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Who calls the shots?
The war was conducted against the inhabitants of a blockaded and besieged enclave who, having no tanks, aeroplanes, unmanned drones, warships or guided missiles of their own, had in their desperation and defiance fired home-made rockets over the border. Therefore they were terrorists, in the suppression of whom almost any crime, including the slaughtering of children and the shelling of United Nations compounds, is countennanced.
And it was a war against democracy. As Ismail Haniyeh, the elected Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, has remarked:
[T]he root cause of Israel's criminal war on Gaza is the elections of January 2006, which saw Hamas win by a substantial majority. What occurred next was that Israel alongside the United States and the European Union joined forces in an attempt to quash the democratic will of the Palestinian people. They set about reversing the decision first by obstructing the formation of a national unity government and then by making a living hell for the Palestinian people through economic strangulation. The abject failure of all these machinations finally led to this vicious war. Israel's objective is to silence all voices that express the will of the Palestinian; thereafter it would impose its own terms for a final settlement depriving us of our land, our right to Jerusalem as the rightful capital of our future state and the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes.
So arrogant were the Israeli leaders that, when they declared a "ceasefire" just before the new president of the sponsoring superpower took office, they did this unilaterally, not deigning to negotiate terms with the elected representatives of the native population.
In the preparations for stage two of 'Operation Cast Lead', the invasion of Gaza by ground troops of the Israeli Defence Force, the USA had provided particularly useful assistance. As Paul Rogers reported for the Open Democracy website:
In 2005, [...] the Israeli army began to construct a complete "Arab" town, known as Baladia, in the Negev desert. Baladia, built in terrain very similar to Gaza - and complete with mosques, a market, densely-packed housing, narrow alleyways and even a mock refugee camp - was opened in mid-2007 as Israel's National Urban Training Centre. Many of the Israeli troops currently fighting in Gaza will have spent time there, in facilities "used to train infantry in the type of house-to-house and subterranean combat expected in Gaza, southern Lebanon and other theaters".
But Baladia's real importance in the current context is that the whole facility was constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and paid for mainly by US military aid. Its first commander, Brigadier-General Uzi Moskovitch said: "This is something developed by us in cooperation with the US army; we intend for it to become a valuable centre of knowledge that will also benefit our American allies and other friends".
Considering this and other examples of close US-Israeli military co-operation, Rogers remarked on an opinion which is widespread in the Middle East:
What is happening in Gaza, according to this general perspective, is that it is not an Israeli war but a joint operation by the United States and Israel. Thus, the F-16 strike aircraft and the Apache helicopter-gunships are seen less as Israeli aircraft but as American aircraft with Israeli markings.
Paul Rogers concluded:
Perhaps there will be a change in style after Barack Obama's inauguration on 20 January; perhaps there will even be a change in substance. But whatever happens in the next few days and weeks, the Gaza war of 2008-09 is likely to resonate across the region for many years to come as a case-study of the actions and intentions of the "far enemy" [the USA] and its local proxy [Israel].
The 'Cast Lead' operation also involved extensive diplomatic co-ordination between the United States and Israel. The Daily Telegraph's Diplomatic Editor David Blair noted on 6th January:
More than anything else, [...] Israel's planning rests on the assumption of American support. So far, Washington has kept a protective arm around its ally. By failing to echo Europe's call for an immediate ceasefire – and blocking a statement from the United Nations Security Council last week – America signalled that it was content for Israel's operation to go on [...]
For as long as this operation commands the support of America and the Israeli public, the fighting may continue.
Although the US government denied that it had given Israel a specific authorisation to launch the assault on Gaza, it is notable that Vice President Cheney avoided giving a direct answer to the question of whether the USA was given advance notice of phase two of the attack. As the Washington Times reported on 5th January:
Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that Israel did not seek U.S. approval before a ground invasion against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the bloodiest Mideast clash in years now escalating into urban warfare.
From the White House to Capitol Hill, U.S. officials remained firmly behind Israel. They urged a cease-fire, but put the onus on Hamas, as Israeli troops and tanks cut through the coastal Gaza Strip. U.S. lawmakers defended Israel's ground incursion as a justifiable response to Hamas rocket fire on Israel.
