The Venetian is a lovely casino resort, but I plan to avoid it during my next trip to Las Vegas. I won’t be going because a portion of my slot machine losses and buffet tab would be devoted to undermining world peace. The principal owner of the Venetian, Sheldon Adelson, has been spending his considerable fortune to influence both the US and Israeli political systems in an effort to trigger a dangerous and unnecessary showdown with Iran.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Adelson (together with his wife) was the number one donor to SuperPACs during the 2012 election cycle – contributing over $90 million to Republican-oriented groups such as American Crossroads, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund. His total political spending during the 2012 cycle appears to be much higher – perhaps $150 million – if you include contributions to 501(c)(4) groups such as Crossroads GPS that are not required to report individual donors.
Adelson’s funds come with the expectation that beneficiaries will take a hard line on Iran. The billionaire made his views clear in a 2013 appearance at New York’s Yeshiva University where he called on the US government to drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert. After this initial attack, he wants US officials to threaten a second nuclear strike on Tehran unless the regime gives up its nuclear weapon development plans.
The magnate’s participation in the Republican Presidential nominating process obliges candidates to undergo a conservative Zionist litmus test. Last March, the Republican Jewish Coalition vetted several presidential hopefuls at an event informally labeled the “Sheldon Primary” at Adelson’s Venetian resort. Chris Christie gave a pro-Israel address at the meeting but made the mistake of referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories” – which, of course, it is. After a one-on-one meeting with Adelson, Christie apologized for misspeaking and emphasized his unwavering commitment to the Jewish state.
Adelson’s efforts to control the political dialogue are not limited to the US. Although Israel has much stricter campaign finance rules than the US, Adelson propagandizes on behalf of the Likud government through a free daily newspaper he started in 2007. The tabloid, Israel Hayom, has the nation’s largest circulation and is a reliable pro-Netanyahu voice. Adelson also owns Israel’s main religious newspaper.
The inevitable result of Adelson’s largesse has been to push the political debate over Middle East policy in a hawkish direction. John Boehner’s invitation to Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress this week is just the latest dividend on the billionaire’s investment. Adelson-supported politicians reject efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians, Iranians and other potential adversaries as appeasement, while they exaggerate the threat from these opposing forces.
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For example, hawks allied with Adelson have repeatedly overestimated Iran’s progress toward actually producing a nuclear weapon. In 1992, Netanyahu said that Iran was three to five years from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. Subsequent Israeli predictions - often repeated by sympathetic US politicians and pundits - have called for Iran to become a nuclear state in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011. None of these dates proved to be real. Further, Netanyahu dire warnings about Iran’s nuclear readiness in a 2012 UN General Assembly speech were contradicted by Israel’s own intelligence agency, according to recently leaked documents reported in The Guardian.
Also, Netanyahu and his Adelson-backed supporters, mislead the public when contending that an Iranian nuclear weapon poses an unmanageable risk. Israel has a far more advanced nuclear weapons program and could easily deter the Iranian regime from making a first strike. The secret Israeli program, revealed in a 1986 Sunday Times of London exposé, has operated for several decades and has most likely produced submarine-based missiles that could reach any point in Iran when fired from the Persian Gulf.
The contention that Iranian leadership is so suicidal that it would start a conflict anyway is far-fetched. Unlike al Qaeda and ISIS, the Shiite Iranian regime does not normally conduct suicide attacks. The regime is likely motivated to produce nuclear weapons as a matter of national pride and as a deterrent against attack. After all, Iran’s neighboring “axis of evil” member, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – a non-nuclear state - was overrun by American troops. Meanwhile, the third axis member - North Korea – has avoided regime change in part because it has nuclear weapons.
As an American Jew, I am pleased that the Jewish state stands as a bulwark against persecution and take pride in Israel’s many accomplishments. That said, I don’t think American foreign policy should be twisted toward unnecessary conflict because a very affluent uber Zionist has an exaggerated view of Israel’s security needs. It is not anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist to believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu should stop meddling in the US political process and that Congress should leave the Obama Administration free to work with its P-5 partners to negotiate the best possible deal with Iran. It’s time for American political leaders to eschew Adelson’s abundant cash and choose diplomacy over permanent war.
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