Audio Lecture given at AUB titled “More fraternity than friction: The role of values and policies in relations between the United Kingdom and the Arab and Islamic world.” I think we can all agree theres lots of friction and no fraternity from the UK Government. Actions speak louder than words and while activists in the UK halted the shipment of bombs through Scotland to Israel, the UK Government was extremely supportive of Israel’s July War. Guy perhaps hits the nail on the head when she says that the UK involvement in Iraq was based on self interest: maintaining a favourable relationship with the United States. With that in mind it seems a little naive to say that the UK has no interest in Palestine other than in promoting peace. The UK has the same interest in Palestine as Iraq of supporting the US position, not to mention UK arms deals with Israel and the importance of supporting Israel to political party funding (both parties have an active “Friends of Israel” group to compete for this).
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, March 21, 2005
The Labour Friends of Israel has become a powerful lobbyist for Zionist and Israeli interests in the UK. This article is an introduction to the new Spinwatch Profile, telling a hidden story of power and influence. The OrganizationLabour Friends of Israel (LFI) is a Westminister based pro-Israel lobby group working within the British Labour party. It is considered one of the most prestigious groupings in the party and is seen as a stepping stone to ministerial ranks by Labour MPs. LFI boasts some of the wealthiest supporters of the party, and some of its most generous donors, such as Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Michael Levy, Sir Trevor Chinn and Sir Emmanuel Kaye. The committee wields considerable influence in Westminster and is also consulted routinely by the Foreign Office and Downing Street on matters relating to the Middle East. Tony Blair is known to consult its members over Middle East policy. The body also has Tory and Liberal Democrat sister organizations. Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, is the life president of LFI, while David Mencer is its current director.
September 28th, 2007
“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister [Kim Howells] admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”
These words are taken from a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) published on 25 July 2007 (1). The report, entitled Global Security: The Middle East, is surprisingly critical of recent British foreign policy towards the region, especially with regard to Lebanon but also Palestine. It is also very critical of Israel.
Its criticism of the Government’s failure to call for an immediate ceasefire at the start of Israel’s war on Lebanon is quoted above. It is also critical of the Government’s support for the continued collective punishment of Palestinians by the EU after the formation of the Hamas/Fatah National Unity Government in March 2007. More fundamentally, it recognises that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are part of the political fabric and are not going to go away. It recommends that the Government talk to both – which is a radical departure from the Committee’s previous stance.
The FAC is a 14-member all-party committee (8 Labour including its chairman, Mike Gapes, 4 Conservative and 2 Liberal Democrat). In all probability, therefore, the views expressed in this report would be acceptable to the House of Commons as a whole.
The FAC is supposed to scrutinise the Government’s actions in foreign affairs. I have read many of its reports in recent years and none of them would have given the Government any reason for anxiety. This was especially true of its report on The Decision to go to War in Iraq (2), which in July 2003 performed the impossible feat of exonerating the Government for misleading Parliament on the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, even though the Government denied it access to the intelligence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. (See my subsequent evidence to the Committee (3) & (4)).
But this FAC report is a different kettle of fish. For the first time in my experience, the FAC has been seriously critical of important foreign policy decisions. And in the course of doing so, the Committee made Kim Howells, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East, look very foolish. (Howells was appointed to this post by Blair after the 2005 General Election and was retained by Brown when he succeeded Blair in June 2007).
Of course, the Committee was not reporting on the foreign policy actions of the present Brown government but of the previous Blair government. Criticising a past government, which cannot exact revenge, is easier than criticising the current one. It’s possible that Brown let it be known that criticism of his predecessor’s actions in foreign affairs would not be unwelcome. It may be that he and his new ministerial team in the Foreign Office have a mind to shift ground on the Middle East – if so, being advised to do so by the all-party FAC would be an advantage. The Government is constitutionally obliged to give a formal response to Select Committee reports and reply to questions posed by the Committee. The Government’s response to this report will be worth studying.
In the following, I will examine the FAC’s criticism of foreign policy towards Lebanon and Palestine.
Part I Lebanon
Paragraphs 84 to 120 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Lebanon.