Mr. Cheney said on "Face the Nation" on CBS that Israel "didn't seek clearance or approval from us, certainly" before thousands of soldiers pushed into Gaza after nightfall on Saturday.
He did not directly answer whether Israel informed its powerful ally, the U.S., of its plans before launching them. But the ground offensive, which followed a week of punishing aerial raids on Hamas, had been expected as Israeli forces massed near the border.
"They have said, now, for a period of months - they told me on my last trip over there - that they didn't want to have to act, where Gaza was concerned," Mr. Cheney said. "They had gotten out of there three years ago. But if the rocketing didn't stop, they felt they had no choice but to take action. And if they did, they would be very aggressive, in terms of trying to take down Hamas. And that's exactly what's happened."
This key Israeli assertion in the struggle to influence world public opinion, the claim that the attack on Gaza was an unavoidable action, which the Israeli government had no choice but to take, was picked up and repeated with alacrity by top US politicians in both the Republican and Democrat parties; as was the analogy by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who asked US citizens to "think about what would happen if for seven years rockets had been fired at San Diego, California from Tijuana, Mexico."
The Washington Times report quoted the top Democratic Party Senator Harry Reid and the senior Republican Party Senator Mitch McConnell:
"I think what the Israelis are doing is very important," Mr. Reid said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think this terrorist organization, Hamas, has got to be put away. They've got to come to their senses."
Said Mr. McConnell on ABC's "This Week": "Hamas is a terrorist organization. Imagine in this country (the U.S.) if somebody from a neighboring country were lobbing shells at our population. We'd do exactly the same thing. I think the Israelis are doing the only thing they can possibly do to defend their population."
After the US Congress on 8th and 9th of January passed its almost unanimous resolutions supporting the Israeli attack on Gaza, the Tel Aviv-based news service Ynet reported under the headline "US Congress backs Gaza op":
House of Representatives aligns with US Senate, issues resolution supporting Gaza offensive, Israel's right to self defense.
The US Congress on Friday passed a resolution backing the Israeli offensive in Gaza and supporting Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas terror.
The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority of House members, and followed a similar, unanimous Senate decision, passed on Thursday.
The motion, put forward by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Democrat) and House Majority Leader John Boehner (Republican), supports finding a diplomatic solution to the Gaza crisis, which would ensure the end of arms smuggling into Gaza and the end to Hamas' terror attacks in Israel.
Such a solution, said the resolution, would help to create an atmosphere that could result in a sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.
We ratify that Israel, as any other nation, has the right of self defense when it finds itself under increasing rockets and mortar shell fire from the Gaza Strip, said Pelosi; adding that the rocket fire has become an unacceptable security threat, which Israel is bound to retaliate on.
Rockets of resistance
Were these Israeli arguments mimicked and amplified by US politicians because those senior United States leaders found the arguments convincing? No doubt the US politicians were honestly persuaded of their veracity. But the Israeli arguments, at least to a person with the minimum basic intelligence and access to information which top politicians in the USA possess, are persuasive only to somebody who has very sound reasons to want to be persuaded.
A relevant fact should be noted: not one single Israeli was killed as a result of rockets and mortar shell fire from the Gaza Strip between June 19th 2008 and the start of Israel's devastating attack on Gaza on December 27th 2008. The rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza against Israel, mainly in the form of the primitive and unguided home-made Qasaam rocket, killed precisely 16 Israelis during the period of seven years and two months between October 2001 and the start of 'Operation Cast Lead' in December 2008; during that period, approximately three thousand Palestinians were killed by Israeli military strikes.
Of the sixteen Israeli deaths caused by the Palestinian rockets and mortars from Gaza, not one occured following the truce between Israel and Hamas which began on June 19th 2008; although there were some rockets fired sporadically from Gaza during the truce, these were launched by non-Hamas groups and they did not kill anybody. After the Israeli military forces killed six Palestinian militants in Gaza on 4th November 2008, Hamas resumed firing rockets. But these caused no Israeli fatalities.
