As per usual, Avnery speaks with wisdom and insight about the developing situation in the Middle East, and it’s encouraging to see that he is still quietly confident that there will be no Israeli attack on Iran. At the same time, as Avnery recognises, Netanyahu is a volatile figure, and I suspect that most of us will sleep more easily when he has exited the scene.
Read more wisdom from Uri Avnery on the Gush Shalom website
The March of Folly
NOTHING COULD be more scary than the thought that this duo – Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak – is in a position to start a war, the dimensions and outcome of which are incalculable.
It’s scary not only because of their ideological fixations and mental outlook, but also because of the level of their intelligence.
The last month gave us a small sample. By itself it was but a passing episode. But as an illustration of their decision-making abilities, it was frightening enough.
THE ROUTINE conference of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations was to take place in Tehran. 120 states promised to attend, many of them represented by their presidents or prime ministers.
This was bad news for the Israeli government, which has devoted much of its energies during the last three years to the strenuous effort to isolate Iran – while Iran was devoted to a no less strenuous effort to isolate Israel.
If the location of the conference was not bad enough, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced that he would attend, too. And as if this was still not bad enough, the new president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, also promised to come.
Netanyahu was faced with a problem: how to react?
IF A wise expert had been consulted, he might have asked: why react at all?
The Non-Aligned Movement is an empty shell. It was created [or “founded”] 51 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, by Nehru of India, Tito of Yugoslavia, Sukarno of Indonesia and Abd-al-Nasser of Egypt. 120 nations joined. They wanted to steer a course between the American and the Soviet blocs.
Since then, circumstances have changed completely. The Soviets have disappeared, and the US is also not what it was. Tito, Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno are all dead. The Non-Aligned have no real function anymore. But it is much easier to set up an international organization than to disband it. Its secretariat provides jobs, its conferences provide photo opportunities, world leaders like to travel and schmooze.
If Netanyahu had kept quiet, chances are that the world media would have ignored the non-event altogether. CNN and Aljazeera might have devoted a full three minutes to it, out of courtesy, and that would have been that.
But for Netanyahu, keeping quiet is not an option. So he did something exceedingly foolish: he told Ban Ki-moon not to go to Tehran. More precisely: he ordered him not to go.
The aforementioned wise expert – if he existed – would have told Netanyahu: Don’t! The Non-aligned make up more than 60% of the UN membership. Ban wants to be re-elected in due course, and he is not going to insult 120 voters, much as you wouldn’t want to insult 80 members of the Knesset. His predecessors have attended all former conferences. He cannot refuse now – especially not after you publicly ordered him around.
Then there was Morsi. What to do about him?
If another wise expert, this time on Egypt, had been asked, he would have given much the same advice: let it be.
Egypt wants to resume its role as the leader of the Arab world and as an actor on the international stage. The new president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, certainly would not want to be seen giving in to Israeli pressure.
So, as the Hebrew saying goes, better to swallow a frog – even two frogs – then do something foolish.
BUT NETANYAHU couldn’t possibly follow such advice. It’s would be contrary to his nature. So he and his assistants proclaimed loudly – very loudly – that the 120 attending countries are supporting Iran’s effort to annihilate Israel, and that Ban and Morsi are promoting a Second Holocaust.
Instead of isolating Iran, Netanyahu helped Iran to isolate Israel.
The more so as both Ban and Morsi used the Tehran stage to castigate the Iranian leadership and its Syrian allies. Ban condemned Ahmadinejad’s denial of the holocaust as well as his proclaimed hopes for the disappearance of the “Zionist entity”. Morsi went even further and castigated the murderous Syrian regime, Iran’s main ally.
(This speech was broadcast live on Iranian television. The translator evoked general admiration for his presence of mind. Whenever Morsi said in Arabic “Syria”, the translator said in Farsi “Bahrain”.)
THIS WHOLE episode is important only insofar as it illustrates the incredible folly of Netanyahu and his close advisers (all of them handpicked by his wife, Sarah, easily the most unpopular person in the country). They seem to be cut off from the real world and to live in an imagined world of their own.
