The last time the US restrained Israel in its never-ending wars of aggression was when President Eisenhower pulled the plug on the Anglo-French-Israeli effort to grab the Suez Canal in 1956.
Since then, we have not even chastised Israel when its actions hurt the United States. During the 6-Day war in 1967, for example, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, a Navy signals intelligence ship, in international waters, and murdered over 30 American sailors. The Israelis, of course, claimed it was an accident — but the Israeli claim was at least questionable, to put it charitably, because the Israeli fighter bombers made multiple attack passes, before Israeli gunboats machine gunned survivors in the water. Moreover, festooned with antennas, the Liberty had a very distinctive profile and was flying a huge American flag. Yet the US Congress never held an inquiry into Israel’s culpability (the only time in our history Congress failed investigate the root causes of a Naval disaster) and the DoD inquiry was as a disgraceful white wash.
Viewed in retrospect, the pusillanimous reaction to the assault on the USS Liberty by the United States government had a decisive grand strategic effect, however. It told Israel in no uncertain terms that it was now free to ignore or even hurt the interests of its patron in the pursuit of its own venal ambitions. History certainly suggests as much, because since that attack, Israel has operated without even a modicum of cosmetic restraint by the US. The Israelis have felt free to plant spies in the US government, like Jonathan Pollard. Most recently Israeli Prime Minister Omert bragged to Israeli citizens and the press about about he made Bush dance to his tune by interrupting a speech Bush was making in Philadelphia and telling Bush to humiliate the inept Condolezza Rice by forcing her to abstain on the UN resolution calling for a halt in fighting in Gaza — a resolution that she had helped to draft, presumably with Bush’s blessing.
Nevertheless, the American taxpayers continued to finance Irsrael’s arrogant behaviour year after year by repeatedly shovelling billions of dollars for new weapons and military/economic aid to Israel. The transfer of our front line weapons has been justified repeatedly as being necessary for Israel’s self defense, yet the Israelis have repeatedly used those weapons for offensive attacks, recently in Lebanon (2006) and now in Gaza. In the case of Gaza, it used the distraction of the US election in Nov 08 to break the cease fire (again using US weapons), and after triggering the desired response from Hamas, it unleashed its long-planned murderous attack on Gaza in late December, just weeks before the innauguration of President Barack Obama, in effect, pulling the rug out from under Obama and painting him into a corner at the very time when Obama was trying to focus his energies on and build bipartisan political support for dealing with the worst internal economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The GBU-39 guided bomb is perhaps the most egregious case point illustrating how our aid directly helps Israel to wage aggressive war regardless of American interests. After the disastrous Israeli attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, the Pentagon pushed for and Congress approved the transfer of thousands of precision bombs to replenish Israel’s stocks in August and September 2007. The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb was not included in this gift. But then, more recently, and for no apparent reason, four months before its assault on Gaza, the Pentagon first notified Congress of the GBU-39 transfer in August 2008. Congress was in recess during August, but transfer of GBU-39s to Israel was one of the first items it disposed of in after reconvening in September, in dutiful obedience to the demands of the Israel Lobby and its wholly owned subsidiaries in the Pentagon. These weapons and their delivery racks were then rushed to Israel, and in less that 3 months from the time of Congressional approval, 1000 GBU-39s were cleared aerodynamically for release from Israel’s planes and placed in the operational inventory, just in time for Israel’s attack on the Gaza Ghetto. The GBU-39 is one of the most modern weapons in the American inventory.
Last September, the GBU-39s were trumpeted by the Israeli press as bunker busters of choice for an attack on Iran. But that claim was preposterous and most likely deliberate misinformation, given that we now know the Israelis had been planning the assault on the Gaza Ghetto for at least three months. It was preposterous because GBU-39 has a tiny warhead (only 50lbs encased in a 280 lb bomb). Its small size and (theoretical) high accuracy, however, makes the GBU-39 a far more appropriate as a weapon of choice for assassinating individuals and small groups in densely populated urban areas, like Gaza, than for taking out deeply-buried nuclear components in Iran.
Unfortunately for the mass of innocent Gazans, the GBU 39 does not work as accurately as advertised. It has reliability problems, among other things, according to my sources some of whom have experience in using this weapon (indeed, one told me he thought its problems made it a step backward in effectiveness). To make matters worse, targeting intelligence is never as good as claimed by airpower enthusiasts. In the real world, once the bombing starts, the feed back from the effects of the attacks is ambiguous at best, and consequently target lists proliferate wildly, as was the case in WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq (I & II), Kosovo, Lebanon (I & II), and now again in Gaza.
All of which begs the question with respect to blindly supporting Israel: How much is enough? On January 19, Bruce Robbins argued in the Providence Journal that enough is enough.
Israel’s claim of self defense in Gaza was bogus because, the ceasefire was working. Robbins quotes Israeli figures, which say the number of rockets fired out of Gaza in July, August, September and October 2008 was, respectively, 1, 8, 1, and 2, whereas in the two months before the cease-fire, the Gazans fired 149 and 87 rockets. The ceasefire was broken on Nov. 4-5, when Israel launched air and ground attacks against Hamas, while the attention of the world was distracted by the U.S. election (sound familiar?). Whatever started this new and massive round of atrocities, the Israeli parliamentary election being he most probably candidate, it was not a few more rockets, rockets that may not have been fired by Hamas at all, but by splinter groups, like Islamist Jihad. What Robbins does not say is that the overwhelming majority of rockets fired from within Gaza are homemade Qassam rockets. Qassams do not even have a guidance system. Their explosive warhead weighs between one pound and 22 pounds, depending on the model, and it is made of smuggled TNT and urea nitrate, a common fertilizer. Its propellent is a mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate, another common fertilizer, and the fuse designed to detonate the warhead is made from a rifle or pistol cartridge, a spring, and a nail. In flight, the rocket is not even spin stabilized but merely settled down by primitive fins, make out of sheet metal, mounted next to the nozzles … which is a dynamically unstable configuration and is why it often leaves a crazy corkscrewing smoke trail when launched in the direction of Israel.
None of this matters, however. It does not matter that the Israelis have slaughtered over 1300 people in the Gaza Ghetto against a loss of of only 13 Israelis, because Congress is cheering, having passed a resolution of overwhelming support (390 to 5) in the House. And it does not matter that Obama is hosed and will probably be humiliated into toeing the line from the git go, because he has pledged to preserve the special relationship.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at email@example.com