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A Showdown for War or Peace

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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By contrast, Israel has refused to sign the treaty and maintains an undeclared nuclear arsenal that is considered one of the most sophisticated on earth. Despite the hypocrisy, Israel has been able to concentrate the world's attention on Iran, which lacks a single nuclear weapon, while keeping the attention away for Israel's own rogue nuclear arsenal, which is rarely mentioned in U.S. press reports even in articles about Israel raising alarms regarding Iran.

The Lines Forming

Yet, while Israeli leaders and the Saudi royals possess substantial clout inside U.S. policy circles, Obama has in his corner his own unlikely ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also has clashed with Netanyahu and Prince Bandar.

Putin appears particularly concerned with Saudi-backed jihadists who have attacked Russian targets in the past and still threaten to destabilize Muslim areas of the Russian Federation, such as Chechnya and Dagestan. Putin also has concerns that Islamic terrorists could endanger the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The battle lines of this high-stakes diplomatic conflict are forming with Netanyahu, Bandar and American neoconservatives on one side -- and Obama, Putin and foreign-policy "realists" on the other. Besides the future direction of the Middle East, the political fortunes of individual leaders are at stake, with either Obama or Netanyahu potentially emerging as the biggest loser.

Netanyahu's strategy calls for rallying Israel's staunch supporters in Congress and the U.S. news media to criticize Obama for showing "weakness" in trying to resolve disputes with Iran and Syria through constructive diplomacy rather than military force or coercive economic warfare.

On Thursday, Netanyahu called the tentative agreement with Iran a "grievous historic error" that would not eliminate Iran's potential for eventually moving to build a nuclear bomb. "If the news that I am receiving of the impending proposal by the p-5-plus-1 is true, this is the deal of the century, for Iran," said Netanyahu, referring to the five permanent Security Council members, plus Germany, which have been negotiating with Iran over constraints on its nuclear program.

Trying to head off the deal, some of Netanyahu's backers called for more economic sanctions on Iran, even as its new government under President Hassan Rouhani signals a desire for a diplomatic settlement that would include new limits and more supervision on its nuclear program. Torpedoing the talks by enacting more sanctions would likely increase the prospects of an eventual U.S.-Israel air assault on Iran's nuclear facilities, a move that Netanyahu has advocated in the past.

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"Even if we get this de minimus interim deal [with Iran], we could be in serious trouble," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the neocon Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "The Israelis and the Saudis are already freaking out about the dangers of any interim deal. This would demonstrate to them and Congress that the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally outnegotiated."

Similarly, Israeli and Saudi hardliners are furious with Obama for scrapping a planned military strike against Syria last August in favor of having the Syrian government give up its chemical weapons in response to a U.S.-Russian initiative. Saudi Arabia, in particular, was hoping that a wave of U.S. airstrikes inside Syria could give the Saudi-backed Sunni jihadists an opportunity to oust President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Historic Grievances

The Saudi royals, representing the richest Sunni Islamic nation, have long viewed the more ascetic Shiite-led Iranian revolution as a threat to the Saudi regional influence and their own playboy lifestyles.

But the rivalry between Shiite and Sunni Islam dates back almost 1,400 years to the succession struggle after the death of Prophet Muhammad. Israel's interests also are rooted in the ancient past, with Netanyahu believing in the restoration of the Greater Israel of King David from 3,000 years ago.

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In much more recent history, Official Washington's still-influential neocons were the architects of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq -- and they have never given up on their dream of forcing "regime change" across the Middle East in nations considered hostile to Israel. After ousting Iraq's Saddam Hussein, their overriding goal was to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria -- and thus isolate Israel's close-in enemies, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Gaza's Hamas.

However, the neocons have often miscalculated. Not only did the Iraq War drain the United States of treasure and blood, but it ended up replacing a Sunni tyrant, Saddam Hussein, with a Shiite authoritarian, Nouri al-Maliki, pushing Iraq closer to Iran and creating what is known as "the Shiite crescent," reaching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.

That expansion of Shiite influence alarmed Saudi Arabia and further elevated Israel's concerns about Iran's influence. Another consequence was that an ascendant Iran caused Saudi Arabia to view its longtime adversary, Israel, as a de facto ally in the Sunni-Shiite sectarian struggle. For somewhat different reasons, the Saudis and the Israelis view Iran as their greatest regional enemy, giving new meaning to the old saying: "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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