Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington

“Let’s call it from now on the United States of Israel. Because many times when someone looks at the relations between Israel and the United States, one might ask, who is really the superpower between the two? And those questions become much more valid in the recent days when you see what is going on in Iran. … We are dealing now really with almost questions of sovereignty. We are dealing, needless to say –that no state in the world would have dared to do it, and no statesman in the world. And I will tell you frankly, it’s not Israel’s fault. Israel is doing whatever it can– it’s the one who enables it”.

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, speaking in Washington DC, April 10.

Gideon Levy, Israel’s most well-known journalist outside of Israel, and the most controversial inside of it, was referring to the royal welcome given to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by a joint session of the US Congress a month earlier and to his announced plans to pressure the US Congress to kill any deal that might be negotiated with Tehran over its nuclear enrichment program that would leave Iran with any semblance of national sovereignty.

Levy made his remarks at an all-day conference on the Israel lobby at the National Press Club, organized by the Institute for Research/Middle East Policy and the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs which, despite its venue and distinguished cast of speakers, received nary a mention in the nation’s mainstream or leading alternative media outside of a commentary by Ralph Nader in CounterPunch remarking on that very fact.

In his post-conference report in Ha’aretz, Levy noted that an earlier speaker, which happened to be me, had described Washington as “another Israeli occupied territory,” I had actually said, “its most important” but it was close enough.

It’s a truism about Washington that is now being tested and one that Israel’s critics from the Left stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, insisting that Israel doesn’t do anything without the White House’s permission.

I’m sure President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry would get a good laugh out of that, given the intensity of the efforts currently being waged by Israel and its domestic agents and their allies in Congress and the media to kill the accord concluded by Kerry in Vienna,

The assault is being led by AIPAC and handful of Israel front groups, some of them thinly camouflaged as “think tanks,” with virtually the entire Republican Congressional delegation marching with them in lockstep.

It is Bibi’s army and although polls show Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran agreement is not shared by the majority of American Jews—they support it, 49% to 31%–most members of Congress and the gaggle of Republican presidential wannabes don’t care about that; it is the desires of the American Jewish establishment and its well heeled donors, not the least of whom is Sheldon Adelson, that count.

AIPAC, Israel’s official lobby, and the only one working for a foreign government not required to register with the Justice Department—another demonstration of its power–recently bragged that it had already spent $1.7 million tax-exempt dollars trying to wreck the agreement and just when it was signed, AIPAC was ready to announce that it was forming another non-profit dedicated to the same task (as if another one was needed).

Dubbed “Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran,” or CNFI, it is about to launch a $20 million media campaign to convince the public that the deal is “dangerous,” but the media is speculating that Democrats, in particular, are its target audience.

This is because, in order to override President Obama’s threatened veto of Congress’s rejection of the Iran accord which is a near certainty, Bibi’s army will have to find at least 13 Democrats to vote with the 54 member Republican Senate majority.

CNFI should not be confused with an older Israel front group, United for Nuclear Iran or UANI, which on June 28th, announced that it was launching its own “multi-million dollar” campaign to defeat the agreement.

Let’s now take a long look at another AIPAC offspring that, in April, celebrated its 30th birthday while playing an outsized role in targeting the accord.

Its parentage is one that neither AIPAC nor the organization is about to advertise, lest they give their game away and the national media has proved itself willing to play along.

It is the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, (Near East, a now archaic term, instead of Middle East was chosen, presumably, to give it a semblance of gravitas.)

Once commonly known as WINEP, now streamlined to TWI, it is widely “considered the most influential of the on Middle East think tanks and the one the State Department takes most seriously,” the Guardian’s Brian Whitaker, pointed out in 2002.

That was during a period when the institute was among those most loudly beating the drums for an attack on Iraq in order to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s WMDs.

In the aftermath of the invasion and the deposing of Saddam, when it became clear that there were no WMDs to be found, as IRmep’s Grant Smith pointed out, “WINEP saw no need to maintain a ‘surge-level’ media blitz. The mission of getting US troops into Iraq, mirroring Israel’s own occupation of Palestinian territories, had been accomplished.” (Foreign Agents, IRmep, 2007)

With one foe of Israel out of the way, both AIPAC and WINEP, following the lead of Netanyahu, began hammering on the White House to take out the next, Iran.

