I’ve been listening to some old Bob Dylan songs, most notably his “Talking World War III Blues,” and “The Masters of War.” Dylan’s protest music was a shattering wake-up call to the country back then, and it is amazing to me how similar the words to those old Vietnam era folk songs are to what we’re seeing today. He sang of war profiteering, of the callousness of sending young men off to war to die for nothing while old men were talking.
When I was in the U.S. Senate, the CIA once held a briefing for those of us interested in Israel’s nuclear weapons program. I rarely attended those briefings, mostly because they swore us to secrecy, then gave us the same information that we could have read in the New York Times. In any event, in the 1970s we were told by the CIA that Israel had some 20 nuclear warheads. Israel had developed its nuclear weapons program with the help of Apartheid South Africa, back then the only country that would allow Israel to conduct nuclear testing.
Mordechai Vanunu, who was jailed for publicly blowing the whistle on that country’s weapons program, spent years in prison for his sins. He is now out of prison, but prevented from leaving Israel or from talking to anyone about his knowledge, which at this time is surely outdated. But Vanunu’s offense was to disclose that Israel had some 200 nuclear weapons at their Dimona facility.
In the last few years, both Syria and Iran, fearing Israel’s nuclear capability, have called for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. Both proposals were either scoffed at or ignored both by the United States and by Israel. Of course, we would expect the Israelis to scoff, for the reason that if they were included in such a pact, they would have to give up their nukes, which now enables them to retain the title of, “Bully of the Middle East.”
Israel has developed its nuclear weapons program out of sight of the eyes of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which it has refused to sign, but which Iran and most other countries have signed.
What is interesting about the tough talk now coming out of Washington, as well as from the two Presidential Candidates, Obama and McCain, is that they are advocating sanctions against Iran because of their firing of long range missiles, calibrated to reach Tel Aviv.
Israel’s refusal to take part in the Treaty is an anomaly that gives George W. Bush an excuse to demonize the Iranians for developing a nuclear program, a program which, interestingly, American intelligence agencies have said is not for making weapons, but which Israel, Bush and Sen. Joe Lieberman all say is for making weapons.
They are so certain that it is a weapons program that plans have been drawn up to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. Israel claims if the U.S. won’t bomb them, it will. Now, the UN used to be an organization that would stand firm against such talk, especially if it has the potential to lead to violence, and, in this case, leading to a conflagration that threatens to light up the entire Middle East, and maybe the rest of the world as well.
We don’t really know how far such violence may spread, because the only other experience the world has had with nuclear war was when the U.S. “obliterated” two cities in Japan in 1945. “Obliterate” is the word Hillary Clinton used to describe how she, as president of the U.S., would react if Iran attacked Israel.
But madness is the operative word here. Israel’s war hawks, along with the Israeli Lobby, are frothing at the mouth about Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, and, as experts say, are not likely to have them for a number of years. Ahmedinejad may very well be nothing more than a loudmouth and certainly he may be crazy, but the Mullahs who really run Iran are not. Even the thought that Iran would voluntarily commit national suicide by attacking a nuclear-armed Israel with nuclear weapons is a sign of madness in itself. With Israel armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, why would we be surprised that Iran would also try to develop them? That’s a question the mainstream media refuses to ask when it reports on the bluster by American politicians.
With the same lack of foresight that went into post-war planning for the Iraq War, the Bush Administration — and Sen. Lieberman — cannot wait to bomb Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons sites. The big problem here is that Iran is not Iraq. Iran has a great many ways to retaliate, ways which Saddam Hussein did not possess.
First, there is the world oil market, already at a breaking point, fueled, not by oil shortages, but by speculators. Iran’s potential blockade of the Persian Gulf should they be attacked would bring oil prices to new, and outrageous highs, this time as a result both of shortages and by speculation. Some people think that the continuing tension between Bush and Iran is already the cause of skyrocketing oil prices.
Iran has other weapons other than nuclear at its disposal, and would be able to use them against a country as close as Israel. There is little doubt that an Iranian retaliatory attack on Israel would most likely bring the United States into another Middle East war “to defend Israel” that we are currently ill-equipped to wage—but Israel doesn’t seem to care. Simply said, because of the Iraq War, we have run out of troops to defend even ourselves, to say nothing of defending an aggressive Israel.
And if what the neocons are saying is true about Iran meddling in Iraq, try to imagine some real meddling by Iran with the Shiite dominated government in Iraq. In effect, Iran is holding 150,000 U.S. troops hostage in Iraq. Add to that what Iran might be able to do in Afghanistan, which is already teetering on the edge of disaster for U.S. interests there.
We should not forget Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in South Lebanon. One’s imagination cannot reach far enough to picture what might happen there, but if we hearken back to the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war we can begin to get a picture of the result.
If we define Ahmedinejad as a big-mouthed madman, how can we define George W. Bush and Sen. Joe Lieberman, and the leaders of the Israeli Lobby? These are nothing more, as Bob Dylan used to sing, than old men talking while young men are dying. The difference here is that George W. Bush’s threats can be backed up by the most powerful military in the world, and Israel’s threats can be backed up by the most powerful military in the Middle East. Incidentally, I find it interesting that Bush attacked Saddam Hussein for no reason except that he sat on a lot of oil. Conversely, neither North Korea, which had more tangible nuclear weapons, nor Sudan, which is slaughtering people in Darfur, has any oil, so Bush opts for unenthusiastic diplomacy. And neither is threatening Israel as well.
Should a Bob Dylan imitator once again try to make it in the music world, it’s not certain he would react the same way to the nuclear threat in the Middle East today as he did to the dangers of the Vietnam War. America is sorely in need of another charismatic folk singer to arouse a supine Congress and a half-awake electorate to the dangers America is facing in that part of the world.
It’s apparent that our leaders have not yet learned that the outcome of wars they start are not exactly foregone conclusions. There is no amount of post-war planning that can predict what will happen once the Middle East goes up in flames, except for the death and destruction of tens of thousands of innocent lives. Judging from what has happened in Iraq, that’s the kind of post-war planning in which our leaders are not involved.
James G. Abourezk is a lawyer practicing in South Dakota. He is a former United States senator and the author of two books, Advise and Dissent, and a co-author of Through Different Eyes. This article runs in the current issue of Washington Report For Middle East Affairs and appears here by permission. Abourezk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.