Behind the Iran Crisis: The Israel Lobby's Campaign for War
An address by Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, delivered at an IHR meeting in Irvine, California, on March 24, 2007. (A report on the meeting is posted here.)
In the months leading up to the March 2003 attack on Iraq, President Bush and other high-ranking US officials repeatedly warned that the Baghdad regime posed a threat to the US and the world -- a threat so grave and imminent that the United States had to act quickly to bomb, invade and occupy that country.
On Sept. 28, 2002, for example, Bush said: "The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given... This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year."
Shortly before the invasion, on March 6, 2003, the President declared: "Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country, to our people, and to all free people... I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people. I believe he's a threat to the neighborhood in which he lives. And I've got good evidence to believe that. He has weapons of mass destruction... The American people know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction."
These claims were untrue. As the world now knows, Iraq had no such arsenal, and posed no threat to the US. Alarmist suggestions that the Baghdad regime was working with the al-Qaeda terror network likewise proved to be without foundation. The claims by President Bush and other high-level American officials to justify the war, and their glib assurances about how "regime change" in Iraq would usher in a new dawn of democracy and freedom throughout the region have proven disastrously wrong.
Now, four years later, something of the scale of the calamity is clear. More than 3,000 American military personnel have lost their lives, along with many tens of thousands of Iraqis. Many more have been horribly wounded and maimed. The war and the occupation have cost hundreds of billions of dollars. In Arab and Muslim countries, it has fueled intense hatred of the US, and has brought many new recruits to the ranks of anti-American terrorists. Around the world, it has generated unmatched distrust and hostility toward the United States.
A few months after the attack, President Bush denounced as "revisionists" and "revisionist historians" the skeptics who questioned his claims that the Baghdad regime had an arsenal of weapons so vast and so dangerous that the US had to act quickly to attack and occupy Iraq. On that occasion, Bush was unintentionally telling the truth. Those who question government claims, particularly wartime claims, are indeed "revisionists" -- that is, thinking men and women who question dogma, propaganda and political orthodoxy.
Today, virtually the entire world is "revisionist." Regardless of what President Bush and his friends may snidely suggest, the revisionists were and are right, and revisionism -- that is, thoughtful skepticism of official claims -- is an honorable and essential feature of any free society.
In recent years, awareness of the Jewish-Zionist role in the war, of the reality of Jewish-Zionist power, and of its hold on US policy, has grown everywhere -- an awareness that, once grasped, is obvious and confirmed anew each day with the unfolding of events.
More prominent individuals have been willing publicly to acknowledge this power. In Britain, a veteran member of the House of Commons bluntly declared in May 2003 that Jews had taken control of America's foreign policy, and had succeeded in pushing the US into war. Tam Dalyell, a Labour party deputy and the longest-serving House member, said: "A Jewish cabal have taken over the government in the United States and formed an unholy alliance with fundamentalist Christians... There is far too much Jewish influence in the United States."
In Malaysia, prime minister Mahathir Mohammed declared in October 2003: "The Europeans killed six million Jews out of twelve million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."
Here in the United States, John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, issued in March of last year a carefully written, judiciously worded and copiously referenced paper, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," which has generated wide interest and spirited discussion.
Quickly, and predictably, the paper and its authors came under fierce attack from Zionist leaders and organizations -- a response that underscored one of the paper's main points. But the critics have been outnumbered by those who have welcomed this work as a landmark event and as an important breakthrough.
In their paper, professors Walt and Mearsheimer wrote:
"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history...
"The Israeli government and pro-Israel groups in the United States have worked together to shape the administration's policy towards Iraq, Syria and Iran, as well as its grand scheme for reordering the Middle East. Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure."
Almost nothing in the Walt-Mearsheimer paper is new or original. Its main point about the dangerous role of what they call "The Lobby" is understood around the world by informed men and women who closely follow political affairs and history. The paper is significant because it was written by two scholars of eminence and stature.
Another important contribution to the growing public awareness of the power and impact of the pro-Israel lobby has been the new book by former president Jimmy Carter. In this book, entitled Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, and in statements made in connection with the book's appearance, Carter has spoken pointedly and critically about the pro-Israel lobby and its role in shaping US policy to support Israeli oppression and war.
