Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Three of Us

"In early winter [2002], an incident occurred that was seared into my memory. A coworker and I were suddenly directed to go down to the Mall entrance [of the Pentagon] to pick up some Israeli generals. Post-9/11 rules required one escort for every 3 visitors, and there were 6 or 7 of them waiting. The Navy lieutenant commander and I hustled down. Before we could apologize for the delay, the leader of the pack surged ahead, his colleagues in close formation, leaving us to double-time behind the group as they sped to Undersecretary [Douglas] Feith's office on the 4th floor. Two thoughts crossed our minds: are we following close enough to get credit for escorting them, and do they really know where they are going? We did get credit, and they did know. Once in Feith's waiting room, the leader continued to speed to Feith's closed door. An alert secretary saw this coming and had leapt from her desk to block the door. 'Mr Feith has a visitor. It will only be a few more minutes'. The leader craned his neck to look around the secretary's head as he demanded, 'Who is in there with him?' This minor crisis of curiosity past, I noticed the security sign-in roster. Our habit, up until a few weeks before this incident, was not to sign in senior vistors like ambassadors. But about once a year, the security inspectors send out a warning letter that they are coming to inspect records. As a result, sign-in rosters were laid out, visible and used. I knew this because in the previous 2 weeks I watched this explanation being awkwardly presented to several North African ambassadors as they signed in for the first time and wondered why and why now. Given all this and seeing the sign-in roster, I asked the secretary, 'Do you want these guys to sign in?' She raised her hands, both palms toward me, and waved frantically as she shook her head. 'No, no, no, it is not necessary at all'. Her body language told me that I had committed a faux pas for even asking the question. My fellow escort and I chatted on the way back to our office about how the generals knew where they were going (most foreign visitors to the 5-sided asylum don't) and how the generals didn't have to sign in. I felt a bit dirtied by the whole thing and couldn't stop comparing that experience to the grace and gentility of the Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian ambassadors with whom I worked." (Open door policy, Lt Col Karen Kwiatkowski,, 19/1/04)

Speaking of nameless, faceless Israelis with seemingly unfettered access to the highest levels of US decision-making, check out the following news report, which to my knowledge, typically, did not make it into the ms Australian media:

"In his recent testimony to the UK Committee investigating the Iraq war, British Prime minister Tony Blair admitted that Israeli officials influenced and participated in the decision by the US and UK governments to attack Iraq in 2003. During testimony regarding his meetings in Texas with then-US President George W Bush in 2002, Blair stated, 'As I recall that discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us, whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this'." (British PM: Israeli officials were part of decision to invade Iraq, Saeed Bannoura, IMEMC News, 20/2/10)

Blair's shifty and tantalising mention of Israeli officials at his meetings with Bush prompted Professor Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy, to cite his words as further proof of one of the book's key findings - that "[p]ressure from Israel and the lobby" was "a critical element" in the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in March 2003. (Israel Lobby, p 230) This, of course, was like a red rag to a bull for Israel's hasbara peddlers, hence the pre-emptive publication in the February 18 Age of The Israel lobby myth revived again, by Dvir Abramovich, director of the Centre for Jewish History & Culture at the University of Melbourne.

Predictably, while Abramovich finds some wriggle room in Blair's testimony - "[A] close reading of what Blair actually said ('the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time') reveals that he was referring to Israel's actions in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield, not to the decision to invade Iraq" - he conveniently omits Blair's 2nd (conversations between Bush, Blair and the Israelis) and 3rd sentences (those conversations being a major part of all this), with their suggestion that these conversations had more to do with Operation Iraqi Freedom than Israel's mugging of the West Bank, Operation Defensive Shield.

The full story of Israeli involvement in the war on Iraq is still to be told, with missing pieces like Blair's (and Janis Karpinski's recent reiteration of Israeli agents in Abu Ghraib) popping up from time to time. I've already posted some of Mearsheimer & Walt's citations of Israeli cheerleading in the lead up to the war (Greg Sheridan: Conjuror Extraordinaire, 1/4/08). And I've also posted on Stephen J Sniegoski's superb study The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, & the National Interest of Israel (Absent-Minded Professors Inadvertently Set Iraq Ablaze, 22/12/08). Sniegoski's discussion of active Israeli involvement in the decision-making process that led to the Bush/Blair war on Iraq helps place Blair's (and Kwiatkowski's) comments in context:

"Returning to the role of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) [created by Wolfowitz and Feith in August 2002]: as a result of a FBI probe of Israeli spying in the US (ongoing since 1999), which was leaked to the public in... 2004, it came out that Israeli agents had direct contact with members of the OSP. In essence, it was not simply that individuals in the OSP were pro-Israel, but that some of them might be conspirators in a clandestine operation launched by Sharon's Likud Party; they were, as Robert Dreyfuss called them, 'agents of influence' for a foreign government. The spotlight shifted to the OSP because the FBI, in its probe of Israeli spying, observed OSP analyst Larry Franklin meeting with an Israeli official in the presence of two officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In October 2005, Franklin plead guilty to the charge of having turned over highly classified intelligence documents to an Israeli government official and to members of AIPAC, who in turn handed them to the Israeli Embassy... However, the FBI investigation implied much more than the spying of Franklin and some AIPAC officials, illustrating the Israeli connection to the office that had played such a monumental role in providing the propaganda to justify the US attack on Iraq. For Franklin was intimately involved in secretive activities for the OSP. Without notifying the State Department or the CIA, the OSP had been involved in back channel operations that included a series of secret meetings in Washington, Rome and Paris to discuss regime change in Iraq, Iran, and Syria. These meetings brought together OSP staff and consultants (Franklin, Harold Rhode and Michael Ledeen), expatriate Iranian arms dealer Manichur Ghorbanifar, AIPAC lobbyists, Ahmed Chalabi, and Italian and Israeli intelligence officers. In short, it appears that various neoconservatives connected with the Department of Defense were consciously working with Israel in shaping American Middle East policy.

