By Bill Boyarsky
On Super Tuesday, the most important matter facing the country was not who will win the Republican presidential nomination but whether Israel will drag the United States into a war with Iran.
Super Tuesday turned out to be inconclusive for the Republicans. Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Romney narrowly won in Ohio and carried Virginia, Massachusetts, Idaho, Alaska and Vermont. Newt Gingrich won his home state, Georgia. The race continues—as does the candidates’ drive for right-wing votes.
A major part of that drive is to portray President Barack Obama as a weakling on Iran and themselves as warriors, pandering to the conservative Jews and evangelical Christians who favor speaking loudly and brandishing a big stick. This, in turn, is pushing Obama toward increasingly fierce rhetoric.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged war fever Tuesday when he spoke to his U.S. fan club, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the big pro-Israel lobbying organization that, as it always does, cheered him with the blind loyalty AIPAC shows to Israel’s most hawkish elements.
After meeting with Obama earlier in the day, Netanyahu made clear his scorn for the president’s efforts to try diplomacy and sanctions before committing the United States to sending its fighting men and women, planes, ships and missiles in support of an Iranian war that would be a loser for everybody.
“For the last decade the international community has tried diplomacy,” Netanyahu said. “It hasn’t worked. For six years, the international community has tried sanctions. That hasn’t worked either. I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. And those sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy. But unfortunately Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward. Israel has waited, patiently waited. ... We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
Not all Israelis agree. In the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is critical of the Netanyahu government, diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid wrote, “Netanyahu does not believe that the international sanctions against Iran or the dialogue with Iran will prevent the country from procuring nuclear weapons, said a senior Israeli official Tuesday. That is why Netanyahu thinks the damage and casualties from a missile attack on Tel Aviv in response to an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities will be small change compared to the consequences of the Iranian government attaining nuclear capability.”
Another anti-Netanyahu journalist, Sefi Rachlevsky, commented in Haaretz that the pro-war Israeli military planners “who believe in an attack have one hope only—that the United States will be dragged in and complete the Israeli move. ... Sometime between early June and mid-August, just before the Republican nominating convention, will be the vital moment to drag the United States into war, the planners believe.”
The Republicans sounded as though they are ready and willing to be dragged.
In his speech to AIPAC, Romney said, “As president, I will be ready to engage in diplomacy. But I will be just as ready to engage our military might. Israel will know that America stands at its side, in all conditions and in all consequence.”
Santorum told AIPAC that the United States should give Iran an ultimatum: destroy its nuclear facilities or face a United States attack. “These are essentially irrational actors. We need to put that ultimatum in place, and we need to be prepared, if that ultimatum is not met to engage Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel in an effort to make sure that if they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear down them,” he said.
Gingrich pledged to “undermine and replace the Iranian dictatorship by every available method short of war.” Last year, when asked what he would do as president if Israel informed him of an imminent military strike against Iran, Gingrich said his reply would be “How can we help you?”
Obama walked a line between pledging support for Israel while discouraging talk of a pre-emptive strike against Iran. “Already, there is too much loose talk of war,” he told AIPAC. Two days later, he said at a news conference, “If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.” But Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine last week, “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments realize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
Lost in all this are the words of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said last month, “We are not seeking nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic of Iran considers possession of nuclear weapons a sin ... and believes that holding such weapons is useless, harmful and dangerous.”
His words should be part of the dialogue as the nation considers how to deal with his tyrannical, unpredictable and divided country. The United States thoughtlessly rushed into war in Iraq and Afghanistan without considering the huge cost. We should not make the same mistake again in the heat of a presidential campaign. We should not permit Netanyahu and his hawkish supporters here and in Israel drag us into another war.
AP / Charles Dharapak
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, seen on screen, speaks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) via satellite in Washington on Tuesday.