Israel Lobby Backs Bombing Syria

President Obama’s limited war resolution against Syria cleared its initial congressional hurdle on a 10-7 vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but its overall chances got a bigger boost from an endorsement by the powerful Israel Lobby, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

After it looked this past weekend like President Barack Obama might have an uphill fight to gain congressional approval for a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria, the odds now appear to have swung in favor of passage of a resolution. This swing is due less to John Kerry’s passionate “Munich moment” exhortations than to the fact that the Israel lobby has entered the fray, openly and explicitly, in favor of intervention. AIPAC made it official on Tuesday.

The Israeli government may have the deciding vote on the matter before Congress, not so much because it appears to have been the source of intelligence that the Obama administration is relying on to make a case tying the chemical incident two weeks ago to the Assad regime (although there are interesting questionsto be raised about that) but because members of Congress anticipating their next re-election campaign will be thinking about what type of vote Benjamin Netanyahu’s government desires, a criterion that routinely gets equated in American political discourse with “support for Israel.”

A few days ago some were saying that a measure of political courage in the coming vote in Congress would be to buck the plurality of American public opinion, among followers of both parties, that opposes military intervention in Syria. Now a better measure would be to buck the preference of the lobby. As we have seen innumerable times before, one should not expect to see a lot of that type of courage.

Those voting in favor of a military attack should be aware that such a resort to armed force, in the very ways it would be quite consistent with how Israel has long pursued its objectives in the Middle East, would be inconsistent with a couple of the major themes in what the Obama administration has been saying in making its case.

One is the theme that any U.S. military action would be strictly limited in duration as well as intensity. Neither the administration nor anyone else has adequately explained how this can be assured if subsequent escalation or retaliation from the other side follows a U.S. strike. As California Republican Ed Royce observed in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, “the Assad regime would have a say in what happens next.”

For Israel, the country that developed “mowing the lawn” into a foundation of national security strategy, this is not a worry. One simply mows the lawn again … and again. For the United States, the question is whether it wants to involve itself in this kind of endless warfare.

Another major theme in the administration’s case concerns upholding international norms of behavior. But no one has explained how violation of one of the most fundamental international norms, against attacking another sovereign state if the attack is not in self-defense or under the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, is a blow in favor of norm-upholding.

Here again, this is not a quandary for Israel, which has long flouted the non-aggression norm as it has gone about its repeated lawn-mowing in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere.

As for the United Nations, Israeli policymakers gave up on it long ago as a lost cause, worth paying attention to only when it is time to squeeze another veto out of the United States at the Security Council or to make a fuss about someone else wanting to join the world organization. For the United States, the norm in question still has much value, at least as great as any of the norms having to do more narrowly with particularly types of unconventional weapons.

As for those unconventional weapons, here the Israeli way of doing things has been to dispense with international conventions, inspection regimes, and peaceful ways to pursue arms control and nonproliferation objectives. Instead, it has again been a matter of unilateral application of military force.

Israel has, of course, long rejected any international cooperation, transparency, or honesty when it comes to its arsenal of nuclear weapons. As for chemical weapons, 189 states are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention; Israel is one of only seven states (along with Syria) that is not.

The United States, which has been a major player in erecting the international structures dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of arms control and disarmament, still has a major interest in those structures and would lose much by in effect chucking them and what they represent and instead just turning to the gun.

A broader and more general way of posing the question the U.S. Congress now faces is: does the United States want to follow its powerful and privileged Israeli client on a path that not only brushes aside international law, international organization, and the peaceful pursuit of international objectives but also entails perpetual warfare, much isolation, and all of the costs and risks that go with that?

The current Israeli government has chosen that path for itself; why would the United States want to take the same path?

As always with the Netanyahu government, the issue of Iran looms large. Netanyahu and his colleagues evidently have calculated, probably accurately, that a U.S. attack on Syria would serve their objectives of keeping the Iran issue boiling (and thus serving their further purposes of distracting international attention from issues directly involving Israel and precluding Iran ever becoming, in competition with Israel, a partner of the United States), diminishing the chance for a negotiated agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, and increasing the chance of a future U.S. military attack on Iran.

In addition to wanting a U.S. attack on Syria that would provide ammunition to Iranian hardliners resisting agreement-facilitating concessions to the West, the Israeli government does not want a congressional outcome on Syria that would make it harder to push through in the future an authorization to use military force against Iran.