In this imaginary world, Israel is the center of the universe, and Netanyahu can give orders to the leaders of the nations, from Barack Obama and Angela Merkel to Mohamed Morsi and Ban Ki-moon.
Well, we are not the center of the world. We have a lot of influence, owing in part to our history. We are a regional power, much beyond our actual size. But to be really effective, we need allies, moral standing and the support of international public opinion, just like everybody else. Without this, Netanyahu’s pet project, to secure for himself a place in the history books by attacking Iran, cannot be carried out.
I know that many eyebrows were raised when I categorically stated that neither Israel nor the US would attack Iran. It seemed that I was risking my reputation – such as it is – while Netanyahu and Barak were preparing for the inevitable bombing run. When talk about the impending attack reached a crescendo, my few well-wishers were sincerely worried.
However, during the last few days, there has been an almost imperceptible change of tone here. Netanyahu declared that the “family of nations” must lay down a “red line” and timetable for stopping Iran’s nuclear arms effort.
Translated into simple Hebrew: there will be no Israeli attack, unless approved by the US. Such approval is impossible before the coming US elections. It is highly unlikely afterwards, too, for the reasons I tried to set out. Geographical, military, political and economic circumstances make it impossible. Diplomacy is called for. A compromise based on mutual interests and respect may be the best outcome.
An Israeli commentator has made the interesting suggestion that the President of the United States – after the elections – personally travel to Teheran and reach out to the Iranian people. That is no more improbable than Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China. I would add the suggestion that while he is at it, the President come to Jerusalem, too, to seal the compromise.
A YEAR and a half ago, I also dared to suggest that the Arab Spring would be good for Israel.
At the time, it was a common assumption in Israel, and throughout the West, that Arab democracy would lead to a surge of political Islam, and that this would present a mortal danger to Israel. The first part of the assumption was right, the second was wrong.
The obscurantist demonization of Islam can be dangerously misleading. The painting of Islam as a murderous, inherently anti-Semitic religion, can lead to destructive consequences. Fortunately, the dire forecasts are being disproved daily.
In the homeland of the Arab Awakening, Tunisia, a moderate Islamic regime has taken root. In Libya, where commentators foresaw chaos and permanent civil war between the tribes, chances for stability are growing. So are the chances that Islamists will play a positive role in post-Assad Syria.
And most importantly – the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is behaving with exemplary caution. Six thousand years of Egyptian wisdom is having a moderating effect on the Brothers, including Brother Morsi. In the few weeks of his rule, he has already demonstrated a remarkable ability for compromising with divergent interests – with the secular liberals and the army command in his own country, with the US, even with Israel. He is now engaged in an effort to settle things with the Sinai Bedouins, addressing their (justified) grievances and calling a halt to military action.
It is, of course, much too early to tell, but I believe that a rejuvenated Arab world, in which moderate Islamic forces play an important role (as they do in Turkey), may form the environment for Israeli-Arab peace. If we desire peace.
For this to happen, we must break out of Netanyahu’s imaginary world and return to the real world, the exciting, changing, challenging world of the 21st century.
Otherwise we will just add another sad chapter to the late Barbara Tuchman’s brilliant book, The March of Folly.
I find it good for the heart (as well as the mind) to touch base with Uri Avnery on a regular basis. He remains consistently optimistic about the impossibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. He has said it repeatedly: ‘it will not happen!’ And the truly encouraging thing is that his positive prophecy isn’t based on his faith in his leaders, let alone in God (being an atheist) but on his cold, hard political realism.
August 18, 2012
Mad or Crazy?
by Uri Avnery
BINYAMIN NETANYAHU may be crazy, but he is not mad.
Ehud Barak may be mad, but he is not crazy.
Ergo: Israel will not attack Iran
I HAVE said so before, and I shall say so again, even after the endless talk about it. Indeed no war has been talked about so much before it happened. To quote the classic movie line: “If you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk!”
In all Netanyahu’s bluster about the inevitable war, one sentence stands out: “In the Committee of Inquiry after the war, I shall take upon myself the sole responsibility, I and I alone!”