“It is tragic that so many innocent lives, Lebanese and Israeli, have been lost over the past weeks. … The hostilities on both sides should cease immediately …” (5)
Those were Prime Minister Blair’s words on 12 August 2006 in a statement after the Security Council passed resolution 1701. He had waited a month to make this call, a month in which “many innocent lives” were lost.
The Foreign Affairs Committee interrogated Kim Howells about this delay on 13 September 2006. Chairman, Mike Gapes, asked him if he still believed “the Government was right not to call for an immediate ceasefire” (6). He replied:
“Yes, I do, Chairman. I was out there in the middle of the conflict and I saw for myself the appalling consequences both of the bombing of Lebanon and the rockets that were being fired into northern Israel. It was very distressing and there were a lot of people, in my view, being killed needlessly and a lot of infrastructure being damaged.”
which, one might have thought, made an irresistible case for the Government calling for an immediate ceasefire. Nevertheless, Howells continued:
“However, I also saw very clearly that the only way that this could be stopped was by a UN resolution, and there had to be some real teeth behind any ceasefire that would occur. I believe that was the right decision. … What we needed was a permanent ceasefire.”
One doesn’t need to be a genius to recognise that it was possible to call for an immediate ceasefire and, at the same time, work for permanent arrangements. This point was put to Howells by Conservative MP, Sir John Stanley:
“Minister, in answer to the Chairman’s initial question you seemed to be taking the view that the calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for a satisfactory UN resolution were two mutually incompatible policies. Surely, a very much better foreign policy position for the British Government would have been to combine the two; to say that we were wanting an immediate cessation of hostilities and, at the same time, working for an effective UN resolution. Has there not been a foreign policy misjudgement in that by not calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities the British Government gave the clear impression that it was actively supporting the Israeli operations against the whole of Lebanon?”
Howells replied categorically:
“I do not agree with you, Sir John, about the possibility for a dual track diplomatic progress at that time.”
However, pressed shortly afterwards by Labour MP, Ken Purchase, who asked:
“A short period of ceasefire, you say, may just have resulted in people rearming. Could I say that in even a day of a ceasefire hundreds of lives would have been saved?”
Howells “appeared to change his mind” (in the words of the FAC report) and said:
“I am not saying … that a dual approach might not have worked. I am not saying that and I am not dismissing that at all. Maybe it would have worked.”
The FAC sets out Howells’ contradictory positions in paragraph 97. I don’t recall the Committee doing such a hatchet job on a Foreign Office minister before.
Bolton tells it as it was
Worse was to follow. In paragraph 100, the FAC says:
“At the time of the conflict, many believed the United States was obstructing calls for an immediate ceasefire to give Israel a chance to defeat overwhelmingly Hezbollah’s militia.”
The FAC then quoted the words of John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN in July 2006, in an interview with Ed Stourton in a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on 22 March 2007. Stourton asked him if the US had been “deliberately obstructing diplomatic attempts” to bring an end to the war so that “Israel could have its head.” Mr Bolton asked “what’s wrong with that?” and added that he was “damn proud of what we did”. (For details of this revealing conversation, see the BBC press statement about the programme (7)).
The FAC wrote to Kim Howells to ask him about John Bolton’s comments. In his reply, Howells stated (see report, Ev 126):
“The UK was certainly not involved in collusion with either the US or Israel to support the continuation of hostilities or to block a ceasefire. Whilst I cannot speak for the US position [on] this matter, I do not believe they acted differently.”
The FAC commented (paragraph 101):
“There are three possible explanations for this discrepancy. The first is that Mr Bolton misled the BBC journalist by suggesting that the US blocked diplomacy at the UN because it wanted to give Israel the opportunity to destroy Hezbollah when in fact this was not the case. The second is that the US did indeed block attempts to find a quick diplomatic solution to bring about a ceasefire, but that the UK, even though it is a permanent member of the Security Council and a close ally of the US, was not brought into or made aware of this collusion with Israel. The third alternative … is that the UK was in fact brought into, or at least aware of, the efforts to obstruct the diplomatic process. Based on the evidence provided to the Committee, we are unable to rule any of these possibilities out.”