Smith’s Foreign Agents examined in detail WINEP’s remarkable ability to get its opinion pieces accepted by the national media and speculated that a sharp increase of Iran-centric media placements in 2006, “could be a leading indicator of military conflict in 2008, if WINEP and AIPAC meet their objectives.”

Now, seven years later, both organizations, like Netanyahu, are clearly frustrated, not only by their having failed to get Washington to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, but that an agreement has been made with the Islamic Republic that would preclude a US attack on Iran well into the future.

This explains the daily barrage of thinly disguised Israeli propaganda missives, packaged as scholarly op-eds that targeted the Iran negotiations while they were taking place and the ones that followed their successful completion.

On July 15, the very day the agreement was announced, five different “experts,” or WINEP fellows, succeeded in placing their op-eds in leading mainstream publications, all of which contained their “reasoned” doubts about the wisdom of the Iran accord.

Think of them as the picadors of the political bull ring and now they have less than 60 days, to come up with the final deadly cuts to kill the agreement.

That led it back to a proven formula; set up a “bipartisan commission.”

Every four years the institute brings together what it describes as a “bipartisan blue ribbon commission known as the “Presidential Study Group” that presents its blueprint for the Middle East to the newly elected or re-elected president.

On June 24th, in anticipation of the advertised June 30 negotiating deadline, the institute put out a position paper making certain unrealistic demands upon the negotiators yet was treated by several journalists, most notably, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman, with such veneration, one might think it had been handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Perhaps, that’s an exaggeration but on July 1, in an assessment of the negotiations Friedman wondered if an agreement was possible “that restricts Iran from significantly upgrading its enrichment capacity over the next decade, as the bipartisan group of experts convened by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy proposed last week?”

Then, after interviewing Obama, he wrote on July 15, that he wanted “more time to study the deal, hear from (the same-JB?) bipartisan experts.”

This, we can presume, he did, putting their conclusion in his own words, “that Congress should authorize this and future presidents to use force to prevent Iran from ever becoming a nuclear weapons state…to destroy—without warning or negotiation—any attempt by Iran to build a bomb.”

Who wrote this paper that so impressed Friedman, who a dozen years ago had endorse another WINEP war ?

Signed by 20 academics, former high ranking military officers, members of Congress, and foreign service officials, its title was designed to impress:

“Public Statement on U.S. Policy Toward the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Endorsed by a Bipartisan Group of American Diplomats, Legislators, Policymakers, and Experts.”

The overwhelming majority of the signatories have close ties to Israel or to Israel front organizations and no special expertise on foreign policy such as former Senator Joe Lieberman and long time House member Howard Berman who once told a Jewish audience in his San Fernando Valley district that he had first run for Congress to serve Israel.

Eight have direct connections with WINEP, including its leadership team of Robert Satloff, Patrick Clawson, David Makovsky, and the ubiquitous Dennis Ross.

Ross has been an advisor or negotiator on issues relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Middle East for four administrations.

He began with Jimmy Carter and skipped George W Bush where, given the infestation of neocons in Dubya’s White House, his services weren’t needed.

Ross was once described as “Israel’s lawyer,” by a former colleague, Aaron David Miller, (who served with Ross during the Clinton administration and who, like Ross, is opposing the deal and had his own op-ed in TIME to explain his reasons.)

Ross has proven to be one of the most adept in writing pseudo scholarly op-eds, in addition to his radio and TV appearances.

In recent weeks he has been issuing a steady stream of critiques of the agreement that have been snapped up by newspapers across the country and he was the one that NPR’s Sunday Edition chose to interview about it following the Vienna signing.

All of his efforts conclude, like the WINEP “bipartisan” paper, with the demand that the administration be ready to use America’s military might against Iran should it prove necessary.