A very revealing statement.
First of all, committees of inquiry are appointed only after a military failure. There was no such committee after the 1948 War of Independence, nor after the 1956 Sinai War or the 1967 Six-day War. There were, however, committees of inquiry after the 1974 Yom Kippur war and the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon Wars. By conjuring up the specter of another such committee, Netanyahu unconsciously treats this war as an inevitable failure.
Second, under Israeli law, the entire Government of Israel is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Under another law, all ministers bear “collective responsibility”. TIME magazine, which is becoming more ridiculous by the week, may crown “King Bibi”, but we still have no monarchy. Netanyahu is no more than primus inter pares.
Third, in his statement Netanyahu expresses boundless contempt for his fellow ministers. They don’t count.
Netanyahu considers himself a modern day Winston Churchill. I don’t seem to remember Churchill announcing, upon assuming office, “I take responsibility for the coming defeat.” Even in the desperate situation of that moment, he trusted in victory. And the word “I” did not figure large in his speech.
IN THE daily brainwashing, the problem is presented in military terms. The debate, such as it is, concerns military capabilities and dangers.
Israelis are especially, and understandably, worried by the rain of tens of thousands of missiles expected to fall on all parts of Israel, not only from Iran, but also from Lebanon and Gaza. The minister responsible for civil defense deserted just this week, and another one, a refugee from the hapless Kadima party, has taken his place. Everybody knows that a large part of the population (including myself) is completely defenseless.
Ehud Barak has announced that no more than a measly 500 Israelis will be killed by enemy missiles. I do not aspire to the honor of being one of them, though I live quite near the Ministry of Defense..
But the military confrontation between Israel and Iran is only a part of the picture, and not the most important one.
As I have pointed out in the past, far more important is the impact on the world economy, already steeped in a profound crisis. An Israeli attack will be viewed by Iran as American-inspired, and the reaction will be accordingly, as explicitly stated by Iran this week.
The Persian Gulf is a bottle, whose neck is the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is totally controlled by Iran. The huge American aircraft carriers now stationed in the gulf will be well advised to get out before it is too late. They resemble those antique sailing ships which enthusiasts assemble in bottles. Even the powerful weaponry of the US will not be able to keep the strait open. Simple land-to-sea missiles will be quite enough to keep it closed for months. To open it, a prolonged land operation by the US and its allies will be required. A long and bloody business with unpredictable consequences.
A major part of the world’s oil supplies has to pass through this unique waterway. Even the mere threat of its closure will cause oil prices to shoot sky-high. Actual hostilities will result in a worldwide economic collapse, with hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of new unemployed.
Each of these victims will curse Israel. Since it will be crystal clear that this is an Israeli war, the rage will be turned against us. Worse, much worse – since Israel insists that it is “the state of the Jewish people”, the rage may take the form of an unprecedented outbreak of anti-Semitism. Newfangled Islamophobes will revert to old-time Jew-haters. “The Jews are our disaster,” as the Nazis used to proclaim.
This may be worst in the US. Until now, Americans have watched with admirable tolerance as their Middle East policy is practically dictated by Israel. But even the almighty AIPAC and its allies will not be able to contain the outburst of public anger. They will give way like the levees of New Orleans.
THIS WILL have a direct impact on a central calculation of the warmongers.
In private conversations, but not only there, they assert that America will be immobilized on the eve of elections. During the last few weeks before November 6, both candidates will be mortally afraid of the Jewish lobby.
The calculation goes like this: Netanyahu and Barak will attack without giving a damn for American wishes. The Iranian counter-attack will be directed against American interests. The US will be dragged into the war against its will.
But even in the unlikely event that the Iranians act with supreme self-restraint and do not attack US targets, contrary to their declarations, President Obama will be compelled to save us, send huge quantities of arms and ammunition, bolster our anti-missile defenses, fund the war. Otherwise he will be accused of leaving Israel in the lurch and Mitt Romney will be elected as the savior of the Jewish State.
This calculation is based on historical experience. All Israeli governments in the past have exploited American election years for their purposes.