In addition, the FAC asked (paragraph 102) that in its response to the report the Government
“clarify on what date the first draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire or cessation of hostilities was presented to members of the Security Council, and what the Government’s response to this draft was.”
Government responses to select committee reports are not known for providing straight answers, but it is difficult to see how the Government can avoid giving straight answers in this case.
(The Security Council had a formal meeting on 14 July 2006 two days after hostilities began and at that meeting a number of states, including France, called for an immediate ceasefire. The French Ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc De La Sablière, said:
“France, as solemnly stated by President Chirac today, calls upon the parties to immediately cease hostilities, which is the only way to give a chance to mediation efforts.” (8)
Whether by then this sentiment had been expressed in a draft resolution that was presented to members of the Council informally is not known.)
The FAC concluded (paragraph 102) that the Government’s decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire was a mistake:
“We conclude that the Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world. As the Minister admitted to us, the option of a dual track diplomatic strategy could have succeeded. We believe that such an approach could have led to reduced casualties amongst both Israeli and Lebanese civilians whilst still working towards a long-term solution to the crisis.”
It is difficult to argue against that. And it’s possible that the Brown Government won’t bother to argue, preferring that the decision not to call for a ceasefire be categorized as a Blairite mistake.
(As far as Blair personally is concerned, it was definitely a mistake since it shortened his stay in 10 Downing Street by at least a year. His failure to call for an immediate ceasefire produced a minor revolt in the Parliamentary Labour Party and, to contain it, he had to announce that he would be stepping down within a year to make way for Brown.)
Israeli action disproportionate
Unusually for a report emanating from the House of Commons, the FAC report is very critical of Israel. Whilst nearly every other state in this world (and the Conservative opposition in Britain) was prepared to use the word “disproportionate” to describe aspects of Israeli military action against Lebanon, Britain wasn’t. The FAC is.
Kim Howells was in Lebanon on 22 July 2006 during the war. While he was there, he strongly criticised Israeli actions, saying:
“I very much hope that the Americans understand what’s happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it’s very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they’re chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.” (9)
Despite having said this, Howells refused to characterise Israeli actions as “disproportionate” when interviewed by the FAC on 13 September 2006. By contrast, the FAC itself was prepared to apply the word, especially to Israel’s use of cluster bombs. In paragraph 108, the FAC says:
“… we conclude that elements of Israel’s military action in Lebanon were indiscriminate and disproportionate. In particular, the numerous attacks on UN observers and the dropping of over three and a half million cluster bombs (90% of the total) in the 72 hours after the Security Council passed Resolution 1701 were not acceptable.”
And it goes on to ask the Government to “explicitly state whether it believes that, in the light of information now available, Israel’s use of cluster bombs was proportionate”.
(The Committee wrote to the Israeli Ambassador in London, asking (see report, Ev 136):
“What was the intended military purpose of using a large number of cluster munitions in south Lebanon at a late stage of the war last summer?”
In his reply, the Ambassador failed to deal with the issue of timing.)
The FAC report also criticised Israel for its continued violations of Lebanese sovereignty since the war (paragraph 112) and for its refusal to provide the UN with full information about where it dropped cluster bombs (paragraph 112).
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the FAC report as regards Lebanon is the understanding shown of the Lebanese political system, and the fact that the Shi’a community is under-represented within the system (paragraphs 89 & 90). The report describes accurately the question at issue between the March 14 coalition, which dominates the present Lebanese Government, and the opposition led by Hezbollah, which withdrew its ministers from the Government last November and has since been engaged in a protest in the centre of Beirut (paragraph 91):
“Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding the creation of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘1/3 +1’ Government. Under this system, they would return to Prime Minister Siniora’s Government, but with enough Cabinet seats to be able to veto proposals within Cabinet. This solution has been bitterly opposed by the ‘March 14’ coalition.”
The Committee ignored Kim Howells’ crude characterisation of the opposition protests as “trying to subvert the democratic process” in Lebanon.