After all, if Congress were to say no to military action when a regime not only possesses a banned and abhorred weapon but has actually used it to lethal effect, how could it be expected to say yes with a different regime that has never owned or used the feared weapon, has not made any decision to build it, and where the only rationale for an attack would be that this regime has a program that maybe, someday, might help it to build such a weapon if it ever were to take the decision it has not taken?

There is a another dimension about Israel and Iran that is based on Netanyahu’s already well-established image of someone itching to pull Israel’s own military trigger and attack Iran. This image has been supplemented by much commentary in Israel in recent days to the effect that Obama’s supposed wavering on Syria, by throwing the issue to Congress, demonstrates how on a matter as important as Iran, Israel must rely on no one other than itself.

All this gives rise to the argument, which is likely to sway some members of Congress, that if the United States does not reassure Netanyahu by taking a firm line about using military force and smiting Syria, the Israeli prime minister is apt to start a new war with Iran.

So Netanyahu’s incessant saber-rattling on Iran is increasing the chance of the United States going to war against Syria, which in turn would increase his ability to sell a future U.S. war against Iran. That game works well for Netanyahu. It is an awful game for the United States.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

17 comments for “Israel Lobby Backs Bombing Syria

  1. Otto Schiff
    September 9, 2013 at 21:11

    I am not a backer of Aipac or Netanyahoo but I don’t give them
    all the power that the antisemites assign them. The US has
    started many wars without them.

    • Louis Nevitt
      September 12, 2013 at 15:12

      Name one single war that was not condoned by AIPAC since their inception? AIPAC came after Vietnam and I was in Desert Storm, supported by AIPAC, so it looks like this AIPAC apologist is totally wrong. Some have questioned if MIC is disappointed that their expensive bombs are not raining down right now. Boeing, Lockheed, BAE, Northrop and the like can’t say they are disappointed, but make no mistake, AIPAC supports and is supported by the MIC as much as by the Apartheid state of Israel.

  2. sharonsj
    September 9, 2013 at 12:42

    Where’s the headline that says “Saudi Arabia Offers to Pay U.S. for Syrian War”?

  3. JMartin
    September 8, 2013 at 18:29


    People are becoming more and more aware of Israel’s lying, subversion, and pathological antagonism toward the nations of the world. The perennial “victims” are the aggressors and always have been, and all the false pity in the world isn’t going to stop them from being exposed.

  4. ben chifley
    September 7, 2013 at 23:00

    Pastor Hagee and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem 3/8/10

    PM Netanyahu’s Speech @ Christians United for Israel Conference 2‏


  5. Mr. Jonz
    September 7, 2013 at 15:10

    Texasone is most likely one of those paid Israeli shills. Ignore it.

  6. Steve
    September 6, 2013 at 15:41

    TexasOne: Explain why every politician regardless of party stumbles over themselves to speak about devotion to Israel NOT America but Israel? Explain why they all show up at AIPAC annual gatherings- or why AIPAC leaders state that they could get 20 signatures on a napkin if they wanted to from Congress?

    Explain how Richard Perle steals secrets and gives them to Israel yet nothing happens to him? How about Jane Harman speaking to AIPAC about trading support for Israel to Committee chairmanships??? List goes on and on…

  7. Erica Stuart
    September 6, 2013 at 14:35

    Erica to Perry: you did it again. Not a surprise here. And what trick are they going to use this time to pick up where Bush left off, another USS Liberty? Lebanon Barack, terrorist acts, antiSemitism accusations. As I wrote to DC, “what about the elephant in the room” Where is Pat Buchanan? Pat I hope you don’t mind my quoting you it was a classic “and what other Nations do you want us to take out for you” Netanyahu?, Poor Bullies go around causing trouble every where, Egypt, (we did not like those Brotherhood) Libya? (we could work with Ghadafi, no problem) And what mercenaries are you going to pay this time, African, Central Asian, the Zionist origial home. Neo Con, Christian Zionist? Give us assurance on that M. President because from here this attack, while in itself is justified th scenario looks like a heaven’s mandate to Netanyahu, just a jump to Iran,Iraq, Lebanon, Syria,(that sounds like Sharon to Bush (“get going to Thrran don’t stop) The Zionist empire is getting about the right size right?

