“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Treachery of Jonathan Pollard Exposes the Treachery of US Israeli Firsters and the Duplicity of Israel


Pollard’s handlers asked him to get documents that seemed of little use to Israel but of great value to the Soviet Union.

Jonathan Pollard, who’s been in prison the past 30 years for selling secrets to Israel, will be released on parole this November. Two things are worth noting. First, contrary to many skeptics, his release is not a political ploy to relax Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Second, contrary to claims by Pollard’s supporters, his punishment has been completely justified; he ranks as one of the 20th century’s most appalling American spies.

The first myth is easy to puncture. Pollard’s life sentence came with a mandatory-parole clause after 30 years. He started serving time in November 1985. So, 30 years is up in November 2015. It’s math.
The second myth takes longer to unravel. At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security.
Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitted, listing the range of sensitive secrets that he’d stolen, pointed to one of the items, and said, “What about this?” Pollard was silenced. Robinson sentenced him to life.
We now know (and M.E. Bowman, a senior counterintelligence officer who was working the Pollard case, has since confirmed) that the item in question was a National Security Agency manual called the RASIN, short for “Radio Signal Notations.” The RASIN was a guide to the physical parameters of every radio signal that the NSA was intercepting—a guide on how the NSA was tracking military communications, not just Israel’s but any and every country’s, including the Soviet Union’s. The RASIN was 10 volumes, and Pollard gave his Israeli handlers every single page of it.
Pollard also provided a year’s worth of memos by intelligence officers in the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, recording all their observations of Soviet planes, ships, and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. He provided documents on how Navy intelligence was tracking Soviet submarines. He provided material revealing that one of America’s most highly classified photo-reconnaissance satellites could take pictures not just straight down but from an angle: Israeli or Russian or some other country’s officers might think they could take a missile out of hiding once the satellite passed over, but no, the satellite was still snapping pictures—and now, thanks to Pollard, they knew this, too.
In other words, much of this material would be of use to more countries than just Israel. And Hersh quoted senior U.S. intelligence officials saying that some of these documents made their way to Moscow, perhaps through a KGB mole in Mossad (who was also later arrested), perhaps by Israeli officials who gave the Soviet Union the documents in exchange for letting more Jews emigrate to Israel. Officials have told me, in the years since, that they suspected such an exchange but never found hard evidence. Nonetheless, senior officials told Hersh that Pollard’s handlers had asked him to get certain types of documents that seemed of little use to Israel but of great value to the Soviet Union.
Many of Hersh’s sources on the story were veteran intelligence officials who were worried that President Bill Clinton was about to free Pollard—a move that, they thought, would be dangerous to national security (Pollard was thought to carry many more secrets in his head) and a severe blow to morale within the agencies. So they gave Hersh a lot of material—much more than anyone had yet made public—on what Pollard had done.
A few weeks before Hersh’s story, four retired admirals—all of whom had served as directors of U.S. Naval Intelligence—wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post warning that Pollard’s idealistic image was a “clever public-relations campaign.” In fact, they revealed, Pollard had offered highly classified documents to three other countries before hitting up Israel. (Those countries were later reported to be Pakistan, South Africa, and Australia.)
Furthermore, the admirals wrote, Pollard was well-paid for his efforts—a monthly stipend of $2,500, more than $10,000 in gifts, and other favors, in exchange for a commitment to spy for 10 years—and he was asking his handlers for a raise when he got caught. An official investigation revealed that Pollard was constantly broke, in serious debt, borrowing money from colleagues, and spending it just as fast. Just a few months after Pollard went to work for a secret unit of U.S. Naval Intelligence, he was approached by an Israeli air force officer, and the arrangement began.
Finally, the admirals wrote, Pollard was lying when he said that he’d taken only documents that would help Israel defend itself from Arab countries. In fact, he stole entire databases, “suitcase-loads” of documents that he couldn’t have had time to examine before delivering them to his handlers, often on a nightly basis. Many of these documents, they added, had nothing to do with Israel or the Middle East.
There is another disturbing element to this story. For more than 12 years after his arrest, senior Israeli officials told their American allies that Pollard had been a “rogue” who had no contact with the Israeli government. Finally, in 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to President Clinton that Pollard had been an Israeli agent all along, handled by senior officials in the Bureau of Scientific Relations.
Around the time the admirals wrote their op-ed and intelligence officials were telling Hersh all about Pollard, Bill Clinton was thinking seriously about letting the spy go. Israeli leaders and many Jewish activists had been leading a “Free Pollard” campaign for years. Clinton figured that if he gave in to the pressure, he could get Netanyahu to sign an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
However, CIA Director George Tenet, alerted to the possibility, told Clinton that he would resign in protest if Pollard were freed. Seven former secretaries of defense signed a letter opposing a pardon as well. Clinton told Netanyahu there was no chance that Pollard would be released soon.
Every few years, a story appears that the president—be it Clinton, Bush, or now Obama—is considering, or has agreed to sign, a Pollard pardon. All of the stories have been false. The latest round is false, too. When he leaves prison, his movements will be restricted; it’s a parole, not a pardon. More to the point, he’ll be leaving prison not because he’s a hero, a martyr, or a victim of injustice—he is none of those things—but rather, simply, because his time is up.