On 30 May 2007, the Security Council passed resolution 1757 to set up an international tribunal to try individuals accused of the murder of Rafik Hariri, overriding the internal political processes of Lebanon (see my article The Security Council interferes in Lebanon – again (10)). Remarkably, the Committee questions this “bypassing of Lebanon’s state institutions” suggesting that this “only serves to undermine them and thus increase the potential for civil conflict” (paragraph 115).
In paragraph 94, the FAC concludes that
“the tribunal process has brought to the surface important questions regarding the under-representation of the Shi’a population in Lebanon’s political system”
and recommends that
“the Government work with its international allies to help the Lebanese parties find consensus on a more representative and democratic political system”.
Talk to Hezbollah
In paragraph 120, the report describes Hezbollah as “undeniably an important element in Lebanon’s politics” (albeit with the qualification that “its influence, along with Iran’s and Syria’s, continues to be a malign one”). The FAC continues:
“We further conclude that, as the movement will realistically only be disarmed through a political process, the Government should encourage Hezbollah to play a part in Lebanon’s mainstream politics. We recommend that the Government should engage directly with moderate Hezbollah Parliamentarians.”
This would be a major change in policy for Britain. In making a case for such a change, the Committee reported (paragraph 119):
“On our visit, we asked a range of Lebanese politicians whether the British Government should engage directly with the group. No one, including bitter opponents of Hezbollah, told us that the current Government approach was the correct one.”
The FAC made Kim Howells look foolish on this issue as well – see paragraph 118. There, he is quoted as voicing the following opinion to the Committee about engagement with Hezbollah:
“I am not going to go out of my way to talk to people who are trying to subvert the democratic process so that they can enhance the standing and position of an extremist Islamist organisation that does not value democracy at all.”
Paragraph 118 continues:
“However, this apparently clear-cut position was muddied somewhat when, in the same evidence session, Dr Howells told the Committee he believed he had met someone who was ‘essentially Hezbollah’.”
Part II Palestine
Paragraphs 10 to 83 of the FAC report are concerned with policy towards Palestine.
The last FAC report that examined policy towards Palestine was Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published in July 2006 (11). In it, the Committee endorsed unequivocally the Government’s refusal to deal directly with Hamas, saying (paragraph 192):
“We recommend that, until Hamas accepts the existence of Israel and commits itself to both a two-state solution and exclusively peaceful means of achieving its goals, the Government should continue to refuse to deal with it directly.”
What is more, the Committee endorsed the Government’s policy of applying collective punishment to Palestinians because a bare majority of them voted for Hamas in January 2006 (paragraph 197):
“We conclude that the Government was right to refuse to channel its aid through a Palestinian administration led by Hamas … .”
A year later, the Committee has changed its stance dramatically. True, it cannot quite bring itself to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian Governments formed after the Hamas victory in the elections of January 2006, that is, the Government formed by Hamas on its own in March 2006 (because, pressurised by the US, Fatah refused to join with Hamas in a National Unity Government) and the National Unity Government formed in March 2007 after the Mecca Agreement. Both of these were legitimate governments, having been duly endorsed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in accordance with Article 67 of the Palestinian constitution, aka the Basic Law (unlike the present “government” headed by Salam Fayyad, which hasn’t).
However, the Committee has belatedly come to the conclusion that the establishment of a National Unity Government was a good thing, which should have been established earlier (and without US interference would have been established earlier) and should have been supported by Britain. It concludes (paragraph 41) that
“the unwillingness of the EU to modify the financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Mecca agreement was very damaging”
and (paragraph 50) that
“the decision to boycott Hamas despite the Mecca agreement and the continued suspension of aid to the national unity Government meant that this Government was highly likely to collapse”.
To its credit, the FAC does not repeat the lie broadcast in Britain’s name by the Quartet in a statement on 16 June 2007 (12) that the present “government” was duly established “under Palestinian law”.
It recommends (paragraph 60) that
“the Government urge President Abbas to come to a negotiated settlement with Hamas with a view to re-establishing a national unity Government across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
And, in a radical departure from its previous stance, it recommends that the Government talk to Hamas (paragraph 60):
“Given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, we recommend that the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles.”