  8. F. G. Sanford
    September 6, 2013 at 07:05

    Maybe I was imagining things, but I could swear I heard Kerry cite The Institute for the Study of War in his recent case in favor of intervention. That organization, run by the Kagans, is most definitely Neocon inspired and affiliated with “The Lobby”. I guess profound wisdom does occasionally find its way onto T-shirts: “Don’t mess with Texas. Stupidity is contagious.”

  9. TexasOne
    September 6, 2013 at 02:04

    I am glad all you Jew haters have a place to spout all your distorted, fabricated shit. Yes, I can refute your lies but that wouldn’t smash your erotic fantasies of dark Jew demons secretly running the US government and trying to take over the world. Go ahead and keep believing that. Yes, you will brainwash many naive minds for now, but in the end truth always triumphs and you will lose.

  10. mike
    September 5, 2013 at 22:33

    wow. “israel is taking a smart low profile” ? this implies that israel is doing very little behind the scenes.
    that idea is ridiculous, and runs against the history of israel over the last 100 years.
    how could anyone imagine that israel would not be fully involved in a war going on across its border with a county
    that it has never signed a peace agreement with ? come on, wake up bigfree and quit defending israel less you lose whatever credibility you have .

  11. MadBeck
    September 5, 2013 at 19:16

    Duh….. the article was about the Israelis sticking their noses in this whole mess and trying to stir the pot. Excuse me for criticizing the Zionist criminals, but I stand by what I wrote.

  12. Hillary
    September 5, 2013 at 11:59

    “That game works well for Netanyahu. It is an awful game for the United States”.
    Israel’s war on Iran in the planning decades and it looks like Syria may be a final stepping stone.
    The too classified to be known U.S. slam dunk intelligence for Syria comes courtesy of Israel.
    “Shock and awe” for 60 days with Obama assassination drones searching for targets to show their faces
    These US video assassins at drone control in Las Vegas have as in Iraq a the set of playing cards to help identify the Assad military family and regime and bunker busters bombs to kill them.
    Just how does Israel gets the U.S. to fight its wars ? With the US & Kerry going to war for a principle..
    Putin has pointed out that Kerry knowingly lied when he said there is no Al Qaeda mercenaries in Syria .
    The US is now in a rush to war to support Al Qaeda mercenaries from all over the Muslim world to destroy yet another Muslim country.

  13. MadBeck
    September 5, 2013 at 10:17

    Once again the whole world quakes, people die, all our cowardly congresspeople kowtow to the thug Netanyahu and the criminal empire known as Israel. All you neocons who love war, as long as you’re not in it, shame on you, although it’s obvious all you chickenhawks know no shame. All you “Christians” who claim the Bible tells you to support Israel- the Jesus I know would never approve of such blasphemy, and deep down you know it. Enjoy your illegal war and welcome to hell.

    • Bigfree
      September 5, 2013 at 17:25

      MadBeck is spouting off the same old, tired BS! Israel is taking a smart low profile in all this Arab insanity. Israel knows full well that any side it takes will not endear it to the opposing side, as all the surrounding muslim countries, and terrorist factions, call for Israel’s destruction. Quit trying to tie in Israel to all the endless muslim bloodletting!It’s getting old and boring!

      • EthanAllen1
        September 5, 2013 at 18:50

        “Bigfree” You seem to have your head in the proverbial sand. Opposition to Zionist extremism is not opposition to Israel and the majority of the Jewish people; parroting Zionist talking points has no place in the serious consideration of this issue.
        If it is true that U.S. officials are relying on information provided by the Netanyahu government to make the claims they are stating as irrefutable, then our officials need to make sure that they are not being lured into some “false-flag” scenario conjured up by extremists. And besides, Israel has plenty of military capacity to launch such a “shot across the bow” warning, if their intel is so irrefutable.
        As Usual,

    • radu
      September 6, 2013 at 07:01

      Damascus will be destroyed in a day in the end times – Isaiah 17. The end times come after the Bible reaches every “nation” (bloodline) – NOW (Matthew 24:14).

      What will happen when Syria is attacked by the West? Syria and her allies will attack Israel. Israel will nuke Damascus as prophesized by God.

      What will happen then? Islamic countries will unite in a caliphate and the Mahdi (the BIBLE’s Antichrist) comes and muslims will be tricked to follow him : w w w -> [Conclusions]

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