By Robert Parry
Exclusive:Â ConservativeÂ Pat Buchanan once got inÂ trouble by calling Capitol Hill â€œIsraeli occupied territory,â€ but even he mightÂ not imagine whatâ€™s happening now â€“ with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu invited to address a joint session of Congress to decry President Obamaâ€™s foreign policy, Robert Parry notes.
Showing who some in Congress believe is the real master of U.S. foreign policy, House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israelâ€™s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session and offer a rebuttal to President Barack Obamaâ€™s comments on world affairs in his State of the Union speech.
Boehner made clear that Netanyahuâ€™s third speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress â€“ scheduled for Feb. 11 â€“ was meant to counter Obamaâ€™s assessments. â€œThere is a serious threat in the world, and the President last night kind of papered over it,â€ Boehner said on Wednesday. â€œAnd the fact is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.â€
The scheduling of Netanyahuâ€™s speech caught the White House off-guard, since the Israeli prime minister had apparently not bothered to clear his trip with the administration. The Boehner-Netanyahu arrangement demonstrates a mutual contempt for this Presidentâ€™s authority to conduct American foreign policy as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.
In the past when Netanyahu has spoken to Congress,Â Republicans and Democrats have competed to show their devotionÂ by quickly and frequently leaping to their feet to applaud almost every word out of the Israeli prime ministerâ€™s mouth. By addressing a joint session for a third time, Netanyahu would become only the second foreign leader to do so,Â joiningÂ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who never used the platform to demean the policies of a sitting U.S. president.
Besides this extraordinary recognition of another countryâ€™s leader as the true definer of U.S. foreign policy, Boehnerâ€™s move reflects an ignorance of what is actually occurring on the ground in the Middle East. Boehner doesnâ€™t seem to realize that Netanyahu has developed what amounts to a de facto alliance with extremist Sunni forces in the region.
Not only is Israel now collaborating behind the scenes with Saudi Arabiaâ€™s Wahhabist leadership but IsraelÂ has begun taking sides militarily in support of the Nusra Front, al-Qaedaâ€™s affiliate in the Syrian civil war. A source familiar with U.S. intelligence information on Syria said Israel hasÂ a â€œnon-aggression pactâ€ with Nusra forces that control territory adjacent toÂ the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The quiet cooperationÂ between Israel and al-Qaedaâ€™s affiliate was further underscored on Sunday when Israeli helicopters attacked and killed advisers to the Syrian military from Lebanonâ€™s Hezbollah and Iran. In other words, Israel has dispatched its forces into Syria to kill military personnel helping to fight al-Nusra. Iran laterÂ confirmedÂ that one of its generals had died in the Israeli strike.
Israelâ€™s tangled alliances with Sunni forces have been taking shape over the past several years, as Israel and Saudi Arabia emerged as strange bedfellows in the geopolitical struggle against Shiite-ruled Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. Both Saudi and Israeli leaders have talked with growing alarm about this â€œShiite crescentâ€ stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.
Favoring Sunni Extremists
Senior Israelis have made clearÂ they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail in the Syrian civil war rather than President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam. Assadâ€™s relatively secular government is seen as the protector of Shiites, Christians and other minorities who fear the vengeful brutality of the Sunni jihadists who now dominate the anti-Assad rebels.
In one of the most explicit expressions of Israelâ€™s views, its Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, a close adviser to Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post in September 2013 that Israel favoredÂ the SunniÂ extremistsÂ over Assad.
â€œThe greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,â€ Oren told the Jerusalem Post inÂ an interview. â€œWe always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who werenâ€™t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.â€Â He said this was the case even if the â€œbad guysâ€ were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia shares Israeliâ€™s strategic view that â€œthe Shiite crescentâ€ must be broken and has thus developed a rapport with Netanyahuâ€™s government in a kind of â€œenemy of my enemy is my friendâ€ relationship. But some rank-and-file Jewish supporters of Israel have voiced concerns about Israelâ€™s newfound alliance with the Saudi monarchy, especially given its adherence to ultraconservative Wahhabi Islam and its embrace of a fanatical hatred of Shiite Islam, a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that dates back 1,400 years.
Though President Obama has repeatedly declared his support for Israel, he has developed a contrary view from Netanyahuâ€™s regarding what is the gravest danger in the Middle East. ObamaÂ considers the radical Sunni jihadists, associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to be the biggest threat to Western interests and U.S. national security.
That has put him in a different de facto alliance â€“ with Iran and the Syrian government â€“ since they represent the strongest bulwarks against Sunni jihadists who have targeted Americans and other Westerners for death.
What Boehner doesnâ€™t seem to understand is that Israel and Saudi Arabia have placed themselves on the side of the Sunni jihadists who now represent the frontline fight against the â€œShiite crescent.â€ If Netanyahu succeeds in enlisting the United States in violently forcingÂ Syrian â€œregime change,â€ the U.S. government likely would be facilitating the growth in power of the Sunni extremists, notÂ containing them.
But the influential American neoconservativesÂ want to synch U.S. foreign policy with Israelâ€™s and thus have pressed for a U.S. bombing campaign against Assadâ€™s forces (even if that would open the gates of Damascus to the Nusra Front or the Islamic State). The neocons also wantÂ an escalation of tensions with Iran by sabotaging an agreement to ensure that its nuclear program is not used for military purposes.
