Porter Report – After Dempsey Warning, Israel May Curb War Threat
Gareth Porter: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told reporters in Britain that an Israeli strike would be ineffective and then said, â€œI donâ€™t want to be complicit if they [the Israelis] choose to do it.â€
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. Welcome to this week’s version of the Porter Report with investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter, who now joins us from our studio in Washington. How are you doing, Gareth?
GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: I’m fine, thanks. Hi, Paul.
JAY: So what have you got for us this week?
PORTER: Well, this week I think is reallyâ€”the headline story is about the way in which Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to threaten war against Iran has run up against a big obstacle, and more than an obstacle, which is that the Obama administration has now had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, in Britain make a statement that has really shaken up the political system in Israel and I think undoubtably will cause the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to have to reconsider its strategy here. What Dempsey said was in the context of talking about the fact that Israelâ€”an attack by Israel on Iran would not be successful, it would not be able to destroy the Iranian nuclear program, it would set it back. And, of course, as the Israeli national security officials themselves have been pointing out ad nauseum in recent months, it would actually have the effect of almost certainly causing Iran to rush to get a nuclear weapon as fast as possible.
But then the real punchline in Martin Dempsey’s statement to the press was: if they were to attack Iran, I wouldn’t want to be complicit. And, of course, by that he really meant that the Obama administration does not want to be complicit. And that has been, I think, quite correctly read in Israel as a firm no from President Obama to Netanyahu about all this talk of war against Iran. And so, you know, the feeling there, as expressed by a former national security adviser to the Israeli government, Giora Eiland, is that Netanyahu really doesn’t have much choice but to back down, to step back from this campaign, which seems like it’s been going on for years, to convince the world that he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, are really serious about attackingâ€”or seriously considering about attacking Iran, bringing it to a close, trying to find a face-saving withdrawal from that clearly untenable position.
JAY: Now, how muchâ€”you would have expectedâ€”. Sorry. You would have expected Romney to jump all over this. But how much has he been jumping all over it? It seems to me it’s been somewhat muted.
PORTER: Well, this is another factor that I think plays into the political calculus, the shifting political calculus in Jerusalem, which is that no question about it, Netanyahu really hoped and anticipated that the Republican nominee and the GOP would make the alleged flaccid policy of the Obama administration toward Iran a major campaign issue and basically attack Obama for not taking the Israeli red line, which is that if Iran doesn’t cease and desist its uranium enrichment completely, that the United States would then threaten to attack Iran next year sometime.
And so now you haveâ€”the reality has been that the GOP and Romney did not really make much of an issue of Iran at all during the convention. Comparatively speaking, it was really a very small part of the convention, and there was no threat by Romneyâ€”or promise, I perhaps should say, to take on the Israeli red line. There was no bombastic statement that, you know, if I’m elected president, I will give an ultimatum to the Iranians, such as the Israelis [crosstalk]
JAY: And what do you make of them? Why do you think that is? Given the money Sheldon Adelson and other people are throwingâ€”.
PORTER: Well, my co-author on this piece at IPS, Jim Lobe, has analyzed the GOP convention pretty carefully, and also the politics within the Romney camp, and he points out that there is some evidence that the neoconservatives, who seem to be in the saddle, in terms of foreign-policy advisers, to Romney, may have suffered a big setback during the Romney trip, the foreign trip where he went to Israel, Poland, and the U.K., all countries which fit into the neoconservative and Israeli agenda of trying to basically drum up support for war against Iran. And during that trip, Romney stumbled, didn’t make a very goodâ€”give a very good account of himself, and in general the neocons, I think, were blamed for a trip that really didn’t do him much good at all and probably hurt him, and that as a result of that, the so-called realists within that camp, who are still pretty conservative but by no means share the kind of John Bolton enthusiasm for an attack on Iran, have gained a good deal of ground within the Romney camp, and indeed may now have been in a position to call the shots in terms of how Romney handled this issue at the convention.
JAY: And do you think this has something to do with how much the military leadership is against this attack on Iran? I remember when Cheney was pushing this and there wasâ€”it looked like something was going to happenâ€”Seymour Hersh was writing about the imminent possibilities of an attack on Iranâ€”there was a whole group of retired generals that came out publicly. They wrote in The New York Times and The Washington Post against an attack on Iran. I mean, it seems like the Pentagon, mostly its leadership has been against this for quite some time. Has Romney got some sense of this? And perhaps doesn’t want to come out against them as well?
PORTER: Well, I think we’re actually talking about two different militaries who have equally been opposed to the idea of an attack on Iran by either Israel orâ€”well, certainly in the case of the United States, Israel or the United States, but of the Israeli military also. I think both of these militaries have been a huge factor in what I think is the debacle of the Netanyahu strategy here. On one hand, there’s no doubt about it: the U.S. military, as I’ve been saying for a long time, has made it extremely clear to both Bush administration and the Obama administration that they are absolutely adamantly opposed to any thought of an attack on Iran under any circumstances because of the extreme danger to U.S. military assets in the Gulf region. They’re extremely vulnerable, both within the waters of the Arabian Gulf or the Persian Gulf, and on the land, the U.S. military installations, essentially [inaud.] installations in Qatar, in the U.A.E., and elsewhere in the Middle East. So no doubt that the U.S. military has played a big role in influencing the U.S. government, and in influencing, I think, the Israeli military as well, to take a much more cautionary approach to the whole idea of Iran policy and really putting a lot of pressure on Netanyahu. I think this is another factor in the necessity for Netanyahu to really step back from what has beenâ€”.
JAY: And one of the things I think you pointed out in your article was that some of the advisers to Romney who are in fact, you know, neocons of one sort, certainly very pro-Israel, andâ€”but they’ve been saying that if Israel precipitates an attack on Iran that leads to the deaths of American soldiers, it could be a sea change in American public opinion in terms of America’s whole relationship with Israel, and they’re afraid of that becoming a discussion on the table.
PORTER: That’s right, Paul. That’s a very, very big factor in Israeli politics, the whole question of whether Israeli policy, as formulated by Benjamin Netanyahu, really endangers Israel’s relationship with United States. It’s not just with the Obama administration, but more generally with the U.S. public. I think the fear there in Israel is very palpable that Netanyahu is leading Israel into a situation where it could very easily lose the credibility, the good-faith, you know, relationship with the United States, with the U.S. public, that the U.S. public would draw back from support for Israel, and then Israel would be in very, very serious trouble. And that is an issue that the opposition party, Kadima, has publicly raised quite explicitly. They’re attacking Netanyahu on that ground, and the military as well has been raising that problem. So I think that this is definitely at the center of the political calculus they are now [crosstalk] shifting away from continuing.
JAY: I don’t think we should ever have this discussion without reminding everybody and ourselves thatâ€”but there is warfare against Iran going on right now, and it’s economic warfare. And you and I have talked about this before, that the threat of war may or may not be real, but it’s certainly kind of diverting everyone’s attention from the real economic warfare, the sanctions that are going on against Iran, at a time when there’s still no evidence that there is a weapons program.
PORTER: Well, as you know, I agree with you on that, Paul. I mean, I do think that in the short run those sanctions, as damaging as they are to the Iranian economy, and causing already a good deal of pain to the Iranian consumer, are not going to have an impact on the policy of Iran towards its nuclear program. There is certainly a possibility that over the next three or four years that could play a role. But certainly for the time being, the sanctions are harming the Iranian people but not having an effect on policy. And it is the case that the Iranian government may decide at some point to respond in some fashion that could be dangerous.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Gareth.
PORTER: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you’d like to see more reports like this, don’t forget the donate button, because if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.
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