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Keep Your Eye on the Camel
Are the soccer federation arrests about Israel?
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There is a folk tale attributed possibly inaccurately to the Arabs regarding a traveler who allows his camel to first stick its nose into his tent, then followed by other parts of its body, until finally the camel is entirely inside, taking up all the room and refusing to leave. The camel’s humble initial importunity had been so self-effacing and so modest that the traveler did not feel threatened or obliged to object until it was too late to do anything about it. The lesson incumbent on the tale has commonly been abbreviated to the warning “Beware the camel’s nose.”

When I think of the camel I inevitably think of Israel. Israel was created in 1948 against the better judgment of Washington’s foreign policy and defense establishments. President Harry Truman, who sought reelection and was reliant on both Jewish money and votes as part of his strategy, overrode those concerns and endorsed the process. Whether or not he genuinely believed that Israel would accommodate its Arab neighbors and become a true liberal democracy in the region is by no means clear, but the nation’s founders immediately set out to do neither, ethnically cleansing the Palestinians and confiscating their land followed by creation of what is legally and practically a state that benefits only one religious group.

Truman’s allowing the camel’s nose to enter into U.S. politics has unfortunately proven to be far from trivial as Israel’s camel has succeeded in moving into the tent and skillfully manipulating the situation to become a dominant first tier issue for an increasing number of American politicians on the make, not unlike Truman himself. In so doing, a tiny client state has been able to gain the whip hand from its much larger master. And the camel, sensing its power, has not been restrained in terms of demanding its host meet its increasingly onerous needs.

A rationalist might well observe that the United States and Israel have interests that sometimes coincide, but to pretend that that is what drives the process ignores the size and proclivities of the camel. News out of Israel is persistently grim, to include recent proposals to segregate public transportation to preclude its use by Palestinians, and it is made more so by the attempts being made by the White House to buy off the camel by offering it treats again and again lest it begin to make its characteristic rumbling growling noise refer to as nuzzing.

Israel’s new government is its most right wing ever, which is saying a lot. It has a Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely who claims that all the land up to the Jordan River belongs to Israel because the God says so and Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan as Deputy Defense Minister, who has called Palestinians “animals and said “Jews always have higher souls than goyim, even if they’re gay.” He will serve as chief Israeli administrator for the Palestinian Territories, where a lot of goyim are trying to live.

In his electoral campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that he is unwilling to negotiate with the Palestinians and will not permit a Palestinian state, at a stroke contradicting his previous faux acceptance of U.S. proposals to do just that. And of course Israel is moving ahead by building new settlements, another program that Washington had long derided as “illegal” before deciding on a more accommodating word choice by describing them as “unhelpful.” Unhelpful settlements pairs neatly with the journalistic and political replacement of any mention of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank with the more comfortably ambiguous “disputed territory.”

It is quite astonishing to note the extent to which President Barack Obama’s Administration has sought to satisfy the demands of the increasingly irritable camel. This long running apology for Washington’s temerity in seeking to advance its own interests reached a frenzied level after Israel began to pressure the White House over Obama’s attempts to reach an agreement on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

The bare bones narrative over what is taking place would delight an aspiring fiction writer who most probably would nevertheless find the plot too unrealistic to use, even if does feature the novelty of a ship of the desert. Ironically, the United States is seeking to do what is clearly in Israel’s interest, and that is to take away Iran’s ability to construct a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, the Israelis are pushing back to defeat such a resolution because what they really want is for the United States to attack and destroy Iran in a more comprehensive fashion. To that end, Israel and its allies have succeeded in empowering Congress to review, and reject, any agreement made by the White House. It is believed that the Israel Lobby already has enough votes in the Senate to do just that, though it will be more difficult sledding in the House where the Democrats have a firmer grip on their own party members, who are at least for the moment numerous enough to block such an outcome.

Meanwhile bribes are flowing towards the camel from the Obama Administration in an attempt to get it to back off. Israel already receives $3 billion for “defense” from the U.S. Treasury on October 1st every year. But that is only part of the reckoning as there are extras rolled into other legislation. There is, for example, $225 million dedicated to the improvement and expansion of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. More recently, the White House has approved $1.9 billion in new armaments to include bunker buster and conventional bombs as well as hellfire missiles, a total of 32,100 pieces of ordnance.

It is unlikely that Israel will actually pay for any of that as it is a bribe for good behavior and may be rolled into an even larger arms package that will include a number of new F-35 warplanes. The Congress and Pentagon are also budgeting funds to help Israel develop ground penetrating tunnel detecting radar, a technology for which the United States has no real need.