Immediately following the book's publication, the former president was predictably assailed with the usual smears, and by the usual crowd. Jewish writer David Horowitz, for one, wrote a widely-circulated essay entitled "Jimmy Carter: Jew-Hater, Genocide-Enabler, Liar," a vicious item that reflects his outlook and the attitude of many other pro-Israel activists.
As it happens, I had a run-in myself with David Horowitz in December, when I appeared with him as a fellow "guest," if that's the right word, on the nationally-broadcast radio show of Sean Hannity. I won't go into details of that raucous appearance, except to mention that both Horowitz and Hannity were as ignorant and as bigoted as they were rude.
In recent months the most pressing international issue has been the question of a new war in the Middle East . The world is anxiously following the so-called crisis over Iran, or as Israel-firsters prefer to call it "The Iranian Threat."
This crisis is artificial. It is every bit as phony as the one manufactured to provide a pretext for war against Iraq.
Once again our leaders prepare Americans for a new war.
Once again we are told that another country that Israel regards as an adversary is a grave threat to peace.
Once again our politicians and a compliant media present a barrage of sensational and frightening propaganda claims -- claims remarkably similar to those we heard in 2002 and 2003, and from the same Israel-friendly crowd.
For more than a year now, Washington has been pressuring Iran with economic sanctions and repeated threats of military attack to back its demand that the Tehran government give up its nuclear development program.
The announcement last year that Iran had enriched a minute amount of uranium unleashed urgent calls for a preventive US military strike against that country. Officials in Washington ominously declare that "all options" are "on the table." Vice President Cheney has said that Iran is "right at the top" of the world's so-called dangerous countries, and he expressed the view that Israel "might well decide to act first" to destroy Iran's nuclear program.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared: "The pursuit by the Iranian regime of nuclear weapons represents a direct threat to the entire international community, including to the United States and to the Persian Gulf region."
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports that the US is planning military action against Iran, and that President Bush is already intent on "regime change" there. Hersh wrote that the Bush administration is stepping up clandestine activities inside Iran, and has intensified planning for a major air attack. Hersh also concluded that the White House is considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.
With regard to Iran, professors Walt and Mearsheimer wrote in their paper:
"Israelis tend to describe every threat in the starkest terms, but Iran is widely seen as their most dangerous enemy because it is the most likely to acquire nuclear weapons. Virtually all Israelis regard an Islamic country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons as a threat to their existence... In late April 2003, [the Israeli daily] Ha'aretz reported that the Israeli ambassador in Washington was calling for regime change in Iran. The overthrow of Saddam, he noted, was 'not enough'. In his words, America 'has to follow through. We still have great threats of that magnitude coming from Syria, coming from Iran.' The neo-conservatives, too, lost no time in making the case for regime change in Tehran ... As usual, a bevy of articles by prominent neo-conservatives made the case for going after Iran...
"The Bush administration has responded to the Lobby's pressure by working overtime to shut down Iran's nuclear program. But Washington has had little success, and Iran seems determined to create a nuclear arsenal. As a result, the Lobby has intensified its pressure. Op-eds and other articles now warn of imminent dangers from a nuclear Iran, caution against any appeasement of a 'terrorist' regime, and hint darkly of preventive action should diplomacy fail... Israeli officials also warn they may take pre-emptive action should Iran continue down the nuclear road, threats partly intended to keep Washington's attention on the issue.
"One might argue that Israel and the Lobby have not had much influence on policy towards Iran, because the US has its own reasons for keeping Iran from going nuclear. There is some truth in this, but Iran's nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US. If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran. Iran and the US would hardly be allies if the Lobby did not exist, but US policy would be more temperate and preventive war would not be a serious option."
A good example of the "bevy of articles" referred to here by Walt and Mearsheimer is a prominently featured piece in the Los Angeles Times last November, entitled, "Force is the Only Answer." Written by Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neocon associated with the pro-Israel "American Enterprise Institute" think tank, the essay begins with the sentence: "We must bomb Iran."
In Israel, prime minister Ehud Olmert called Iran an "existential threat," and in January the London Sunday Times reported that the Israeli government is planning to attack Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.
