Published on Friday, February 9, 2007 by

Helping Israel Die
by Ray McGovern

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are unwittingly
playing Dr. Jack Kevorkian in helping the state of Israel commit suicide.
For this is the inevitable consequence of the planned air and missile attack
on Iran. The pockmarked, littered landscape in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan
and the endless applicant queues at al-Qaeda and other terrorist recruiting
stations testify eloquently to the unintended consequences of myopic
policymakers in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Mesmerized. Sadly, this is the best word to describe those of us awake to
the inexorable march of folly to war with Iran and the growing danger to
Israel's security, especially over the medium and long term. An American
and/or Israeli attack on Iran will let slip the dogs of war. Those dogs
never went to obedience school. They will not be denied their chance to
bite, and Israel's arsenal of nuclear weapons will be powerless to muzzle

In my view, not since 1948 has the very existence of Israel hung so much in
the balance. Can Bush/Cheney and the Israeli leaders not see it? Pity that
no one seems to have read our first president's warning on the noxious
effects of entangling alliances. The supreme irony is that in their fervor
to help, as well as use, Israel, Bush and Cheney seem blissfully unaware
that they are leading it down a garden path and off a cliff.

Provoke and Pre-empt

Whether it is putting the kibosh on direct talks with Iran or between Israel
and Syria, the influence and motives of the vice president are more
transparent than those of Bush. Sure, Cheney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer
recently that the administration's Iraq policy would be "an enormous success
story," but do not believe those who dismiss Cheney as "delusional." He and
his neoconservative friends are crazy like a fox. They have been pushing for
confrontation with Iran for many years, and saw the invasion of Iraq in that
context. Alluding to recent U.S. military moves, Robert Dreyfuss rightly
describes  the neocons as "crossing their fingers in the hope that Iran will
respond provocatively, making what is now a low-grade cold war inexorably
heat up."

But what about the president? How to explain his fixation with fixing Iran's
wagon? Cheney's influence over Bush has been shown to be considerable ever
since the one-man search committee for the 2000 vice presidential candidate
picked Cheney. The vice president can play Bush like a violin. But what
strings is he using here? Where is the resonance?

Experience has shown the president to be an impressionable sort with a
roulette penchant for putting great premium on initial impressions and
latching onto people believed to be kindred souls-be it Russian President
Vladimir Putin (trust at first sight), hail-fellow-well-met CIA director
George Tenet or oozing-testosterone-from-every-pore former Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon. Of particular concern was his relationship with
Sharon. Retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a master of discretion with the media,
saw fit to tell London's Financial Times two and a half years ago that
Sharon had Bush "mesmerized" and "wrapped around his little finger."

As chair of the prestigious President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
under George W. Bush and national security adviser to his father, Scowcroft
was uniquely positioned to know-and to draw comparisons. He was summarily
fired after making the comments about Sharon and is now persona non grata at
the White House.

Compassion Deficit Disorder

George W. Bush first met Sharon in 1998, when the Texas governor was taken
on a tour of the Middle East by Matthew Brooks, then executive director of
the Republican Jewish Coalition. Sharon was foreign minister and took Bush
on a helicopter tour over the Israeli occupied territories. An Aug. 3, 2006
McClatchy wire story by Ron Hutcheson quotes Matthew Brooks:

If there's a starting point for George W. Bush's attachment to Israel, it's
the day in late 1998, when he stood on a hilltop where Jesus delivered the
Sermon on the Mount, and, with eyes brimming with tears, read aloud from his
favorite hymn, 'Amazing Grace.' He was very emotional. It was a tear-filled
experience. He brought Israel back home with him in his heart. I think he
came away profoundly moved.

Bush made gratuitous but revealing reference to that trip at the first
meeting of his National Security Council (NSC) on Jan. 30, 2001. After
announcing he would abandon the decades-long role of honest broker between
Israelis and Palestinians and would tilt pronouncedly toward Israel, Bush
said he would let Sharon resolve the dispute however he saw fit. At that
point he brought up his trip to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition
and the flight over Palestinian camps, but there was no sense of concern for
the lot of the Palestinians. In A Pretext for War James Bamford quotes Bush:
"Looked real bad down there," he said with a frown. Then he said it was time
to end America's efforts in the region. "I don't see much we can do over
there at this point," he said.

