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Monday, April 28, 2008

A little too much help for Israel


You have to admire the macho instincts of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Asked on the day of the Pennsylvania primary what she would do if Iran made a nuclear attack on Israel, she replied: "If I'm the president, we will attack Iran . . . we would be able to totally obliterate them." And it's perfectly true. The United States has enough nuclear weapons to blast, irradiate, incinerate and obliterate all 75 million people in Iran many times over. All she has to do is press the button.

First she has to win the presidential election, of course, but American voters can rest easy in the knowledge that Clinton would not hesitate to kill tens of millions of people on behalf of their friends in Israel.

What a contrast with wimpy Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who said: "Using words like 'obliterate' — it doesn't actually produce good results." What does he use for a backbone?

Tedious purists will point out that Iran doesn't actually have any nuclear weapons. Indeed, late last year American intelligence agencies produced a joint National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran has not even been working to develop nuclear weapons for the past four years.

The critics and the carpers might also point out that Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons of its own, and is perfectly capable of obliterating Iran without American help. But practical politicians like Clinton know that there is always some political mileage to be gained by promising to help Israel, whether it needs help or not.

On the very same day, by coincidence, another American was revealed to be in the business of helping Israel. His name is Ben-Ami Kadish, and he appeared in a New York courtroom charged with spying on the U.S. for Israel.

Kadish, who worked at the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in New Jersey from 1979 to 1985, allegedly gave secrets involving information about nuclear weapons, fighter jets and missiles to Israel in the 1980s. He was charged with four counts of conspiracy, including disclosing documents relating to national defense and acting as an agent of Israel.

Justice Department officials claim that between 1980 and 1985 Kadish took classified documents related to national defense to his home in New Jersey. The former consul for science affairs at the Israeli Consulate General in New York would come to his home and photograph them in the basement, after which Kadish returned them.

Kadish, 84, is long retired, but he is still in touch with Israeli diplomats. When he realized on March 20 that he was going to be arrested, he called his current Israeli handler, according to the Justice Department, and was instructed: "Don't say anything. . . . What happened 25 years ago? You don't remember anything." Nor is this the first time that an American citizen has been publicly accused by the U.S. government of spying for Israel.

In the most prominent case, Jonathan Jay Pollard was convicted in 1987 of passing thousands of secret documents to Israeli agents while working at the U.S. Defense Department. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel, and ever since then Israeli governments have been trying to secure his release. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1998.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey, asked what Washington was going to do about the Kadish case, said that Israel would be informed of his arrest. "Twenty-plus years ago, during the Pollard case, we noted that this was not the kind of behavior we would expect from friends and allies, and that would remain the case today," he said.

But there will be no diplomats expelled, none of the dramatics that you would see if the U.S. government caught some American spying for the Russian or Chinese.

To be fair, the U.S. probably spies on Israel as well. It is vitally important, for example, for Washington to know what Israel's strategic policy is with regard to using its nuclear weapons. Even if Israel were willing to disclose that information to its American ally (which it probably isn't), Washington would seek independent confirmation of it — which means spies. This is just the normal behavior of sovereign states, but even close allies normally complain quite loudly when they catch the other party spying on them.

There is a curious asymmetry in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Israel is the sole beneficiary of this alliance — indeed, the U.S. pays a significant price for it in terms of its relations with other Middle Eastern countries — and yet Israel can spy on the U.S. with impunity.

During the Cold War, Israel was a valuable strategic ally for the U.S. in the Middle East, but that ended 20 years ago. Now it is not a strategic asset at all, but a brilliantly successful Israeli public-relations campaign has persuaded the American public otherwise. So much so that Israel can brazenly spy on the U.S. and suffer no political penalty.

Clinton presumably knows this, but she also knows that threatening mass slaughter in defense of Israel (which does not need to be defended) is a vote-winner in the current political environment in America.

Obama obviously knows it, but although he is not going to commit political suicide by saying it out loud, at least he refused to echo her blood-curdling threat.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


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