U.S. war hawks are targeting Iran because Israel wants them to… Iran is the only regional power impeding Israel’s actions against Palestinians… While Israel has numerous nuclear weapons, Iran is not supposed to acquire them...
By Stephen J. Sniegoski, reposted from Unz Review; “Iran Delenda Est”
After Carthage had been significantly weakened by Rome in the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC), Cato the Elder, a leading Roman senator, is said to have ended all his speeches with the words: “Carthago delenda est!” (“Carthage must be destroyed!”). This destruction ultimately took place in the Third Punic War (149–146 BC). A somewhat similar situation exists today in the United States, where war hawks demand that Iran–which in no way could effectively attack the United States, or even conquer America’s Middle East so-called allies—be stripped of its ability to protect itself.
Of course, what makes the American situation different from ancient Rome’s is that Rome sought to eliminate Carthage for its own interests whereas the United States is largely acting to advance the military interests of Israel (and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia) because of the immense power of the Israel lobby in the United States. In short, the destruction of Iranian power would enable Israel to solidify its dominance of the Middle East.
An insightful article by James North notes: “Iran in 2019 is no danger to U.S. interests anywhere. . . . The U.S. is squeezing Iran mainly because Israel wants it to. . . . Iran is the only regional power that is deterring him [Netanyahu] from completely annexing the West Bank. Iran is also a major supporter of Hamas, the resistance movement in Gaza.”
As North points out: “Israel wants the Iranian government destroyed, and Netanyahu has been instigating the United States for years to attack Teheran.” Obviously, Israel does not want any country in the Middle East to be able to contest its hegemonic power, which it maintains by virtue of its influence on the U.S. government and through its possession of top- level military weapons—especially its nuclear arsenal—the threatened use of which would likely cause the United States to intercede on Israel’s behalf to prevent a nuclear holocaust.
Support for Israel does not mean that American presidents have done everything sought by the Israel lobby, especially when it required outright war. Bush the Younger, for example, did not make war on Iran after defeating Saddam’s Iraq in 2003, although that was what Israel and its American supporters sought. And President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)] in 2015 to prevent its development of nuclear weapons was vehemently opposed by Israel and its American myrmidons because they regarded it as far too favorable toward Iran, especially since it would terminate sanctions that had been placed upon it.
While Iran is not allowed to develop nuclear weapons, a 2019 report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) described Israel’s nuclear arsenal as consisting of: “30 gravity bombs capable of delivering nuclear weapons by fighter jets; an additional 50 warheads that can be delivered by land-based ballistic missiles; and an unknown number of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles that would grant Israel a sea-based second-strike capability.” Considering this completely unbalanced nuclear-arms situation, it would be reasonable to assume that Iran is threatened far more by Israel than Israel is by Iran. But that is not how the Alice-in-Wonderland U.S. media and politicians present the situation.
Israel and its American supporters wanted an overall diminution of Iranian military power—not just a restraint on nuclear power—which they contended would be enhanced by the increased wealth accruing to Iran due to the nuclear deal’s elimination of existing sanctions. Obama, however, held that he had maintained Israel’s military superiority over Iran. As Avi Schlaim, an Israeli historian, wrote: “Obama has given Israel considerably more money and arms than any of his predecessors. He has fully lived up to America’s formal commitment to preserve Israel’s ‘qualitative military edge’ by supplying his ally with ever more sophisticated weapons systems. His parting gift to Israel was a staggering military aid package of $38bn for the next 10 years. This represents an increase from the current $3.1 to $3.8bn per annum. It is also the largest military aid package from one country to another in the annals of human history.”
Donald Trump ran in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as something of a non-interventionist, especially promising to stay out of conflicts in the Middle East. Trump stated that “[w]e will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with. Instead, our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS, and we will. Almost two year later, Trump would continue to repeat his non-interventionist promise when he stated on December 19, 2018, that “[w]e have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” However, from the beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign, his expressed non-interventionist position was negated by his staunch support for the interests of Israel.
Trump made the renegotiation of the Iran nuclear deal—a deal he described as disastrous—as one of his main foreign affairs campaign promises. Moreover, hardline supporters of Israel loomed large in his campaign team, such as son-in-law Jared Kushner, David M. Friedman, and Jason D. Greenblatt. And Trump selected Michael Flynn, a strong critic of Iran, who was a senior adviser to Trump during his presidential campaign and also his first national security adviser. Flynn’s pro-Israel credentials loomed large since he had coauthored a book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, with staunch neocon Michael Ledeen.
