Israel Disappoints the Neo-cons in Lebanon Proxy War

Hear, Oh Israel! Charles Krauthammer is disappointed. Very disapppointed. And he clearly speaks for the rest of the neo-conservative fraternity that has worked so hard to destroy any distinction between U.S. interests and Israeli interests. That’s because, as we pointed out a couple of days ago, the Bush administration sees Israel’s war in Lebanon as its own war, by proxy, against Iran. And Israel is quite simply failing to deliver the knockout blow against Hizballah that Washington is demanding — it can’t be done, of course, but reality has never restrained the neocons from pursuing their fantasies, at the expense of thousands of lives. Krauthammer offers candid confirmation of what many, including Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, have suspected all along:

Israel’s leaders do not seem to understand how ruinous a military failure in Lebanon would be to its relationship with America, Israel’s most vital lifeline… America’s green light for Israel to defend itself is seen as a favor to Israel. But that is a tendentious, misleadingly partial analysis. The green light — indeed, the encouragement — is also an act of clear self-interest. America wants, America needs, a decisive Hezbollah defeat.

He explains, as we’ve done, that the U.S. sees Hizballah as nothing more than a cat’s paw for Iran, which it sees as its major strategic competitor in the Middle East. It therefore saw the Hizballah provocation as a golden opportunity to strike a blow, by proxy, at an organization deemed an important part of Iran’s own deterrent capability. It is also mindful of the power of the challenge offered by Hizballah to further destabilize the decrepit autocracies in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on which its influence in the Arab world rests.

Hence Israel’s rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for its great American patron. The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically. Iran would lose its foothold in Lebanon. It would lose its major means to destabilize and inject itself into the heart of the Middle East. It would be shown to have vastly overreached in trying to establish itself as the regional superpower.

The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed… (Olmert’s) search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but America’s confidence in Israel as well. That confidence — and the relationship it reinforces — is as important to Israel’s survival as its own army.

From the horse’s mouth.

Much of the debate over the influence of the Israel lobby in the U.S. focuses on the question of whether the relationship advances or compromises U.S. interests. My own thinking has long been that it doesn’t help to try and examine this question viewing either Israel or the U.S. in monolithic terms. In fact, what Krauthammer’s comments reveal is the fact that there’s an extremist ideological element at work both in Washington and in Israeli political circles (although there it is concentrated in the more hardline Likud minority of Bibi Netanyahu), whose common purpose is a (misguided) revolutionary drive to forcefully remake the whole Middle East on terms more favorable to the U.S. and Israel — essentially, to crush all challengers to either.

Their enemies were not simply the realist custodians in Washington of a policy to pursue U.S. interests by balancing those of Israel and its Arab neighbors — most importantly by pressing Israel to conclude a peace with its neighbors based on UN Resolution 242 — but also the Israeli peace camp. Today, Sharon’s propagandists may have convinced much of the U.S. media that the reason there was no peace was that Arafat wouldn’t make a deal, but it’s conveniently forgotten that Sharon himself opposed the deal offered by Barak at Camp David far more vehemently than Arafat ever did. More importantly, it’s also ignored that the neocons who have guided so much of the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy — Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrahams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle (and even others who are not neocons, just ignorant ultra-nationalists like Dick Cheney) — were as vehemently opposed to the Oslo Peace process. And just as they set out to overturn the U.S. involvement in pressing Israel to conclude a two-state peace based on the 1967 borders, they also set out to overturn the Israeli electorate’s preference for governments committed to the same principle.

Perle, in fact, led a study group that included Feith and which compiled a strategic guideline for the incoming Netanyahu government in 1996, titled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, which amounted to a manifesto to reverse the prevailing “Land for Peace” logic and instead pursue tough action to remak the Middle East, including Iraq — which they (as if to illustrate the almost psychedelic giddiness of their fantasies) envisaged turning into another kingdom under the rule of the Jordanian royal house.