"Israel was also involved in promoting the US attack on Iraq apart from these covert dealings. Some of the spurious intelligence provided to the US came directly from Israel, as shown in a study by Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher at one of Israel's leading think tanks, the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. A special panel of the Israeli Knesset investigated and confirmed the charge that Israeli intelligence services had greatly exaggerated the Iraqi WMD threat. Yossi Sarid, a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, charged that Israeli intelligence had deliberately misled the US. According to James Risen in State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Israeli intelligence officials frequently traveled to Washington to brief top government officials. The CIA was skeptical of the Israeli intelligence and after the Israeli briefings would circulate reports throughout the government discounting the Israeli information. Wolfowitz and other neoconservatives who had met with the Israeli officials, were enraged by the CIA's negative response, with Wolfowitz complaining vehemently to CIA Director Tenet.

"It has been alleged that the OSP was provided with information by a special unit created in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office. Israel had a history of providing questionable intelligence in regard to Iraq to make that country appear threatening. As pointed out earlier, shortly after the September 11 terrorism, Aman, Israel's military intelligence service, reportedly claimed that Iraq had been involved in the attacks. In June 2002, Efraim Halevy, the director of the Mossad, informed a closed meeting of the NATO Alliance Council in Brussels that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was renewing its efforts to develop nuclear weapons...

"It has been argued that Israel, in its support for war on Iraq, was simply going along with the US government. Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson maintains that the Israelis initially wanted the US to focus on Iran not Iraq, and only shifted to supporting the war on Iraq in early 2002 upon realizing that a war on Iraq had become definite American policy. As mentioned earlier, the report that the IDF's supreme intelligence agency, Aman, at the time of 9/11, promoted the disinformation that Saddam was behind the terrorist attacks militates against the idea that the Israeli government as a unified entity was opposed to the war during this early period. However, even if there had not been complete Israeli support for a US attack on Iraq prior to the early spring, the director of the Mossad's public backing of the major WMD justification for the war in June 2002, before an influential NATO audience, would belie any argument that Israel was simply a reluctant follower of US policy. The fact of the matter is that the Israeli government was pressing the US to attack Iraq and actively abetting the war propaganda process. Ranaan Gissin, a senior Sharon adviser, told the AP in August 2002, 'It will only give Saddam Hussein more of an opportunity to accelerate his programme of WMD'. Gissin said Sharon sent the US government Israeli intelligence estimates that Saddam had boosted production of chemical and biological weapons in anticipation of war with the US. Gissin also claimed that Saddam had recently ordered Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission to speed up work on developing nuclear weapons. 'Saddam's going to be able to reach a point where these weapons will be operational', Gissin direly warned. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also trumpeting the necessity of war. In September, 2002, the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Netanyahu entitled 'The Case for Toppling Saddam', in which he held that 'This is a dictator who is rapidly expanding his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, who has used these WMD against his subjects and his neighbors, and who is feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons'. Netanyahu waved the red flag of Saddam's purported nuclear threat. 'Two decades ago it was possible to thwart Saddam's nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation', Netanyahu exclaimed... Netanyahu's focus was Iraq's alleged nuclear threat. '[T]he imperative is to defang the Iraqi regime by preventing its acquisition of atomic weapons', Netanyahu solemnly declared in October 2002. 'No inspectors will be able to do that job'. In fact, as early as April 2002, Netanyahu was briefing US senators as to the nuclear danger of Saddam Hussein. According to columnist Robert Novak, Netanyahu warned that Saddam 'not only is acquiring nuclear weapons but may have the means of delivering them against the US' via 'satchels carried by terrorists'.

"It is noteworthy that the pro-war position in Israel transcended the Likudnik right, being taken up by Labor leader Shimon Peres, who was serving as Sharon's Foreign Minister. Peres stated in September 2002 that 'the campaign against Saddam is a must. Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors'.* Former Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud Barak also stressed the need for military action... In late December 2002, Robert Novak maintained that Prime Minister Sharon was privately urging American lawmakers to support an attack on Iraq for the benefit of Israel... In February 2003, as the American attack approached, Prime Minister Sharon told a visiting delegation of American congressmen in Israel that the war against Iraq would provide a model for how the US should also deal with Syria, Libya, and Iran. 'These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of WMD, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve'. While Sharon said that Israel will not be directly involved in the attack on Iraq, he emphasized that 'the American action is of vital importance'. In short, Sharon was advising the US how it should deal with Israel's enemies." (pp 168-172)

[*LOL: Read my 7/4/09 post By Way of Deception.]

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