Despite the ballyhoo of the recent Aipac national policy conference in Washington, when Israel-US bonds were feted, relations between the two countries are currently more strained than at any time since 1991. That was when the elder George Bush, as US president, fiercely lobbied Yitzchak Shamir to join in the Madrid peace conference. Relations then reached their nadir when James Baker uttered his infamous remark about Israel's American-Jewish supporters: "Fuck the Jews, they don't even vote for us."
If relations continue to deteriorate in coming months, we might have to go back in time to the Suez crisis of 1956 to find a time when relations were this fraught.
A case in point is Iran. That bogey-nation was everywhere at the Aipac conference. Every keynote speech - if they weren't directly written by that group's staff - seemed unmistakably scripted and "on message", dedicated to the existential threat that Iran poses not just to Israel, but the entire world.
A glossy brochure distributed at the Aipac meeting showed a map (pictured below) centred on Iran and beyond, with a dark ominous ring around Iran's neighbours and as far away as India, Russia, Africa and eastern Europe. The message: these are the countries under imminent threat of Iranian ballistic missiles.
A map contained in a brochure distributed at an Aipac meeting
The brochure copy even intimates that the next step for Iran is "building a missile with range to reach US territory". (Never mind that Iran doesn't yet have any ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, nor will it have the bomb itself for anywhere from a year to five years depending on which you source you choose to believe.)
Israel is in the midst of a massive diplomatic, political and intelligence campaign, both public and covert, that could lead - if those officials behind it have their way - towards a military strike on Iran. It is a war for the hearts and minds of Americans. Or you might call it the war before the war. In intelligence circles, this Israeli project is known as perception management and defined by the department of defence as:
Actions to convey and/or deny information ... to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders ... ultimately resulting in foreign behaviours and official actions favourable to [US] objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception and psychological operations.
The Israelis are following the template of the Bush administration's run-up to the Iraq war. First, the US government advocated half-hearted efforts at diplomatic engagement. Then it ratcheted up pressure through sanctions and UN resolutions. That is where the Israeli campaign stands now.
Aipac's members carried a unified message to Capitol Hill during their lobbying of US senators and members of Congress. They demanded that Congress pass the most draconian sanctions ever proposed against Iran. They demanded that Iran be offered a limited time in which to respond to an ultimatum insisting it drop its nuclear programme.
What then? If you review Aipac's literature and the various commentaries published either by Israeli diplomats or their supporters in the US media, they don't specify what comes next. But any sensible person can guess that the final step will be war: "Israeli leaders have ... hinted at pre-emptive military strikes if they decide that diplomacy has failed."
The Israelis surely know that the Obama administration will never go to war against Iran. In fact, they know that Obama would not approve of Israel doing so. But I've become convinced, in doing the research and speaking to knowledgeable sources, that Israel is prepared at some date in the near future to attack Iran itself, even against the wishes of the US.
This of course will put Obama in an untenable position: do US forces attack the Israelis (in effect defending the Iranians) and risk the fallout that would occur in relations between the Democratic administration and American Jews? Or does he allow the Israelis to carry on to their targets and bomb Iran, accepting the bloodletting and mayhem that will inevitably result? If Israel wishes for the latter outcome, they must lay the groundwork here in the US for tacit acceptance by the American people of a third-party attack on Iran.
Indeed, they are already a good deal of the way toward this goal, as the latest polling from Rasmussen Report reveals. According to it, 49% of Americans believe that if Israel attacks Iran then the US should help Israel.
Some readers may say this is alarmist. Before I learned some of the information I gathered from sources both public and not, I also would have labelled this as overly dramatic. But Israel hasn't shrunk, for example, from drafting opinion columns for US newspapers on the menace posed by Iran, and telling the editor that a local Jewish community leader would be attaching his name to it.
Within the US Israel exploits a willing circle of Likudist advocacy groups and thinktanks - such as the Washington Institute for Near East Peace, the Israel Project, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs as well as Aipac itself - that are closely scripted and co-ordinate their political message with Israeli diplomats. While some of these groups deny such a close affiliation, there is proof of scripting and amplification of the Israeli government's agenda. And of course there may be cases in which the organisations know the needs of their patron so well that they need no prompting.
In another example, Israeli diplomats monitored and encouraged a member of Congress to host an anti-Iranian conference that would advocate Israel's message of sanctions (and more).
Israel, along with enablers like Aipac, has not shrunk from hounding its critics. One peace activist in the US so angered Israeli authorities that he was driven from a job through a whispering campaign in the community, which also included a disparaging article leaked to a willing reporter.
The level of hubris necessary to pull this off is astonishing. Fresh off the dismissal of the Rosen-Weissman spy charges involving its own employees, Aipac is flexing its political muscle and reminding the world of its resurgence. It does this through a combination of manipulation, public lobbying and punishment of its enemies.
We in the US must be prepared to resist. We must protect ourselves from Israel's propaganda offensive ginning up war with Iran. We must encourage President Obama to stay strong in his commitment to Israeli-Arab peace, whether or not Israel is a willing partner. Keeping our eyes on the prize of peace is going to be the hardest challenge of all, because the Netanyahu government is doing everything it can to divert the world's attention.