He went further than in a July 17 interview with Ha’aretz, calling on the United States to provide B 52 bombers to Israel; the only aircraft capable of dropping the massive bunker buster bombs that would be capable of destroying Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

These happen to be among the very facilities that will be subject to international inspection thanks to the agreement.

It should be noted that Ross has such clout in Washington that when he resigned from the Obama White House and returned to the institute where he previously served as director, he had installed a phone with a direct line to the Oval Office.

Ross’ official title was National Security Council (NSC) senior director for the “central region,” which gave him authority over not just the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but also placed him in charge of NSC officials who worked on Iran, India, and other issues.

Ross worked for the Obama administration for almost three years, and resigned two days after Obama was heard on a hot microphone discussing with French President Nicolas Sarkozy their mutual disgust of Netanyahu.

Another signatory to the June 24th WINEP paper was its Research Director, Patrick Clawson.

At one of its policy forum luncheons in September, 2012, famously suggested that the US initiate a “false flag” operation in order to have a full blown war with Iran:

All that was necessary was a little provocation and that someone should fabricate that small provocation.

The event was called, “How to Build US-Israeli Coordination on Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout.” Noting that were increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf at that moment, Clawson (half jokingly) said that “if, in fact, the Iranians aren’t going to compromise, it would be best if someone else started the war.”

Before making the suggestion, Clawson recalled all the conflicts in which the U.S. didn’t get involved until it was attacked, emphasizing that a false flag was needed each time for conflict to be initiated.

“I mean, look people,” Clawson elaborated.” Iranian submarines periodically go down, some day one of them might not come up, who would know why? We can do a variety of things if we wish to increase the pressure… We are in the game of using covert means against the Iranians. We could get nastier.”

Other signers of WINEP’s June 24th document can be found the on advisory boards of The Israel Project, United Against Nuclear Iran, an Israel front, as previously noted, or to have connections to JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the earliest known collection of neocons that has been around since 1976 and takes pride in its advisory board of similar thinking ex-generals and admirals.

It was “the JINSA crowd” that Colin Powell told his biographer, was responsible for the Iraq war.

“Those seeking background information about WINEP on its official website are informed that WINEP was founded in 1985 by a small group of visionary Americans committed to advancing U. S. interests in the Middle East,” writes Grant Smith.

“Like much of the website’s content, this information isn’t actually true. WINEP was actually incorporated during an espionage investigation crisis that enveloped AIPAC in 1984. “

Smith was referring to the discovery of a book containing classified proprietary information on US companies, among them Monsanto and Dow, that were opposing the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement in 1984.

It had been prepared for use by the US Trade Representative during negotiations with Israel and a copy was found to be in the possession of the Israel Embassy that had apparently come from AIPAC.

Not only did Israel and AIPAC triumph over the two chemical giants, in getting the president and the House to approve the Israel-US FTA by a 422-0 vote in 1985, but they managed to quash an FBI investigation in to how the Israelis had obtained the proprietary information.

Former AIPAC staffer MJ Rosenberg and editor of it Near East Report for six years, was there when WINEP was founded and described the organization as “an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would disseminate the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.”

To eliminate any doubt as to those connections, Smith pointed out that in its 2004 IRS 990 report, more than a quarter of WINEP’s board of trustees were members of AIPAC’s board of directors.

But wait. To be fair, there is another second-hand narrative which seems to mix truth with fiction.

According to the Jewish weekly Forward columnist, JJ Goldberg (not to be confused with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg), the institute was founded by Larry Weinberg, a former president of AIPAC in 1985.

Weinberger installed his wife, Barbi, as president, and hired AIPAC’s deputy research director at the time, London-born, Australia educated, Martin Indyk, as its first executive director from where, eight years later, he would later be plucked by Bill Clinton serve as US Ambassador to Tel Aviv. That’s the part that appears to be true.

In the half page of his 1994 book, Jewish Power (Addison-Wesley), devoted to the subject, Goldberg gave the impression that WINEP was the result of the vision of one man, acting alone.

According to the Goldberg variation, Weinberg’s goal, “he told friends, was to alter the intellectual atmosphere surrounding Middle East policy discussions in the capital.”

