How Israel Is driving the US to War in Syria
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Editor's note: What is the driving force in the building U.S. campaign to launch attacks on Syria? Max Blumenthal below argues that Israel's military intelligence and political leadership are forcing the issue, and a recent New York Times article described the Israel lobby as a powerful presence in the White House's deliberations. Other journalists, like the Guardian's Nafeez Ahmed have suggested that the impetus for attacking Syria is part of a larger regional multi-year project to sustain control over the production of oil and gas by Western oil companies. Noam Chomsky, long-time scholar and commentator on the Mideast has argued persuasively that the Israel lobby's influence in the United States is overstated; essentially arguing that Israel is a satellite of US power, and that its priorities are addressed to the extent that the US is in agreement with its wishes.
How Israel Is driving the US to War in Syria by Max Blumenthal
President Barack Obama’s August 31 announcement that he would seek congressional authorization to strike Syria has complicated an aggressive Israeli campaign to render a US attack inevitable. While the Israelis are far from the only force in bringing the US to the brink of war – obviously Assad’s own actions are the driving factor – their dubious intelligence assessments have proven pivotal.
On April 25, the head of the Israeli army’s Military Intelligence research and analysis division, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, delivered a high profile lecture at the military-linked Institute for National Security Studies. “To the best of our professional understanding, the [Syrian] regime has used lethal chemical weapons,” Brun declared, referring to March 19 attacks near Damascus and Aleppo.
“The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction,” Brun said, “is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate.”
The stunning statement by the Israeli army’s top intelligence analyst was significantly stronger than suspicions expressed days before by the UK and France about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. It was clearly aimed at Obama, who had declared in the summer of 2012 that chemical weapons attacks on civilian targets would transgress a “red line” and trigger US military action. But the White House pushed back against the Israeli ploy, dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supply more conclusive evidence.
“I don’t know yet what the facts are,” Kerry said after a phone call with Netanyahu, “I don’t think anybody knows what they are.”
Specious intelligence brightens the red line
Flash forward to the August 21 Ghouta massacre, where over 1000 Syrian civilians died without any sign of external wounds in a series of attacks. As in April, Israel has come forward with intelligence supposedly proving that the victims of the attacks died from nerve gas deployed by units from Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
On August 24, Israel’s Channel 2 broadcast a report claiming that the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of Assad’s SAA fired the nerve gas shells on Ghouta. Channel 2 added that Israel was relaying its concerns to Washington, suggesting an urgent demand for US action. The report was echoed by an August 30 article in Germany’s Focus magazine claiming that Israeli army’s Unit 8200 — a cyber-warfare division that functions much like the American NSA — had intercepted communications of top Syrian officials ordering the chemical attack.
Oddly, neither outlet was able to reproduce audio or any quotes of the conversation between the Syrian officials. Channel 2 did not appear to cite any source at all – it referred only to “the assessment in Israel” – while Focus relied on an unnamed former Mossad official for its supposed bombshell. The definitive nature of the Israeli intelligence on Ghouta stood in stark contrast to the kind introduced by other US allies, which was entirely circumstantial in nature. At the same time, it relied on murky sources and consisted of vague assertions.