Reacting to Trump administration blocking of a UN investigation into Israeli military’s killings of Palestinians, Col. Larry Wilkerson says the United States is “in the back pocket of Israel like we have never been associated with any other country in the world.”
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday the Trump administration blocked a vote calling for an international investigation into Israeli defense forces killing 17 and wounding 1500 Palestinians last Friday. The government of Kuwait had proposed the resolution. The killings took place in the context of a massive peaceful march of Palestinians near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border. They called for a return of expropriated land and commemorated the killing of six Palestinians at a demonstration in 1976. Here’s what Taye-Brook Zerihoun of the United Nations, the Assistant to the Secretary General for Political Affairs, had to say.
TAYE-BROOK ZERIHOUN: There is fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days. We will continue to underline that it is imperative that civilians, in particular children, not be targeted, and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk at any time. Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities.
SHARMINI PERIES: The Pope at his Easter service on Sunday in Rome had this to say about the violence.
POPE FRANCIS: We beseech fruits of reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless. For Yemen, and the entire Middle East, so that dialogue and mutual respect may prevail over division and violence.
SHARMINI PERIES: After taking life of so many Palestinians, Israeli military tweeted: “We know where every bullet landed,” implying that the killings were intentional and targeted. The tweet had been deleted shortly after it appeared. Joining me now to discuss all of this is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is former chief of staff to the Secretary of State Colin Powell, now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thank you so much for joining us today, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me back, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, Walter Miller, the U.S. representative to the U.N., speaking at the Security Council on Friday claimed that bad actors were using the protests as a cover to incite more violence and to endanger innocent lives. There’s no evidence, though, if you look at the footage, and we saw a weekend of full of protest footage that people have posted on social media. We have no indication that anyone incited any violence. Why is the Trump administration so determined to defend Israel and its military on this matter?
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, you might as well ask, why has every American administration in the last 20-plus years been so willing to do the same? Particularly when increasing majorities, if not an overwhelming majority of the international community, sees fit to at least call for investigations if not for condemnation. And yet the United States, perhaps joined by the prestigious country of the Pacific, or maybe some other island municipality or country, votes to condemn or to veto, not to condemn but to veto to keep it from happening is an international action.
The answer to that question, I think, is equally increasingly simple and easy, and that is that, as Gideon Levy said recently, of Haaretz, the policy of the United States is made in Tel Aviv, and the policy of Tel Aviv dominates the policy of Washington, even to the point where he said the only place Trump is unanimously acclaimed is Tel Aviv, and the only place where Bibi Netanyahu is unanimously acclaimed is Washington. We are in the back pocket of Israel like we have never been associated with any other country in the world. It is astounding how much we are so. And Donald Trump has just brought that to you apogee, if you will, where anything Bibi wants, Bibi gets.
And let me just comment on Israeli tactics. These have been increasingly the same, too. Israel confronts a protest. And Israel says, as it did so dramatically, for example, in Operation Cast Lead, anyone who dares mount a protest, anyone who dares seem as if they might be seeking instability, we will kill you and kill you and kill you and kill you until you understand that anyone who raises a little finger against the state of Israel is apt to die. That’s basically Israeli strategy.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Larry, you stated something very important, that in the past although U.S.’s administrations have supported Israel unconditionally Trump has taken this to a new level. And it doesn’t matter what the international community says or what the United Nations might or might not consider. It is amputated every time this discussion even arrives in a place like the Security Council. Now can you, just from your experience of having dealt with these situations in the past, tell us what might work? What other ways in which you can actually draw the United States and Israel to the table and have a serious, meaningful discussion about the ways in which it is handling basic peaceful protests?
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, let me start by saying I want to just amend your remarks a bit and say that since 1948, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended overwhelmingly to President Harry Truman that he not take on the burden of 400 million or so Arabs opposed vehemently to the United States by recognizing the state of Israel, and Truman did it anyway, presidents have tried to maintain a balance. And I would say that they have succeeded, more or less, in maintaining that balance all the way up through Ronald Reagan, who you may recall tried to sell and did ultimately sell F15s and AWACS to Saudi Arabia. H.W. Bush, his vice president, later president on his own right, H.W. Bush took the Israelis after the first Gulf War, when he gained some leverage from that war, to Oslo. Essentially he was the one who set the ground for Madrid and then for Oslo later.