On 27th December, after Israel began 'Operation Cast Lead' against Gaza, Hamas intensified the rocket fire and began also using Katyusha rockets (more sophisticated than the Qasaams but still unguided and very primitive by modern standards). At the time of writing, rocket fire from Gaza since December 27th 2008 has caused the deaths of four Israelis: three civilians and one military officer.
From which one should not conclude that the rockets from Gaza are completely ineffective. Apart from the occasional death and injury, and the economic effect of the disruption which they cause, they have a psychological effect for both Israelis and Palestinians. As a spokesperson of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- a secular group whose members have been involved in firing rockets at Israel- said in an interview for the Ma'an news agency:
The rockets are both a practical and a symbolic representation of our resistance to the occupier. They are a constant reminder that the occupier is in fact an occupier, and that no matter how they may engage in sieges, massacres, fence us in, deny us the basic human needs of life, we will continue to resist and we will continue to hold fast to our fundamental rights, and we will not allow them to be destroyed. So long as one rocket is launched at the occupier, our people, our resistance and our cause is alive.
This is why they targeted the rockets - the rockets do make the occupier insecure, because every one is a symbol and a physical act of our rejection to their occupation, to their massacres, to their crimes, and to their continuing assaults on our people. Each rocket says that we will not allow their so-called "solutions" that are based on the abrogation and denial of our rights.
The Israeli desire to end the rocket fire from Gaza is, of course, understandable. But did Israel therefore have no choice but to kill hundreds of people and reduce Gaza's buildings and infrastructure to rubble? Only if there were no alternative courses of action available. One alternative course would be for Israel to end the economic blockade of Gaza, open the closed checkpoints which seal off the enclave, begin removing its illegal settlements in the West Bank, declare that it will withdraw to the internationally recognised 1967 borders of the country; and having thus proven its good intentions, open negotiations with Hamas- who are the elected leaders of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, having won the 2006 general election in Gaza and the West Bank- for a long term solution to the conflict.
That course, however, would create a very serious problem for Israel. Not only would it completely upset the nature of Israel's internal politics, but Israel would lose its special position, the favoured and subsidised status which it has enjoyed for many decades, as the militant proxy of the world's superpower in the battle for civilisation.
Although in fact, Hamas- its own good faith proven by the cessation of its rocket fire between June 19th and November 4th 2008- is much less ambitious in its short-term demands. It offered, and still offers, a further truce, including a cessation of its rockets, in return merely for Israel ending the blockade and opening the border crossings.
A very special relationship
But the global superpower has a new President; one who is not merely young, gifted and black, but was, until he decided to run for President of the USA, a supporter of the Palestinian cause. Barack Obama only changed his opinion on Israel and Palestine in order to become potentially electable as President of the United States, and although he has staffed his new administration with hardline supporters of Israel, it is impossible not to entertain some hope that he will make a change not merely of style but of substance in US policy on the Middle East.
The extent to which this may be possible depends in large part on what lies behind that policy; and it must firstly be noted that the USA's relationship with Israel is long-standing and deeply entrenched. The US academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who are prominent figures of the realist trend in the study of international relations, pointed out in a 2006 article:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel [...]
Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.
Other recipients get their money in quarterly installments, but Israel receives its entire appropriation at the beginning of each fiscal year and can thus earn interest on it. Most recipients of aid given for military purposes are required to spend all of it in the US, but Israel is allowed to use roughly 25 per cent of its allocation to subsidise its own defence industry. It is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent, which makes it virtually impossible to prevent the money from being used for purposes the US opposes, such as building settlements on the West Bank. Moreover, the US has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the US gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its Nato allies and has turned a blind eye to Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the IAEA’s agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel’s side when negotiating peace.
It should be mentioned however, that although as indicated by Mearsheimer and Walt, the official US position is that Israel should freeze its illegal settlement-building activity in the occupied West Bank, that is a policy which is purely for public consumption. In private, there has been no US pressure on Israel on this issue. As former US Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller disclosed in an article for the 12th January issue of Newsweek:
In 25 years of working on this issue for six secretaries of state, I can't recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity—including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions—does to the peacemaking process. There is a need to impose some accountability.
