Arab Spring, Israeli Winter
Israel, the Big Powers, and the true New World Order
The Jews and their state, Israel, have always sported a pro-colonial predilection, relying on "Big Powers" (Britain, France, then the United States of America) to sort out the Middle-Eastern quagmire in Israel's favor. This default policy may no longer prove possible.
A consensus is now emerging in Europe - including Britain - that the "road map" for peace in the Middle East would be a futile exercise without some anti-Israeli "teeth". Recognizing the nascent Palestinian state in September 2011 may be just the start. Economic sanctions are on the cards as well. With Obama in the White House - a President the Israelis largely consider to be hostile - and with the Arab world turning palpably more democratic, the Europeans feel unshackled. Striving towards an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation may prove to be the glue that reunites the fractious Euro-Atlantic structures.
But while the United State is reluctant to impose a settlement on the Israelis, the specter of sanctions against the Jewish state has re-emerged in the Old Continent's corridors of power. A committee of the European Parliament is said to be laboring away at various scenarios of escalating measures against Israel and its leaders. The European Commission may be readying its own proposals.
Not all Americans are Obamatons. The views of Conservative Americans are summed up by David Pryce-Jones, Senior Editor of National Review:
"Israelis and Palestinians face each other across the new ideological divide in a dilemma that bears comparison to Germany's in the Cold War ... Israel must share territory with Palestinians, a growing number of whom are proven Islamic terrorists, and who identify with bin Laden's cause, as he identifies with theirs ... The Oslo peace process is to the Middle East what Ostpolitik was to Germany and central Europe. Proposals to separate the two peoples physically on the ground spookily evoke the Berlin Wall."
Still, such sentiments aside, in the long-run, Muslims are the natural allies of the United States in its role as a budding Asian power, largely supplanting the former Soviet Union. Thus, the threat of militant - and even nuclear - Islam is unlikely to cement a long term American-Israeli confluence of interests. Moreover, with the prospect of representative regimes in several Arab states more tangible, Israel is losing its long-held title as the "Middle East's only democracy."
Rather, the aforementioned menace of armed fundamentalism may yet create a new geopolitical formation of the USA and moderate Muslim countries, equally threatened by virulent Muslim religiosity. Later, Russia, China and India - all destabilized by growing and vociferous Muslim minorities - may join in. Israel will be sacrificed to this New World Order.
The writing is on the wall, though obscured by the fog of war and, as The Guardian revealed in April 2003, by American reliance during the conflict in Iraq on Israeli intelligence, advanced armaments and lessons in urban warfare. The "road map" announced by President George Bush as a sop to his politically besieged ally, Tony Blair, and much contested by the extreme right-wing government of Ariel Sharon, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. The temporal goalposts may have shifted but not the ineluctable outcome: The State of Palestine is upon us, embedded in an Arab world far less amenable to Israel's economic charms (witness the cessation of Egyptian gas supplies to Israel under the new military "transition" dictatorship).
Israel has witnessed and survived through many convulsions in the Arab street. In 1953, Nasser's youthful and reform-inclined pan-Arabism swept the Arab world. The long-term fruit of this hopeful tumult, though, was Mubarak. The revolutionary Baa'th parties in Syria and Iraq gave us Saddam Hussein and the murderous Assad dynasty. Israel is very skeptical when it comes to yet another Arab Spring. It tends to support reactionary regimes because they are predictable and easy to do business with. Israel is a natural foe of progress and democracy in the region because it would like to maintain its monopoly on these important political currencies.
The Prospect of Sanctions against Israel
Israel was always expected to promptly withdraw from all the territories it re-seized during the 30 months of second intifada. Blair had openly called on it to revert to the pre-Six Day War borders of 1967. In a startlingly frank and impatient speech, so did Obama in May 2011. In a symbolic gesture, the British government decided to crack down on food products imported from Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and mislabeled "Made in Israel" or "Produce of Israel". The European Union pegs the total value of such goods at $22 million.
Wariness of Israel in both Europe and the Arab world was heightened in April 2003, when then National Infrastructure Minister, Yosef Paritzky, saw fit to inform the Israeli daily, Ha'aretz, about a plan to revive a long defunct oil pipeline running from Mosul to Haifa, a northern seaport. This American-blessed joint venture will reduce Israel's dependence on Russian crude and the cost of its energy imports. It would also require a regime change in Syria, whose territory the pipeline crosses.
Partly to prevent further Israeli provocations of an extremely agitated and radicalized anti-Western Arab street, European leaders revived the idea of economic sanctions, floated - and flouted - in 2002. The EU accounts for one third of Israel's exports and two fifths of its imports. It accords Israeli goods preferential treatment.
In April 2002, in the thick of the bloody intifada, Germany and Belgium suspended military sales to Israel. Norway boycotted some Israeli agricultural commodities. The Danish Workers Union followed suit. The European Parliament called to suspend Israel's Association Agreement with the EU. Though Belgium supported this move, harsher steps were avoided so as to allow Colin Powell, then U.S. Secretary of State, to proceed with his peace mission to the Middle East.
