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Archive for September, 2012

Criticizing Israel, Gunter Grass, and Anti-Semitism

Posted by uscsjp on September 25, 2012

Despite Israeli charges, Gunter Grass is not an anti-Semite

German author Gunter Grass has been accused by Israel of spreading blood libel and being an anti-Semite. That is not true; he simply opposes the Netanyahu government

Gunter Grass, the famed German author, got himself into hot water recently. He wrote a controversial poem (unfortunately, I failed to find an adequate English translation, though I did see an adequate Hebrew one), which accused Israel of possessing nuclear weapons, plotting an attack against Iran, possibly using nukes against it and possibly using German-supplied nuclear submarines to deliver those weapons. For his trouble, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin denounced him, saying, “What must be said is that it belongs to European tradition to accuse the Jews of ritual murder before the Passover celebration… It used to be Christian children whose blood the Jews used to make matza (unleavened bread), today it is the Iranian people that the Jewish state purportedly wants to wipe out.”

Impressive use of the anti-Semitism charge, which is diplomatic Israel’s first line of defense these days. But is it true? Let’s pick it apart, beginning with Grass’s claims.

Does Israel have nukes?  According to just about every source in the world, the answer is yes. Shimon Peres is widely credited as the father of the Israeli nuke plan and has never denied it. John Crossman (formerly Mordechai Va’anunu) served 18 years, many of them in solitary confinement, in an Israeli prison for exposing this truth.

Are those weapons supervised? Of course not. Israel is above such petty laws.

Is Israel plotting an attack against Iran? Yes. Netanyahu and his ministers have said so time and time again. Recently, Netanyahu said that an attack on Iran is not an “if” question but rather a “when” question. His Minister of Security, Ehud Barak, said openly that in case of such an attack, Israel expects 500 casualties (Hebrew). This week, the government ministers were informed that this number has been notched down to 300 (Hebrew).

Is Israel considering using nukes against Iran? Yes, or at least it gives good reason to believe it does. Netanyahu has said time and time again that “all options are on the table,” and that means the nuclear option is on the table as well. Reuters has reported that Israel considers using tactical nukes, as did a Fox News commentator, quoting an Israeli source claimed to be knowledgeable and accurate (here, around the 2:15-2:25 mark). One could plausibly make the claim that this is just psychological warfare on Israel’s part, and that not even Ehud Barak is that insane; but can one blame Grass for falling victim to Israel’s psychological offensive? When you’re playing the regional madman, don’t blame people if they think you’re actually barking mad.

Will German-provided submarines be used to deliver those tactical nuclear weapons? Quite possibly. Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines, provided by Germany, are widely assumed to be armed with nuclear weapons.

Is Netanyahu considering wiping out the Iranian people? Considering some of his statements, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. One of Netanyahu’s aides claimed Netanyahu thinks of the Iranians as Amalek, the mystical people who are the enemies of God and who are to be wiped out to the last. Netanyahu never formally retracted this genocidal comment, and he never paid a public price for it. He also keeps referring to the Iranians as Nazis – and to Nazis and Iranians as Amalekites.

So, basically everything said by Grass is plausible, at least within the frame of the psychological warfare waged by Israel. The truth is never anti-Semitic. There was no blood libel here, no anti-Semitism, no claim of children’s blood used for ritual purposes. Furthermore, criticism of Israel’s intended policy has nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jews. The claim (often made by Israeli officials) that Israel represents world Jewry, and that hence any attack on it is an attack on them, is a claim that Jews everywhere owe allegiance to a country of which they are not citizens and to which they never made any formal vow of loyalty, and thus can credibly be considered to be itself anti-Semitic.

Had the Israeli Foreign Ministry any shame left, it would not use the phrases it did against Grass. But, unsurprisingly, it did. The good thing which may come out of this affair is that people may learn to discount screeches of anti-Semitism from Israel with a sigh of “there they go again.”

–Yossi Gurvitz, +972 Magzine, April 5, 2012


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“Forget the fairytale: the US doesn’t love Israel”

Posted by uscsjp on September 13, 2012

It is possibly the greatest of American political myths, repeated ad nauseam by presidential candidates in their election campaigns. President Barack Obama has claimed that the United States enjoys a special bond with Israel unlike its relations with any other country. He has called the friendship “unshakeable,” “enduring” and “unique,” “anchored by our common interests and deeply-held values.”

His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has gone further, arguing that there is not “an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel.” A recent Romney election ad, highlighting his summer visit to Israel, extolled the “deep and cherished relationship.”

