Israel: state sponsor of terrorism

I promise to resist any urges to link to every good post Glenn Greenwald writes, because pretty much everything he writes is good, but I think he buried the lede on this post. Here’s what really stands out:

Then there’s long been the baffling question of where MEK was getting all of this money to pay these American officials. Indeed, the pro-MEK campaign has been lavishly funded. As the CSM noted: ”Besides the string of well-attended events at prestigious American hotels and locations, and in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, the campaign has included full-page advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post — which can cost $175,000 apiece.” MEK is basically little more than a nomadic cult: after they sided with Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, they were widely loathed in Iran and their 3,400 members long lived in camps in Iraq, but the Malaki government no longer wants them there. How has this rag-tag Terrorist cult of Iranian dissidents, who are largely despised in Iran, able to fund such expensive campaigns and to keep U.S. officials on its dole?

All of these mysteries received substantial clarity from an NBC News report by Richard Engel and Robert Windrem yesterday. Citing two anonymous “senior U.S. officials,” that report makes two amazing claims: (1) that it was MEK which perpetrated the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and (2) the Terrorist group “is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service.” These senior officials also admitted that “the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign” but claims it “has no direct involvement.” Iran has long insisted the Israel and the U.S. are using MEK to carry out Terrorist attacks on its soil, including the murder of its scientists, and NBC notes that these acknowledgments “confirm charges leveled by Iran’s leaders” (MEK issued a statement denying the report).

If these senior U.S. officials are telling the truth, there are a number of vital questions and conclusions raised by this. First, it would mean that the assurances by MEK’s paid American shills such as Howard Dean that “they are unarmed” are totally false: whoever murdered these scientists is obviously well-armed. Second, this should completely gut the effort to remove MEK from the list of designated Terrorist groups; after all, murdering Iran’s scientists through the use of bombs and guns is a defining act of a Terror group, at least as U.S. law attempts to define the term. Third, this should forever resolve the debate in which I was involved last month about whether the attack on these Iranian scientists constitutes Terrorism; as Daniel Larison put it yesterday: “If true, the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists with bombs have been committed by a recognized terrorist group. Can everyone acknowledge at this point that these attacks were acts of terrorism?”

Fourth, and most important: if this report is true, is this not definitive proof that Israel is, by definition, a so-called state sponsor of Terrorism? Leaving everything else aside, if Israel, as NBC reports, has “financed, trained and armed” a group officially designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, isn’t that the definitive act of how one becomes an official “state sponsor of Terrorism”? Amazingly, as Daniel Larison notes, one of the people who most vocally attacked me for labeling the murder of Iranian scientists as “Terrorism” and for generally arguing that Terrorism is a meaningless, cynically applied term — Commentary‘s Jonathan Tobinyesterday issued a justification for why Israel should be working with Terrorist groups like MEK.

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  • RW Ahrens

    Interesting stuff, but you leave out if you think, explicitly, whether or not what Israel is doing is necessarily bad. It’s there in between the lines, but I don’t see it written out.

    The US itself has, in times past, allied itself with equally unsavory actors, and Tobin specifically mentions one: Stalin.

    I am sure we could come up with a dozen more.

    I can agree that, ethically, one should strive to be as above board as possible in all of one’s relationships, but in the international sphere, one often must pick one’s allies where one can find them, even if it means you have to hold your nose and watch your back while you do so.

    I have been on the fence about Israel for years, as I have no doubt that, from the early years, they had a tough row to hoe just to survive, and it IS tough to face all of one’s neighbors knowing that they want you dead.

    It is a situation that isn’t calculated to develop warm and fuzzy feelings of friendship!

    On the other hand, the reactions of the Israeli right wing have gone far too far in the wrong direction – there is such a thing as being TOO defensive and by taking their enemies’ tactics as their own, it is now hard to tell the ethical difference between the two sides, if one ever could!

    Bottom line, while I don’t like to see the US or its allies stoop to the level of our enemies, the alternative in this case may be a level of violence we might rather avoid.

    I am glad I don’t have to make those tough choices.

  • slc1

    Re #1

    One must not forget the alliance of convenience between the folks who eventually became the Taliban in Afghanistan and the US in the fight against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.

    As regards Israel, I take anything that Mr. Greenwald, a self hating Jew and two fisted Israel basher, says about that country with several boxes full of salt. Like Noam Chomsky, Greenwald considers Israel to be an illegitimate entity, which merits the enmity of its neighbors. Just the other day, the head of the Hamas Government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, stated that his organization would never recognize Israel, which I suppose is AOK with Greenwald.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Dude, if you actually read the post, you’d realize that the source of this information is NBC.

