If I were to be one country of all the countries in the world, I would be Israel, at least in terms of external relations. After all, what other country has the liberty to invade neighboring territories with impunity, bomb civilian targets, assassinate adversaries using forged Western passports, spy on its most fervent financial and military backer, the United States, and snub its vice president while he is on an official visit to the country.
Perhaps this is what former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had in mind when he told the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on March 23: “The Middle East should regard Israel not as an enemy but as a model.”
A member of the British lobby group “Labour Friends of Israel,” Blair today is the largely invisible envoy of the “Quartet on the Middle East.” He was not the only celebrity invited by AIPAC, which advocates pro-Israel policies to the US Congress and executive branch and is widely regarded as one of the most powerful lobby groups circling the White House — a core of American politicians and some 130 evangelical leaders also gave acte de presence. Among them was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said: “Our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid.”
Note that this declaration of “rock solid” love came less than two weeks after Israel’s Interior Ministry announced the construction of 1,600 new illegal settler homes while US Vice President Joe Biden was on a mission to Israel to revive peace talks.
Clinton’s remark came only days after the emergence of 21 declassified documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that bring the 1984 AIPAC spying scandal back into the limelight. The documents concern an FBI probe into the theft of a confidential report, which compromised the Reagan administration’s position in the 1984 negotiations over a US-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The US International Trade Commission (ITC) had solicited data, under strict secrecy provisions, from US industries concerned about reducing tariffs on Israeli goods. They were compiled into a report called "The Probable Economic Effect of Providing Duty-Free Treatment.”
According to the FBI, AIPAC obtained the report and handed it over to a high-ranking Israeli diplomat. In 1985, the US signed a FTA with Israel. Ever since, the cumulative US trade deficit with Israel has soared to some $70 billion. It was not the only spying scandal concerning AIPAC.
In 2004, the FBI arrested Jonathan Pollard, who had handled the Iran dossier while working as a political analyst under Douglas Feith, former under secretary of defense for policy, and Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense. Both are well-known neoconservatives, while Feith is one of Washington’s most hard-line hawks regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East. Pollard handed more than one million classified documents to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, AIPAC’s former policy director and Iran analyst, respectively.
In this context, it is worth recalling that AIPAC was established as a spin-off of the American Zionist Council (AZC) in 1962, only six weeks after the US Justice Department ordered the AZC to register as an Israeli foreign agency. Today, AIPAC is the beating heart of a myriad of pro-Israeli organizations, individuals and think tanks, which comprise “The Israel Lobby.”
Political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who can be credited for igniting the first public debate over the many troubles and travails of the lobby, wrote that AIPAC has an “almost unchallenged hold on US Congress.” It is no secret that political careers get a boost once AIPAC support is secured. Hence, the popular annual conferences and the recent AIPAC letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel, which was signed by three quarters of the US House of Representatives.
But the Zionists may recently have been caught poking thorns in the side of their most powerful patron: the US Army. American military circles are increasingly aware that their country’s unconditional support for Israel’s regional belligerence is compromising American initiatives in the Muslim world, and endangering the lives of US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Should this perception spread through the halls of American power, it may be hard indeed for AIPAC’s silver tongue to keep its shine.
PETER SPEETJENS is a Beirut-based journalist