A story is emerging that United States intelligence services are aware of and angry about members of Israel’s intelligence services impersonating US agents to orchestrate terrorist actions in Iran. This is the report of Mark Perry’s recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine.
I think there are three broad messages advanced by the article. 1) The audience of the article is to believe that the United States is actually sincere in its opposition to terrorism in general, and not opportunistically opposed to terrorism against some targets while favoring it against others. 2) The audience is to believe that Israel operates, and is therefore capable of operating outside of US control. 3) The audience is also to believe that this Israeli program has introduced some degree of tension to the US/Israeli relationship.
In a practical sense, I don’t believe any of these three messages are true.
But while the intended implications of the article are probably false, the details I’d guess are likely true. The amount of coordinated lying that would be necessary to get a professional journalist to publish an article in one of the US’ most mainstream foreign policy periodicals sourced by recently retired and active high-level US intelligence officials is implausible.
If an Israeli agent was to contact a Muslim anywhere in the world, why would he not claim to be American, or maybe European? Why introduce the additional issues involved with representing the government that occupies Jerusalem when instead one can just claim to represent a different government? I’ve always assumed that would be Israel’s way of operating ever since Israel’s inception.
I think we can assume the base of the story is true and I imagine it is also true that there has been some discussion of Israel’s practice of impersonating Americans in Washington to some degree. It is also true that Americans are not necessarily happy with or supportive of this Israeli practice.
The story is basically true, but let’s look at the false implications:
Ideally the United States opposes terrorism. Ideally the United States believes humans have an inherent right to government that makes policies that reflect their values. There are today well over 100 million people living in pro-US dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE and others. Israel would not be viable without these dictatorships. The one quasi-moral proposition in the Middle East that the United States effectively supports is that there must be an enforced Jewish majority state.
The United States continuously demonstrates that it is willing, and in fact eager, on behalf of Israel to compromise on the ideal that representative institutions should be empowered to make policy. Most recently in former US President Jimmy Carter’s statement that Egyptian democratic control of Egyptian policy currently made by the pro-US military dictatorship would be „a little excessive”. Democracy is literally the United States’ founding value. I can’t imagine there being any question that no matter how defined, the United States would compromise its much more recent opposition to terrorism on Israel’s behalf.
More interesting is the question of how independent Israel is of the United States. A point to bear in mind is that the amount of leverage the US has over Israel is immeasurable. Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state vigorous without US assistance. If the United States threatens to withhold that assistance, Israel has no choice but to do whatever the US tells it to do. There is nothing the United States could want Israel to do that Israel could refuse to do.
This point is not well understood, so I want to spend some more time here. It is instructive to look at the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The US formally approved sanctions over-riding Ronald Reagan’s veto in 1986. Eight years later in 1994, the flag and national language had changed, a majority Black government was in place and the enforced White political majority state was over.
Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state is in a more, not less, vulnerable position than South Africa as an enforced White political majority state. Apartheid South Africa never had potentially hostile neighbors whose military expenditures compared to South Africa’s. South Africa had a regional nuclear monopoly and a far greater gap in industrialization from its potential adversaries. South Africa also had natural river and desert barriers separating its most important population and industrial centers from any form of external attack.
The Whites of South Africa accepted the indignity of living under the rule of non-Whites while facing much less of an imminent physical threat to their country than Israel would face the day after the US hypothetically withdrew its support.
Saudi Arabia spends more than 2.5 times what Israel spends on its military. Saudi Arabia does not militarily dominate Israel because it follows the orders not to issued by the United States. The Saudi government expends a tremendous amount of resources both bribing and punishing its own people to maintain this relationship with the United States that keeps it militarily subordinate to Israel.
Similar, if less extreme stories can be told about all of the US’ colonies in Israel’s region, including Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.
In order to prevent Iran from achieving legal nuclear weapons capabilities like those Japan, Brazil and many other countries have, the United States seems to have slowed the development of missile defense against the US’ own primary nuclear rival Russia. That’s probably a good thing for Russia and maybe for the world, but that is a very expensive concession the United States has made for the sake of maintaining Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly. The United States has withdrawn threats to act on concerns regarding China’s currency policies for Chinese cooperation over Iran. Again probably good for China and for the world, but another compromise of US core interests.
Keeping Israel viable as an enforced Jewish majority state is an excruciatingly expensive proposition for the United States.
The threat by the US to stop making these expenditures would mean that there could not be an Israel. There is no Israeli policy that any Israeli government could maintain in the face of such a threat.
But like South Africa, Israel has a nuclear monopoly. Some people think Israel has a „Samson Option” in which it could destroy its region or even attack the United States if its enforced Jewish majority political system was threatened. Israel using nuclear weapons likely would not ultimately result in the extinction of both Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state and Judaism as a religion and ethnic group, but that would be a serious risk, especially long-term. As hostile as Israel’s strategic situation could ever be, an Israel nuclear attack on anyone could only ever make it worse.
It is unthinkable that any Israeli or Jewish leadership would prefer to make their strategic environment worse while also risking the future of Judaism as an ethnic group and religion rather than, like White South Africans, suffer the indignity of losing their enforced political majority. There is no „Samson Option”. Israel depends for its existence on a host of expensive actions by the United States, such as maintaining a structure of colonies on its behalf, and without those actions, Israel is not viable with or without nuclear weapons.
Israel is a US supplicant. It cannot act in opposition to US will and continue to exist as an enforced Jewish political majority state.
That leads to the last false implication of the Perry article, that there is tension between the United States and Israel over the false flag or any issue. The United States, for domestic political reasons, structurally bends its foreign policy in favor of Israel. As long as that is the case, in practical terms it does not make sense to speak of tension. The US domestic political system would not allow the US to effectively express any tension, so in any meaningful sense, such tension could not exist.
Israel has the ability to reject what the US claims to request only to the degree that the United States is incapable, for domestic political reasons, of imposing consequences for that rejection. False flag operations are in this case no different from settlements in the occupied territories. In practical terms they do not cause tension because in practical terms they do not impact the US’ foreign policy alignment on Israel’s behalf. Actions that the United States must, for political reason, act as if it supports, in practical terms it supports.
So the Perry article is somewhat interesting. It exonerates the US of committing certain actions that the US admits are crimes against Iran, but does not do so in a convincing or practically meaningful way.