Before the next round of negotiations to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff are held in Moscow, those of us who are praying for a peaceful outcome- including the 3000-plus signers of the March 6 New York Times ad developed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives opposing any first strike or path to war with Iran- would do well to keep our eyes peeled not only on what may or may not be achieved by the West to avoid war, but how.

Most rational people want to avoid a shooting war with Iran at all costs. Yet with President Obama at the helm, the prevention of such a shooting war has been documented by New York Times reporter David Sanger as pulling the American people into a dangerous cyber war that has never been publicly debated. Furthermore, if one believes the accusations leveled against President Obama by former U.N Ambassador John Bolton, preventing a shooting war with Iran also requires kicking Israel in the teeth every now and then to blunt its plans for a preemptive strike.

In April, Bolton made an astonishing accusation against President Obama: that his administration has orchestrated a series of media leaks intended to undermine Israel’s military plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. In particular, Bolton accused the administration of making public an apparent deal reached by Israel and Azerbaijan – one that would allow the former to use the latter’s airbases for strikes inside Iran.

One has to have been living in a cave the last several years not to realize that Israel’s leadership, notwithstanding internal dissent, views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat. Thus the very notion that the U.S. administration would deliberately undermine Israel’s war plans is shocking. Shocking, that is, for those who buy hook, line, and sinker the talk from President Obama and virtually every other elected official that the U.S – Israel relationship is “unbreakable” or “unshakable” or “sharing the same DNA structure,” or whatever phraseology shallow politicians will use to curry favor with the American Jewish community.

It is ironic that the news of Obama’s alleged undermining of Israel’s war plans coincided with the intense controversy surrounding German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass and his poem precisely about the Iranian nuclear standoff; a poem in which the 84-year-old novelist admits to having suppressed his moral conscience regarding Israel’s own role in spurring Iran to acquire its own nuclear deterrent. Nuclear weapons themselves involve physics and rocket science, yet grasping the geopolitical incentives underlying nuclear proliferation requires anything but. And that begs the question: Why did Gunter Grass wait so long to register his grave concern about Israel’s atomic weapons arsenal? Grass says that he feared being labeled anti-Semitic.

Though nuclear weapons are expressly intended to incinerate civilian populations – they serve no other purpose – this world-renown writer was worried about being called a bad name and having his character impugned. It appears that his moral conscience had been disciplined into silence, not by any “Israel Lobby” or such, but by a largely prevailing post-Holocaust consensus within the Jewish community that critics of Israel and Zionism cannot be considered friends of the Jews – the very consensus that resulted in the Israeli government barring Grass from entering Israel. (Uri Avnery limits blame for Grass’ ban from Israelon the Interior Minister.)

Putting aside their respective Nobel laurels, President Obama certainly has one other thing in common with Gunter Grass: he, like Grass until recently, lives in fear of publicly addressing Israel’s atomic weapons arsenal, revealed to the world by Mordechai Vanunu in 1986. After all, this is a president who spent his first year in office traveling the world – Prague, Cairo, the U.N.- lecturing everybody and their mother about the need to abolish nuclear weapons, fearfully avoiding mention of Israel’s nuclear weapons status at every turn, just as every so-called friend of Israel would do. Is it possible that Obama’s silence on Israel’s nuclear status – a silence born out of fear of political backlash- has already resulted in the kind of pent-up anger that is inevitable when one’s moral conscience is suppressed by external pressures, the kind of anger that would cause somebody to stab another in the back?

Indeed, David Sanger’s account of the Stuxnet computer worm saga in The New York Times gives a glimpse into the nasty, passive-aggressive mindsets of U.S. politicians on things Israel. When the Stuxnet computer worm, designed jointly by the U.S. and Israel, leaped beyond its intended Iranian target, and started to infect computers worldwide, publicly avowed Israel-lover, Vice-President Joe Biden, immediately pointed the finger at Israel. According to Sanger’s account, Biden “fumed” when told by Leon Panetta that the secret Stuxnet computer cat was now out of the bag – all over the world, and leaving a trail back to the U.S. According to Sanger, Biden said, “It’s got to be the Israelis. They went too far.” Evidently, Vice-President Biden never entertained the notion that engaging in secret cyber war that could have major repercussions for the United States is not “going too far.”

If President Obama’s intent is to stop Israel from preemptively striking Iran – a goal peaceniks and legions of others at home and abroad support – would not the most reasonable, and friendly, way to achieve that goal be to publicly tell the Israeli government that under no circumstances would the U.S. support an Israeli first strike on Iran? Such a gesture, while politically risky for Obama himself, would be miles apart, morally, from the kind of knife-in-the-back media leak that John Bolton has alleged, and would certainly not strain our own constitutional form of government by allowing the President to authorize cyber wars that could result in foreign retaliation down the line – and all done without any regard for consent from the governed.

If Bolton’s allegation that President Obama was ultimately behind the media leaks about Israel’s secret deal with Azerbaijan is true, it poses a crucial question for the entire American Jewish community, not just Jewish progressives, and indeed all of us who care about world peace: Do we prefer that our elected officials deal with the divergences of interests between the U.S. and Israel with mutual respect and candor, or do we simply prefer that our elected leaders engage in cloak and dagger geopolitics, and concealed-from-the-citizenry cyber wars, when it comes to Israel policy – just so long as everything on the surface looks happy and shiny for the next Aipac conference?

Indeed, if an American president, or for that matter any public official, says all the right words to show outward regard for Israel, only to sabotage the duly-elected Israeli government’s war contingency plans – in the midst of what it sincerely believes is an existential threat – and sabotage our own nation’s democratic principles, it might behoove the entire American Jewish community – right-wing, left-wing, or no-wing – to ask a very, very long overdue question. And that question starts with these words: With friends like these…


Timothy Villareal, a Miami-based writer, lobbied Congress for the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu.


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