In December the former commander of the artillery units of Israel's armed forces, Brigadier General Oded Tira, has been candid in calling for a US attack against Iran on behalf of the Jewish state. General Tira declared:
"President Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran. As an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help him pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party and US newspaper editors. We need to do this in order to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure. We must turn to Hillary Clinton and other potential candidates in the Democratic Party so that they publicly support immediate action by Bush against Iran."
Scott Ritter, an American who served as a senior United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, says in his new book, Target Iran: "The Bush administration, with the able help of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel lobby, has succeeded in exploiting the ignorance of the American people about nuclear technology and nuclear weapons so as to engender enough fear that the American public has more or less been pre-programmed to accept the notion of the need to militarily confront a nuclear armed Iran." Ritter also writes: "Let there be no doubt: If there is an American war with Iran it is a war that was made in Israel and nowhere else."
An attack against Iran by the United States, or Israel, would be, in the absence of an imminent threat, an illegal, unilateral act of war. If undertaken by the US without a formal congressional declaration of war, such an attack would be unconstitutional. A war against Iran would serve only Israeli and Zionist interests. For everyone else, war against Iran would be a catastrophe.
For many years now, American political leaders of both parties have declared themselves staunchly committed to Israel and its security. This unparalleled devotion to Israel -- which is an expression of the Jewish-Zionist grip on America's political and cultural life -- seems to have reached an apex in the current administration.
In an address to pro-Israel activists at a convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), President Bush said: "The United States is strongly committed, and I am strongly committed, to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state."
President Bush's worldview is shared by Condoleezza Rice, who served as his National Security Advisor, and is now US Secretary of State. In a May 2003 interview Rice made the astounding statement that the "security of Israel is the key to security of the world."
It's difficult to imagine an American leader making a similar statement about any other country. Imagine a US Secretary of State saying, for example, that the "security of Nigeria is the key to security of the world." Or, that the security of Russia, Taiwan, or Serbia, is the key to security of the world. It's unthinkable.
President Bush, in talking about the possibility of war against Iran, has sometimes "slipped" by candidly citing Israel as the sole or primary reason for taking military action against Iran.
In an interview in February 2006, he was asked about his reaction to anti-Israel remarks by Iran's president. Bush replied: "We will rise to Israel's defense, if need be." And he added, "You bet we'll defend Israel."
In a speech in March 2006, Bush said: "Now that I'm on Iran ... the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel."
Such remarks have worried Jewish leaders -- not because they do not agree with them, or because they doubt Bush's sincerity, but because they believe that the President has been too candid, too open, in acknowledging Israel's importance in determining American war policy. Jewish leaders are concerned that non-Jews might draw all-too-obvious conclusions from such statements.
In April 2006, the Jewish Week of New York reported: "President Bush is risking a backlash that could injure the Jewish community -- and his own cause -- by repeatedly citing Israel as his top rationale for possible US military conflict with Iran, Jewish leaders and Middle East analysts warned... Bush's repeated, sometimes exclusive, focus on Israel could spark public fury against the Jewish state and Jews if US military action is accompanied by skyrocketing gas prices, terrorism at home or fallen GIs who might be seen as dying for Israel, some said."
Another Jewish community paper, the influential Forward of New York reported in May 2006: "Jewish community leaders have urged the White House to refrain from publicly pledging to defend Israel against possible Iranian hostilities, senior Jewish activists told the Forward ... [Jewish] communal leaders say that although they deeply appreciate the president's repeated promises to come to Israel's defense, public declarations to that effect do more harm than good." Jewish leaders went on to express concern that such statements "could lead to American Jews being blamed for any negative consequences of an American strike against Iran."
George W. Bush, and others in his administration, have often lectured Iran about democracy. Well, that's pretty rich coming from a man who became president after an election in which he received fewer votes than his opponent.
Contrary to the impression given by the Bush administration and neocon propagandists, Iran was never allied with, or even friendly to, the Al Qaeda organization or the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan. In fact, in 1999 Iran almost went to war against Taliban-ruled Afghanistan after Taliban fighters kidnapped and murdered nine Iranian diplomats.