It’s only with the entry onto the scene of President Clinton who for the first time, ’95 as I recall, goes to AIPAC, for the very first time an American president at AIPAC, it’s only with the advent of Bill Clinton and then the presidents after him, culminating in George W. Bush, who again, took a man who the Arab world thought was a bloody minded killer, Arik Sharon, into the Oval Office and called him a man of peace. And now we have Donald Trump. So with Bush, with Clinton to a certain extent, with Obama to a certain extent, with Bush certainly, and now with Trump we have become Israel’s lawyer, we become their horse-holder, we become the party they turn to to fight their wars if they need be, vis-a-vis Iran, for example.
We can do no wrong and they can do no wrong in one another’s eyes. That’s what we have now. We have an extremely unbalanced policy, and it’s my expectation, full expectation, we’re going to pay for it dearly.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, is there a way to bring all sides to the table and have a meaningful discussion about resolving the conflict at a higher level?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think there is, Sharmini, picking up on your other question’s main points. And there is, but it isn’t going to happen with the likes of John Bolton. I see John Bolton, for example, and I assume Trump picked him at least in part for this reason, as just as duplicitous as was Douglas Feith in the George Bush administration. In other words, he’s a card-carrying member of the Likud Party. John Bolton has dual loyalties. John Bolton was sneaking off to Israel in 2003 and ’04 to talk to people like the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the MEK, in Israel. Hosted by Israel. Hosted by Mossad, to talk about such things as Iranian nuclear weapons efforts, which of course later were completely discounted. But to build a portfolio of intelligence not unlike that portfolio that suggested Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
So this is John Bolton. I don’t know how much power Trump’s going to give him. I hope none at all. But if he does give him power then it’s going to be very difficult to do what I’m now going to suggest. There are basically three or four fundamental components to what a balanced U.S. policy would be, and in my mind a sound and sane U.S. policy. And you’ll see immediately when I articulate these components why I say John Bolton won’t be a part of this.
First and foremost is to more or less compel Israel to change its strategy and its tactics by telling them that 3.64 billion dollars we give them annually is not going to come any more. Not unless they’re responsive to U.S. desires, and this includes all the original parameters of our Middle East policy. The 1967 borders, the right to return, a two-state solution in general, Jerusalem as the capital of both Palestine and Israel, and so on. The second thing you’ve got to do is be willing to hammer Israel where Israel needs hammering in conjunction with that threat to cut off funding. And that’s in every manner of the U.S. relationship with Israel, from intelligence sharing on the one hand, to the kinds of things that we’re doing with our private citizens and so forth on the other hand. And by that I mean, of course, the rapture-loving Mike Pence-like zealous Christians who aren’t Christians, who constantly talk about the rapture want Armageddon to come, the antichrist to be identified, and everything to end so that they can go to heaven. I have no problem with them going to heaven. I just don’t want to go with them and. I suggest to you that about 95 percent of some 7 billion people on the face of the earth don’t go with them either.
The third component of it would be to bring all the other powers in the region into concert. And this includes that kingdom over there run by that runaway errant heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman, now finishing his much-funded trip to the United States. Getting them to come along with this policy. Saudi Arabia used to be on this more or less, two-state solution, peace agreement and so forth policy. No longer, because they see Israel as a pawn in their game to defeat Iran and make sure they are the hegemon of the Gulf, and not Iran. So you’ve got to bring them along. You’ve got to also reach out to other countries that can help you with their good offices, One of which is Moscow, which is why I despair with the way we’re treating Moscow in the press, in the Congress, in the White House and so forth. You’ve got to bring Ankara along. You’ve got to have some partners in bringing this pressure to bear on Israel.
