No Iran War Under Netanyahu
National leaders tend to come from the geographical center. George Washington was from Virginia, as were most of the first presidents. Washington also had the distinction of being one of the few founding fathers who had never been out of the country. As the nation aged and expanded westward, presidents tended to come from Ohio. Obama is from Illinois, via Hawaii and New York. The Bushes are from Texas. Clinton is from Arkansas. The last four presidents come from states on the centerline of the country.
The same is true of Saddam Hussein. He came from Tikrit, close to the center of Iraq. This is true in most countries. It has a national security component. It is crucial for the leader to understand the nation she or he leads, to understand the land and borders, and the direction from which threats arise.
Israel is too small for geography to have any real meaning. The whole country is the center. As so many Israelis come from other countries, there is a kind of global virtual geography. Netanyahu was born in Israel, but is essentially an American. His political financial backers are Americans. He went to high school in Pennsylvania (his late father was a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York) and he went to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then worked in Boston with Mitt Romney.
The key fact is that Netanyahu was not even in Israel during the 1967 war that resulted in Israel seizing the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, much less in the Army. Netanyahu represents a certain reality about Israel, Israel as a colony masquerading as an independent state. Israel was created in response to British political and military needs during World War I and American political needs after World War II. Like it or not, this is the way Israel is viewed by most of the Arab world, and not without a certain justification.
For the Israeli on the street, for the native born children of the Moroccan or Russian immigrants, people who now are stuck in Israel forever and can not move to Miami or Brooklyn at will, people who will be the cannon fodder for the Iranian conflict that Netanyahu would like to wage, but can not without the support and approval of the United States; these people will never follow Netanyahu into war with Iran. Especially because he lost the election to Tzivi Lippi, like Bush in 2000. That is why the security service chieftains are sniping publicly at Bibi’s bellicosity. The leader for such a conflict will have to be one of them. So, Israel can not attack Iran until there is a change in leadership. It’s that simple. Shaul Mofaz, who lived in Iran until he was nine years old and has spent a lifetime in the Israeli military, including a stint training in Quantico, Virginia, is a possible candidate.
In the early days of Israel’s existence, Iran was one of that nation’s closest friends. The accepted wisdom of the time was that Jewish Israel and Persian Iran were both minorities in a majority Arab Middle East, so they had a lot in common. Charles DeGaulle, the president of France, said that, “nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”
Iran supplied Israel with its oil when the Arabs enforced an embargo.
But Iran has become justifiably fed up with American meddling in the Middle East and sees Israel as its proxy. The United States helped engineer the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and imposed the CIA backed Shah who ruled until 1979, mostly in response to the fact that Iran had nationalized the British owned National Oil Company. The successor Iranian Islamic Republic, naturally, was suspicious of the United States. The Iranians saw the United States had imposed a secular dictatorship on them, in support of a Jewish State in Israel.
Almost immediately after the Islamic revolution in Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran, seeing the possibility of a quick victory over a chaotic enemy. The war lasted for eight years and cost Iran one million lives, and the Iraqis between a quarter million and half a million. The United States tilted toward Iraq, supplying it with intelligence and the financing, through agricultural credits of some weaponry.
The key issue, no matter how the cake is sliced, is that Israel, and American support for Israel, is the cause of the conflict in the Middle East. Just because Israel will not attack Iran under Netanyahu, does not mean that Israel will not attack Iran, although it knows it can not do so without overt American support. That is why Netanyahu hates Obama and wants Romney to win in the worst way.
Pitfalls of Military Superiority
American and Israeli military doctrine is to be so overwhelmingly strong, to have such a superiority in arms and technology, that no one would dare to attack. It also leaves the United States and Israel free to attack others without real fear of retribution.
This is a sound doctrine to an extent. It has not bought Israel peace in the last sixty years. Only a fair settlement with the Palestinians will accomplish that, and Netanyahu is using the threat of a nuclear armed Iran as this decade’s excuse not to settle with the Palestinians.
But sometimes the weaker will wage war against the stronger, especially if it sees no alternative. When the United States intervened in Korea after the North Koreans invaded the south in June, 1950; the United States did not think China would enter the war. After all, the Chinese communists had only just managed to consolidate their victory less than nine months earlier on October 1, 1949 and the country was in disarray and chaos. After decades of war, with an economy in shambles, how could the poor, backwards Chinese fight the Americans? General Douglas MacArthur said that the boys, “would be home by Christmas” after reunifying Korea under the south.
But in the days after President Truman announced that the United States would send troops to Korea, he also sent the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to protect Taiwan and Generalissimo Chaing Kai-Shek from attack from the mainland and also started providing massive aid to the French in Vietnam. To the Chinese this looked like, not just encirclement, but overt interference its internal affairs because it considered Taiwan to be a part of China. In any event, the Korean peninsula was the historic route by which the Japanese invaded northeast China in the 1930’s. China was forced to fight to keep American troops away from its northern border. [It is for this same reason that China provided massive aid to the Viet Minh in Vietnam.]
Chou En-Lai, the Foreign Minister, sent a warning to the United States through the Indian ambassador that if the United States troops crossed the 38th parallel, China would enter the war. This warning was discounted in Washington.
Had the United States not sent the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait, and not sent aid to the French in Indochina, then perhaps China would not have intervened in Korea; but after what the Chinese called their century of humiliation (through foreign occupation) sending the Seventh Fleet was a virtual guarantee of intervention. Given the breadth of the American response, China felt compelled to act.
The same is true with the American War in Vietnam. No one thought a poor, backward country like North Vietnam could take on the United States. North Vietnam had Chinese backing, but both countries were militarily weaker than the United States. First, Kennedy colluded in the overthrow of President Diem in November 1963, then Johnson manufactured the casus belli of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolutions in August 1964. However, in the middle of October, 1964 the landscape changed dramatically. China exploded an atomic bomb and Khrushchev was ousted as leader of the Soviets. The new Soviet leadership, in response to requests from the North Vietnamese, started supplying advanced weaponry to North Vietnam: SAM missiles, artillery and anti-aircraft guns. The Chinese supplied small arms and 300,000 volunteers to man the anti-aircraft guns. What the United States thought might be a proxy war with China at the worst, turned into a proxy war with Russia, too. The assumptions under which the United States decided to intervene in Vietnam no longer applied by the time the troops came ashore at Danang in 1965.
Israel, as a small country with an essentially reserve army, can not afford to wage long wars. When Israel mobilizes, its economy comes to a halt. Iran has 75 million people, a high unemployment rate, and an area of 1,648,000 square kilometers. Israel has one-tenth the population 7,765,000 people and 1/77th the area, 20,770 square kilometers. Do the math.
Just because Iran is far weaker and more technologically backwards than Israel and the United States, that does not mean Iran is automatically going to back away from a conflict if it is started by Israel. Iran lost a million people in the Iran-Iraq war when its population was half of what it is today. It can afford lose a few hundred thousand more firing missiles at Israel and in a war to close the Strait of Hormuz which would plunge the world economy into collapse. There is no military solution to Iran’s nuclear program.