And it recommends that former Prime Minister Blair do likewise (paragraph 67). Since he is a Quartet envoy, that is, essentially a US envoy, it is unlikely that Washington will let him.
“Galloway, without a doubt, is the finest orator on either side of the Atlantic. Doesn’t it say something about the state of British democracy that, while everything he says is true, his is the only voice uttering it.” Fanonite
“She [UK Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett] talked about supporting the Government and the people of the Lebanon…..she wasnt much help to the Government of the Lebanon when its prime minister was weeping on television, begging for a ceasefire, when the British and American Governments alone in the world were refusing and indeed blocking any attempts to demand an immediate ceasefire of the Israeli bombardment, worse, she wasnt much help to the Government or the people of the Lebanon when British airports were being used for the trans shippment of American weapons to Israel that were raining down death and destruction on the very people of Lebanon she now says she stands beside. But of course that was code for saying she does not support the million demonstators in the square in Beirut who are demanding democracy…. She describes the Government of the Lebanon as a democratic Government…. There is no democratic Government in the Lebanon. If there was a democracy in Lebanon Hassan Nasrallah would be the president because he would get most votes. But of course he can’t be the president, because you have to be a Christian to be the president, and you have to be a Sunni to be the prime minister, and you have to be a Shite to be the speaker. Its precisely the opposite of democracy they have in Lebanon. Its a sectarian building block government they have in the Lebanon, and more over its one that is based on a census more than 50 years out-of-date [Religious communities shared power based on population size which has changed drastically since the origional census]. If the million demonstrators had been in the Ukrane or Bellarus or Georgia they’d be being described as the Orange Revolution or some other epiphet, perhaps the Cedar Revolution even.” George Galloway
Its interesting to look at the British Embassy website in Lebanon. Its guilty of the same thing as the Foreign Secretary –
The purpose of theis to work for the United Kingdom’s interests in a safe, just and prosperous world.
The Embassy works for those aims in Lebanon.
The UK supported the bombing of Lebanon to its total destruction for the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah (Israels stated reason) – thats just, peaceful or promoting prosperity? If I was Lebanese I’d find this insulting, a good example of terrible UK propaganda….
From the Fanonite
Only last week I had posted Alison Weir’s harrowing account of the strip-searching by Israelis of Palestinian women and children — some as young as 7-10 years of age. Despite its outrageous treatment of the Palestinians, Israel always manages to escape censure thanks to the diplomatic cover provided by the Euro-American alliance. Here the Guardian reports a British diplomat receiving a taste of the same treatment they have frequently defended as long as the victims were Palestinians.
Janet Rogan, who is Britain’s consul general in Tel Aviv, was with a delegation of British Treasury officials, led by Ed Balls, the economic secretary to the Treasury, earlier this month. They arrived at the Jerusalem office of the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, ahead of a meeting with his chief of staff and his political adviser. The names of the visitors had been given in advance, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said yesterday.
But security guards ordered Ms Rogan to undergo a physical search, the paper said. She refused and presented her diplomatic identity card. However, she was then made to step behind a partition and to undergo a physical search, which included removing her blouse. The Yedioth described the search as a “prolonged, needless and humiliating process” and said the diplomat was visibly upset.
Members of the Labour Friends of Israel – the powerful British lobby group best known for the exploits of its financier, Michael Levy – also received a taste of Israeli hospitality during a trip to the Occupied Territories:
One of its visiting members got a first-hand glimpse of IDF tactics when he got shot at in Rafah even though he arrived in a clearly marked UN vehicle. The three British MPs, surrounded by 20 children got shot at in the presence of UN officials, which led to a demand for investigation by the MPs into the IDF’s “outrageous behaviour” bordering on “lunatic”. One of the MPs, Crispin Blunt, concluded “If they are prepared to do this to people who come out of two clearly marked UN cars, what do they do when there is no one there?” He added “They are building up levels of hatred that will take decades, if not centuries, to erase.”
Do America and Israel Want the Middle East Engulfed By Civil War?
By JONATHAN COOK
December 19, 2006
The era of the Middle East strongman, propped up by and enforcing Western policy, appears well and truly over. His power is being replaced with rule by civil war, apparently now the American Administration’s favoured model across the region.