Trump’s advisers would become even more pro-Israel and anti-Iran with the addition of John Bolton, who played a significant role in bringing about the war on Iraq in 2003, as national security adviser in April 2018, and Mike Pompeo who became Secretary of State in April 2018. Both of these key figures have pushed for an attack on Iran.
Like many evangelical Christians, Pompeo is more supportive of Israel than most Jews. He has said that it is “possible” that Trump is meant to save the Jewish people, like Esther in the Old Testament, who used her wiles to prevent a massacre of Persian Jews.
Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran on May 8, 2018. This carried out his campaign promise and was something he could do unilaterally since the nuclear deal was a non-binding political agreement, not a treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate. Trump alleged that Iran was violating the agreement though there was no evidence for this. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was authorized to verify and monitor the nuclear deal, had repeatedly found Iran to be in compliance, and the Trump administration had not officially disputed IAEA’s assessment when the United States was still a member of the JCPOA.
After pulling out of the nuclear agreement, the United States was in the strange position of demanding that Iran still abide by it. Furthermore, the United States levied a series of sanctions which quickly had a devastating impact upon the Iranian economy.
On May 21, 2018 , almost two weeks after the United States exited from the nuclear deal, Secretary of State Pompeo, in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, presented 12 demands (he would shortly add one more, human rights) for inclusion in any new nuclear treaty with Iran, most of which being unrelated to nuclear weapons. These requirements included: terminating support for any alleged terrorist groups—which meant groups hostile to Israel and Saudi Arabia, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis; removal of all forces under Iranian command in Syria, even though Iran played a significant role in defeating the Jihadi rebels there; disarming and demobilizing Shiite militias in Iraq, even though these militias played a major role in defeating ISIS; ending the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ support for alleged terrorists from the perspective of Israel and Saudi Arabia; ceasing Iran’s threatening behavior against its neighbors such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates; and ending threats to international shipping and cyberattacks. The totality of these requirements would have left Iran unable to defend itself against its enemies. In short, Pompeo’s demands could only be accepted by a government of a thoroughly defeated country. His demands emulated Rome’s treatment of Carthage after the Second Punic War before it was obliterated following the Third Punic War.
While the neocons and Israel firsters in his administration are pushing for war with the Iran, Trump acts as if he wants to avoid such a conflict. He certainly had the opportunity to launch war with Iran after it downed a U.S. surveillance drone—a massive RQ-4A Global Hawk costing around $130 million–over the Strait of Hormuz, which the United States claimed was in international waters. Whether this was true of not, the U.S. government has had a history of going to war over questionable, or outright false claims, such as the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine that led to the Spanish-American War; the alleged attack on an American ship in Gulf of Tonkin, which caused a much greater involvement in the Vietnam War; and the claim that Iraq had WMD, which ultimately led to the U.S. invasion of that country.
According to reports, Trump’s advisers were divided on how to respond. . Bolton, Pompeo, and the CIA director, Gina Haspel, sought a military response, which Pentagon officials opposed. Trump initially called for a military strike on Iran in response but then aborted the mission at the last moment because, he claimed, it would lead to a large number of Iranian casualties, which was disproportionate to what Iran had done.
One interesting explanation for the non-attack put forth by the website Moon of Alabama provides some information that indicates that Trump planned a fake attack and instructed members of his administration to ask the Iranians for permission to bomb an area of their country that would not do any real damage. The Iranians, however, rejected this setup. While Trump’s explanation might seem questionable, given the myriad of leaks that have come out of his administration, it is hard to believe that this aforementioned strategy would be discussed, much less be proposed to Iran.
Trump realizes that war with Iran would not lead to any easy victory for the U.S. and would cause a devastating impact on the world oil market. He not only would want to avoid this situation per se but would grasp the likelihood that a war with Iran would entail a morass that would almost guarantee his defeat in the 2020 election, for it is quite clear that most Americans are opposed to such a war.
But how does this approach affect Israel and its American minions? Philip Weiss, a staunch Jewish critic of Israel, contends: “Trump’s climbdown represents a real defeat for the Israel lobby. Clearly Israel and its rightwing supporters wanted an attack on Iran and they did not get it.” But as I pointed out earlier, the Israel lobby does not get everything it wants especially when its plan might embroil the United States in a large war.
