Reprinted from Consortium News
Addressing Congress in the style of a State of the Union speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won 41 rounds of applause as U.S. lawmakers eagerly enlisted in the Israeli-Saudi conflict against Iran and its allies -- an enthusiasm that may well entangle the U.S. military in more wars in the Middle East.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress for the third time -- tying British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for the record -- Netanyahu went far beyond excoriating President Barack Obama's negotiations with Iran to restrict but not eliminate its nuclear program. He portrayed Iran as a dangerous enemy whose regional influence must be stopped and reversed, a position shared by Israel's new ally, Saudi Arabia.
Netanyahu's reference to "Iran's aggression" was curious since Iran has not invaded another country for centuries. In 1980, Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- at the urging of Saudi Arabia -- invaded Iran. During that bloody eight-year war, Israel -- far from being an enemy of Iran -- became Iran's principal arms supplier. Israel drew in the Reagan administration, which approved some of the Israeli-brokered arms deals, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986.
In other words, Israel was aiding Iran after the Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979 and during the time when Netanyahu blamed Iran for the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and various acts of terrorism allegedly committed by Hezbollah, a Shiite militia in Lebanon. Israel only shifted toward hostility against Shiite-ruled Iran in the 1990s as Israel gradually developed a de facto alliance with Sunni-ruled and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which views Iran as its chief regional rival.
Netanyahu's choice of Arab cities supposedly conquered by Iran was strange, too. Baghdad is the capital of Iraq where the U.S. military invaded in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated government -- on Netanyahu's recommendation. After the invasion, President George W. Bush installed a Shiite-dominated government. So, whatever influence Iran has in Baghdad is the result of a U.S. invasion that Netanyahu personally encouraged.
More recently, Iran has supported the embattled Iraqi government in its struggle against the murderous Islamic State militants who seized large swaths of Iraqi territory last summer. Indeed, Iraqi officials have credited Iran with playing a crucial role in blunting the Islamic State, the terrorists whom President Obama has identified as one of the top security threats facing the United States.
Netanyahu cited Damascus, too, where Iran has helped the Syrian government in its struggle against the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front. In other words, Iran is assisting the internationally recognized government of Syria hold off two major terrorist organizations. But Netanyahu portrays that as Iran "gobbling up" a nation.
The Israeli prime minister also mentioned Beirut, Lebanon, and Sanaa, Yemen, but those were rather bizarre references, too, since Lebanon is governed by a multi-ethnic arrangement that includes a number of religious and political factions. Hezbollah is one and it has close ties to Iran, but it is stretching the truth to say that Iran "dominates" Beirut or Lebanon.
Similarly, in Sanaa, the Houthis, a Shiite-related sect, have taken control of Yemen's capital and have reportedly received some help from Iran, but the Houthis deny those reports and are clearly far from under Iranian control. The Houthis also have vowed to work with the Americans to carry on the fight against Yemen's Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Leading the Battle
Indeed, Iran and these various Shiite-linked movements have been among the most effective in battling Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, while Israel's Saudi friends have been repeatedly linked to funding and supporting these Sunni terrorist organizations. In effect, what Netanyahu asked the Congress to do -- and apparently successfully -- was to join Saudi Arabia and Israel in identifying Iran, not Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as America's chief enemy in the Middle East.
That would put the U.S.-Iranian cooperation in combating Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in jeopardy. It could lead to victories by these Sunni terrorists in Syria and possibly even Iraq, a situation that almost surely would force the U.S. military to return in force to the region. No U.S. president could politically accept Damascus or Baghdad in the hands of openly terrorist organizations vowing to carry the fight to Europe and the United States.
Yet, that was the logic -- or lack thereof -- in Netanyahu's appeal to Congress. As he put it, "when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy." He also argued that Iran was a greater threat than the Islamic State, a position that Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has expressed, too.
"The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime [in Syria] as the keystone in that arc," Oren told the Jerusalem Post in a 2013 interview. "We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran" -- even if the "bad guys" were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, then speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. "From Israel's perspective, if there's got to be an evil that's got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail," Oren said.