Further, it should be noted that USA's financial assistance to Egypt, which comes second only to Israel as a recipient of US government subidies, is also a means- indirect but very significant- of strategic support for Israel. The $2.2 billion which Egypt receives annually in United States aid is contingent on the Egyptian regime's practical co-operation with US and Israeli policies; for instance, Egypt's collaboration in the economic blockade of Gaza.
A price worth paying
Of course, even putting aside the many billions in direct and indirect subsidies, the USA's special treatment of Israel comes at a high price: although it is by no means merely for that reason, that is one of the main reasons why the government of the United States of America is unloved, not only by people in the Middle East but by public opinion around the world. Acknowledging this, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt asked a very pertinent question:
The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?
For foreign policy realists, the usual solution to the question of why a powerful state encourages and assists the military actions of a less powerful state is that it does so in order to try to advance or defend its strategic interests. Indeed, Mearsheimer and Walt concede that in the Cold War period, Israel was used as a US proxy state against the Soviet Union and its Arab allies; the costs entailed by this were presumably considered to be bearable given the over-riding objective of defeating the USSR:
One might argue that Israel was an asset during the Cold War. By serving as America’s proxy after 1967, it helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients like Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (like King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its own client states. It also provided useful intelligence about Soviet capabilities.
Backing Israel was not cheap, however, and it complicated America’s relations with the Arab world. For example, the decision to give $2.2 billion in emergency military aid during the October  War triggered an Opec oil embargo that inflicted considerable damage on Western economies.
But Mearsheimer and Walt regard the post-Cold War USA-Israel relationship as an exception to this rule; and they claim in respect of the current situation:
One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.
Noting that the pro-Israel lobby extends far beyond the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which they decribe as a "de facto agent for a foreign government", and that it comprises not only Jewish organisations but also fundamentalist Christians and other prominent non-Jewish figures; among these 'gentile' pro-Israel extremists they name "[former US Ambassador to the UN] John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will". Further, the authors list some of the very wealthy think tanks which exert influence over United States foriegn policy:
Over the past 25 years, pro-Israel forces have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). These think tanks employ few, if any, critics of US support for Israel.
The weeks since the launch of 'Operation Cast Lead' have seen the publication of several more articles by various authors which emphasise the negative consequences for the USA of its support for Israel's aggressive actions against the Palestinians, and seek to challenge the idea that the US involvement in such operations serves the USA's strategic interests. In an articulate expression of this view, 'Gaza Seen From Paris' by Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone, the writers observe:
For the pro-Western petro-monarchies and the "moderate" Arab regimes, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands is a nightmare, which radicalizes much of their populations and threatens their rule. It is Israel, by its absurd policies, that provoked the creation of both Hezbollah and Hamas and that is indirectly responsible for much of the recent growth of "radical Islam".
[...] The majority of capitalists could not care less which "people" must have Jerusalem as its "eternal capital", and if peace were achieved, they would hasten into the West Bank and Gaza to exploit a qualified work force with few other opportunities.
Finally, any American citizen concerned with the influence of his or her country in the world can see quite clearly that making enemies of a billion Muslims in order to satisfy every murderous whim of Israel is scarcely a rational investment in the future.
Having made that point, the authors assert:
Many people, especially on the left, persist in thinking that Israel is only a pawn in an American capitalist or imperialist strategy to control the Middle East. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Israel is of no use to anybody or anything but its own fantasies of domination.
On which basis, they proceed to ask:
If support for Israel is not based on economic or strategic interests, why do the political class and the media passively accept whatever Israel does?
