Belfast Telegraph

Cuba left to hang as Zionist lobby pulls strings in DC

By Eamonn McCann

Palau has defected from America. The loss won't have alarmed the White House, but may have triggered a slight frisson of anxiety. The Republic of Palau comprises a cluster of tiny islands in the western Pacific, total population around 20,000. Until last week it was one of five members of the United Nations to vote consistently against annual resolutions calling for the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba.

The embargo's other supporters have been Israel, Micronesia (population 107,00) and the Marshall Islands (66,000). This year the three Pacific states abstained, leaving the US and Israel alone against the world.

The embargo was imposed 52 years ago under the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA). The action followed confirmation by U2 spy plane surveillance of the presence in Cuba of ballistic missiles, installed by the USSR in response to the previous year's Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by CIA-sponsored right-wing Cubans.

After a 13-day stand-off, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev agreed to remove the missiles in return for an undertaking by the US to remove missiles based in Italy and Turkey, targeted on Moscow and other Soviet cities.

According to John F Kennedy's Press secretary Pierre Salinger, the first indication that sanctions were imminent came when Kennedy asked him to tour Washington tobacconists and bring back a thousand Petit Upmanns; the following morning at 8am, Salinger records, he walked into the Oval Office with a carrier bag containing 1,200 of the cigars.

"Kennedy smiled and opened up his desk. He took out a long paper which he immediately signed. It was the decree banning all Cuban products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal." And still are.

Even if the sanctions were justified half-a-century ago, they make no sort of sense in 2014. Even North Korea was removed from the embargo list by George W Bush in 2008, leaving Cuba the only state facing TWEA sanctions. But then, North Koreans can't swing US elections. Florida is the swing state par excellence. Of its 11.9 million voters, 4.6 million are registered Democrats, against 4.2 million Republicans. Seventy per cent of the two million Cuban-Americans live in Florida.

Traditionally, they have been aligned with the Republicans. But the figures are now close to 50/50. No politician wants to antagonise any major interest group within the Cuban community. Electoral considerations are important in US-Israeli relations. A high- ranking White House official recently described Benyamin Netanyahu as "chickens***", in part at least reflecting the administration's frustration at the Israeli Prime Minister's evident determination to sink every attempt to broker peace with the Palestinians.

Belligerent Israeli attacks on Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry have tempted the patience of US officials. A week ago Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon sneered at Kerry for "obsessive messianism" in persisting with his "peace initiative".

On the same day this insult was delivered, the US agreed to supply Israel with a new squadron of F35 fighter jets. The last squadron cost $3.5bn (£2.2bn). Not that the burden of this vast sum will have been carried by Israel. In line with standard practice, the money was transferred direct to manufacturers Lockheed Martin which then delivered the planes to Israel. The $3.5bn never left the US.

Every congressperson with a Lockheed plant adjacent to his or her constituency will have lobbied for the F35 deal. Many will have framed their pleas in terms of a supposed obligation to Israel.

All major US arms manufacturers are patriots for Israel. Any concern in Congress about levels of arms expenditure can be made to translate into a lack of commitment to Israel.

And, as the veteran Israeli commentator Uri Avneri said last weekend: "No American politician could possibly be re-elected if he voiced even the slightest hint of criticism of the 'Jewish State' … in Netanyahu's view, in any confrontation between Congress and the White House over Israel, the President is bound to lose."

There are some in the US who believe that, if he could, Obama would tell Tel Aviv that there won't be another cent in US aid until an Israeli administration shows even a half ounce of interest in peace with the Palestinian people.

But he won't. Not even the President can afford to bring on a savaging by the attack-dogs of Zionism. These are the considerations which lead Israel to back the US in a boycott of Cuba, while US leaders take insults from "chickens***" politicians to avoid the wrath of an Israeli lobby allied to the merchants of death.

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