An article by Seymour Hersh, in the Jan. 18, 1999, issue of the New Yorker, titled “The Traitor,” listed some other beyond-top-secret documents—among the tens of thousands—that Pollard had stolen and sold. They included the “National SIGINT Requirements List” (SIGINT standing for Signals Intelligence), which revealed which communications channels of which military powers, in which regions, the NSA was intercepting in what order of priority. In other words, it would give the reader a heads up on  where and what actions the U.S. military might take next.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe.


Iran Deal: The Calculus of Power in the Mideast just Changed Forever

By Peter Van Buren | ( | – –
Don’t sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways.
Washington and Tehran announced their nuclear agreement on July 14th and yes, some of the details are still classified. Of course the Obama administration negotiated alongside China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany, which means Iran and five other governments must approve the detailed 159-page “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The U.N., which also had to sign off on the deal, has already agreed to measures to end its sanctions against Iran.
If we’re not all yet insta-experts on centrifuges and enrichment ratios, the media will ensure that in the next two months — during which Congress will debate and weigh approving the agreement — we’ll become so. Verification strategies will be debated. The Israelis will claim that the apocalypse is nigh. And everyone who is anyone will swear to the skies that the devil is in the details. On Sunday talk shows, war hawks will fuss endlessly about the nightmare to come, as well as the weak-kneedness of the president and his “delusional” secretary of state, John Kerry. (No one of note, however, will ask why the president’s past decisions to launch or continue wars in the Middle East were not greeted with at least the same sort of skepticism as his present efforts to forestall one.)
There are two crucial points to take away from all the angry chatter to come: first, none of this matters and second, the devil is not in the details, though he may indeed appear on those Sunday talk shows.
Here’s what actually matters most: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. Understanding how significant that is requires a look backward.
A Very Quick History of U.S.-Iranian Relations
The short version: relations have been terrible for almost four decades. A slightly longer version would, however, begin in 1953 when the CIA helped orchestrate a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. A secular leader — just the sort of guy U.S. officials have dreamed about ever since the ayatollahs took power in 1979 — Mosaddegh sought to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. That, at the time, was a total no-no for Washington and London. Hence, he had to go.
In his place, Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. assisted him in maintaining a particularly grim secret police force, the Savak, which he aimed directly at his political opponents, democratic and otherwise, including the ones who espoused a brand of Islamic fundamentalism unfamiliar to the West at the time. Washington lapped up the Shah’s oil and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which had kicked off Iran’s nuclear program in 1957.
In 1979, following months of demonstrations and seeing his fate in the streets of Tehran, the Shah fled. Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to take control of the nation in what became known as the Islamic Revolution. Iranian “students” channeled decades of anti-American rage over the Shah and his secret police into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months.
In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein (remember him?) in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. (Washington claimed it was an accident.) In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington, following American military successes in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush declared that country part of the “Axis of Evil.”
Iran later funded, trained, and helped lead a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. As Washington slowly withdrew its military from that country, Iran increased its support for pro-Tehran leaders in Baghdad. When Iran’s nuclear program grew, the U.S. attacked its computers with malware, launching what was in effect the first cyberwar in history. At the same time, Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector.
In short, for the last 36 years, the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and often just plain mean. Neither country seems to have benefited, even as both remained committed to the fight.
Iran Ascendant
Despite the best efforts of the United States, Iran is now the co-dominant power in the Middle East. And rising. (Washington remains the other half of that “co.”)
Another quick plunge into largely forgotten history: the U.S. stumbled into the post-9/11 era with two invasions that neatly eliminated Iran’s key enemies on its eastern and western borders — Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (The former is, of course, gone for good; the latter is doing better these days, though unlikely to threaten Iran for some time.) As those wars bled on without the promised victories, America’s military weariness sapped the desire in the Bush administration for military strikes against Iran. Jump almost a decade ahead and Washington now quietly supports at least some of that country’s military efforts in Iraq against the insurgent Islamic State. The Obama administration is seemingly at least half-resigned to looking the other way while Tehran ensures that it will have a puppet regime in Baghdad. In its serially failing strategies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, Washington has all but begged the Iranians to assume a leading role in those places. They have.
And that only scratches the surface of the new Iranian ascendancy in the region. Despite the damage done by U.S.-led economic sanctions, Iran’s real strength lies at home. It is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.
Why Iran Won’t Have Nuclear Weapons
