Israel is trying to push war with Iran — and the US press barely cares

Israeli minister of defense Benjamin Benny Gantz at the Pentagon (Yasin Ozturk - Anadolu Agency).jpg

Branko Marcetic

Jacobin  /  December 12, 2021

Top Israeli officials, now on an official visit to Washington, are pushing for US military action against Iran. It’s a dangerous provocation that should be mainstream news.

Look it up and you’ll find next to no coverage in the US media about top Israeli officials visiting Washington this week to push for military strikes against Iran, raising the risk of sparking war. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

It was widely reported in the Israeli press this week that defense minister Benny Gantz and top spy chief David Barnea were meeting with Biden administration officials on Thursday to push for a more aggressive US policy against Iran, as fraught negotiations resumed this week over restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, that was signed in 2015. According to reports, Gantz and Barnea pressed US officials to back up the push to reenter the deal with a show of force in the form of harsher sanctions and even strikes on Iranian targets.

The push comes in response to the new conservative Iranian government’s more aggressive demands in negotiations last week, at first demanding that everything covered in past talks be on the table for renegotiation before somewhat walking that position back on Sunday. But it’s also part of a pattern of Israeli aggression, with officials repeatedly threatening and sometimes carrying out attacks on Iranian targets over the course of stalled talks this year, the most recent hitting an Iranian weapons shipment in Syria on Tuesday.

It’s doubtful that Israel would hold up well alone in a military conflict with Iran — in fact, even the US military would struggle — or that it would carry out a strike within Iran’s borders without a green light from the United States. Hence the need to sell Biden officials on the idea. But Israel’s attacks outside Iran’s borders alone have the potential to inflame more serious conflict, as when an October strike on Iranian-backed forces in Syria led, for the first time, to an attack on a US base in the conflict-ridden country at the hands of suspected Iranian proxies.

Iran policy has been one of the focal points of Israeli interventions in US politics — or what, in other contexts, is referred to as “targeting our democracy.” While some of these interventions have been unsuccessful, as when hard-right former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an unprecedented address to Congress arguing against the Iran deal before it was approved, others have worked, as when Israeli lobbying persuaded Donald Trump to pull out of the agreement in 2018, something Israeli officials are now openly regretting.

Both Joe Biden and Israel are now in a quandary largely of their own making. Israeli hawks were vehemently against the deal for years, and their successful push to get Trump to first violate, then exit entirely from it while Iran was compliant tore up any trust built between the two nations while casting doubt on Washington’s reliability as a partner in diplomacy. It also undermined the previous reformist government of Hassan Rouhani, bringing the current hard-liners, who were openly skeptical about the deal, to power in June’s elections.

On top of this, despite pledging to undo Trump’s pullout and restore one of former president Barack Obama’s signature foreign-policy accomplishments, the Biden administration, perhaps with one eye on domestic politics, has held to an uncompromising position. Biden has insisted on keeping in place US sanctions, the lynchpin of the deal for Iran, which have been crippling its economy for years and exacerbating its suffering under the pandemic.

Though Trump’s imposition of sanctions in 2017 first violated the deal, leading Iran to step up its enrichment of uranium in retaliation ever since — and despite Washington and Israel carrying out two separate major assassinations of Iranian officials — the administration has insisted that Iran needs to make the first concessions. Then, just before the Iranian elections, it reportedly refused to commit for the rest of Biden’s term to not re-renege on the deal, Trump style, if the deal is restored and Iran stays compliant.

For its part, Iran continues to insist its uranium enrichment is for entirely peaceful purposes, that it’s not seeking a nuclear weapon, and that it is still a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel, which is known to have at least dozens of nukes and has long rejected any regional antinuclear agreement, is not. It’s also worth noting that just a few months ago, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia struck an agreement that places nuclear-powered submarines in the South Pacific, causing alarm over its violation of nonproliferation precedent, and potentially exploiting a loophole that lets fissile material used in naval reactors avoid inspection.

In any case, the relative US media silence on news that Israeli officials are trying to pressure Washington into an aggressive posture toward Iran that could spiral into war stands in stark contrast to the press’s ongoing obsession with the Kremlin’s attempts at intervening in US politics. That particular effort yielded no policy concessions to Russia over the four years Trump was president, in contrast to Israel’s political meddling in the United States, which continues to be more pervasive, normalized, and successful than that of arguably any other foreign government. Yet that’s not considered scandalous by the establishment press, even if it could be leading us into war.

Branko Marcetic is a Jacobin staff writer and the author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden; he lives in Chicago, Illinois