And then lastly, you’ve got a couple yourself, literally couple yourself, to the now almost 65-70 percent of American Jews who increasingly find Netanyahu a despicable individual, who increasingly find Israel’s policies as articulated by Netanyahu as destructive, as even calling into question how long Israel’s going to be around. And if it is going to be around, is it going to be an apartheid state, because it’s certainly not going to be a democracy, not the way it’s headed right now. And who are very anxious for this prospect or these prospects, and are on our side. You know, when I say our side I mean this side of justice, the side of peace, the side of equanimity, the side of balance, the side of doing something in this situation that looks productive rather than destructive. You’ve got to have all those components.
And so now you know, Sharmini, there is no way in the world Donald Trump and John Bolton are going to put together a policy that remotely resembles what I just said. They’re going to march us off the cliff. That’s what they’re going to do.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let’s break this into another segment, and please do join us for our continuing discussion with Larry Wilkerson about the developments in Palestine between Gaza and the Israeli border.
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in conversation with Col. Larry Wilkerson, who is former chief of staff to the Secretary of State Colin Powell, now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thank you so much for joining us today, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me back, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Larry, let’s take a look at the Iran Nuclear Agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the GCPOA. This is another example of Trump’s closeness to Israel, supporting Israel’s effort to terminate the agreement against the resistance and pushback from Europe’s cosigners, the UK, France, and Germany. What is the largest strategic objective on the part of the U.S., the Trump administration, and Netanyahu in terms of undermining the agreement, and what are their greatest hopes in the region that they’re trying to achieve?
LARRY WILKERSON: Let’s look at it from the positive side, Sharmini. What we should do is adhere to the agreement, the nuclear agreement. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We should adhere to it, just as the Germans and the French and the British and all the others, Russia, China, are doing. And just as Iran is doing. Iran is in full compliance. There is probably a 1 percent chance that any of this could be untrue. I’m willing to bet on the 99 percent that says it is true.
If that continues we can certainly arrive at a point where the great negotiating skills of the great TV star Donald Trump could be employed to go further and take care of some of the concerns, and in some respects they are genuine concerns, that people have over this agreement, such as the 15 year point, the 20 four point, 25 year point, and so forth. Those concerns could be talked about and dealt with, and in the meantime, too, you could talk about other issues, like ballistic missiles, like support for terrorism. Though you’ve got to open parentheses there and say the largest supporter for terrorism in the world is Saudi Arabia, close those parentheses. Need to do something about that, too, United States. And you could probably get to a point where the situation in the Persian Gulf was calmed down, manageable, settle Syria and some of the other problems at the same time. We might return to a modicum of stability and possibly prospects for this region’s peace.
But here’s what I think is happening. I think Mr. Netanyahu, and interest interestingly enough, much of his security establishment disagrees, some of them vehemently, with Netanyahu’s policy. I think he’s stuck on his own petard. He has to, one, have an enemy. He has to have an other, and Iran fills that role for him in order to stay in political power. And number two, he has to have someone whom the United States can bait in order to make it look like the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv is as solid as ever. And in order to make it look like the first policy that I’ve just enumerated is working. That is to say he needs an other and he needs a superpower around him to face that other. Doesn’t matter that the other is not a real threat. It just matters that it is in the perception of Israelis and more or less a majority of Americans.
So what they’re trying to do by that policy is not only eventually get to the point where they unseat the regime in Iran, but also keep perturbated and in turmoil and chaos the majority of the Arab world. And particularly that Arab world lives from roughly Beirut down through Damascus over to Aden. They want that world incapable of coalescing even as a single state, but certainly as a group of states, and threatening Israel. Meanwhile, while that chaos is going on, Israel will make hay. They will do all that they need to do to consolidate their brutal occupation of the West Bank, their now occupation of more territory in the Golan, and probably even extend their perimeters elsewhere to include, of course, as we’ve already seen, Jerusalem as their capital.
So that’s the Netanyahu strategy. Now, you asked me if Donald Trump is aware of all this, and if I said yes I’d have to give him a lot more credit than I’m willing to do. What Donald Trump is aware of is he knows how to play the base he has in this country like Anne Sophie Mutter plays Mozart. And that’s what he’s doing. He has no comprehension, in my fullest expectation of his intelligence, he has no expectation, realization, even intuition of what’s going on in Israel. He’s just following the street map required for his domestic base to stay resilient and more or less in support of him.