Now, about those nukes. It would take a blind man in the dark not to notice one obvious fact about the Greater Middle East: regimes the U.S. opposes tend to find themselves blasted into chaos once they lose their nuclear programs. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s, from the air. Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya went down the drain thanks to American/NATO-inspired regime change after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions. At the same time, no one in Tehran could miss how North Korea’s membership in the regime-change club wasn’t renewed once that country went nuclear. Consider those pretty good reasons for Iran to develop a robust nuclear weapons program — and not give it up entirely.
While, since 2002, Washington hasn’t taken a day off in its saber-rattling toward Iran, it isn’t the only country the clerics fear. They are quite convinced that Israel, with its unacknowledged but all too real nuclear arsenal, is capable and might someday be willing to deliver a strike via missile, aircraft, or submarine.
Now, here’s the added irony: American sabers and Israeli nukes also explain why Iran will always remain a nuclear threshold state — one that holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make such a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called “breakout time.” If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be a near inevitability. Iran is not a third world society. Its urban areas and infrastructure are exactly the kinds of things bombing campaigns are designed to blow away. So call Iran’s nuclear program a game of chicken, but one in which all the players involved always knew who would blink first.
The U.S.-Iran Nuclear Accord
So if Iran was never going to be a true nuclear power and if the world has lived with Iran as a threshold state for some time now, does the July accord matter?
There are two answers to that question: it doesn’t and it does.
It doesn’t really matter because the deal changes so little on the ground. If the provisions of the accord are implemented as best we currently understand them, with no cheating, then Iran will slowly move from its current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn’t have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won’t have nukes with the accord. In other words, the Vienna agreement successfully eliminated weapons of mass destruction that never existed.
It does really matter because, for the first time in decades, the two major powers in the Middle East have opened the door to relations. Without the political cover of the accord, the White House could never envisage taking a second step forward.
It’s a breakthrough because through it the U.S. and Iran acknowledge shared interests for the first time, even as they recognize their ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. That’s how adversaries work together: you don’t have to make deals like the July accord with your friends. Indeed, President Obama’s description of how the deal will be implemented — based on verification, not trust — represents a precise choice of words. The reference is to President Ronald Reagan, who used the phrase “trust but verify” in 1987 when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Russians.
The agreement was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. Men and women in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of “you’re either with us or against us,” is called compromise. It’s an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even gain the release of the fourAmericans held in Iran. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised since Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (Cuba being the sole exception).
It’s All About the Money
While diplomacy brought the United States and Iran to this point, cash is what will expand and sustain the relationship.
Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, is ready to start selling on world markets as soon as sanctions lift. Its young people reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. The lifting of sanctions will allow Iranian businesses access to global capital and outside businesses access to starved Iranian commercial markets.
Since November 2014, the Chinese, for example, have already doubledtheir investment in Iran. European companies, including Shell and Peugeot, are now holding talks with Iranian officials. Apple is contacting Iranian distributors. Germany sent a trade delegation to Tehran. Ads for European cars and luxury goods are starting to reappear in the Iranian capital. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign technology and expertise will need to be acquired if the country is to update its frayed oil and natural gas infrastructure. Many of its airliners are decades old and need replacement. Airlines in Dubai are fast adding new Iran routes to meet growing demand. The money will flow. After that, it will be very hard for the war hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, or Riyadh to put the toothpaste back in the tube, which is why you hear such screaming and grinding of teeth now.
The Real Fears of the Israelis and the Saudis
Neither Israel nor the Saudis ever really expected to trade missile volleys with a nuclear-armed Iran, nor do their other primary objections to the accord hold much water. Critics have said the deal will only last 10 years. (The key provisions scale in over 10 years, then taper off.) Leaving aside that a decade is a lifetime in politics, this line of thinking also presumes that, as the calendar rolls over to 10 years and a day, Iran will bolt from the deal and go rogue. It’s a curious argument to make.
Similarly, any talk of the accord touching off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is long out of date. Israel has long had the bomb, with no arms race triggered. Latent fears that Iran will create “the Islamic Bomb” ignore the fact that Pakistan, with own hands dirty from abetting terror and plenty of Islamic extremists on hand, has been a nuclear power since at least 1998.
No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomaticoffensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo — hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh — just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.
The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world’s most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at We Meant WellHis latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. His next work will be a novel, Hooper’s War.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 Peter Van Buren
Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hillary is questionable, and not a single Republican candidate has a message that is positive for the average American. Then there is Bernie Sanders.