On the private sector side, the Treasury and Justice Departments are generous in allowing so-called charitable contributions to Israel, tens of millions of dollars of which goes towards expanding the illegal settlements and increasing the clandestine purchases of Arab owned land inside Israel. Total charitable contributions by Americans to Israel exceed $2 billion per year, but they are likely far exceeded by private contributions from Jewish organizations and individuals for which no tax deduction is claimed. As Israel’s GDP was $291 billion in 2014, these amount to significant cash inflows, particularly as they are repeated year after year.

And now it is reported that the Netanyahu government will seek an additional $1.5 billion in additional defense aid per annum if it is to go along with White House policies throughout the Middle East, including Iran. No doubt the first year’s increase will cover many of the new weapons that are in the pipeline but after that, it will raise the annual U.S. contribution to Israel’s so-called defense to nearly $5 billion.

And then there is the question of how the new weapons will be used. Conventional wisdom in the media was that the promised Blu 113 Super Penetrators nearly 5,000 pound bunker busters are intended for Iran if Israel should decide to attack. The New York Post even demanded that Israel be given the “means to defend itself” against Iran by also being provided with the huge GBU-57 30,000 pound bunker busters that are in the U.S. arsenal and, as Tel Aviv does not have heavy bombers, they should also be given the planes to deliver the payload.

But several observers have come up with a more plausible target than Iran: Hizbollah. The new bombs that Israel will be receiving are not powerful enough to destroy Iranian hardened sites but are perfect for eliminating Hizbollah bunkers in southern Lebanon. A war with Hizbollah timed to take place before the end of June, when the Iran negotiations are scheduled to conclude, would throw the entire region into a tailspin and could easily be a game changer, again portraying Israel as a victim, rallying the U.S. Congress and media against any deal with Iran and no doubt derailing the talks. All that is needed is a pretext to attack Lebanon and Israel is expert at providing such pretexts.

Finally, there is the political cover that the camel demands. President Obama has been on an apology tour trying to sell his policies to a skeptical Jewish American audience, holding private meetings with leaders of Jewish organizations, and culminating in a groveling speech at congregation Adas Israel synagogue in Washington in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. The United States also backed up its rhetoric most recently when it used its United Nations veto to stop proposals for a conference to create a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, a move applauded by Israel but which conflicts with long term Washington support of measures to stop nuclear proliferation, another instance where deferring to Israel interests does damage to U.S. national security.

And there is also a comic opera side to it all. Last Wednesday the United States Justice Department moved to arrest fourteen officials and marketing executives connected to the world soccer federation, FIFA, on corruption charges. Why would the United States Department of Justice waste its time and resources on what is likely to be a hugely expensive show trial seeking to convict members of an organization that has little public face in the United States and relates to a sport, professional soccer, that is only of limited interest to Americans? The answer, at least for the timing of the arrests, might just be Israel.

The Palestinian Football Association had previously called for a vote to suspend Israel from FIFA because Israeli teams routinely play in the occupied West Bank while the Israeli government both harasses and restricts the movements of Palestinian players between the West Bank and Gaza as well as to international matches. The suspension vote requires a 75% majority of the 209 FIFA members and it would have devastating impact in Israel, somewhat similar to what happened when South Africa was suspended from most international sporting activity due to its apartheid laws. Benjamin Netanyahu recognized the danger and vowed to resist any such moves very aggressively even if it would lead to the destruction of FIFA. Preceding the FIFA arrests, it was considered quite possible that the Palestinian appeal would be successful.

So was it just a coincidence that three days before the Palestinian vote the U.S. government ordered the Swiss police to raid the hotel where the FIFA functionaries were staying to make arrests on corruption charges going back more than twenty years? And how was it that reporters and photographers from the New York Times appeared in the hotel lobby at dawn to record the incident in real time? Was the timing and media coverage intended to delay or cancel the vote? If that was the intention, it succeeded as the Palestinians came under intense pressure at last Friday’s chaotic FIFA meeting and withdrew their motion, delighting Netanyahu .

There is little doubt that FIFA is extremely corrupt, particularly involving bids for World Cups as well as in its marketing and broadcast agreements, and it is clear that it has been under investigation by the U.S. authorities for quite some time. But what is the United States interest apart from resentment over losing out on its own World Cup bids? Only two of the fourteen indicted persons are American citizens, one native born and the other a dual national. And the Attorney General will have to tie herself in knots to claim jurisdiction over foreign national FIFA functionaries who presumably committed their alleged crimes overseas. Washington will have to use the same mechanisms it employs for terrorist cases, where any connection including a phone call or internet message that travels through a U.S. based transmission line can be cited as a compelling American interest in the case.

Is the FIFA embarrassment yet another instance of something seemingly unrelated turning out to be at least in part a gift to Israel? The reader can decide for him or herself, but I can smell the camel and if you have ever been close to a camel you know that it is not an experience that one would like to repeat.

• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: FIFA, Iran, Israel 
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