But what about Trump’s need for funds from large pro-Israel donors for the 2020 election? Last-minute funds from multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson were quite likely the key to Trump’s hairbreadth victory in the 2016 election. Would he get support from Adelson and other pro-Zionist billionaires if he does not make war on Iran as they desire?
As pointed out earlier, if the United States were enmeshed in war with Iran, Trump would almost be guaranteed to lose the 2020 election no matter how much money Adelson and his fellow pro-Israel plutocrats contribute to his campaign. Also, this group will not be as crucial for Trump in the 2020 election because he has already amassed a large war chest, which was lacking in 2016. Moreover, Republican funders who provided monetary support to other Republican candidates in the 2016 primary election would have these funds available for Trump in 2020 since almost all would prefer Trump over any Democrat.
Furthermore, even if Trump does not make war on Iran, he has provided benefits to Israel and the Adelsons that the Democrats are not likely to offer. For example, Trump has moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Syria’s Golan Heights as part of Israel, and, of course, placed heavy sanctions on Iran.
Moreover, Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Adelson’s wife, Miriam, and she has reciprocated, writing: “Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a ‘Book of Trump,’ much like it has a ‘Book of Esther’ celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?”
Given what Trump has already done for Israel and the Adelsons, it would be quite reasonable that the couple would believe that Trump would take a more militant stance toward Iran, even making war, in his second administration when he would not have to worry about re-election. Also, there is no evidence that any Democratic candidate for the presidency would do as much for Israel.
The fact of the matter is that by pulling out of Obama’s nuclear agreement and threatening sanctions on all countries that attempt to deal with Iran, the United States has already seriously weakened Iran, forcing it to greatly reduce its funding of Syrian groups and even its closest ally Hezbollah.
As an article in the Washington Post of May 18, 2019, points out: “Hezbollah, the best funded and most senior of Tehran’s proxies, has seen a sharp fall in its revenue and is being forced to make draconian cuts to its spending, according to Hezbollah officials, members and supporters.
“Fighters are being furloughed or assigned to the reserves, where they receive lower salaries or no pay at all, said a Hezbollah employee with one of the group’s administrative units. Many of them are being withdrawn from Syria, where the militia has played an instrumental role in fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad and ensuring his survival.”
In addition to this diminution of support, Israel has been bombing Iranian targets in Syria. And Syria is of vital importance to Iran. Leading figures in Iran have referred to Syria as “a golden ring of resistance against Israel” and Iran’s “35th province.” Assad’s Syria has provided a conduit for arms from Iran to reach Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas. With Iranian arms those groups play a critical role in Iran’s strategy to deter, and if necessary, retaliate against an Israeli attack on it. However, a weakened Hezbollah would not be able to effectively attack Israel, much less provide substantial help to Iran in combat with the United States.
But how long will the Iranian populace be willing to have their government supply its allies as their own standard of living continues to plummet due to the U.S. sanctions? Iran is not a totalitarian state, such as North Korea where the population is virtually under total control. There is considerable evidence that while the great bulk of the Iranian population is willing to undergo great sacrifice in defense of their own country, they are not willing to do the same in support of Iran’s allies. And a significant number of Iranians are already critical of these ties.
If the United States continues to rely on sanctions but does not attack Iran militarily, it could cause Iran to give up supporting its proxies, who themselves would have become weaker as a result of diminished support from Iran.
Although the current Iranian government could support some type of compromise peace, it certainly would not concede to the harsh demands put forth by Pompeo. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC News that “room for negotiation is wide open” once the United States removes its stringent sanctions, but another Iranian official, presumably at the behest of Ayatollah Khamenei, who is the actual ruler of Iran, added that negotiations would not include Iran’s missiles.
What has been the result of Trump’s treatment of Iran? There has yet to be a Carthaginian peace that Israel and its American supporters would like. Iran will remain a power that could resist Israel. However, the sanctions have weakened Iran and its allies, which should mean that Iran will not be as aggressive as it has been, and thus Israel’s position in the Middle East has improved for the time being. Nonetheless, it is not apparent how long this will continue. And undoubtedly Israel and its American supporters will continue to believe, or at least pretend to believe, that Israel still faces annihilation unless the United States does more for it.
Stephen J. Sniegoski, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in American history, with a focus on American foreign policy, at the University of Maryland. He has had articles published in The World & I, Modern Age, Current Concerns, Zeit-Fragen, Telos, The Occidental Quarterly, Arab News, The Last Ditch, and elsewhere on subjects such as communism, political philosophy, World War II, and the American war on Iraq. He is the author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel (2008).