But, while such pronouncements form the basis of an apparent Washington consensus, the reality is that the cherished friendship is no more than a fairy tale. It has been propagated by politicians to mask the suspicion — and plentiful examples of duplicity and betrayal — that have marked the relationship since Israel’s founding.

Politicians may prefer to express undying love for Israel, and hand over billions of dollars annually in aid, but the US security establishment has — at least, in private — always regarded Israel as an unfaithful partner.


The distrust has been particularly hard to hide in relation to Iran. Israel has been putting relentless pressure on Washington, apparently in the hope of maneuvering it into supporting or joining an attack on Tehran to stop what Israel claims is an Iranian effort to build a nuclear bomb concealed beneath its civilian energy program.

While coverage has focused on the personal animosity between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the truth is that US officials generally are deeply at odds with Israel on this issue.

The conflict burst into the open recently with reports that the Pentagon had scaled back next month’s joint military exercise, Austere Challenge, with the Israeli military that had been billed as the largest and most significant in the two countries’ history (“US scales back military exercise with Israel, affecting potential Iran strike,” Time, 31 August 2012).

The goal of the exercise was to test the readiness of Israel’s missile-defense shield in case of Iranian reprisals — possibly the biggest fear holding Israel back from launching a go-it-alone attack. The Pentagon’s main leverage on Israel is its X-band radar, stationed in Israel but operated exclusively by a US crew, that would provide Israel with early warning of Iranian missiles.

A senior Israeli military official told Time magazine what message the Pentagon’s rethink had conveyed: “Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you.’”

But discord between the two “unshakeable allies” is not limited to Iran. Antipathy has been the norm for decades. Over the summer, current and former CIA officials admitted that the US security establishment has always regarded Israel as its number one counter-intelligence threat in the Middle East.

Broken promises on spying

The most infamous spy working on Israel’s behalf was Jonathan Pollard, a naval intelligence officer who passed thousands of classified documents to Israel in the 1980s. Israel’s repeated requests for his release have been a running sore with the Pentagon, not least because defense officials regard promises that Israel would never again operate spies on US soil as insincere.

At least two more spies have been identified in the past few years. In 2008 a former US army engineer, Ben-Ami Kadish, admitted that he had allowed Israeli agents to photograph secret documents about US fighter jets and nuclear weapons in the 1980s. And in 2006 Lawrence Franklin, a US defense official, was convicted of passing classified documents to Israel concerning Iran.

In fact, such betrayals were assumed by Washington from the start of the relationship. In Israel’s early years, a US base in Cyprus monitored Israeli activities; today, Israeli communications are intercepted by a team of Hebrew linguists stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Documents released in the past few weeks by the Israeli air force archives also reveal that Israel eventually identified mysterious high-altitude planes that overflew its territory throughout the 1950s as American U2 espionage planes (“US espionage planes violated Israeli airspace in the 1950s, IAF archives reveal,” Haaretz, 30 August 2012).

In a sign of continuing US caution, Israel has not been included in the coterie of countries with which Washington shares sensitive intelligence. The members of the “Five Eyes” group, consisting of the US, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, have promised not to spy on each other — a condition Israel would have regularly flouted were it a member.

Indeed, Israel has even stolen the identities of nationals from these countries to assist in Mossad operations. Most notoriously, Israel forged passports to smuggle Israeli agents into Dubai in 2010 to assassinate leading Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Israel is far from a trusted ally in the US “war on terror.” A former intelligence official told the Associated Press in July that Israel ranked lower than Libya in a list of countries helping to fight terrorism compiled by the Bush administration after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

So why all the talk of a special bond if the relationship is characterized by such deep mistrust?

Bomb aimed at America?

Part of the answer lies in the formidably intimidating tactics of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, spoke for a growing number of observers last year when he wrote that the US Congress was effectively “bought and paid for” by Israel’s lobbyists.

That power was all too evident this month when the Democratic National Convention adopted an amended policy designating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in opposition to both international law and the vocal wishes of delegates.

But there is another, less spoken-of reason. Francis Perrin, the head of the French Atomic Agency in the 1950s and 1960s, when France was helping Israel develop a nuclear weapon against the wishes of the US, once observed that the Israeli bomb was really “aimed against the Americans.”

Not because Israel wanted to attack the US, but because it realized that — once it possessed the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East — the US would rarely risk standing in its way, however much its policies ran counter to US interests.

For that reason, if no other, Israel is determined to stop any rival, including Iran, from getting a nuclear weapon that would end its monopoly.

Jonathan Cook won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.



–The Electronic Intifada, 12 September, 2012

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