In the barrage of alarmist anti-Iran and pro-war propaganda of recent months, we've heard a lot about how Iran is a great danger to Jews. To be sure, Jews do not have anything like the power and influence in Iran that they do here in the US, but the insinuation that Iran's Jews are somehow terrorized or oppressed is rubbish. Jews have far more freedom in Iran than they do in several Middle East countries that are allied with the United States, such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Iran's Jewish community of some 25,000 is represented in the nation's parliament by a Jewish representative. There are 20 active synagogues in Tehran. The Jews of Iran, many of whom own and run successful businesses, have a standard of living that is above the country's average.
To put this Iran "crisis" into some perspective, it's worth noting that although Iran has not attacked another country in 200 years, it has itself repeatedly been a victim of aggression. A look at the historical record shows that Iran has at least some valid reason to be skeptical of Washington's policies and intentions.
In 1941, military forces of Britain and the Soviet Union, with backing from the United States, invaded and occupied Iran in flagrant violation of international law. The British and Soviet Russian occupation forces removed the government in Tehran, which was considered too sympathetic to Germany, and installed the youthful Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as the country's Shah, or monarch.
In 1953 the United States, operating through the Central Intelligence Agency, and acting in concert with the British, organized the overthrow of the popular government of prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and brought back to power the Shah who had briefly fled the country.
From 1953 until 1979, the United States generously supported the Shah, a ruler who became increasingly out of touch with the interests and aspirations of his people. In 1979 he was overthrown in a popular uprising, and fled into exile. An Islamic Republic was proclaimed.
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq ordered his armed forces to invade what he regarded as a weakened and vulnerable Iran. The war started by Iraq in September 1980 lasted nearly eight years, and was one of the most destructive of the twentieth century. Casualty figures are uncertain, though estimates suggest more than one and a half million war and war-related casualties. Iran acknowledged that nearly 300,000 people died in the war, and estimates of the Iraqi dead range from 160,000 to 240,000.
The US role in that conflict was a cynical one. While publicly lamenting the bloodshed, the United States at the same time provided aid and support to Iraq. To cement that support, Donald Rumsfeld, who later served as Secretary of Defense during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, flew to Baghdad in December 1983 as a special envoy of President Reagan, to meet and shake hands with Saddam Hussein, and to reaffirm US backing in the war against Iran.
In the current US-Iran showdown, much of the world is mindful of the blatant double standard of US policy. While Washington threatens war against Iran for developing a nuclear program, it sanctions Israel 's vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, and seemingly has no problem with a nuclear-armed China, Pakistan, Russia or India.
In fact, given its geo-political position, Iran would be foolish if it did not try to develop the most effective military force possible. On its eastern border is Pakistan, which now has nuclear weapons, and Afghanistan, which is currently under the control of the military forces of a nuclear-armed United States. On Iran's western border is Iraq, which likewise is occupied by the armed forces of a nuclear US.
In the region, the only country that currently has a nuclear weapons arsenal, that occupies territory of its neighbors, and which is in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions -- is Israel.
In fact, if the United States held Israel to the same standards that it has applied to Iraq and now Iran, American bombers and missiles would be blasting Tel Aviv, and American troops would seize Israel's leaders and punish them for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
When a society is healthy, its leaders -- political, social, cultural and intellectual -- speak to its citizens with honesty and candor. A sound social-political system encourages truth. In a sick and corrupt society, leaders resort to lies and deceit. And the more decayed the society, the more its leaders lie and deceive.
In our society, the official lies and deceptions are so numerous and so brazen, it's difficult to enumerate them. I've already referred to its lies about the Baghdad regime in the months before the US invasion of Iraq. But it's much worse than that.
In the aftermath of the 2001 Nine Eleven terrorist attack, for example, President Bush on national television told the world that: "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." The next day he said that "freedom and democracy are under attack," and that the perpetrators had struck against "all freedom-loving people everywhere in the world." These are not just false statements. They are absurdly ignorant and deceptive ones.
The focus of the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, mentioned earlier, is, appropriately, the role of the Israel lobby in determining US policy in the Middle East. But this is no ordinary lobby. Its power and influence is much greater, more insidious, and more dangerous, than that of any other lobby. Far beyond determining US policy in the Middle East, it has a profound impact on every aspect of American social, political and cultural life. That's one reason why, instead of talking about the "Israel Lobby," I routinely speak instead of Jewish-Zionist power.
