaders have been meeting, during last week, with their American counterparts, both in the United States and in the region, looking for American support for stronger action against Iran in Syria. And two Tuesdays ago, General Joseph Votel paid his first visit to Israel since taking over as commander of US Central Command. He held discussions with Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot, the Israeli chief of staff, regarding the growing influence of Iran in Syria.

From the above, we can safely assume that some advanced war planning is afoot between the United States and Israel. The question is not whether we are approaching an Israeli reckoning with Iran in Syria, but rather when and how mighty.

Egypt shouldn’t get involved in this war, if it comes to pass. Iran is not our strategic enemy.

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

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