      Also, the “self-hating Jew” line pretty clearly labels you as a dumbass.

  • lordshipmayhem

    Seeing as the only place on the planet where you find a single ethnically Jewish nation is Israel, and it’s surrounded by people who cordially hate Jews and despise its very existence as an abomination, I’m giving Israel a bye on this one.

    It’s the survival of an ethnic group that is at stake here, and we’ve seen not only in the 20th century but in both the 19th (the Tsar’s pogroms) and the 21st (the Rwandan massacre) what happens when an ethnic minority doesn’t have a country to retreat to when other ethnic groups decide the only good example of someone from your group is a dead example of someone from your group.

    I have zero doubt that Iran’s mad mullahs have, as their ultimate goal, the development in the very near future of nuclear weapons. I also have zero doubt that should Iran manage to develop nuclear weapons, they will use them on Israel as soon as possible, and to hang with the collateral damage. I also have zero doubt that no amount of diplomatic effort will sway Iran from its course, as all the speeches and actions of the Iranian theocratic leaders indicate that they consider this a holy mission.

    I also consider the theocratic leaders of Iran to be batshit insane.

    Anything Israel can do to avoid glowing in the dark, it will do. The long-term consequences don’t come into play in their calculations, as if they don’t stop this soon, there will be NO long-term in which to have consequences for Israel to worry about.

    • Ace of Sevens

      I’m sorry. Did you just explicitly argue that ethnic nationalism is good and killing everyone who gets in your way is a valid way of achieving this?

      • RW Ahrens

        I would say that it is more a matter of what one can consider survival, and not a matter of ethics. Which is why I am on the fence.

        Ethics are important, but so is survival. Which is better, to be lauded as an ethical, but dead, culture, or a live culture, excoriated as unethical, but with a chance to fix those ethics?

        I would prefer the chance to balance the scales – it’s not easy to accept the accolades of the world if you’re dead.

        On the other hand, if we adopt the tactics of our enemies, how does the world tell the difference?

  • RW Ahrens

    I guess it would only be fair to note the ABC News reports this evening about the Iranian attacks on Israeli interests in several world locations, using their terrorist assets, including a couple who blew themselves up.

    This not a pretty situation. There is more than one side, and none of them are covering themselves in glory, but are doing all they can to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to tactics and proxies.

    Everybody concerned has some other agenda they’re concerned with, some more than one.

    The Iranians are ruled by batshit crazy mullahs, but to be honest, the right wing in Israel isn’t any saner, basing their claim to the land on what are, truthfully, ethnic legends. The US and the rest of the world just want the oil, but are willing to kick ass and take names if necessary.

    It seems we are all at the tender mercies of religious fanatics, in the final analysis.

  • kraut

    “I have zero doubt that Iran’s mad mullahs have, as their ultimate goal, the development in the very near future of nuclear weapons. I also have zero doubt that should Iran manage to develop nuclear weapons, they will use them on Israel as soon as possible, and to hang with the collateral damage. I also have zero doubt that no amount of diplomatic effort will sway Iran from its course, as all the speeches and actions of the Iranian theocratic leaders indicate that they consider this a holy mission.”

    You have zero doubt? What the fuck are you doing on a skeptics website?

    Ever thought it possible that the news you receive are maybe not the truth, the whole truth? That there might be an agenda at work to portray the mullahs – who after all have run the country without driving it into the ground, successfully defended the country attacked by the US via its proxy Saddam – as irrational (which they are clearly not, unlike the present crop of rethuglian candidates) – as mad?
    Did it ever occur to you that the agenda to portray basically all leaders of countries not agreeing to the role of the US as global empire are portrayed either as mad or as evil? That Libya at present is likely a more lawless country as it ever was under Gaddafi?

    Have you ever considered the role of Israel not as a dream by Jews to create a state on land that they never possessed in the last 2000 years but as a US outpost, creating tensions in the region to better control the flow of oil and to prevent the countries in Arabia that supply oil to become democratic, as this might truly endanger the position of the US when those folks realize that their interests are not necessarily those of the US?
    The prime example is the Saudi kingdom and its help in suppressing a democratic uprising in Bahrain with considerable brutality?