In 1948, when the US was required to recognize the new Israeli state against the express advice of both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, President Truman was fighting for his political life. His campaign was bankrupt. At the last moment Jewish millionaires leaped into the breach, Truman and Israel were saved.
In 1956, President Eisenhower was in the middle of his re-election campaign when Israel attacked Egypt in collusion with France and Britain. It was a miscalculation – Eisenhower did not need Jewish votes and money and put a stop to the adventure. In other election years the stakes were lower, but always the occasion was used to gain some concessions from the US.
Will it work this time? If Israel unleashes a war on the eve of elections, in an obvious effort to blackmail the president, will the American public mood support Israel – or could it go the other way? It will be a critical gamble of historic proportions. But like Mitt Romney, Netanyahu is a protégé of the Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and he may be no more averse to gambles than the poor suckers who leave their money in Adelson’s casinos.
WHERE ARE the Israelis in all this?
In spite of the constant brainwashing, polls show that the majority of Israelis are dead set against an attack. Netanyahu and Barak are seen as two addicts, many say megalomaniacs, who are beyond rational thinking.
One of the most striking aspects of the situation is that our army chief and the entire General Staff, as well as the chiefs of the Mossad and the Shin Bet, and almost all their predecessors, are totally and publicly opposed to the attack.
It is one of the rare occasions when military commanders are more moderate than their political chiefs, though it has happened in Israel before. One may well ask: how can political leaders start a fateful war when practically all their military advisors, who know our military capabilities and the chances for success, are against it?
One of the reasons for this opposition is that the army chiefs know better than anyone else how totally dependent on the US Israel really is. Our relationship with America is the very basis of our national security.
Also, it seems doubtful whether Netanyahu and Barak have a majority for the attack even in their own government and inner cabinet. The ministers know that apart from everything else, the attack would drive investors and tourists away, causing huge damage to Israel’s economy.
So why do most Israelis still believe that the attack is imminent?
Israelis, by and large, have been totally convinced by now (a) that Iran is governed by a bunch of crazy ayatollahs beyond rationality, and (b) that, once in the possession of a nuclear bomb, they will certainly drop it on us.
These convictions are based on the utterances of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he declared that he will wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
But did he really say that? Sure, he has repeatedly expressed his conviction that the Zionist Entity will disappear from the face of the earth. But it seems that he never actually said that he – or Iran – would ensure that result.
That may seem only a small rhetorical difference, but in this context it is very important.
Also, Ahmadinejad may have a big mouth, but his actual power in Iran was never very great and is shrinking fast. The ayatollahs, the real rulers, are far from being irrational. Their whole behavior since the revolution shows them to be very cautious people, averse to foreign adventures, scarred by the long war with Iraq that they did not start and did not want.
A nuclear-armed Iran may be an inconvenient near-neighbor, but the threat of a “second holocaust” is a figment of the manipulated imagination. No ayatollah will drop a bomb when the certain response will be the total annihilation of all Iranian cities and the end of the glorious cultural history of Persia. Deterrence was, after all, the whole sense of producing an Israel bomb
IF NETANYAHU & Co. were really frightened by the Iranian Bomb, they would do one of two things:
Either agree to the de-nuclearization of the region, giving up our own nuclear armaments (highly unlikely);
Or make peace with the Palestinians and the entire Arab world, thereby disarming the ayatollahs’ hostility to Israel.
But Netanyahu’s actions show that, for him, keeping the West Bank is vastly more important than the Iranian bomb.
What better proof do we need of the craziness of this whole scare?
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement
The following press-release was issued by Israeli peace group, Gush-Shalom (Hebrew for ‘Peace Block’).
Urgent appeal – please write to Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak, by fax and email, and either use the sample letter in the end or make your own. Why it is needed, you find in the following press release.