So much for the Sermon on the Mount. The version I read puts a premium on
actively working for justice. There is no suggestion that tears suffice.

Then-Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, who was at the NSC meeting,
reported that Colin Powell, the newly-minted but nominal secretary of state,
was taken completely by surprise at this nonchalant jettisoning of
longstanding policy. Powell demurred, warning that this would unleash Sharon
and "the consequences could be dire, especially for the Palestinians." But
according to O'Neill, Bush just shrugged, saying, "Sometimes a show of
strength by one side can really clarify things." O'Neill says that Powell
seemed "startled." It is a safe bet that the vice president was in no way

A similar account reflecting Bush's compassion deficit disorder leaps from
the pages of Ron Susskind's The One Percent Doctrine . Crown Prince
Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto leader was in high dudgeon in April 2002
when he arrived in Crawford to take issue with Bush's decision to tilt
toward Israel and scrap the American role of honest broker in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With Bush's freshly bestowed "man-of-peace"
epithet for Sharon still ringing in his ear, Abdullah began by insisting
that the president and his aides watch a 15-minute video. It showed the
mayhem on the West Bank, American-made tanks, bloodied and dead children,
screaming mothers. Then, still wordless, they all filed into another room
where the Saudis proceeded to make specific demands, but Bush appeared
distracted and was non-responsive. After a few minutes, the president turned
to Abdullah and said, "Let's go for a drive. Just you and me. I'll show you
the ranch."

Bush was so obviously unprepared to discuss substance with his Saudi guests
that some of the president's aides checked into what had happened. The
briefing packet for the president had been diverted to Cheney's office. Bush
never got it, so he was totally unaware of what the Saudis hoped to
accomplish in making the trip to Crawford. (There is little doubt that this
has been a common experience over the past six years and that there are, in
effect, two "deciders" in the White House, one of them controlling the paper

Not that Bush was starved for background briefings. Indeed, he showed a
preference to get them from Prime Minister Sharon who, with his senior
military aide, Gen. Yoav Galant, briefed the president both in Crawford (in
2005) and the Oval Office (in 2003) on Iran's "nuclear weapons program."
Sorry if I find that odd. That used to be our job at the CIA. I'll bet
Sharon and Galant packed a bigger punch.

There is, no doubt, more at play in Bush's attitude and behavior regarding
Israel and Palestine. One need not be a psychologist to see ample evidence
of oedipal tendencies. It is no secret that the president has been privately
critical of what he perceives to be his father's mistakes. Susskind notes,
for example, that Bush defended his tilt toward Israel by telling an old
foreign policy hand, "I'm not going to be supportive of my father and all
his Arab buddies!" And it seems certain that Ariel Sharon gave the young
Bush an earful about the efforts of James Baker, his father's secretary of
state, to do the unthinkable; i.e., crank Arab grievances into deals he
tried to broker between Israel and the Palestinians. It seems clear that
this is one reason the Baker-Hamilton report was dead on arrival.

With Friends Like This...

George W. Bush may have the best of intentions in his zeal to defend Israel,
but he and Cheney have the most myopic of policies. Israeli leaders risk
much if they take reassurance from the president's rhetoric, particularly
vis--vis Iran. I am constantly amazed to find, as I speak around the
country, that the vast majority of educated Americans believe we have a
defense treaty with Israel. We don't, but one can readily see how it is they
are misled. Listen to the president exactly two years ago:

Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the
statements b y the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my
country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And,
in that Israel is our ally [sic]-and in that we've made a very strong
commitment to support Israel-we will support Israel if her security is

We do no favors for Israeli leaders in giving them the impression they have
carte blanche in their neighborhood-especially as regards Iran-and that we
will bail them out, no matter what. Have they learned nothing from the
recent past? Far from enhancing Israel's security, the U.S. invasion of Iraq
and Washington's encouragement of Israel's feckless attack on Lebanon last
summer resulted in more breeding ground for terrorist activity against
Israel. This will seem child's play compared to what would be in store,
should the US and/or Israel bomb Iran.

Bottom line: there is a growing threat to Israel from suicide bombers. The
most dangerous two work in the White House.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical
Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years
and is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for
Sanity (VIPS).