Watching the past few seasons of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I got the uneasy feeling that the show’s brilliant host was starting to ‘phone it in.’ But on April 16, Stewart and his writers downed a mini-keg of Five Hour Energy, and served up a superbly entertaining indictment of Dick Cheney by explaining that the Iraq War was the greatest boost to Iran’s ambitions than anything since the overthrow of the Shah.
It’s taken several years for the Iraq War to be recognized as a geo-political catastrophe. From the moment the first observer noticed Iran’s belligerent rise in power and influence after the Iraq invasion and connected the two, rightwing media figures acknowledged Iran’s increased visibility dismissed any connection. But soon Iran’s nuclear activities became a greater concern than ever.
To address this growing threat, the EU3 (the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom) began negotiating with Iran in 2003 attempting to limit its nuclear program. These talks led to the Tehran Declaration of 21 October 2003 and the voluntary Paris Agreement of 15 November 2004.
Two years later, when China, Russia, and the United States joined the EU3 diplomatic efforts with Iran, the EU3 became the EU3+3.
Although “EU3+3” is the term used in all subsequent agreements, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the United States and Russia this group is more commonly known as P5+1, which refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the key to everything since it became the “1′ in the P5+1 nine years ago because it is Iran’s biggest trading partner.
Iran’s nuclear program depends almost entirely on German products and services. Those thousands of centrifuges used to enrich the uranium are controlled by Siemens software.
More than 50 German firms have branch offices in Iran and hundreds of German firms have their own trade representatives in Iran.
Several well-known German companies such as Linde, BASF, Lurgi, Krupp, Siemens, ZF Friedrichshafen, Mercedes and even Volkswagen are involved in major Iranian infrastructure projects, especially in the petrochemical sector.
In 2005, Germany had the largest share of Iran’s export market with $5.67 billion (14.4%). And three years later German exports to Iran increased by 8.9 percent and comprised 84.7 percent of the total German-Iranian trade volume.
The Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce estimated that continued economic sanctions against Iran could cost more than 10,000 German jobs having a considerable negative impact on economic growth in Germany.
As such, it was fortunate to even get Germany to sign on nine years ago and become the “1” in the P5+1.
But years after the P5+1 was created, Bush administration officials were still claiming how this was the right thing to do. And four years ago, Jon Stewart himself hosted one of them.
In the spring of 2011, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on The Daily Show to promote his new book, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, and tried to transform the Bush administration’s public certainty about the perils posed by Saddam Hussein into a sequence of thoughtful deliberations that led to the Iraq War.
One of the notions Rumsfeld served up was the implication that Iraq had been a major player terrorism against Israel by pointing out that Saddam had often given $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
He neglected to mention gave these were ‘show payments,’ given to the families after the attacks, and that money for terrorism against Israel was provided almost entirely by Saudi Arabia, Syria and the current ‘object of our affection,’ Iran.
Nobody can forget how certain the Bush administration was that Saddam Hussein was connected to those who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, and that he had weapons of mass destruction which would be used against the United States.
As that certainty of WMD’s slowly morphed into the possibility of WMD’s, leading to the embarrassing realization that Saddam no longer had WMD’s, the administration’s rhetoric began to take on a different tone.
Bush then tried to market a concern for the Iraqi people, and finally the goal of nation-building and the promotion of western-style democracy in Iraq.
Millions of Americans dismissed this, and concluded that it was about oil. It is possible that the smoking gun is contained in the zealously concealed documents from Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force.
Another widely held belief regarding the administration’s various motivations for starting the Iraq War was that Israel and its supporters pressured Bush to eliminate a threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
This motive has also been a favorite among critics of Israel, and especially among anti-Israel conspiracy buffs.
For example, one anti-Semitic website, www.nowarforisrael.com, reported with utter certainty that Israel was so vigorously in favor of the Iraq War that its home page proclaimed “ISRAEL WAS BEHIND FAKE EVIDENCE! It is now official: Israeli spies fed fake evidence to US government through Jewish US Government officials!”
Although this website has been taken down, countless others still promote the connection between America’s invasion of Iraq and Israel’s desire for the invasion.
In 2002, Mark Weber, the director of the Institute for Historical Review, a Holocaust denial group, wrote Iraq: A War for Israel, in which he claimed “…the crucial factor in President Bush’s decision to attack was to help Israel.”
Even Jews who should have known better came to this conclusion.
Mitchell Plitnick, Director of Education and Policy, Jewish Voice for Peace; Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East Studies at Stanford University; and Cecilie Surasky, Director of Communications, Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote an article titled Did Israel Lead the US into the War on Iraq? Their answer was affirmative and highly detailed, although these details were selected to buttress their conclusion.
The theory that Israel was eager for the United States to attack Iraq even carried weight with a few authentic experts on Middle East policy.
For example, Philip Zelikow, former Executive Director of the 9/11 commission, once claimed that eliminating the threat to Israel was a prime motive for the Iraq War.
Zelikow made his statements about “the unstated threat” during his tenure on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which reported directly to the President Bush.
Speaking at the University of Virginia in 2002 as part of a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on al-Qaeda, Zelikow said, “Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat [is] and actually has been since 1990 – it’s the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.”
Considering Saddam Hussein’s hostility to America’s closest ally in the Middle East, such a notion has not been easy to dismiss.
