“When the principle of authority is injured in the public mind it dissolves very rapidly,” wrote Gustave Le Bon in The Psychology of Revolutions. The figure of authority for the United States is the president, who is commander-in-chief of a powerful military machine. Although the military situation of the United States may be characterized in terms of growing weakness, the free world nonetheless looks to America for security. Israel, among other countries, would be overrun by enemies without the support of the United States. And that is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Washington last week to meet with President Barack Obama.
It was a shrewd move to visit the United States at this time. The president is facing re-election, and craves Jewish support. After the election, Obama may prove indifferent to Israel. Extract public support from him now and he will be obligated to “have Israel’s back.” It is difficult to recall an Israeli prime minister visiting Washington with a similar objective – using publicity to pressure a sitting president. In terms of Netanyahu’s future intentions, we may conclude that he means business; that is to say, he is contemplating a strike that could result in a wider war.
What else is behind Netanyahu’s political maneuvering? If Israel could simply bomb Iran and eradicate the Iranian nuclear program, why would Netanyahu need American support? The answer to these and other questions was offered Sunday night by Israeli spymaster Meir Dagan on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Dagan, a former head of Mossad, publicly spoke against an Israeli attack on Iran. “An attack on Iran … is not the right way to do it,” he told 60 Minutes. Dagan believes in low intensity warfare.
Dagan agrees that Iran should not have nuclear weapons. He says the solution is to overthrow the regime from within. Furthermore, a nuclear Iran is “not an Israeli problem,” Dagan said, “but an international problem.” If Israel attacks Iran, there could be thousands of Israeli casualties when Iran retaliates. We should remember that the Islamic Republic and its allies can hit Israel with more than 50,000 rockets.
In addition, there is the difficult situation of America’s Arab allies; namely, if Iran is attacked the Muslim peoples of the various Arab countries will demand that their respective governments support Iran against Israel and the United States. The polarizing effect could be the most significant of all, and the most damaging to the stability of the Persian Gulf region.
Returning to the subject of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit we must assume that Netanyahu knows what Dagan knows; that an attack on Iran would be dangerous for Israel, and might trigger a wider war. It is crystal clear, then, why Netanyahu had to travel to Washington and why he was seeking a statement of support from the U.S. president. Undoubtedly, such verbal support is a necessary precondition for an Israeli military strike.
Can the Israeli’s take President Obama’s statement of support seriously? Most probably, yes, if only because Obama’s statement locks the president into a policy of supporting Israel. It should be appreciated that Obama cannot change course easily now that he has publicly committed himself. Naturally, Obama would not seek to injure his own authority. At the same time, America’s allies in the Arab world must brace themselves. There is no hiding the fact that the Americans are together with the Israelis. This further complicates America’s position in the region, while simplifying Netanyahu’s game plan.
Will Netanyahu launch a preemptive attack on Iran? Given the fact that Israel could sustain serious damage there is reason to doubt the prime minister’s resolve. At the same time, why did he go all the way to Washington? His mission was to extract a public statement of support – and this he accomplished. To what end?
Either we are witnessing an elaborate bluff, or we are nearing the brink of war.