Making a Mountain Into a Molehill

The real problem threatening Israel-U.S. relations and the Jewish community does not reside in small-fry from the Pentagon and the classification grade of a leaked document, but rather in the suspicion of something fishy at the top.

It now looks by all accounts like Larry Franklin will, at worst, be tried for mishandling sensitive material. In other words, he'll be charged with leaking information to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. "Sensitive" data of this sort, or of an even more sensitive nature, is routinely conveyed during meetings between American officials and Israeli diplomats under the bright lights of upscale restaurants in the heart of Washington, D.C.

The real problem threatening Israel-U.S. relations and the Jewish community does not reside in this small-fry from the Pentagon and the classification grade of the leaked document, but rather in the suspicion of something fishy at the top. The murky waters of this affair will provide ample fishing grounds for political rivals and conspiracy buffs. First they'll land Franklin's boss, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, and then they'll hook the entire group of neoconservatives of which he is one of the leaders. That is the group of Israel's friends, including many Jews, that pushed President Bush to go to war in Iraq.

The best form of defense being offense, spokespeople for the Israeli government insinuated that anti-Israel elements are behind the affair. Republican representatives point to "Democratic agents" among senior FBI officials who want to spoil things for Bush on the eve of his party's convention.

They may be right. But you don't need Franklin and the classified Iranian document to draw fire at the conspiracy to take over Iraq. As members of think tanks several years ago, Feith and his friends volunteered an open document in which they laid bare their Israeli-American plot to change the face of the entire Middle East. In 1996, a conservative Israeli-American research institute invited Feith and others, including Richard Perle who headed an advisory panel to the Pentagon known as the Defense Policy Board, to put together a strategic manual for the incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Feith is responsible for the following paragraph from that document: "Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq - an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right - as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions."

The document goes on to state that "Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq ... Since Iraq's future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq."

Six years later, members of that same group supported the half-baked idea to crown Jordan's Prince Hassan as Iraq's ruler.

If anyone was looking to use Franklin to sock Feith in the weak spot of dual loyalty, in order to hurt Bush, they could have located its sources in that very same open document. Its authors provided the head of a foreign government tips on manipulating U.S. members of Congress. They suggested that he take advantage of the period remaining before the November `96 presidential and congressional elections to obtain "a benign American reaction" for his/their policy. In exchange for the free advice, they asked for Netanyahu's help in recruiting members of Congress who "care very much about missile defense" to counter an agreement with Russia on reining in proliferation of long-range missiles.

Feith and his friends promised in that document that Israeli support for the missile plan would assist efforts to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That initiative, sponsored by the Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, was the brainchild of the neoconservatives and their friends at AIPAC. It utterly contravened the view held by president Bill Clinton and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that initiatives of that sort do not help build trust between Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps that is the strongest proof of all that the neoconservatives and Jewish lobbyists do not serve two masters. They serve themselves, and that's the trouble.