The neocons have long wanted to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran as part of their â€œregime changeâ€ strategy for the Middle East. That is why Obamaâ€™s openness to a permanent agreement for tight constraints on Iranâ€™s nuclear program is seen as a threat by Netanyahu, the neocons and their congressional allies â€“ because it would derail hopes for militarily attacking Iran.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama made clear that he perceives the brutal Islamic State, which he calls â€œISILâ€ for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as the principal current threat to Western interests in the Middle East and the clearest terror threat to the United States and Europe. Obama proposed â€œa smarter kind of American leadershipâ€ that would cooperate with allies in â€œstopping ISILâ€™s advanceâ€ without â€œgetting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East.â€
Working with Putin
Thus, Obama, who might be called a â€œcloset realist,â€ is coming to the realization that the best hope for blocking the advances of Sunni jihadi terror and minimizing U.S. military involvement is through cooperation with Iran and its regional allies. That also puts Obama on the same side withÂ Russian President Vladimir Putin who has faced Sunni terrorism in Chechnya and isÂ supporting both Iranâ€™s leaders and Syriaâ€™s Assad in their resistance to the Islamic State and al-Qaedaâ€™s Nusra Front.
Obamaâ€™s â€œrealistâ€ alliance, in turn, presents a direct threat to Netanyahuâ€™s insistence that Iran represents an â€œexistential threatâ€ to Israel and that the â€œShiite crescentâ€ must be destroyed. There is also fear among Israeli right-wingers that an effective Obama-Putin collaboration could ultimately force Israel into accepting a Palestinian state.
So, Netanyahu and the U.S. neocons believe they must do whatever is necessary to shatter this tandem of Obama, Putin and Iran. That is one reason why the neocons were at the forefront of fomenting â€œregime changeâ€ against Ukraineâ€™s elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last year. By splintering Ukraine on Russiaâ€™s border, the neocons drove a wedge between Obama and Putin. [See Consortiumnews.comâ€™s â€œNeoconsâ€™ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.â€]
Even the slow-witted mainstream U.S. media has begun to pick up on the story of the emerging Israeli-Saudi alliance. In the Jan. 19 issue of Time magazine, correspondent Joe KleinÂ notedÂ the new coziness between top Israeli and Saudi officials.
He wrote: â€œOn May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia â€“ Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal â€“ sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Postâ€™s David Ignatius.
â€œThey disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had â€˜crossed the Rubiconâ€™ and â€˜donâ€™t want to fight Israel anymore.â€™â€
Not only did Prince Turki offer an olive branch to Israel, he indicated agreement on what the two countries consider theirÂ most pressing strategic interests: Iranâ€™s nuclear program and Syriaâ€™s civil war. In other words, in noting this extraordinary meeting, Klein had stumbled upon the odd-couple alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia â€“ though he didnâ€™t fully understand what he was seeing.
On Tuesday, the New York TimesÂ reportedÂ that Obama had shifted his position on Syria as the West made a â€œquiet retreat from its demandâ€ that Assad â€œstep down immediately.â€ The article by Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta noted that the Obama administration still wanted Assad to exit eventually â€œbut facing military stalemate, well-armed jihadists and the worldâ€™s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States is going along with international diplomatic efforts that could lead to more gradual change in Syria.â€
At the center of that diplomatic initiative was Russia, again reflecting Obamaâ€™s recognition of the need to cooperate with Putin on resolving some of these complex problems (although Obama did include in his speech some tough-guy rhetoric againstÂ Russia over Ukraine, taking some pleasure in how Russiaâ€™s economy is now â€œin tattersâ€).
But the underlying reality is that the United States and Assadâ€™s regime have become de facto allies, fighting on the same side in the Syrian civil war, much as Israel had, in effect, sided with al-Qaedaâ€™s Nusra Front by killing Hezbollah and Iranian advisers to the Syrian military.
The Times article noted that the shift in Obamaâ€™s position on Syrian peace talks â€œcomes along with other American actions that Mr. Assadâ€™s supporters and opponents take as proof Washington now believes that if Mr. Assad is ousted, there will be nothing to check the spreading chaos and extremism.
â€œAmerican planes now bomb the Islamic State groupâ€™s militants in Syria, sharing skies with Syrian jets. American officials assure Mr. Assad, through Iraqi intermediaries, that Syriaâ€™s military is not their target. The United States still trains and equips Syrian insurgents, but now mainly to fight the Islamic State, not the government.â€
Yet, as Obama adjusts U.S. foreign policy to take into account the complex realities in the Middle East, he now faces another front in this conflict â€“ from the U.S. Congress, which has long been held in thrall by the Israel lobby.
Not only has Speaker Boehner appealed to Netanyahu to deliver what amounts to a challenge to President Obamaâ€™s foreign policy but congressional neocons are even accusing Obamaâ€™s team of becoming Iranian stooges. Sen. RobertÂ Menendez of New Jersey, a Democratic neocon, said, â€œThe more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.â€
If indeed Netanyahu does end up addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress, its members would face a stark choice of either embracing Israelâ€™s foreign policy as Americaâ€™s or backing the decisionsÂ made by the elected President of the United States.Î¦
[For more on Obama and the neocons, see Consortiumnews.comâ€™s â€œNeocons: The Anti-Realists.â€]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book,Â Americaâ€™s Stolen Narrative,Â either inÂ print hereÂ or as an e-book (fromÂ AmazonÂ andÂ barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parryâ€™s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includesÂ Americaâ€™s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer,Â click here.