Fratricidal fighting is threatening to engulf, or already engulfing, the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq. Both Syria and Iran could soon be next, torn apart by attacks Israel is reportedly planning on behalf of the US. The reverberations would likely consume the region.
Western politicians like to portray civil war as a consequence of the West’s failure to intervene more effectively in the Middle East. Were we more engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or more aggressive in opposing Syrian manipulations in Lebanon, or more hands-on in Iraq, the sectarian fighting could be prevented. The implication being, of course, that, without the West’s benevolent guidance, Arab societies are incapable of dragging themselves out of their primal state of barbarity.
But in fact, each of these breakdowns of social order appears to have been engineered either by the United States or by Israel. In Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, sectarian difference is less important than a clash of political ideologies and interests as rival factions disagree about whether to submit to, or resist, American and Israeli interference. Where the factions derive their funding and legitimacy from — increasingly a choice between the US or Iran — seems to determine where they stand in this confrontation.
Palestine is in ferment because ordinary Palestinians are torn between their democratic wish to see Israeli occupation resisted — in free elections they showed they believed Hamas the party best placed to realise that goal — and the basic need to put food on the table for their families. The combined Israeli and international economic siege of the Hamas government, and the Palestinian population, has made a bitter internal struggle for control of resources inevitable.
Lebanon is falling apart because the Lebanese are divided: some believe that the country’s future lies with attracting Western capital and welcoming Washington’s embrace, while others regard America’s interest as cover for Israel realising its long-standing design to turn Lebanon into a vassal state, with or without a military occupation. Which side the Lebanese choose in the current stand-off reflects their judgment of how plausible are claims of Western and Israeli benevolence.
And the slaughter in Iraq is not simply the result of lawlessness — as is commonly portrayed — but also about rival groups, the nebulous “insurgents”, employing various brutal and conflicting strategies: trying to oust the Anglo-American occupiers and punish local Iraqis suspected of collaborating with them; extracting benefits from the puppet Iraqi regime; and jockeying for positions of influence before the inevitable grand American exit.
All of these outcomes in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq could have been foreseen — and almost certainly were. More than that, it looks increasingly like the growing tensions and carnage were planned. Rather than an absence of Western intervention being the problem, the violence and fragmentation of these societies seems to be precisely the goal of the intervention.
Evidence has emerged in Britain that suggests such was the case in Iraq. Testimony given by a senior British official to the 2004 Butler inquiry investigating intelligence blunders in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was belatedly published last week, after attempts by the Foreign Office to hush it up.
Carne Ross, a diplomat who helped to negotiate several UN security council resolutions on Iraq, told the inquiry that British and US officials knew very well that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs and that bringing him down would lead to chaos.
“I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed),” he said, adding: “At the same time, we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.”
The obvious question, then, is why would the US want and intend civil war raging across the Middle East, apparently threatening strategic interests like oil supplies and the security of a key regional ally, Israel?
Until the presidency of Bush Jnr, the American doctrine in the Middle East had been to install or support strongmen, containing them or replacing them when they fell out of favour. So why the dramatic and, at least ostensibly, incomprehensible shift in policy?
Why allow Yasser Arafat’s isolation and humiliation in the occupied territories, followed by Mahmoud Abbas’s, when both could have easily been cultivated as strongmen had they been given the tools they were implicitly promised by the Oslo process: a state, the pomp of office and the coercive means to impose their will on rival groups like Hamas? With almost nothing to show for years of concessions to Israel, both looked to the Palestinian public more like lapdogs rather than rottweilers.
Why make a sudden and unnecessary fuss about Syria’s interference in Lebanon, an interference that the West originally encouraged as a way to keep the lid on sectarian violence? Why oust Damascus from the scene and then promote a “Cedar Revolution” that pandered to the interests of only one section of Lebanese society and continued to ignore the concerns of the largest and most dissatisfied community, the Shia? What possible outcome could there be but simmering resentment and the threat of violence?