Although this question contradicts the facts adduced by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who showed that leading 'gentile' figures, and influential bodies which are not mainly Jewish, are not passively accepting but rather aggressively promoting 'whatever Israel does', Bricmont and Johnson nevertheless answer their own question by putting forward a version of the Mearsheimer and Walt thesis. Following a repudiation of the idea that Israel must always be supported by the West as expiation for the anti-Semitic outrages of the past, particularly the Nazi holocaust, Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnson argue:
The fact that we are not all guilty of the crimes of the Third Reich is simple and obvious, but needs to be driven home to allow non-Jews to speak up freely about Palestine. As it is, non-Jews who often feel they must leave it to Jews, as the only people who have the "right" to criticize Israel, to defend the Palestinians. But given the relationship of forces between the Jewish critics of Israel, and the influential Zionist organizations claiming to speak for the Jewish people, there is no realistic hope that Jewish voices alone can save the Palestinians.
However, the main reason for the silence is surely not guilt precisely because it is so artificial, but rather fear. Fear of "what will they think", fear of slander and even of being taken to court for "anti-Semitism". If you are not convinced, take a journalist, a politician or a publisher to some spot where nobody is listening and there is no hidden camera or microphone, and ask whether he or she says in public all he or she thinks of Israel in private. And if not, why? Fear of hurting the interests of capitalism? Fear of weakening American imperialism? Fear of interrupting oil deliveries? Or, on the contrary, fear of Zionist organizations and their relentless campaigns?
We have little doubt, after dozens of discussions with such people that the last answer given above is the correct one. People do not say what they think of what calls itself the "Jewish State" for fear of being called anti-Jewish and being identified with the anti-Semites of the past. [...] The fear of being accused of anti-Semitism is deeper than fear of the Zionist lobby, it is fear of losing the respectability that goes with condemnation of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust as the highest contemporary moral value.
Absolutely- people who are not Jewish, along with people who are Jewish, must allow themselves to speak and to act in defence of their fellow human beings in Palestine.
Another great merit of the article by Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone is that it argues for a boycott of Israel, its consumer products and its official institutions. This is a campaign whose time has come. Like the rockets from Gaza, the effect of this boycott will be mainly psychological; but, as was previously the case with Apartheid South Africa, the effect will be profound.
The crocodile's tail
Undeniably, lobbies and ideologies play their part in the political process of every country, the USA included; and among these, the pro-Israel factions and their justifying discourse are extremely powerful. But the majority non-Jewish US political establishment has its own reasons for allowing, encouraging and promoting the Zionist lobby.
In considering whether the tail is wagging the dog- or, more accurately, given that a canine does not fight with its tail whereas for crocodilians the tail is one of its essential and formidable weapons- the tail is wagging the crocodile, we need to apply some thought to the notion that the existing US-Israel relationship is one which is contrary to the strategic interests of the United States. That the USA is detested by public opinion in the Arab and Muslim countries is indeed a negative factor; but, as Niccolò Machiavelli indicated in his advice to Lorenzo de' Medici, a ruler often cannot be both loved and feared, and when forced to choose a wise prince will opt for the latter:
Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.
While John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt concede that Israel acted as the USA's proxy against Arab states during the Cold War, their emphasis is purely on Israel's usefulness in this role to counteract the influence of the Soviet Union; they fail to consider that the people of the Arab countries, Third World populations in a region of immense global importance because of its oil, have their own interests which are hardly identical with those of the USA. The value to the Western powers of having an aggressive and militarily powerful surrogate state in the Middle East was recognised at an early stage by the Israelis themselves. In 1951 Gershom Shoken, editor and publisher of the influential Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, remarked:
The West is none too happy about its relations with the [Arab] states in the Middle East. The feudal regimes there have to make such concessions to the nationalist movements, which sometimes have a pronounced socialist-leftist coloring, that they become more and more reluctant to supply Britain and the United States with their natural resources and military bases .... Therefore, strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy toward the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied on to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy toward the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.
The concept of 'stability' as used in this formulation by no means implies the prevalence of peace instead of war; rather, it means that the domination of the region by the Western powers will continue to prevail.