Thoughtful Israeli voices are beginning to count the cost of the “friendship” from the U.S. to Israel orchestrated by this crowd. Daniel Levy writes in Haaretz, that in the case of Lebanon, “Israel was actually in need of an early exit strategy, had its diplomatic options narrowed by American weakness and marginalization in the region, and found itself ratcheting up aerial and ground operations in ways that largely worked to Hezbollah’s advantage.” This, says Levy, is symptomatic of a deeper problem, which is the hegemony in Washington’s Middle East decision making of the neo-cons’ fabulist narrative:

The key neocon protagonists, their think tanks and publications may be unfamiliar to many Israelis, but they are redefining the region we live in. This tight-knit group of “defense intellectuals” – centered around Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Perle, Feith and others – were considered somewhat off-beat until they teamed up with hawkish well-connected Republicans like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Newt Gingrich, and with the emerging powerhouse of the Christian right. Their agenda was an aggressive unilateralist U.S. global supremacy, a radical vision of transformative regime-change democratization, with a fixation on the Middle East, an obsession with Iraq and an affinity to “old Likud” politics in Israel. Their extended moment in the sun arrived after 9/11.

Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to “defend civilization.”

Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon “creative destruction” in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.

Elsewhere, Sidney Blumenthal provides fascinating insights into the neocons’ operations within the administration, suggesting that Rice is actually marginalized by the neo-cons, which accounts for the skittishness that has characterized her interventions throughout the crisis — and that the U.S. is extending Israel’s target range by supplying NSA intelligence supposedly showing the movement of weapons from Syria and Iran to Hizballah, creating conditions and pretexts for an expansion of the conflict. Blumenthal adds:

Having failed in the Middle East, the administration is attempting to salvage its credibility by equating Israel’s predicament with the U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives, for their part, see the latest risk to Israel’s national security as a chance to scuttle U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the last opportunity to realize the fantasies of “A Clean Break.”

By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible tripwire, the Bush administration is laying the condition for regional conflagration with untold consequences — from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme that might thrust Israel into a ring of fire cannot be construed as a blunder. It is a deliberate, calculated and methodical plot. ”

This is far more serious than lunatic but influential televangelists lobbying for an attack on Iran to hasten Armageddon and “rapture”, this is a case of geopolitical berserkers with all the sobriety of a bunch of teenage Maoists on crack — but who are taken far too seriously for our collective good in Washington and in the U.S. national media — trying to start a war, with Israel at its epicenter.

The U.S.-Israel relationship under the current administration, then, is a blank check only to the extent that Israel is willing to go to war to realize a neo-con Likudnik fantasy.

Israelis have typically unleashed the dogs of war while expecting the U.S. to apply the brakes and walk it away from the precipice. Instead, they have found this administration baying for more. Tom Segev, my favorite of all Israel’s historian-journalists, puts it eloquently:

Over time, we have grown accustomed to the Americans saving us, not only from the Arabs, but from ourselves too. Not in this war. It is still unclear whether this war was coordinated with the United States; only the release of government records of the past three weeks will shed light on this. Whatever the case may be, the impression is that the Americans are linking the events in Lebanon to their failing adventure in Iraq…

…If Europe had some say in the region, Israel may have started negotiations with Hezbollah on the release of the soldiers it abducted – and hopefully, it still will do so – instead of getting mixed up in war. For some years now, more Middle East-related wisdom emanates from Europe than from the United States. It wasn’t Europe but the United States that invented the diplomatic fable called the road map; it wasn’t Europe but the United States that encouraged unilateral disengagement and is allowing Israel to continue oppressing the population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The United States is not engaged with Syria; Europe is. Syria is relevant not only for settling the situation in Lebanon, but also in managing relations with the Palestinians. This is the real problem. Because, even if the United States conquers Tehran, we will still have to live with the Palestinians. In Europe, they already understand this.

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