Unfortunately, the Iraq War has disrupted the entire region, emboldened and empowered Iran like never before and, as such, placed Israel in considerably greater peril.
As it turns out, countless Israeli politicians, military leaders and academics predicted this, and vigorously tried to warn Bush.
According to former administration official Lawrence Wilkerson, Israeli officials warned the Bush administration that an invasion of Iraq would destabilize the entire region and urged the United States to instead target Iran as the primary enemy.
Wilkerson, then a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and later Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, revealed in a 2007 interview that the Israelis reacted immediately to indications the Bush administration was planning to invade Iraq.
Wilkerson noted that when the Israeli government picked up signs of that intention, “The Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy. Iran is the enemy.” Wilkerson described the Israeli message to the Bush administration in early 2002 as being, “If you are going to destabilize the balance of power, do it against the main enemy [Iran].”
Wilkerson described the warning against invading Iraq – conveyed to the administration by a wide range of Israeli sources, including political figures, intelligence and private citizens – as “pervasive.”
Wilkerson said the message was not that the United States should immediately attack Iran, but that “…it should not be distracted by Iraq and Saddam Hussein” from a focus on the threat from Iran.”
The Israeli advice against using military force against Iraq was apparently triggered by reports reaching Israeli officials in December 2001 that the Bush administration was beginning serious planning for such an attack.
Bob Woodward revealed in his book “Plan of Attack” that on Dec. 1, 2001, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered the Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks to come up with the first formal briefing on a new war plan for Iraq on Dec. 4. That started a period of intense discussions on war planning between Rumsfeld and Franks.
As soon as Israeli officials got wind of a possible invasion, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked for a meeting with Bush, primarily to discuss his intention to invade Iraq. According to a Washington Post report, in the weeks preceding Sharon’s meeting with Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, a procession of Israeli officials conveyed the message to the Bush administration that Iran represented a much greater threat to Israel and to the stability of the entire region.
Israeli Defense Minister Fouad Ben-Eliezer, who was visiting Washington with Sharon, revealed the essence of the strategic differences between Tel Aviv and Washington over military force. The Washington Post reported that Ben-Eliezer said, “Today, everybody is busy with Iraq. Iraq is a problem… But you should understand, if you ask me, today Iran is more dangerous than Iraq.”
Sharon never revealed publicly what he said to Bush in the Feb. 7 meeting. But Yossi Alpher, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, revealed in a January 2007 article in The Forward that Sharon advised Bush not to occupy Iraq. Alpher also reported that Sharon assured Bush Israel would not “push one way or another” regarding the plan to take down Saddam Hussein.
Alpher noted that Washington actually preferred not to be given public support by Israel and explicitly requested that Israel refrain from openly supporting the invasion in order to avoid an automatic negative reaction from Iraq’s Arab neighbors. After the meeting, the Sharon government stayed silent on the issue of an invasion of Iraq.
One notable exception was a statement on Aug. 16, 2002 by Ranaan Gissin, an aide to Sharon, who declared, “Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose. It will only give [Hussein] more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction.”
As late as October 2002 there were more signs of continuing Israeli grumbling over Bush’s obsession with taking over Iraq. Both the IDF Chief of Staff and its Chief of Military Intelligence made public statements that month dismissing the Bush administration’s position that Saddam Hussein’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons made him the main threat. Both officials pointed out that Israel’s military advantage over Iraq had increased since the Gulf War as Iraq had grown weaker.
Maj. Gen. Aharon Farkash, then Israel’s Chief of Military Intelligence, said Iraq had not deployed any missiles that could strike Israel directly and challenged the Bush administration’s argument that Iraq could obtain nuclear weapons within a relatively short time. He gave an interview to Israeli television in which he said army intelligence concluded that Iraq could not have nuclear weapons in less than four years. He insisted that Iran was more of a nuclear threat as Iraq.
Israeli strategists predicted with disquieting accuracy that taking down Saddam Hussein would further upset an Iran-Iraq power balance that had already tilted heavily in favor of Iran after the defeat of Hussein’s army in the 1991 Gulf War.
But by 1996, American neoconservatives with ties to the Likud Party were beginning to argue for a more aggressive joint U.S.-Israeli strategy aimed at a “rollback” of all of Israel’s enemies in the region, including Iran, but beginning by taking down Hussein and putting a pro-Israeli regime in power there.
That was the thrust of the 1996 report of a task force led by Richard Perle for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, the right-wing Israeli think tank, and aimed at the Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still, most strategists in the Israeli government and the Likud Party, including Sharon, did not share that viewpoint. Despite agreement between neoconservatives and Israeli officials on many issues, the dominant Israeli position on the issue of invading Iraq diverged from that of U.S. neoconservatives because of differing political-military interests.
Israel was justifiably more worried about the threat posed by Iran, whereas the Bush administration was obsessed with regime change as what they believed to be a low-cost way of leveraging more ambitious changes in the region. From the Bush administration’s perspective, Saddam’s military weakness made it the logical target.
As of this writing, the Iraq War has cost thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars. Furthermore, it transformed Iran into the region’s most powerful thug, and imperiled Israel more than when Saddam was alive and in charge, just as countless Israeli officials predicted.
Considering the hubris of the Bush administration and its determination to create a friendlier source of oil in Iraq, these spot-on warnings never stood a chance of dissuading the Bush ‘war machine.’ The Iraq War removed the last restraint on Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
No country has paid a higher security cost than Israel.