Israel's eagerness to play such a role was illustrated by its participation in the joint British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by the radical pan-Arab nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser. This military action was perceived in the United States as an attempt to shore-up the interests of the declining European colonial powers and thus running against the USA's own specific interests in the Middle East; thus demonstrating the importance to the US leadership of ensuring that Israel should be aquired as an asset which would be answerable exclusively to the United States. In return, the USA would back Israel to the hilt in Israel's own regional ambitions.
As Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed observes in his book 'Behind the War on Terror':
This strategy of utilising regional surrogate regimes to play a subservient role within a wider matrix of Western interests was formalised in the Nixon-Kissinger doctrine. According to this doctrine, the United States, now leading the Western powers, would be committed to maintaining what the US statesman Henry Kissinger called the “overall framework of order”. Regional powers would pursue particular goals within this overall framework of subservience. With regard to the extremely crucial Middle East region - primarily the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, where most of the oil is - the broad plan was that Israel and Iran under the Shah would play the role of “guardians of the Gulf”, i.e. the principal surrogates appointed to guard US regional interests.
This plan was outlined by the US Senate’s ranking oil expert, Senator Henry Jackson, in May 1973. Jackson stressed the necessity of “the strength and Western orientation of Israel on the Mediterranean and Iran [under the Shah] on the Persian Gulf”. Israel and Iran were “reliable friends of the United States” who, along with Saudi Arabia “have served to inhibit and contain those irresponsible and radical elements in certain Arab states... who, were they free to do so, would pose a grave threat indeed to our principle sources of petroleum in the Persian Gulf”, which are needed primarily as a reserve and a lever for control of the global economy.
In 1979, when the USA's client monarchy in Iran was overthrown and the country became an Islamic republic, Israel became even more necessary to the United States as a vehicle for its regional purposes.
When considering events in the Middle East, a pattern emerges which indicates that there is a further role which Israel serves in enhancing US power vis-a-vis not only the Arab states but also the EU countries, Russia and other potential rivals. Encouraged by the USA, Israel's aggressive actions cause one crisis after another, crises which cause almost everybody to cry out for a solution. Cushioned from international pressure by the protective arms of the US, Israel is intransigent and will concede nothing; and the only country which can restrain the Israelis is the United States. So everyone, with the exception of a few die-hards, pleads with the global superpower to become even more actively involved, to exert its moderating influence on the Israeli extremists and to help broker a deal. Eventually, a compromise is negotiated under US supervision; and the nature of the deal splits the Arab side and their sympathisers, perpetuates the conflict and creates the conditions in which the Israelis can generate a fresh crisis.
Through the Camp David Accords in 1978, President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski persuaded the Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin to give the Sinai peninsula, which Israel had aquired in the 1967 war, back to Egypt. For his part, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat agreed to break ranks with the other Arab states on the issue of Palestine, give dilpomatic recognition to Israel, end Egypt's hitherto close relationship with the Soviet Union, and to accept billions of dollars in US financial aid. This deal was a stunning blow to the Palestinian movement headed by the PLO, to Arab unity, and to the influence of the USSR.
When Sadat was assassinated by one of his military officers, Lieutenant Khalid Ahmed Showky Al-Islambouli in October 1981, Jimmy Carter's successor Ronald Reagan spoke sadly of his demise:
Today the people of the United States join with the people of Egypt and all those who long for a better world in mourning the death of Anwar Sadat.
President Sadat was a courageous man whose vision and wisdom brought nations and people together. In a world filled with hatred, he was a man of hope. In a world trapped in the animosities of the past, he was a man of foresight, a man who sought to improve a world tormented by malice and pettiness [...]
Anwar Sadat was admired and loved by the people of America. His death today—an act of infamy, cowardly infamy—fills us with horror.
America has lost a close friend; the world has lost a great statesman; and mankind has lost a champion of peace. Nancy and I feel that we have lost a close and dear friend; and we send our heartfelt sympathy to Mrs. Sadat, to his children, who were here such a short time ago.
But in the Middle East, as the Encarta Encyclopedia records:
Few Egyptians or other Arabs mourned Sadat’s death.