And why invade Iraq on the hollow pretext of locating WMDs and then dislodge its dictator, Saddam Hussein, who for decades had been armed and supported by the US and had very effectively, if ruthlessly, held Iraq together? Again from Carne’s testimony, it is clear that no one in the intelligence community believed Saddam really posed a threat to the West. Even if he needed “containing” or possibly replacing, as Bush’s predecessors appeared to believe, why did the president decide simply to overthrow him, leaving a power void at Iraq’s heart?
The answer appears to be related to the rise of the neocons, who finally grasped power with the election of President Bush. Israel’s most popular news website, Ynet, recently observed of the neocons: “Many are Jews who share a love for Israel.”
The neocons’ vision of American global supremacy is intimately tied to, and dependent on, Israel’s regional supremacy. It is not so much that the neocons choose to promote Israel’s interests above those of America as that they see the two nations’ interests as inseparable and identical.
Although usually identified with the Israeli right, the neocons’ political alliance with the Likud mainly reflects their support for adopting belligerent means to achieve their policy goals rather than the goals themselves.
The consistent aim of Israeli policy over decades, from the left and right, has been to acquire more territory at the expense of its neighbours and entrench its regional supremacy through “divide and rule”, particularly of its weakest neighbours such as the Palestinians and the Lebanese. It has always abominated Arab nationalism, especially of the Baathist variety in Iraq and Syria, because it appeared immune to Israeli intrigues.
For many years Israel favoured the same traditional colonial approach the West used in the Middle East, where Britain, France and later the US supported autocratic leaders, usually from minority populations, to rule over the majority in the new states they had created, whether Christians in Lebanon, Alawites in Syria, Sunnis in Iraq, or Hashemites in Jordan. The majority was thereby weakened, and the minority forced to become dependent on colonial favours to maintain its privileged position.
Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, for example, was similarly designed to anoint a Christian strongman and US stooge, Bashir Gemayel, as a compliant president who would agree to an anti-Syrian alliance with Israel.
But decades of controlling and oppressing Palestinian society allowed Israel to develop a different approach to divide and rule: what might be termed organised chaos, or the “discord” model, one that came to dominate first its thinking and later that of the neocons.
During its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel preferred discord to a strongman, aware that a pre-requisite of the latter would be the creation of a Palestinian state and its furnishing with a well-armed security force. Neither option was ever seriously contemplated.
Only briefly under international pressure was Israel forced to relent and partially adopt the strongman model by allowing the return of Yasser Arafat from exile. But Israel’s reticence in giving Arafat the means to assert his rule and suppress his rivals, such as Hamas, led inevitably to conflict between the Palestinian president and Israel that ended in the second intifada and the readoption of the discord model.
This latter approach exploits the fault lines in Palestinian society to exacerbate tensions and violence. Initially Israel achieved this by promoting rivalry between regional and clan leaders who were forced to compete for Israel’s patronage. Later Israel encouraged the emergence of Islamic extremism, especially in the form of Hamas, as a counterweight to the growing popularity of the secular nationalism of Arafat’s Fatah party.
Israel’s discord model is now reaching its apotheosis: low-level and permanent civil war between the old guard of Fatah and the upstarts of Hamas. This kind of Palestinian in-fighting usefully depletes the society’s energies and its ability to organise against the real enemy: Israel and its enduring occupation.
The neocons, it appears, have been impressed with this model and wanted to export it to other Middle Eastern states. Under Bush they sold it to the White House as the solution to the problems of Iraq and Lebanon, and ultimately of Iran and Syria too.
The provoking of civil war certainly seemed to be the goal of Israel’s assault on Lebanon over the summer. The attack failed, as even Israelis admit, because Lebanese society rallied behind Hizbullah’s impressive show of resistance rather than, as was hoped, turning on the Shia militia.
Last week the Israeli website Ynet interviewed Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli citizen and co-founder of MEMRI, a service translating Arab leaders’ speeches that is widely suspected of having ties with Israel’s security services. She is also the wife of David Wurmser, a senior neocon adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Meyrav Wurmser revealed that the American Administration had publicly dragged its feet during Israel’s assault on Lebanon because it was waiting for Israel to expand its attack to Syria.
“The anger [in the White House] is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its [Iran’s] strategic and important ally [Syria] should be hit.”