So we’re marching towards this denouement, whatever it might be, in the Middle East with him pulling troops out of Syria, putting new American bases in Israel, telling us Netanyahu can do whatever the hell he wants to do and so forth all simultaneously. It looks like a really broken dysfunctional foreign policy because it is.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, according to the New York Times report this weekend, the head of the Israeli military, Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, had reported that Iran is actually full compliance of the nuclear agreement. So there appears to be a rift between the Israeli military and Netanyahu. What do you make of this?
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, I’ve always found, well, let me back up. I’ve not always found, but most of the time I have found that Israeli generals, and officers in particular in the IDF, and for that matter Shin Bet, Mossad, are pretty sharp. And when we were working on the nuclear agreement, we, a much larger group trying to help President Obama largely with the U.S. Congress in getting the nuclear agreement through the wickets it had to go through, we talked to former national security advisers, to generals, to admirals, to Air Force generals. We talked to the security establishment in Israel extensively. By and large we found that they were, some of them reluctantly, some of them less than reluctantly, in favor of the deal. And once it was looking as if it were going to go through they, many of them, dropped their reluctance and said, OK, this is not a bad deal. Let’s face it, we’ve gone from maybe 30 to 45 days warning of a breakout to over a year’s warning. We can live with that. And oh, by the way, we trust the IAEA and all of this very rigorous inspection regime to do what it says it can do. And so we’re maybe a little worried at 15 years, we’re maybe a little worried when 19000 or more centrifuges maybe start spinning again and so forth, but we can deal with that. We can deal with that. In the meantime we’re kind of happy with this deal. It’s probably the best thing. We knew also that some of these people, especially the ones on active duty, were telling this upward to Avigdor Lieberman, although it was a different defense minister at that time. But now Avigdor Lieberman, and to Bibi Netanyahu.
So this is a real disconnect, politically and militarily. I think there may be a real problem for this much-embattled prime minister. He’s, after all, being hounded by the courts, and Israeli courts are usually pretty good hound dogs, and the military. So we should watch this very carefully. At any moment that kind of fracturing could cause them some problems. I don’t expect it, but it could. And you put your finger on another element in this very, very difficult region, very, very difficult situation in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, that worries me. The most competent element in Israel in terms of its security is the IDF, and we’re doing some things to the IDF that we probably shouldn’t be doing.
Not least of which, Sharmini, is the clamp down. For example, I didn’t know about this until Gideon Levy and some others told me about it a recent conference. You’re familiar with the Breaking the Silence. That was about 650-700 Israeli Defense Force officers, NCOs, and others who had come out to just that, break the silence, and tell about some of the things the IDF was having to do in the West Bank and Gaza and so forth that truly revolted some of them, made them feel, disturbed their consciences, made made them feel lower than life. I mean, really badly. Well they clamped down on them now. Netanyahu’s government now is so draconian and so authoritarian that none of those people dare speak up anymore. Not only their careers and maybe their livelihoods endangered, maybe even their lives are in danger. So that’s how difficult it has become to be a dissenter, to be a true patriot, to be someone who wants to speak the truth to power in Israel.
This is a very dangerous situation for Israel as well as for the United States in its connection with that situation. So I don’t, I’m not very optimistic about the situation.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us, Larry. There’s so much more to explore here. But I think the point you made about the ways in which the U.S. could, if they would manage this situation in a way that is far more peace-oriented, resolution-oriented. and we should discuss that as a segment of its own. I think it would really help certain people in the international community to have somebody like you advising them about the ways in which they can go about demanding some justice to what’s going on between Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. participation in it. Thank you so much.
LARRY WILKERSON: It’s a very tough situation, a very complex situation. Yet if one examines it closely, it is subject to being bettered, being ameliorated, being fixed, if you will. But the key ingredient is the United States, and I just don’t see any inclination to be that ingredient.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Larry. Thank you so much for joining us today.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.