CNN poll:
BUSH: 47%
TRUMP: 38% 

Clinton Is Not a Stronger Candidate Than Bernie Sanders

It's just so obvious.
A recent CNN poll shows Sanders can beat the possible Republican nominees; and mind you, that’s with Sanders not having full name-recognition yet (as in, 41 percent of respondents said they didn't know who he was).
But you can put it really simply.
  • The Democratic base is about as excited about Clinton as the Republican base was about Romney (there, I said it); and Democrats are already much, much less inspired about the election than Republicans;
  • Clinton is so reviled by the Right (almost entirely unfairly, but still), that they will come out in droves to oppose her. It's not hard to see that that plays a role in Republicans being so much more excited about the election; they, like so many, are assuming Clinton will be the nominee, and they can't wait to vote against her.
  • Sanders speaks to, inspires and motivates people all over the political map -- not just the "far Left" as the simple-minded, when-you're-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-sickle-wielding-socialist media would have us believe. 
  • Sanders is inspiring people to register to vote who have not registered before, and engaging millennials (only 20 percent of whom voted in 2014) in huge numbers.
Beltway insiders do not know how to talk about Sanders; all of the rules they use to frame their conversations don't apply. It really shows just how lazy and formulaic political coverage has become -- how out of touch with real people. I'm reminded of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. According to Kuhn, scientists will brush off data that call into question accepted theories (and they do that because they have a lot invested in those theories -- published work, research grants, tenure). 
Eventually, though, enough information comes in that challenges the established way of looking at things that a crisis point is reached; the inadequacies of the previous way of understanding become impossible to ignore any longer. Then a scientific revolution takes place and a new way of understanding is embraced -- a new paradigm. (The classic example is the topic of Kuhn's book The Copernican Revolution, which chronicles the shift away from believing that the Earth was the center of the universe... Hmmm.) 
You can see that crisis of understanding taking place in American politics, and it applies to those who cover it just as much as it applies to the elected officials they cover. They all seem to be saying, "how can this guy be doing so well? Everything we know about politics tells us he can't." 
Maybe they should start paying attention to what is really going on with Sanders -- and perhaps exercise a few brain cells to come up with a new insight or two. Instead, they try to ignore him, or play the same games they usually do with candidates -- who, truth be told, are so afraid themselves of offending the press that they play right along. 
Sanders, of course, will have none of it, as his Sunday appearance on Meet the Press amply shows. Chuck Todd tried to play the oversimplified, sensationalist hand he’d carefully constructed and Sanders owned him.


This is part of why Sanders appeals; it's not just that he's disrupting the dysfunctional, sleazy, corrupted political game for the people who play it, he's deconstructing political coverage at the same time. It's truly a joy to watch; and it's an edge he has over every other candidate.
The message to those inside the beltway is simple: there's a new paradigm in town. So get with the revolution, already.

Netanyahu has been touting a purported alliance between his nation and the Sunni Gulf states. In fact, The New York Times’s editorial endorsing the Iran deal says Netanyahu has taken this one step further: He’s said that on Iran, Israel has more in common with the Sunni states than with the U.S.