    What gives you the certainty that Iran would use a first strike atomic war, when it is Israel for the last 30 years who are in possession of nuclear warheads?
    That is the same idiotic certainty a considerable majority of the US populace held when it was convinced that Russia would strike first against the US unless the US possessed an excess number over russian warheads, forgetting conveniently that Russsia was quite literally encircled as an almost landlocked nation by enemies who had shown their violence against Russia numereous times in the past, from France to Germany to Japan.

    Certainty in your case seems to be more inspired by Fox news than actual information.

    conveniently overlooking the fact that

  • kraut

    The worst about the comments by the contributors before me: They are clearly saying the end justifies the means, and as our goals are pure and virtuous every means is justified.

    I have yet to find a more uncritical and simply conceited notion as those on this website.

    The name Israel brings the worst of uncritical thinking to the forefront, especially by those who think Israel can do no wrong.
    And everybody who disagrees with this notion is automatically labelled an antisemite….

    • RW Ahrens


      Dude, dial it down by about five notches, you blew my rant meter, and so badly that the spike jumped the firewall and bent the needle on my irony meter!

      First of all, stop trying to make the mullahs of Iran out to be innocent. They aren’t. They’ve used terrorist groups as proxies since at least the early 90′s, if not before, and that alone puts them beyond the pale, in my book.

      Secondly, both the Iranian President and their Grand Mullah have made statements to the affect that Israel is a “stain” which should be “wiped from the earth”. Not exactly a statement to comfort the nervous or to calm Israeli fears, when the guys saying that stuff are busy working at building a bomb designed to do just that – AND are on record as making that out to be a sacred duty.

      Granted, that isn’t an ironclad guarantee that they WILL use that bomb, but it also isn’t exactly meant to deny it either.

      Oh, and please point to some actual information to back up your assertion that Israel really does have nuclear weapons. Everybody has assumed they do for a couple of decades now, but neither the US nor Israel have confirmed it, and the UN has been unable to prove it. Like you said, lets see some actual information instead of media reports!

      And did you actually read my posts? Where I noted that while I can understand that survival is paramount, it doesn’t make one’s actions necessarily morally right?

      All sides here have moral and ethical issues going on, and nobody has a lock on the high ground – there isn’t any!

      Case in point is that of the US’ role in the area, and the maintenance of Israel as a whipping boy for the Middle Eastern Dictators – enhanced by the US right wing’s insistence on manipulating the situation to try to bring about biblical prophesy regarding the book of Revelation!

      The worst part of this conflict is that it is a three way religious cluster fuck, exacerbated by the fanatics on all three sides!

      But trying to dump the blame on just one or two sides won’t help, so be careful. If you keep insisting that Israel is the only one at fault (with complicity on the part of the US) you really are running the risk of being seen as anti-semitic, since that position is the one taken by anti-semites!

      To separate yourself from that charge, you need to carefully back your assertions with evidence – which you have failed to do so far while insisting on evidence from the other side.

  • lachlano

    I find that I disagree with almost everything Glen Greenwald says, and this is no exception. Three points:

    1) I don’t discount the possibility that Israel “hired” MEK to kill the Iranian scientists, but I think it’s still speculative at this point.

    2) If it is true, then I would join you in criticizing Israel, but it wouldn’t be the moral equivalent of, say, the recent attacks in India and Thailand, as I argue below.

    3) “Can everyone acknowledge at this point that these attacks were acts of terrorism?” – I do not acknowledge this. An act does not become terrorism because it was committed by someone designated a terrorist. It is the characteristics of the act itself that matter. I personally define terrorism as “political violence that targets non-combatants without discrimination”. The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists is discriminate by definition. It is also my opinion that these scientists are combatants and legitimate targets, although likely you would disagree there. A quick comment like this is not the ideal place to argue the case regarding the ongoing effort of The Revolutionary Guards to gain nuclear weapons, but that is really what determines the position one takes on this.

    • RW Ahrens

      Nicely said.

      Although speculative, its pretty well accepted as likely. Nobody else has the incentive to do it quite like that, and it fits Mosad tactics, as it is the most hurtful thing they can do to that program without devoting heavier resources to attacking facilities. Deniability is the key, here.

      For both sides. The Iranians have not balked at real terrorist tactics for some time now. While the Israelis have used tactics that border on terrorist-like, they’re pretty good at keeping innocent bystanders out of it, at least in uninvolved countries. Not so much in the disputed territories. But the Iranians apparently don’t care beyond the political fallout of getting nailed publicly.