The atmosphere in Washington at the time was favorable to Israel, but not what it is today. Both Vice-president George HW Bush and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had criticized Israel’s annexing of the Golan Heights in 1981 and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and had unsuccessfully lobbied President Reagan to punish Israel with sanctions on both occasions.

Can anyone imagine the groveling figures who have held those positions since doing that?

On the institute’s website, describing its origin, mission, and methodology, there is no hint of its AIPAC parentage and other than a reference to the “Arab-Israeli conflict,” there is no mention of Israel or sign of affinity for the Jewish state.

“The founders envisioned an institution that would reject romantic notions of what outside observers want the Middle East to be, and instead embrace what the region actually is.

“Their mission was simple yet powerful: to inject the power of ideas and the discipline of scholarship into the making of U.S. Middle East policy.”

That was WINEP code for removing from the State Department and Middle East decision making what Israel’s supporters pejoratively portrayed as “Arabists,” an arguably racist term for career foreign service employees with experience in Middle East countries other than Israel.

In the spring of 1993, following the election of Bill Clinton, that goal would be achieved.

As a result, for the past two decades, the debate on Middle East policy in Washington has been conducted between two camps of “warm Jews,” the hawks and the doves. “Warm Jews” is the Lobby insiders’ way of defining American Jews with strong affinity for Israel from those without.

This has enhanced WINEP’s status. Not only is it the first place where mainstream media reporters tend to call for “unbiased” comments on events from Yemen to Syria, but WINEP’s stable of “fellows,” all portrayed as “experts” in their respective fields, are also routinely called to testify as such before Congressional committees considering critical legislation dealing with the Middle East.

With regard to the “Arab Spring,” it also turned out to be clairvoyant.

In November, 2010, one month before Tunisian street vender Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation kicked off what came to be known as the “Arab Spring,” WINEP launched an online website in English and Arabic, calling it the Fikra Forum.

It was to be “an online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists.

“At a time of dramatic change across the region, Fikra Forum is the first near real-time, fully translated Arabic-English blog to provide a two-way platform for those in the region seeking to shape the future of their countries and U.S.-based decision makers and opinion leaders who are trying to understand and support those efforts.”

On the site there is an alphabetical list of Arab intellectuals mixed in with WINEP fellows, but there is no mention that the site is a project of WINEP. You need to go to the WINEP site to find that.

It is one arena in which it is not blowing its own horn.

That fiction that the institute is independent of Israel is maintained by the national media, exemplified by the reportorial staff of the New York Times which, when quoting one of its “experts,” as it does almost daily, simply refers to it as “a policy institute.”

On January 23, 2011 ,when it did otherwise, on a story dealing with a report on “Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue, by David Makovsky, who edited the Jerusalem Post for 10 years, it heard from WINEP’s Executive Director, Robert Satloff, two days later, who objected to the Times describing the institute as “a pro-Israel think tank.”

“Your otherwise fine article about David Makovsky’s study on potential solutions to the territorial aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… twice referred to the Washington Institute as “pro-Israel.” This characterization is woefully insufficient.

“While the institute is not shy about its view that strong United States-Israel ties advance American national security interests, the moniker ‘pro-Israel’ projects two false impressions — first, that the institute does not value American interests above special pleading for a foreign power and second, that the institute must be ‘anti’ others in the region (Palestinians, Arabs).”

Vice President Joe Biden apparently suffered from the same confusion as the Times reporter.

In delivering the featured speech at WINEP’s 30th anniversary dinner, this past April 30th, the Vice-President, mentioning Israel 19 times in all, told an appreciative audience:

“We have Israel’s back.   And we will continue to look for new ways to help Israel defend itself, and to send the unmistakable message that if you challenge Israel’s security, you are challenging the United States of America.

“Just as the President said in Jerusalem, those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the Earth beneath their feet, the sky above them, because Israel is not going anywhere.  So long as there is a United States of America, they are not alone.  Period.”

The audience responded with loud applause. Apparently, it didn’t get Satloff’s message either.

Jeffrey Blankfort is a radio host and journalist in Northern California and can be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net.