The Israel Lobby’s $50M Campaign Against The Iran Nuclear Deal

If the Iran deal passes, Israel loses. The Israel lobby is spending big on whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen. 
WASHINGTON — The next 60 days offer a fateful window through which Congress will review the Iran nuclear deal announced last week to great fanfare by the P5+1 powers and their Iranian counterparts.
At the end of this period, both the House and Senate will vote on the agreement. Though the GOP has a majority in the latter body, it’s by no means a given that the vote will go against the deal. The Los Angeles Times reports there may be a few Republican senators who can be swayed if public opinion is running in favor.
To that end, the various groups within the Israel lobby have announced a massive PR campaign seeking to move both public opinion and the votes of individual senators against the deal.
Last week, The New York Times reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby, has created a stand-alone group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, for this purpose. It plans to spend $20-40 million on the effort.
The group’s website doesn’t list staff and a board of directors. Instead it lists an “advisory board” consisting of the usual hawkish Democratic former senators, including Mark Begich, Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, Evan Bayh, and former Rep. Shelley Berkley. Clearly, this isn’t an independent organization, but rather one established and controlled by AIPAC. Unlike some of groups below which are casting their nets wide, AIPAC seems to be targeting Democratic senators on the fence.
So far this year, according to U.S. Senate public records, AIPAC has spent nearly $2 million on direct lobbying, more than it’s ever spent in any previous six-month period since 1999. This is a further indication of the group’s dead-seriousness in pursuing the defeat of the Iran measure. 

Will AIPAC use the ‘Doomsday Weapon’?

The Israeli media site, Walla, even invokes AIPAC’s use of a dreaded “Doomsday Weapon,” a massive payback campaign against those who defy the group and vote for the agreement. This would take the matter to a whole new level: It’s one thing to advocate against a Congressional bill; it’s quite another to spend the tens of millions it would take to fund primary challengers and general election opponents of any Democratic senators defying AIPAC in this vote.
Since the article clearly describes internal organization deliberations on the subject, this is not idle speculation. If AIPAC feels it’s on the cusp of winning, it could wheel out the heavy guns of intimidation and blackmail it utilizes in such circumstances.
Of course, if it does make such a major financial and political investment, there is the distinct possibility it could lose, as it did in the fight over the Menendez sanctions resolution. That bill would have torpedoed the Iran negotiations by adding further draconian sanctions against that nation. Democratic support for the measure collapsed amid the hostile fallout from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress in March. A similar loss in this case would involve considerable loss of prestige and the sense of invincibility which AIPAC exploits to great advantage in Washington backroom politics.
With the recent announcement of restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, it’s worth contemplating the toll the blockade against the island nation took on both its inhabitants and relations between the two countries. For fifty years, the U.S. relationship to Cuba was held hostage by a powerful domestic lobby which rewarded its political friends and punished its enemies.
President Barack Obama finally decided enough was enough. He determined that the power of the anti-Castro lobby in Florida had waned sufficiently to take U.S. policy in a new direction. The Israel lobby wields precisely the same sort of power on matters related to Israel. What would happen if a loss on the nuclear deal put America’s policy on Israel “in play” as happened regarding Cuba policy?
In Seattle, United Against Nuclear Iran aired a TV ad in recent days during prime time. And last month, the group’s chairman, Mark Wallace, who served as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, boasted of what he’d spend against the deal: “We have a multi-million-dollar budget and we are in it for the long haul. Money continues to pour in.” The group has also distributed a press releaseexpanding on its plans.
United Against Nuclear Iran is known for exposing companies allegedly doing business with Iran. Their M.O. has been to approach company executives and threaten to “out” them as sanctions scofflaws if they didn’t stop, and, even better, if they didn’t donate to the group.
One shipping owner, Victor Restis, challenged United Against Nuclear Iran, and when the group accused him of violating sanctions, he sued them for libel. In an unprecedented intervention by the government in a private commercial lawsuit, the Justice Department in 2014 asked the judge to shut down the case on the grounds that exposure of the documents Restis was demanding would damage national security. Reporters covering the story wrote that much of the material Restis wanted was believed to have been furnished to United Against Nuclear Iran by Israel’s Mossad or even the CIA. Such a revelation would have exposed the level of collusion between the two intelligence agencies and their exploitation of purportedly independent, non-partisan NGOs to advance their political agenda.
Politico reported last month that the American Security Initiative had bought $1.4 million worth of TV ad time targeted to the June 30 deadline to complete the agreement. American Security Initiative is a hawkish national security 501(c)4 founded by former Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss (who recently said Edward Snowden should be hung), Norm Coleman, and Democrat Evan Bayh.
Politico also noted another pro-Israel lobbying group, Secure America Now, founded by push-poll specialists Pat Caddell and John McLaughlin, was pouring $1 million into its own media blitz targeting undecided Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Michael Bennett and Chuck Schumer. Secure America Now was launched in the aftermath of the Islamophobic campaign against the building of a mosque “on holy ground” near the World Trade Center site.
Watch Secure America Now’s spot featuring an Iranian mushroom cloud:
Another group likely to be closely involved is The Israel Project, whose director, Josh Block, was formerly AIPAC’s public face. The Israel Project will undoubtedly add its own voice to the media melee.
Meanwhile, the tumult over the deal has entered the Republican presidential primary campaign. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, seeking to bolster his flagging prospects, has made opposition to the deal a cornerstone of his campaign. At a recent press conference in New York, at which he promoted his new website, No Nukes for Iran, he warned if the deal was ratified New York City would be one of the Ayatollahs’ first targets. Business Insider reports:
“’Where do you think they’d like to come most outside of Washington?’ Graham said. ‘Right where we’re sitting.’
‘New York City represents America,’ Graham added. ‘This is the place that they’d choose to hit us again if they could.’
Flanked by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut), Graham struck an almost apocalyptic tone when discussing the deal. He frequently drew parallels between Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Adolf Hitler, suggesting that the deal posed an enormous threat to Israel and to the US and that it would lead to a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East.”
Meanwhile, supporters of the bill in Congress have some new allies in Israel itself. Jonathan Alter reports in the Daily Beast that former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon fully supports the measure. The Israeli navy veteran also reeled off the names of other senior military and intelligence figures who support it.