The Walt-Mearsheimer paper is much more than a trenchant analysis or persuasive critique of a particular lobby. It is implicitly a damning indictment of the American social-political system. The Jewish-Zionist grip on our nation is an expression of a profound and deeply rooted problem. Such a lobby or power -- particularly one that represents the interests of a self-absorbed community that makes up no more than three or four percent of the population -- could only gain such a hold on the governmental machinery of a society that is fundamentally sick and corrupt. No healthy society would permit a small minority to gain and hold such power, and wield it for its own particular interests.
The failure of virtually the entire American political and intellectual establishment to challenge this power is an expression of deep-rooted cowardice and corruption. Cowardice and corruption on such a scale is possible only in a society that is gravely ill -- one that is beyond reform or redemption. This sickness is manifest not merely in the hijacking of our foreign policy, or in the corruption of our political system, but also in the squalor of our inner cities, in our nation's high level of crime, in a culture that is ever more infantile and crass, and in the spreading vulgarity of our social life.
In every society, it is quite normal that most people are concerned with little more than the happiness, interests and well-being of themselves, their families, and their friends. In any society, only a small number of men and women have the wit and awareness to understand the social, political and cultural forces that shape the present and the future. Only a small minority has the soul or temperament to care about, and be seriously concerned for, the long-term health and well-being of the world, or even of their country.
Normally, and understandably, we expect -- and have every right to expect -- that our political leaders are mindful of and planning for the long-term interests of the nation. Tragically, our leaders have proven themselves grossly derelict. With very few exceptions, our political leaders -- Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal -- show far more concern for their own welfare and for the outcome of the next election, than for the long-term interests of our people and the world.
We seek to raise public awareness of the great issues that confront us, that impact every aspect of our lives, and which have the most profound consequences for the future. We realize, of course, that our words will reach the minds and hearts of only a few. We know that we cannot hope to match the financial resources, influence and outreach of our adversaries. We cannot hope to compete, much less offset, the great power and influence of the media giants who control most of what we read, hear and view.
Our great task is to reach those who, first, think about the present and the past, and second, who care about our future. That is, we work to reach men and women, especially younger men and women, of unusual awareness and a higher sense of responsibility -- the men and women who will be the leaders of the future, who can, and, if our children and grand-children are to live in a decent world, must assume power, replacing the failed leaders who have betrayed the people's trust.
A few of those who are here this evening have come, perhaps, out of simple curiosity, or to meet others who are attending. But most of us are here this evening because we care. We care about what is right and wrong. We care about what is true and not true.
We care about the past and, more importantly, we care about the future. We care about the world we live in. We feel a sense of responsibility for the world we've inherited, and for the world of the future. We want to make a difference -- to make this a better world -- a world that, even beyond our own lifetimes, is more just and right.
Some of us may feel a special concern for the cause of peace, mindful of the destruction, suffering, and death of war. Some may be moved by a strong concern for justice, perhaps especially for the people who have lived for decades under Zionist occupation. Some may have an unusually strong religious sensibility. Some may feel a special concern for the welfare and future of his or her own culture, race or nation, while others may feel a responsibility for the future of all mankind.
Regardless of the particular causes or principles that most move us, that are closest to our hearts, no issue is of greater urgency than breaking the Jewish-Zionist grip on American political, social and cultural life. As long as that power remains entrenched, there will be no end to the systematic Jewish-Zionist distortion of history and current affairs, the Jewish-Zionist corruption and domination of the US political system, Zionist oppression of Palestinians, the bloody conflict between Jews and non-Jews in the Middle East, and the Israeli threat to peace.
We are engaged in a great, global struggle -- in which two distinct and irreconcilable sides confront each other. A world struggle that pits an arrogant and malevolent power that feels ordained to rule over others, on one side, and all other nations and societies -- indeed, humanity itself -- on the other.
This struggle is not a new one. It is the latest enactment of a great drama that has played itself out again and again, over centuries, and in many different societies, cultures and historical eras. In the past this drama played itself out on a local, national, regional, or, sometimes, continental stage. Today this is a global drama, and a global clash.
It is a struggle for the welfare and future not merely of the Middle East, or of America, but a great historical battle for the soul and future of humanity itself. A struggle that calls all of us -- across the country and around the world -- who share a sense of responsibility for the future of our nation, of the world, and of humankind.