Netanyahu’s war must be stopped now [SALON]

Published: March 4, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu (Credit: Reuters/Nir Elias)

The media has focused attention on the rude way that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made his appearance in the U.S. this week, as though the real issue is hurt feelings between him and President Obama. This is a mistake that misleads many into thinking that the problem is about respect for our president or concern that Netanyahu is using this trip to promote his election chances in Israel, where “standing up to Obama” might enhance his electoral chances when the Israeli public chooses a new Knesset in two weeks. Watch as the media’s next angle becomes a sigh of relief when Netanyahu makes apologetic sounds about that rift.
The real story is far more worrisome.  Netanyahu is here to push the U.S. toward another Middle East war in which the U.S. would be the proxy for what Netanyahu (mistakenly) thinks is Israeli interests. And Americans are going to have to stand up and say “NO” both to Netanyahu and to the militarists in both parties who are all too happy to generate another war, this time against Iran.  If Netanyahu succeeds, it will be a disaster for all Americans, and an even greater disaster for American Jews.
Let me explain.
Netanyahu’s strategy is to frighten the American public with images of a nuclear armed Iran that will, in his estimation, use those arms against Israel. Using Hitler and the Holocaust as his rhetorical foundation, he insists that allowing Iran to develop its nuclear capacities for peaceful purposes will only be a cover for them developing nuclear capacity for armaments that could be quickly assembled. To stop that, he urges the U.S. to escalate sanctions against Iran rather than enter the deal that Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have been trying to negotiate that would allow the Iranians to develop nuclear energy to replace quickly depleting and earth-polluting energy supplies for their rapidly growing Iranian population.
There are many in Iran who don’t trust the U.S.—and they have good reason. The U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government in 1953, then installed the Shah and his brutally repressive regime, and stuck with it even when millions of Iranians were demonstrating against it. The close U.S. relationship with Israel was a sore point for many Muslims, in large part because of the obvious suffering that Israel has caused to the largely Islamic-oriented Palestinian people. And Israel has taken a variety of militaristic steps against Iran, including assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and cyber warfare against the Iranian regime.
Using quotes from the last prime minister of Iran, who talked about wanting to eliminate the “Zionist regime” from the earth, ignoring that that Iranian prime minister had his supporters severely defeated in the last Iranian elections, ignoring the fact that their supreme leader seeks to avoid confrontation with both Israel and the U.S. and says that it is a sin against Islam for anyone to use nuclear weapons, Netanyahu evokes the great guilt that many Christians feel about the way that Jews were demeaned by Christianity for 1,700 years and then abandoned to the genocidal acts of the Nazis. He uses that as an argument for why the Iranians must be stopped from developing any nuclear capacity, even for transparently peaceful purposes.
The irony here is that the escalation of sanctions at this point would strengthen those in Iran who do not wish to make any accommodations to the U.S., which it quite reasonably sees as mostly doing Israel’s bidding in the Middle East. If we escalate the sanctions, there are two predictable consequences: A.) The anger that many Iranians feel toward the oppressive regime of the mullahs would be redirected against Israel and the U.S., thereby strengthening the Islamic extremists as national pride replaces concerns about democracy and human rights, and weakening those who, I hope, will someday be able to non-violently overthrow the human-rights denying regime of the mullahs; and B.) Iran would move quickly to escalate its nuclear capacities and turn them toward military use, understanding the deepening sanctions as an act of war that might soon be followed by military attacks either from Israel or the U.S. (in short, actually creating the situation that Netanyahu says he fears, but which does not currently exist).
Now Netanyahu and his cheerleaders in both parties of the U.S. Congress are no dummies. They can see this same plausible outcome. So why would they be advocating it? Sadly, the answer is that they actually want another war, this time with Iran. For some Israelis, a war led by the U.S. against Iran would be a perfect way to get rid of a state that has been funding Islamic groups closer to Israel like Hezbollah (though Iran has actually been attacking supporters of ISIS—the self proclaimed Islamic State whose barbarism rightly frightens most civilized people). For some American capitalists, the securing of Iranian oil reserves will give Big Oil several more decades of flourishing. For some right-wing Christians, fighting a war to rid the Middle East of Israel’s most significant competitor for regional influence is a way of alleviating their guilt from past failures to save the Jews. And for still other right-wing Christians, a war that decimated Iran would be a major step toward the Apocalypse that they hope will yield a return of their messiah to earth.
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