Adelson: The $64-million question

The casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is the great unknown among all the donors in the Israel lobby sphere. He alone could spend many times the $40 million AIPAC plans to spend, should he choose to. Given his status as Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime financial backer and the $100 million he spent on Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid, Adelson will likely weigh in on the subject as well. By a conservative estimate, the Israel lobby could spend upwards of $50 million on this campaign. Should Adelson go “all in” (to use gambling parlance appropriate for him) that figure could climb to $100 million.
There are a few organizations which plan to weigh-in on behalf of Secretary of State John Kerry’s agreement. Among them are J Street, an American Jewish group dedicated to supporting Obama administration foreign policy. It plans to spend between $2-3 million in support of the deal. The National Iranian American Council, led by Trita Parsi, has long supported the deal. It’s not known how much it will invest, but its budget and resources aren’t nearly a match for AIPAC.
At a recent National Iranian American Council conference, former Dem. House member Jim Slattery warned of the mind-boggling phenomenon this campaign represents:
“I’ve been around this town for about 30 years now … and I’ve never seen foreign policy debate that is being so profoundly affected by the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars in the American political system.”
President Obama has shown himself adept at outmaneuvering his political adversaries concerning Iran. The failed Menendez bill is just one example. The political math concerning the current legislation also is in the president’s favor. Even if the Senate rejects the nuclear agreement, he will veto it. That means the GOP majority will need 13 Democratic votes. Undoubtedly, they will gain a few. But it’s exceedingly unlikely they will get all of them. If they don’t, the agreement will be ratified and the president wins.

Israel loses if nuclear deal wins

Such a victory has repercussions for AIPAC and the power of the Israel lobby. But it has even more far-reaching implications for Israel and its changing role in the Middle East. Until now, it has been the indisputable power in the region, especially among the frontline states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. What Israel wanted, it got. Having 200 nuclear warheads only reinforced Israeli dominance.
The nuclear agreement could augur an age in which Iran takes its place as a responsible participant in regional politics. Instead of supporting Islamist militants in Lebanon and Syria, it might coordinate efforts with the U.S. to contain the Sunni Islamist threat represented by al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It certainly will allow Iran to become a commercial power, with foreign delegations arriving in Tehran daily to negotiate new business deals that would follow the lifting of sanctions.
Israel could see its stature recede considerably as Iran’s rises. That’s why Prime Minister Netanyahu has been touting a purported alliance between his nation and the Sunni Gulf states. In fact, The New York Times’s editorial endorsing the Iran deal says Netanyahu has taken this one step further: He’s said that on Iran, Israel has more in common with the Sunni states than with the U.S.
It’s possible this is precisely the sort of posturing for which Netanyahu is well-known. But given the United States’s role as Israel’s arms guarantor in every major war it has fought, it’s extraordinary for the prime minister to claim Arab states are his new go-to allies. During Israel’s next war against Hezbollah or Hamas, does he think King Salman of Saudi Arabia will give him the munitions he needs to maul Lebanon or Gaza?
Crossposted from MintPress News