by George S Hishmeh
It is disappointing, if not disturbing, that US President Barack Obama avoided airing any views about the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict in an hour-long interview about US foreign policy issues with CNN’s much-respected anchorman Fareed Zakaria.
One possible explanation is that Obama had told Zakaria that he did not want to discuss the issue, or Zakaria thought it wiser not to raise the subject since US-Israeli relations have hit rock bottom. Whatever the case, the fact remains that the American president has avoided the issue ever since he and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, failed to bring the two parties any closer, which prompted the Palestinians to successfully approach the United Nations. The obvious reason in the view of many Palestinians is that Israel has strong support within the American establishment.
But a Washington-based think-tank, the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) recently painted a different, and more appealing, picture. A “special report” written by its director, Grant F. Smith, focused on a lawsuit that it has filed challenging “US ‘ambiguity’ towards Israel’s nuclear arsenal”.
The highlight of this report, as pointed out by the think-tank’s director, is that “while it is difficult to deny that the ‘ambiguity’ muzzle has greatly benefited Israel and its US lobby, it is an ongoing costly disaster for American taxpayers”. According to a September Google Survey, he added, 64 per cent of Americans believe Israel has nuclear weapons, while six in 10 think US foreign aid to Israel is “too much”.
He continued: “Yet, because it is official US policy to pretend the existence of Israel’s arsenal is unknown, a $3 billion-plus [Dh11 billion-plus] taxpayer giveaway of top-shelf American aid, cash and intelligence support is delivered annually, despite Israel [having] long possessed the ultimate deterrent.”
What has been more disturbing, he pointed out, is the fact that researchers and historians “have long been stymied by the withholding of key US government documents locked securely away from the public in National Archives and Records Administration vaults”.
The US has kept mum about this issue for several years. The late Lebanese-American White House correspondent Helen Thomas had failed to get Obama to admit that Israel possessed nuclear weapons. She had asked him early in 2009 at a White House press conference, “Do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?” Obama’s laughable response was that he did not want to “speculate” on that subject.
With the upcoming negotiations with Iran over its alleged nuclear arsenal, the Obama administration now has a golden opportunity to disclose these documents and at the same time pull the rug from under Benjamin Netanyahu’s feet during his planned, much-decried address — at home and in America — to the powerful US Congress.
Smith argues that “with Congress mostly in the pocket of the Israeli lobby, presidential administrations unwilling to reopen the historical can of worms that created ‘ambiguity’, the only meaningful venue for challenging it for what it is — an Israel-lobby-generated corruption-in-government issue — is the court system”.
On September 23, 2014, IRmep sued the Department of Defence, asking a federal court judge to review and release an unclassified 1987 report titled ‘Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and Nato Nations’.
The moment the Department of Defence, according to Smith, “verified that Israel was operating a clandestine weapons programme outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 1987, Israel should have become ineligible to receive any of the $82 billion in US taxpayer-funded foreign aid that was subsequently delivered”.
Smith’s reaction is “that Israel, through its vast, lavishly funded and ubiquitous lobby, continues to force US government compliance with secrecy policies that have gutted accountability while bilking US taxpayers for decades”.
Whether Netanyahu comes to Washington next month — some believe his trip is now doubtful — to address Congress over the upcoming negotiations with Iran in the hope of gaining support on the eve of the Israeli national elections remains to be seen, especially in the wake of this factual exposure.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Helen Thomas on her one question for Obama