Wurmser continued: “It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran that it would have weakened it and [changed] the strategic map in the Middle East.”
Neocons talk a great deal about changing maps in the Middle East. Like Israel’s dismemberment of the occupied territories into ever-smaller ghettos, Iraq is being severed into feuding mini-states. Civil war, it is hoped, will redirect Iraqis’ energies away from resistance to the US occupation and into more negative outcomes.
Similar fates appear to be awaiting Iran and Syria, at least if the neocons, despite their waning influence, manage to realise their vision in Bush’s last two years.
The reason is that a chaotic and feuding Middle East, although it would be a disaster in the view of most informed observers, appears to be greatly desired by Israel and its neocon allies. They believe that the whole Middle East can be run successfully the way Israel has run its Palestinian populations inside the occupied territories, where religious and secular divisions have been accentuated, and inside Israel itself, where for many decades Arab citizens were “de-Palestinianised” and turned into identity-starved and quiescent Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouin.
That conclusion may look foolhardy, but then again so does the White House’s view that it is engaged in a “clash of civilisations” which it can win with a “war on terror”.
All states are capable of acting in an irrational or self-destructive manner, but Israel and its supporters may be more vulnerable to this failing than most. That is because Israelis’ perception of their region and their future has been grossly distorted by the official state ideology, Zionism, with its belief in Israel’s inalienable right to preserve itself as an ethnic state; its confused messianic assumptions, strange for a secular ideology, about Jews returning to a land promised by God; and its contempt for, and refusal to understand, everything Arab or Muslim.
If we expect rational behaviour from Israel or its neocon allies, more fool us.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of the forthcoming “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the University of Michigan Press. His website is www.jkcook.net
Hizbullah ministers did the right thing by publicly shunning Blair
09.12.2006 | The Daily Star
Much was made of the fact that the two Hizbullah men in Cabinet, Mohammad Fneish and Tarrad Hamade, pointedly stayed away from Monday’s meeting with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Various pundits and politicians argued that the boycott indicated a deepening split within Premier Fouad Siniora’s disparate government. That may or may not be true, but no informed observer would have predicted any other reaction by Fneish and Hamade in light of the fact that during the war Israel, Blair openly positioned himself as Hizbullah’s enemy – and therefore Lebanon’s.
As the Israeli Air Force was raining death and destruction on innocent civilians across this country, Blair was indifferent because all he could think about were the Hizbullah rockets headed the other way, weapons which caused a tiny fraction of the casualties and damage sustained in Lebanon. In addition, Blair jumped on yet another American bandwagon by helping to delay a UN cease-fire resolution. To make matters worse, he also allowed stopovers in the United Kingdom by US cargo jets carrying more bombs for the Israelis to drop on Lebanese women and children. So disgraceful was his conduct that several junior ministers in his own government have resigned in protest. Given the disdain he has earned at home, it was only natural that principled individuals like Fneish and Hamade would refuse to sit down with him: It was the least they could do and still hope to retain their dignity.
Lebanese officials who did meet with Blair are the ones who have some explaining to do. The pressures of high office are great, but so are the responsibilities. The best course of action would have been to inform Blair that his visiting this country would serve no purpose other than to provoke anger. Having failed to do so, the next best option would have been to follow Speaker Nabih Berri’s example and arrange to be “out of town.”
The purpose of Blair’s visit remains a mystery. He is on his way out of office and may have been looking to bolster his legacy as a statesman, but if that was the case he has failed spectacularly by having failed to appreciate the scorn with which he is viewed in Lebanon. He uttered a few platitudes about supporting the government, but no one will take seriously a few pats on the back from a man who will soon be a private citizen. Perhaps the truth lies in his promise to supply weapons for the Lebanese military: Given his unbending support for US President George W. Bush’s warmongering ways, Blair might be thinking of a new career arranging arms deals for one of the many Western defense contractors that stand to reap billions by replenishing Israeli stocks expended in the cause of shattering Lebanon, a cause he worked studiously to facilitate. All things considered, it would be more appropriate if he retired quietly to the British countryside and opened small business like a butcher’s shop – or a kennel.