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Need to Talk Sense to Netanyahu

Recalling President George Washington’s farewell advice against tying the United States too closely to any foreign nation, Veterans for Peace urges President Obama to publicly warn Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu against attacking Iran with the expectation of U.S. military support.

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veterans for Peace

SUBJECT: You Need to Talk Sense to Netanyahu

We members of Veterans for Peace have served in every war since WW II. We know war. And we know when it smells like war. It smells that way now, with drums beating loudly for attacking Iran.

Information offered by the media to “prove” Iran a threat bears an eerie resemblance to the “evidence” ginned up to “justify” war on Iraq — evidence later described by the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after a five-year committee investigation, as “unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

The good news this time around is that sane policy toward Israel and Iran can find support in a principled U.S. intelligence community, which has rebuffed attempts to force it to serve up doctored “evidence” to justify war. U.S. intelligence continues to adhere to the unanimous, “high-confidence” judgment, set forth in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of November 2007 that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003.

(It may be of more than incidental interest to you that both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have openly admitted that the 2007 NIE put the kibosh on U.S.-Israeli plans to strike Iran in 2008.)

We hope you have been adequately briefed on the findings of the November 2011 report on Iran by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Those findings are consistent with the key judgments of the U.S. intelligence community expressed four years earlier. The IAEA report contained no evidence that Iran has yet decided to build nuclear weapons, despite widespread media hype to the contrary.

Needed: Presidential Action

We believe that you have the power to nip the current warmongering in the bud by taking essentially two key steps:

1-Announce publicly that you will not allow the United States to be drawn into war if Israel attacks Iran or provokes hostilities in some other way.

In threatening and planning such attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters are assuming you would have no option other than to commit U.S. forces in support of Israel. To assume automatic support from the world’s sole remaining superpower is a heady thing and an invitation to adventurism.

We are aware that you have dispatched emissary after emissary to ask the Israelis please not to start a war. We mean no offense to those messengers, but there is very little reason to believe that they are taken seriously.

We are convinced that only a strong public demurral from you personally would have much chance of disabusing Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders of the notion that they can expect full American support, no matter how hostilities with Iran begin.

The Risks of Silence

A public statement now could pre-empt a catastrophic war. Conversely, the Israeli leaders are likely to interpret unwillingness on your part to speak out clearly as a sign that you will find it politically impossible to deny Israel military support once it is engaged in hostilities with Iran.

What we find surprising (and the Israelis presumably find reassuring) is the nonchalance with which Official Washington and the media discuss the possible outbreak of war. From officials and pundits alike, the notion has gained currency that an attack on Iran is an acceptable option, and that the only remaining questions are if and when the Israelis will choose to attack.

Little heed is paid to the fact that, absent an immediate threat to Israel, such an attack would be a war of aggression as defined and condemned at the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey’s anemic remark on Sunday that an Israeli attack on Iran would be “not prudent” is precisely the kind of understatement to give Netanyahu the impression that he essentially has carte blanche to start hostilities with Iran, anticipating a mere tap on the knuckles — if that — from Washington.

2-Announce to the people of the United States and the world that Iran presents no immediate threat to Israel, much less the U.S.

That Iran is no threat to America is clear. Your secretary of state has acknowledged this publicly. For example, speaking in Qatar on Feb. 14, 2010, Secretary Clinton said that, were Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon, this would “not directly threaten the United States,” but would pose a threat to our “partners here in this region.”

Secretary Clinton has made it clear that the partner she has uppermost in mind is Israel. She and the Israeli leaders have used the media to hype this “threat,” even though it is widely recognized that it would be suicidal for Iran to use such a weapon against Israel — armed as it is with hundreds of nuclear weapons.

The media have drummed into us that a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands would pose an “existential” threat to Israel, a claim that is difficult to challenge — that is, until one gives it careful thought. Now is the time to challenge it. Indeed, the whole notion is such a stretch that even some very senior Israeli officials have begun to challenge it in public, as we shall point out later in this memorandum.

Chirac Spoof on the “Threat”

Former French President Jacques Chirac is perhaps the best-known Western statesman to ridicule the notion that Israel, with at least 200 to 300 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, would consider Iran’s possession of a nuclear bomb or two an existential threat.

In a recorded interview with the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and Le Nouvel Observateur, on Jan. 29, 2007, Chirac put it this way: “Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel? It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed.” Chirac concluded that Iran’s possession of a nuclear bomb would not be “very dangerous.”