From Olso to Gaza
After 1991, the Cold War justifications for the USA's backing of Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank no longer applied; and with the demise of the USSR the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had lost its main diplomatic ally. Thus the stage was set for the Oslo negotiations which, through the good offices of the remaining superpower, would supposedly open the way for the creation of a Palestinian state.
The outcome: although Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders returned to the Occupied Territories and were permitted to exercise some local government functions, the Israelis continued building their illegal settlements, dividing the territory with checkpoints and Jewish-only highways, annexing land and water resources, subjecting it to frequent incursions by ground troops, bombings and missile strikes; and regularly assassinating or imprisoning, either without charge or for trial in a military tribunal conducted with secret evidence, any Palestinian activist whose whose views or actions were considered worthy of such attention. There are currently 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
An Israeli innovation in the banal history of oppression was the tactic of using bulldozers to demolish the homes of dissidents, a method that even the racist rulers of Apartheid South Africa had not contemplated.
Impotent in their offices, some PLO officials of the ruling Fatah faction comforted themselves with the paltry delights of corruption; and the Israelis, discontented that Yasser Arafat had not sufficiently humiliated himself and his nation by renouncing all means of resistance, declared that Fatah was not a genuine partner in peace negotiations; and, therefore, no further concessions could be made to their Palestinian subjects. To undermine the secular PLO and split the Palestinian movement, the Israelis had been covertly assisting the rise of a little-known extremist organisation called the Islamic Resistance Movement, a group which has since risen to fame under its acronym, Hamas.
Arafat was a fighter for Palestine and a figure of unity; just as his people were, he was trapped, compromised and bombarded. He spent the last years of his life under effective house arrest, his presidential compound in Gaza City surrounded and regularly shelled by Israeli troops. Succumbing to a mysterious fatal illness, he was flown to Paris where he died in ignominy.
His successor Abu Mazen began making further concessions to the Israelis and the Americans while receiving nothing in return for the Palestinians. Disgusted, the people of Gaza and the West Bank rejected Fatah in their 2006 general election and gave Hamas a majority in the parliament of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Having voted for the wrong party, the Palestinians were duly subjected to collective coercion by the international community. Gaza and the West Bank were economically blockaded, and foreign aid, on which the impoverished territories were dependent, was terminated on the condition that it would be restored if Hamas- despite its election to government- was removed from power. In the bitter and bloody internecine struggle which followed, Fatah regained control of the West Bank and Hamas remained in control of Gaza. Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the winning party in the general election, was subsequently 'dismissed' as Palestinian Prime Minister by Abu Mazen, the Palestinian President and leader of the losing party.
So complete is the bias of the Western media that the Fatah authority in the West Bank is considered normal and unremarkable, while it is routine to aver that Hamas came to authority in the Gaza Strip as the result of a violent coup d'etat.
Such were the fruits of Olso.
And despite the fact that Gaza remained blockaded, having no possibility of economic development, not allowed to rebuild its airport which the Israelis had destroyed in 2001, the potentially hugely valuable gas deposits off its Mediterranian coast grabbed by the Israeli government, thousands of its political activists imprisoned in Israeli jails and hundreds of others killed at the whim of Israel's security forces, Hamas adhered to a truce with Israel from June to November 2008. Unlike Fatah, Hamas is in a position to deliver the vast majority of even the most militant Palestinian opinion and activity for a genuine peace deal. In such conditions- were peace on offer- a better partner for peace negotiations than Hamas could hardly be wished for.
Change you can believe in
If the USA could contemplate peace in the Middle East, the Israelis would negotiate peace.
Though probably not under Barack Obama, or his successor, or even his successor's successor, that will happen someday. And then, as was the case with South Africa, all without exception will declare that this was the outcome that they were working for all along. The arguments of the pro-Israeli lobby of the late 20th and early 21st Century will suddenly appear for what they are, as false and ridiculous as the claims by the racist whites of South Africa that Black people were too uncivilised to be able to govern themselves.
And who will be transformed overnight, as Nelson Mandela was, from a dangerous and frightening terrorist into the hero of the new peace? In the unlikely event that he escapes the fate of his assassinated comrades, it could even be Ismail Haniyeh.