Tipping Point After All?

In my article published on IPS Saturday (but written Friday evening!) on the Biden-Clinton one-two punch against the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, I raised the question in the title whether this indicated a “Tiff or a Tipping Point” and ultimately came down more on the side of “tiff”.

Since then Mark Perry, who has great and long-standing ties to the uniformed military, has put some more context to this question in an important piece on foreignpolicy.com which essentially argues that Biden’s private warnings to Netanyahu et. al. regarding the relationship between Israeli settlement activity and other outrages, on the one hand, and the health and welfare of U.S. soldiers and strategic interests in the region, on the other, reflected more than his personal outrage and concerns. It seems now that Biden’s the message may well have originated with the military brass, namely the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, and neo-con hero and CentCom commander, Gen. David Petraeus. If readers have questions about the reliability of Perry’s account, they should read the last part of Paul Woodward’s post at paul’s warincontext.org site in which he interviews Mark about the story and its sources.

If Perry’s account is accurate — and I have NO reason to think that it isn’t — the Biden/Clinton-Netanyahu contretemps now looks a bit more like a tipping point than it did on Friday, if only because the military is a far more formidable force for the Israeli government and “Israel Lobby” to have to contend with in U.S. domestic politics and even in the U.S. Congress than a mere Democratic administration.

About 18 months ago, I wrote a post in which I posed the question whether Petraeus, despite his courtship of the neo-cons and their elevation of him — due largely to their mutual interest in pushing for the “Surge” in Iraq and then a replay in Afghanistan — to heroic status and a possible 2012 presidential run would end up betraying them at the strategic level. And there could be no greater betrayal than the suggestion that Israeli actions and U.S. interests in the Middle East may not necessarily always be compatible and that, in any event, Washington’s perceived acquiescence in — let alone approval of — Israel’s more outrageous conduct seriously undermines U.S. credibility in the region and beyond and may even endanger the lives of U.S. servicemen and women serving their country in foreign wars.

Remember that it was Petraeus who came under explicit attack by Michael Rubin and others in the AEI crowd early in the Iraq occupation for his resistance of de-Baathification and efforts to reassure and woo the Sunni population in the region under his command at the time. And of course, it was Petraeus who at least twice asked to go to Damascus after his elevation to Centcom commander only to be rebuffed by Elliott Abrams and like-minded types in the White House. And, of course, Petraeus has always had a low opinion of Ahmed Chalabi of whom he spoke rather negatively just last weekend. And, like Mullen, he has never seemed particularly excited about the possibility of attacking Iran and went out of his way to emphasize points of mutual convergence with Tehran just before Obama took office and several times since.

Thus, while Petraeus has been very successful in rallying the neo-cons behind his war tactics, his strategic calculations regarding the politics of the region and U.S. interests there have from the outset tended to echo those of the dreaded “realists.”

If Perry’s account about the brass’ view of the link between U.S. security and the Israel-Palestine conflict takes hold in Washington, and if — a big if — the administration is willing to state publicly what Biden is reported to have said privately in Israel, this could indeed become a tipping point, as indicated by the latest press statement just released at 8:36 p.m. Sunday night by AIPAC, which is holding its annual meeting here next week. The tone and timing (and spelling of “diffuse”) suggest alarm.

March 14, 2010 [email protected]





The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to diffuse the tension with the Jewish State.

Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America’s fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. Those strategic interests, which we share with Israel, extend to every facet of American life and our relationship with the Jewish State, which enjoys vast bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people.

The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests.

The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done to with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.

We strongly urge the Administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.

As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, “Progress in the Middle East occurs when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel.”


Consistently ranked as the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill, AIPAC is a bipartisan American membership organization that seeks to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel. For more than 50 years, AIPAC has been working with Congress to build a strong, vibrant relationship between the U.S. and Israel. With more than 100,000 members across the United States, AIPAC works throughout the country to improve and strengthen that relationship by supporting U.S.-Israel military, economic, scientific and cultural cooperation.

UPDATE: I just checked my email. AIPAC corrected the misspelling of “defuse.”

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. I believe it will blow over, unfortunately. This sort of thing has happened before, and no doubt will again. When the administration recalls our ambassador for “consultations,” or slashes aid dollars to Israel, or publishes a White Paper detailing the facts regarding the attack on the Liberty in 1967, then I’ll say we’re at a tipping point. Otherwise, it’s just a tiff.

  2. Again we see that the military itself is far more rational and sane than our political and punditry. It makes me wonder what these generals would do simply if told to.

    They will blame the very liberal instincts that I laud for complying with orders they know might ensnare this country in a trap. They didn’t strenuously object to Iraq, how can Jon dismiss their ability to obey orders to attack Iran.

    I hope he is right, but it is the self same wisdom and liberal belief in civilian rule that keeps them compliant. To stand down literally represents a military coup d’etat. We’re taking comfort and confidence in a radical move.

  3. Sorry, but I don’t “dismiss their [i.e., the generals] ability to obey orders to attack Iran.” If the U.S. military is ordered to attack Iran, it will do so. Generals either follow orders or resign. The third way (refusal to follow orders) constitutes mutiny, which is or was a capital offense.

    My argument going back years has been that the US military does not want a war with Iran, given the constraints imposed by Iraq, Afghanistan, lack of a draft, etc. I have also said from the beginning that the Obama administration will not order an attack. I still believe this.

    My final point is that I have felt that an Israeli attack on Iran is possible, and my concern in this regard has grown since late last year. I have gone so far as to predict an Israeli strike in 2010 or 2011. Because of setbacks in the Iranian nuclear program, I now believe the odds of an Israeli strike in that timeframe are no more than 50-50. I’ll spare you my analysis on this point, which would require too much time and space.

  4. “The third way (refusal to follow orders) constitutes mutiny, which is or was a capital offense.”

    That is only true if the order is lawful. A war of aggression, which an attack on Iran would be, is not lawful in international law. Now there are some (such a John Bolton) who regard international law as nonsensical and not binding on the USA, but that was Hitler’s approach and that ended at Nuremberg.

  5. Blow, for the soldiers who choose to stand down your international standard will serve as cold comfort.

    I don’t know if anyone reads Wayne Madsen Reports, but he has a link to a story out of Scotland saying that a cargo manifest has the US sending bunker buster bombs.

    “Contract details for the shipment to Diego Garcia were posted on an international tenders’ website by the US navy.

    A shipping company based in Florida, Superior Maritime Services, will be paid $699,500 to carry many thousands of military items from Concord, California, to Diego Garcia.

    Crucially, the cargo includes 195 smart, guided, Blu-110 bombs and 192 massive 2000lb Blu-117 bombs.

    “They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, co-author of a recent study on US preparations for an attack on Iran. “US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he added.

    The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel, Plesch argued.”


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