Oddly, Chirac’s logic has found more receptivity among some of Netanyahu’s top officials than with your own strongly pro-Israel advisers, which now include CIA chief David Petraeus. You may be unaware that Petraeus repeatedly raised the “existential-threat-to-Israel” shibboleth in his recent testimony to Congress.

Petraeus: An “Existentialist”?

At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Jan. 31, Petraeus said he had talked just days before with his Israeli counterpart, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who was visiting Washington. Is it conceivable that Petraeus’s staff had not briefed him on Pardo’s dismissive remarks on the supposed “existential threat” just weeks before?

According to Israeli press reports, on Dec. 27, 2011, Pardo complained to an audience of about 100 Israeli ambassadors: “The term ‘existential threat’ is used too freely … If one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an ‘existential threat,’ that would mean we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation.”

One of the ambassadors in the audience told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Pardo’s remarks “clearly implied that he doesn’t think a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel.” This did not stop Petraeus from repeatedly hyping the “existential threat” in his congressional testimony on Jan. 31.

As if in response to Petraeus, on Feb. 8, Pardo’s immediate predecessor as head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, stated publicly that he does not think Israel faces an “existential threat” from Iran.

You may wish to make a point of asking Petraeus why he professes to be more concerned about an “existential threat” to Israel than Mossad — and CIA analysts themselves — seem to be.

Logically, at least, the Pardo/Dagan approach would certainly seem to have the upper hand, if there continues to be no hard evidence that Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon. It bears repeating; essentially nothing has changed since the intelligence community’s finding of November 2007: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Defense Ministers Provide Context

Even authoritative statements by top U.S. and Israeli officials have failed to prevent media hype charging that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his counterpart, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have publicly stated (on Jan. 8 and Jan. 18 respectively) that Iran is not doing so.

On Face the Nation, Panetta asked himself: “Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon?” and immediately answered his own question: “No.” Ehud Barak followed suit ten days later. He added that only if Iran expelled the U.N. inspectors would there be “definite proof that time is running out” and that “harsher sanctions or other action against Iran” might then be in order.

It is no secret that the Israeli cabinet is divided on whether to attack Iran, with Netanyahu leading the hawks in pushing for early action. How the Israeli leaders interpret similar differences and mixed signals in Washington will be crucial factors in whether Israel decides to move toward war with Iran. Unfortunately, Netanyahu and other hawkish leaders probably feel supported by your remarks before the Super Bowl game on Feb. 5.

We found what you said on Israel and Iran highly disturbing. You told over a hundred million TV viewers: “My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel.”

The two are not necessarily the same and, in our view, need to be separated by more than a comma. Publicly equating the security of the U.S. with that of Israel as your “number one priority” can lead to all kinds of mischief, including war.

For a variety of reasons, mostly Israeli reluctance, there is no mutual defense treaty between the United States and Israel. With no treaty to trigger the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution there is no legal obligation for our country to defend Israel. And, as we hope you will agree, there is no moral obligation either, if Israel is the side initiating/provoking hostilities.

We respectfully suggest you make all this clear to Netanyahu when he visits you on March 5.  Better still, to be on the safe side, tell him publicly — now.

Oaths…

In proudly serving in our country’s armed forces, we took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. We still take that oath with the utmost seriousness, the more so since it bears no expiration date.

We did not swear to bear arms if ordered, without due process, to defend Israel or any other country. Nor did the brave men and women now serving on active duty.

In all candor, we see it as your duty to protect our successor comrades in arms from the consequences of what President George Washington called the kind of “passionate attachment” to another country that brings all manner of evil in its wake.

…and Founders

The first President of the United States was born 280 years ago today. Thus, it seems all the more appropriate that we end this memorandum with a highly relevant paragraph from Washington’s Farewell Address. But before setting that down as a sharp reminder of what is at stake here, we want to urge you again to issue two statements like the ones we suggest above, which are so much in the spirit of our first President’s very prescient warning.

In present circumstances, we believe this would be the best way for you to honor the wise insight of George Washington, and to be true to your own oath to defend the Constitution. As veterans of the armed forces, we claim a special right to urge you strongly to make it 100 percent clear that the number one priority of your presidency is the security of the United States, and thus prevent another totally unnecessary war.

From Washington’s Farewell Address (1796):

“So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.

“It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.

“And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity..."

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