Sidney Blumenthal has a very interesting article in Salon today. Salon is a restricted access site, but it’s worth watching the 15 second commercial to get Blumenthal’s piece. In the article, The neocons’ next war, he discloses that, pursuant to the wishes of Vice President Cheney, President Bush has not only authorized the transfer of bombs and artillery shells to the Israelis, but has also signed off on providing Israel the NSA’s signal intelligence with respect to Syria and Iran.

Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.

Elliot Abrams, for those who are unfamiliar with his history was also an important official in the Reagan administration who was convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal, but subsequently received a pardon from Bush the elder on Christmas Eve in 1992, shortly before Bush left office. Here’s an excerpt from Abram’s profile at Right Web:


Perhaps more than any other neoconservative, Abrams has integrated the various influences that have shaped today’s neoconservative agenda. A creature of the neoconservative incubator, Abrams is a political intellectual and operative who has consistently advanced the neoconservative agenda with chutzpah and considerable success.

As a government representative, Abrams organized front groups to provide private and clandestine official support for the Contras; served as the president of an ethics institute despite his own record of lying to Congress and managing illegal operations; rose to high positions in the National Security Council to oversee U.S. foreign policy in regions where he had no professional experience, only ideological positions; proved himself as a political intellectual in books and essays that explore the interface between orthodox Judaism, American culture, and political philosophy; and demonstrated his considerable talents in public diplomacy as a political art in the use of misinformation and propaganda to ensure public and policy support for foreign relations agendas that would otherwise be soundly rejected.

Abrams has moved back and forth between government and the right’s web of think tanks and policy institutes, holding positions as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), advisory council member of the American Jewish Committee, and charter member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC)…

He was indicted by the Iran-Contra special prosecutor for intentionally deceiving Congress about the administration’s role in supporting the Contras, including his own central role in the Iran-Contra arms deal. The U.S.-backed and organized Contras were spearheading a counterrevolution against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Congress had prohibited U.S. government military support for the Contras because of their pattern of human rights abuses.

Abrams pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses (including withholding information from Congress) to avoid a trial and a possible jail term. He and five other Iran-Contra figures were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992, shortly before the senior Bush left office….

Naturally, he fits right in with the Bush administration, and the “Cheney Cabal” in particular. His current mission appears to be the marginalization of Condoleezza Rice (the only remaining “realist” among Bush’s advisors), and the advancement of the Pentagon’s war plans for Syria and/or Iran. Of course, in order to accomplish this goal, the neocons needed to deep six any hope for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Fortunately for them, Bush “bought in” to their agenda regarding the futility of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process long ago:

At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that “the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush snapped, “Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things.”

For a time in 2004 and 2005, it appeared that the neocons had lost their position of primacy in this administration, particularly when the Plame affair threatened to engulf both Vice President Cheney and, more importantly for the President’s viewpoint, Senior political advisor and Svengali, Karl Rove. Now with Rove off the hook, and the Plame scandal no longer consuming the cable news airwaves, Bush and Cheney appear to have resolved their differences, at least in part. The fact that Condi’s limited diplomatic overture to Iran through the UN has seemingly failed to produce any progress this Spring and Summer has also strengthened the hands of those in the administration, such as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Abrams who have long called for a more aggressive approach toward Iran (i.e., war).

In some respects, it was also the Israelis who have rescued the neocons from their slightly less prominent position within the White House. Without the US acting as a “honest broker” anymore in their ongoing disputes with the Palestinian authorities, hardliners were emboldened to pursue policies that ten years ago would have been considered insanely provocative. The building of the “security fence” around Gaza and the systematic undermining of the PLO and their leader Arafat, effectively handed political power to the most extreme element with the Palestinian territories, Hamas, ironically for Bush through the very process of democratic elections. This led to even more of a hard line response from the US and Israel. First the cutting off of necessary funds to the Palestinian state authorities, and then the current military offensive by Israel in Gaza in an attempt to degrade Hamas’ power, both from as military force and as a political party.

Once Hizbollah conducted their raid on Israel’s northern border, Israel and the neocons in the Bush administration had the excuse they both needed to widen the war. Israel, of course, probably had only the more limited goal of eliminating Hizbollah’s ability to threaten Israel, but the neocons see this as their opportunity to invade Syria, and perhaps, attack Iran as well.

I suspect Sharon would have prevented himself from being manipulated quite so easily as Olmert has been into ordering such a massive invasion and destruction of Lebanon. As nationalistic and brutal as Sharon could be toward Arabs, he did have, after all, previous experience with Israel’s last failed Lebanese adventure, and I suspect he would have managed to avoid the type of trap that Olmert has fallen into. Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer to that.

Condi is now trapped between a rock and a hard place. Her Iran engagement strategy has failed. That it had little chance of success considering the limitations that were imposed upon her, and the active opposition from sources within the administration from Cheney, Rumsfeld and (most publicly) UN Ambassador John Bolton is somewhat beside the point. With this “new crisis” which was engineered by the neocons and the Israelis, she is finding herself adrift.

It’s doubtful Bush, a simplistic, linear thinker at best, is taking her advice on these matters seriously at this point. The vapid little dance she displayed to our allies last week I am certain convinced them that she is no longer the puppeteer, but once again only a sad little puppet, dangling from the strings that lead back into the office of the Vice President. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for her, but she was the closest thing left in the Bush White House to an adult. As a babysitter she’s done a miserable job, and now the bad boys are back from their time out, worse than ever.

But let me give Sid Blumenthal the last word:

Confused, ineffectual and incapable of filling her office with power, Rice has become the voodoo doll that Powell was in the first term. Even her feeble and counterproductive gestures toward diplomacy leave her open to the harshest attacks from neoconservatives. Scowcroft and the Bush I team are simply ignored. The sustained assault on Rice is a means to an end — restoring the ascendancy of neoconservatism. […]

Having failed in the Middle East, the administration is attempting to salvage its credibility by equating Israel’s predicament with the U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives, for their part, see the latest risk to Israel’s national security as a chance to scuttle U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the last opportunity to realize the fantasies of “A Clean Break.”

By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible tripwire, the Bush administration is laying the condition for regional conflagration with untold consequences — from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme that might thrust Israel into a ring of fire cannot be construed as a blunder. It is a deliberate, calculated and methodical plot.

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