Press Release January 30, 2012
Occupation rule’s cynical game with the small village of Aqaba. Brigadier General Almaz makes a personal visit, promising to "look into the complaints"
Then, his representative issues 25 demolition orders – in a village consisting of 45 houses in all
In a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Gush Shalom warns of a cynical game played by the occupation rule in the small village of Aqaba, the east of Jenin, which is over many years the target of repeated raids by the Military Government’s Civil Administration, destroying houses and basic infrastructure. "A month ago they were here last time," Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq told Gush Shalom. "They destroyed our access road, which we call ‘The Peace Road’ and demolished several houses. When the children who had been thrown out of their homes were crying, the soldiers posed for souvenir photos on the bulldozer, smiling and laughing".
In recent years, there was some interest in the village of Aqaba on the international scene, when an American human rights group called "The Rebuilding Alliance" raised the issue in meetings with Representatives and Senators and invited the village’s mayor to a lecture tour in the United States. Following this international interest in the issue, the Civil Administration head Brigadier General Motti Almaz, made an unprecedented personal visit to the village.
I "He sat with me at the local council offices. I told him: ‘You’re destroying our homes and we build them again. What else can we do? This is our village, we have nowhere else to go. I told him that in our village there had never been clashes with the army, neither in the First Intifada nor in the Second one. For years the army carried out training with live ammunition among the village houses, villagers were killed and wounded. I personally, the mayor, was hit at a young age and remain in a wheelchair for life, and yet I feel no bitterness or hatred. I support peace. I just ask that they live us alone. I asked Almaz to approve a zoning plan for our village so that we can build legally. I asked him to allow us to rebuild the access road to the village – with our own money and labor, just that they don’t destroy it. I asked him to let us build a school on 42 dunums of state land which are in the middle of the village and which we can’t use. To allow us to be linked to the water pipe, so that we will no longer need to fetch water by tankers, at twenty Shekels per cubic meter. I told him that ten years ago, the electricity pylons at the entrance to the village were pulled down, and in 1999 Knesset Members wrote to Defence Minster Ehud Barak and he gave instructions not to touch our electricity – but still, two months ago they came and again pulled down twenty pylons. I put all problems and issues to Brigadier General Almaz, and for everything I said he answered ‘We will look into it’, ‘We will take care of it’. And he went off.
What happened next? A few days later there arrived in our village the local representative of the Civil Administration, a man named Yigal (he does not tell his family name) and started handing out demolition orders. Demolition orders for houses, for cattle sheds, even for the tabun bread ovens. Seventeen demolition orders in total. And he told us, this whole village is illegal, everything must be destroyed. Is this the ‘looking into it’ which the Civil Administration Head promised us? Then the Head of the Jenin Area Civil Administration, located at the Salem Chekpoint, came to our village. I asked him ‘Why did you send us Yigal with the demolition orders?’ And he said: ‘No, I did not sent him, this did not come from me’. And then. after another few days Yigal came back with another eight demolition orders. Demolition orders also for our kindergarten and clinic. A total of 25 demolition orders for a village which consists of 45 houses in all. So what am I to do now? What can I tell villagers who ask me ‘You are talking about peace. Where is your peace?’ "
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom spokesperson, wrote to Defense Minister Barak: "There are two ways of interpreting this, one of them bad and the other even worse. Either the Civil Administration plays a cynical game of ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’, or in truth the Civil Administration Head does not control the people who are supposed to be under his command, and they run their own independent policy. In both cases, this abomination must be stopped. The residents of Aqaba should have the right to live safely and in dignity at their homes and in their village."
Meir Margalit, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions +972-54-4345503
To Mr. Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, Hakirya, Tel Aviv, Israel
Fax +972-3-6977285 +972-3-6916940
Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org…, email@example.com…, firstname.lastname@example.org… Mr. Defense Minister, I urgently call upon you to rescind the demolition orders, 25 in number, issued by the Military Government’s Civil Administration at the village of Akaba to the east of Tubas – a small village which consists of 45 houses in all. For many years already, inhabitants of this village, about three hundred in number, face severe repression by the Israeli military government, repeated destruction of houses and infrastructure. Despite promises to the village by the Civil Administration Head, Brigadier General Almaz, harassment continues and the threat of mass destruction of houses hovers over the village. The residents of Akaba have the right to live peacefully in their homes!