Is Israel a strategic asset or a liability?

Greg Sclobete writes:

To be honest, I don’t know how huge a deal the revelations are in this Foreign Policy piece (and needless to say, these are allegations, not established facts). The short version – agents from Israel’s intelligence service are alleged to have disguised themselves as American CIA agents to hire terrorists to kill people inside Iran.

I think a good way to frame this is to ask: would Britain’s intelligence service do something like this? If the answer is yes, then Israel’s actions are in keeping with how international spy craft and subversion work among allies. If the answer is no, then the argument that Israel is key strategic asset for the United States becomes a lot less credible.

Daniel Larison adds:

 It’s not just the false flag nature of the operation that is bothersome. If the report is true, this operation involved a terrorist group that blows up civilians in mosques, and the perception that the U.S. was behind the group that did these things invited attacks on Americans. In addition to encouraging atrocities against civilians, the operation made it seem as if the U.S. were complicit in those atrocities. […]

Suppose instead that it was U.S. agents posing as Mossad who recruited Sunni terrorists to launch a series of attacks on civilian targets in southern Lebanon, which in turn invited Hizbullah retaliation against Israel. Wouldn’t there be a great deal of outrage about this if the roles were reversed? On top of that, what purpose could be served by such an operation except to slaughter civilians and sow chaos?

Good question. These days it appears as though both Iran and Israel are doing their best to keep up the impression of imminent war. Iran’s chest-thumping and Israel’s own bellicosity may be more hot air than anything. Both stir trouble, sow chaos, but does either really want war?

America is the helpful stooge in all of this. Either that or we’re doing our best to keep things from boiling over. Perhaps, in fact, those are one and the same. Either way, Iranian nuclear scientists are showing up dead; allegations that the Mossad is impersonating the CIA in order to hire terrorists are floating about; and Iran is saying damn the torpedoes and plunging ahead with its nuke program.

It’s hard to know how this would play out under a Ron Paul presidency. As Alex Knapp noted a while back, Paul wants us out of essentially all of our foreign treaties, and that would include our entanglement in Israel:

Let’s not forget that Ron Paul doesn’t just want to bring the troops home. He wants to pull the United States out of all international organizations and as many treaties as possible. He wants the U.S. out of the United Nations. Out of NATO. Out of the WTO. Out of the ICJ. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he opposes the Vienna Convention.

In other words, he wants the richest, most militarily powerful nation in the world to reverse its 200+ year tradition of strengthening international law as a means to settle disputes between nations without resorting to war. I’ll be the first to admit that the system of international law is weak and imperfect. But it’s a damn sight better than the alternative. The Founding Fathers didn’t put, in the Constitution, the provision that treaties trump Congressional statutes for nothing. They’re important for the wheels of diplomacy to keep turning. Pulling the United States out of so many international organizations will no doubt cause quite a few to collapse. What’s going to replace it?

Thinking about this again in terms of Israel only, while I think Americans need to disentangle and take a big step back from that conflict, it’s one of those precarious steps that you don’t want to make too quickly. That’s one of my own quibbles with Paul’s foreign policy – he may be right on the broad view that we’re far too entangled in the world’s affairs, but when it comes down to the particulars it all becomes much more complicated (notably, the same rule applies to shrinking the government; conservatives talk about wanting to shrink the size of the federal state but since they spend so little time actually caring about governance, it’s always Democrats who come up with detailed plans. See for example, Obama’s recent plan to consolidate agencies like the Small Business Administration.)

Israel has grown far too comfortable with a reliable friend in the United States. This would not be the first time they’ve done something like this, if the allegations are true. Something needs to change in this special relationship of ours.

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