Here is Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., holding forth on the subject of ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham — in conversation with the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27:
Keep in mind that I don’t speak for the [Israeli] government, I’m speaking for me … and what I’m going to say is harsh, perhaps a little edgy, but if we have to choose the lesser of evils here, the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shiites. … It’s an evil, a terrible evil. Again, they’ve just taken out 1700 former Iraqi soldiers and shot them in a field. But who are they fighting against? They’re fighting against a proxy with Iran that’s complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria. You know, do the math. And again, one side is armed with suicide bombers in Iraq and the other side has access to nuclear military capabilities. So from Israel’s perspective, you know, if there has got to be an evil that is going to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail….
This is horrifying, of course, although I don’t know who is worse, the speaker, his bland interlocutor, or upscale festival-goers listening to nonsense without a murmur of protest. Oren’s charge that Iran is complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria is an outrage. While Teheran certainly has its crimes to answer for, it is the U.S. and its Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf who have funded the Syrian civil war and kept it going long after it began degenerating into a sectarian bloodbath. Patrick Cockburn, the London Independent’s brilliant Middle East correspondent, recently recounted a conversation with Richard Dearlove, the former head with MI6, the British secret intelligence unit, who in turn quoted a rather offhand remark by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador in Washington and until recently head of Saudi intelligence. “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard,” Prince Bandar told him, “when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia.’ More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” That was prior to 9/11, according to Dearlove, which is to say back in the days when Riyadh was still funding Osama bin Laden and the Saudi-Iranian conflict was still in its infancy. Since then, we have seen the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which infuriated the Saudis by installing a Shiite-dominated government, and then the Arab Spring, which tore apart the compromises holding the region together and pitched the Muslim world into headlong sectarian strife.
Now the Saudis are funding a Sunni fundamentalists who are out to slaughter every last Shiite, beginning with the Syrian Alawites then moving into the Shiites in Iraq. In the process, it also wishes to enslave the Christian population of both countries. Yet this is the group that Oren now regards as the lesser evil. Isn’t it remarkable that a country founded on revulsion against genocide now views an Alawite genocide with something less than alarm?
Oren, of course, is disingenuous in insisting the he does not speak for the Israeli government. In fact, his views perfectly mirror the thinking of the ultra-rightists currently running the Jewish state. A few days before Oren spoke in Aspen, Benjamin Netanyahu was only slightly more circumspect on “Meet the Press.” When asked what the U.S. should do to counter ISIS, he replied that militant Shiites and Sunnis are both anti-American. “And when your enemies are fighting each other,” he said, “don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. And I think by far the worst outcome that could come out of this is that one of these factions, Iran, would come out with nuclear weapons capability.”
A plague on both their houses, but an extra-special plague on the Shiites. When asked whether the U.S. should launch air strikes against ISIS, Netanyahu went on to say: “I think that there are two actions you have to take. One is to take the action you deem necessary to counter the ISIS takeover of Iraq. And the second is not to allow Iran to dominate Iraq the way it dominated Lebanon and Syria. So you actually have to work on both sides.” Give Maliki just enough aid, in other words, to prolong the slaughter indefinitely. Then, when the countryside is littered with countless bodies, blame it all on primitive Arab bloodlust.