Binyamin Netanyahu: no, no, no

Israel-Iran: An enemy at all costs

Alongside the Saudis, Israel is pulling out all the stops to prevent a settlement with Iran. Tony Greenstein looks at Binyamin Netanyahu’s contortions

If there is one thing that the Israeli state requires, whoever its leader may be, it is an enemy. And they do not come more suitable than the Islamic republic of Iran.

In previous years, Israel demonised Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser as ‘the new Hitler’ (in the Middle East there is always at least one ‘new Hitler’ that the Israelis can proclaim is the latest ‘existential threat’). The Palestine Liberation Organisation rolled over so comprehensively that it is no longer possible to treat Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Authority in this way. As for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the left wing of the PLO, they are just not strong enough, while Hamas (which Israel helped create, of course) is not in the same league as Iran. It is usefully caged up in Gaza as a warning against any settlement with the Palestinians. Likewise, Hezbollah, although it has never dropped out of Israeli sights, has shown every sign of keeping to its ceasefire in Lebanon.

But Iran is another story. The last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his questioning of the holocaust and threats to wipe Israel from the face of the planet, allowed Israel to paint Iran as irredeemably anti-Semitic. The fact that it is host to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel - some 25,000 people - is ignored.

And Iran’s development of nuclear technology and uranium enrichment, which could possibly be used for nuclear weaponry, was a godsend for prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Only Israel is allowed to possess nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty. So for the last five years Netanyahu has been threatening to bomb Iran and take out its nuclear facilities. But there is just one small problem. The US has interests to protect in the region and does not want another conflagration. The election of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president, with a clear mandate to seek a settlement with imperialism, while more than welcome in the US, not least economically, is extremely unwelcome to Netanyahu. That is why, in his October 1 address to the United Nations, Netanyahu described Rowhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

This was, of course, predictable. Iran aims to become the regional superpower and Israel will brook no challenge to its authority. Demonising Iran is but a part of that process. As readers will know, while Rowhani is portrayed as a ‘moderate’, the repression he heads is as barbaric as ever. The oppression of the Kurds is particularly vicious, with many of the large number of execution victims being Kurdish, alongside those of other national minorities. But this is not what disturbs Netanyahu.

However, the wing of the US ruling class represented by Barack Obama, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton see no good at all coming from the Israeli threats - quite the contrary. One of the by-products of the Iraq war was the geopolitical strengthening of Tehran and a military attack on Iran could rebound on the US politically. For example, the close relationship with Nouri al-Maliki, the pro-American prime minister of Iraq, is unlikely to survive an Israeli attack on Iran.

The majority of the US ruling class (as witnessed in the opposition in the House of Representatives to the bombing of Syria, following the British parliament’s similar decision), and more importantly the people of America, are opposed to a military attack on Iran. This is not the case with a substantial minority of the US establishment, of course - the neo-conservatives, the Dick Cheneys and Elliot Abrams, and the million-strong Christian Zionist movement under pastor John Hagee. They have their work cut out ‘proving’ that Iran is a year or so away from developing its own nuclear weapon and the means of deploying it. While its possession of nuclear technology might be regarded as enough to justify an attack, it would primarily be a pretext for reconfiguring the politics of the Middle East and the elimination of a regime which is independent of the US.

Part of Israel’s strategy has been an unofficial alliance with Saudi Arabia, whose regime is almost wholly dependent on the US. The kingdom has, for a long time, been worried about what it sees as radical Islam. Saudi oil wealth is mainly situated in the minority Shi’ite areas of Saudi Arabia and is therefore vulnerable to a rebellion. Coupled with a Shi’ite majority in Bahrain, a strong Iran is a major worry for the Saudis.

But the US has good reason for seeking a settlement. Every attempt at regime change has failed and the US people are war-weary. The unprovoked bombing by Israel of Iran’s nuclear facilities could set the Middle East alight and blow away most of the client regimes. This is the great fear of the Democratic leadership under Obama, although it is one that the Republicans and their foreign backers may be willing to risk in order to secure American hegemony in the Arab east.

But another problem for Israel is that Iran is at the margins of its ability to strike militarily. It is significant that the French under François Hollande are prepared to play ball with the Christian Zionists and Netanyahu. Through support for Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Hollande is seeking to regain a foothold in the region for French imperialism. However, the US has never been as weak as it is today. Like a wounded animal it may still hit out in blind fury, but it cannot maintain the level of expenditure we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet for Israel Iran must remain an enemy at all costs.