Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Had you searched for "Israel, nuclear weapons" at Google News in the wake of President Obama's recent trip to the Middle East, you would have gotten a series of headlines like this: "Obama: Iran more than a year away from developing nuclear weapon" (CNN), "Obama vows to thwart Tehran's nuclear drive" (the Times of Israel), Obama: No nuclear weapons for Iran (the San Angelo Times), "US, Israel increasingly concerned about construction of Iran's plutonium-producing reactor" (Associated Press), "Obama says 'there is still time' to find diplomatic solution to Iran nuke dispute; Netanyahu hints at impatience" (NBC), "Iran"s leader threatens to level cities if Israel attacks, criticizes US nuclear talks" (Fox).
By now, we're so used to such a world of headlines -- about Iran's threatening nuclear weapons and its urge to "wipe out" Israel -- that we simply don't see how strange it is. At the moment, despite one aircraft carrier task force sidelined in Norfolk, Virginia (theoretically because of sequester budget cuts), the U.S. continues to maintain a massive military presence around Iran. That modest-sized regional power, run by theocrats, has been hobbled by ever-tightening sanctions, its skies filled with U.S. spy drones, its offshore waters with U.S. warships. Its nuclear scientists have been assassinated, assumedly by agents connected to Israel, and its nuclear program attacked by Washington and Tel Aviv in the first cyberwar in history. As early as 2007, the U.S. Congress was already ponying up hundreds of millions of dollars for a covert program of destabilization that evidently involved cross-border activities, assumedly using U.S. special operations forces -- and that's only what's known about the pressure being exerted on Iran. With this, and the near-apocalyptic language of nuclear fear that surrounds it, has gone a powerful, if not always acknowledged, urge for what earlier in the new century was called "regime change." (Who can forget the neocon quip of the pre-Iraq-invasion moment: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, real men want to go to Tehran"?)
And all of this is due, so we're told, to what remains a fantasy nuclear weapon, one that endangers no one because it doesn't exist, and most observers don"t think that Tehran is in the process of preparing to build one either. In other words, the scariest thing in our world, or at least in the Middle Eastern part of it -- if you believe Washington, Tel Aviv, and much reporting on the subject -- is a nuclear will-o'-the-wisp. In the meantime, curiously enough, months can pass without significant focus on or discussion of Pakistan's expanding nuclear arsenal. And yet, in that shaky, increasingly destabilized country, such an existing arsenal has to qualify as a genuine and growing regional danger.
Similarly, you can read endlessly in the mainstream about President Obama's recent triumphs in the Middle East and that Iranian nuclear program without ever stumbling upon anything of significance about the only genuine nuclear arsenal in the vicinity: Israel's. On the rare occasions when it is even mentioned, it's spoken of as if it might or might not exist. Israel, Fox News typically reports, "is believed to have the only nuclear weapons arsenal in the Mideast." It is, of course, Israeli policy (and a carefully crafted fiction) never to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal. But the arsenal itself isn't just "believed" to exist, it is known to exist -- 100-300 nuclear weapons' worth or enough destructive power to turn not just Iran but the Greater Middle East into an ash heap.
To sum up: we continue to obsess about fantasy weapons, base an ever more threatening and dangerous policy in the region on their possible future existence, might conceivably end up in a war over them, and yet pay remarkably little attention to the existing nuclear weapons in the region. If this were the approach of countries other than either the U.S. or Israel, you would know what to make of it and undoubtedly words like "paranoia" and "fantasy" would quickly creep into any discussion.
With that in mind, check out "Obama Walks the High Wire, Eyes Closed," the latest piece from Ira Chernus, an expert on separating fantasy from reality, who has taken on the tough task of putting aside the media hosannas about the president's recent Middle Eastern travels and making sense of what actually happened.