Israel has been subjected to boycotts and embargoes before. In the first four decades of Israel's existence as well as in the last five years, the Arabs imposed strict market access penalties on investors and trade partners of the Jewish state. The United States threatened its would-be ally with economic and military sanctions after the Suez War in 1956, forcing it to return to Egypt its territorial gains in the desert campaign.
For well over a decade afterwards, Israel was barred from direct purchases of American weaponry, securing materiel through West German intermediaries and from France. After the Six Day War, French President Charles de Gaulle imposed an arms embargo on the country. Faced with Arab intransigence and virulent enmity towards Israel in the Khartoum Summit in 1967, the USA stepped in and has since become Israel's largest military supplier and staunchest geopolitical supporter.
Yet, even this loyal ally, the United States, has come close to imposing sanctions on Israel on a few occasions.
In 1991, Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, was reluctantly dragged into the Madrid Arab-Israeli peace conference by a victorious post Gulf war administration. He proceeded to negotiate in bad faith and continued the aggressive settlement policies of his predecessors.
In consequence, a year later, President George H.W. Bush, the incumbent's father, withheld $10 billion in sorely needed loan guarantees, intended to bankroll the housing of 1 million Jewish immigrants from the imploding Soviet Bloc. Shamir's successor, Yitzhak Rabin, succumbed to American demands, froze all new settlements and regained the coveted collateral.
Only concerted action by the EU and the USA can render a sanctions regime effective. Israel is the recipient of $2.7 billion in American annual military aid and economic assistance. In the wake of this round of fighting in the Gulf, it will benefit from $10 billion in guaranteed soft loans. It has signed numerous bilateral tax, trade and investment treaties with the United States. American sanctions combined with European ones may prove onerous.
Israel is also finding itself increasingly on the wrong side of the "social investing" fence. Activist and non-governmental organizations are applying overt pressure to institutional investors, such as pension funds and universities, to divest or to refrain from ploughing their cash into Israeli enterprises due to the country's "apartheid" policies and rampant and repeated violations of human rights and international law. They are joined by student bodies, academics, media people and conscientious Jews the world over.
According to The Australian, a petition launched in 2002 by John Docker, a Jewish-Australian author and Fellow of the Australian National University's Humanities Research Centre and Christian Lebanese Australian senior lecturer and author Ghassan Hage of Sydney University's Anthropology Department, "calls (for a) ban on joint research programs with Israeli universities, attending conferences in Israel and disclosing information to Israeli academics".
It is one of many such initiatives. In the long run such grassroots efforts may prove to be have the most devastating effects on Israel's fragile and recessionary economy. Multinationals are far more sensitive to global public opinion than they used to be only a decade ago. So are governments and privatized academic institutions.
Israel may find itself ostracized by consent rather than by decree. Already a pariah state in many quarters, it is being fingered by European left-leaning intellectuals as being in cahoots with the lunatic fringes of Christian and Jewish fundamentalism. Yet, if sanctions cause a recalcitrant Israeli right to trade occupied land for a hitherto elusive peace, history may yet judge them to be a blessing in disguise.
Appendix: The USA, the Friendly Bully
It is common knowledge that, in international affairs, emotions defer to self-interest. As George Orwell noted in his masterpiece, "1984", the flux of circumstance may render yesterday's foe tomorrow's friend.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the USA was essentially pro-Arab. It attempted to secure the oil fields of the Middle East (in the Gulf, Iraq, and Iran) from Soviet encroachment by nurturing friendly relations with the region's authoritarian regimes and by fostering a military alliance with Turkey (later, a part of an extended NATO).
Remarkably, Israel was forced to rely on the USSR for arms (supplied via the Czech Republic) and, later, on France and Britain, who were desperately trying to hang on to the smoldering remnants of their colonial empires
Thus, in 1956, Israel (in collusion with France and Britain) attempted to prise open the critical recently-nationalized waterway, the Suez Canal, by invading the Sinai Peninsula, then, as now, a part of Egypt. The USA forced Israel into a humiliating and public retreat and threatened the fledgling state with economic, military, and diplomatic sanctions if it did not comply with American demands without ado.
During the 1960s, even when America did (rarely) sell weapons systems to Israel, it made sure to make the same armaments available to Israel's avowed and vociferous enemies, Egypt and Jordan. By 1967, the USA has granted the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan far larger sums of military and foreign aid than it did its neighbor to the west, Israel.
President Johnson was a staunch supporter of Israel. Yet, in the run-up to the Six Days War, the Johnson Administration summoned Israeli politicians and military leaders to Washington and publicly chastised and berated them for refusing to succumb to American pressure and yield to Arab demands (which amounted essentially to the dismantling of the Jewish State by economic and diplomatic means). Secretary of State Dean Rusk went as far as blaming Israel for the war. A diplomatic solution, he insisted, was possible, had Israel shown more flexibility.
The deliberate or mistaken Israeli attack, during the conflict, on the USS Liberty, an American intelligence-gathering ship, moored in international waters, did not help bilateral relations any.
Still, Israel's decisive victory over the combined forces of numerous Arab states, many of which bore Soviet arms, changed perceptions in Washington and among the Jews: here was a military democracy that could serve as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Middle East; a regional cop; a testing ground for new weapons; a living breathing demonstration of the superiority of American arms; an intelligence gathering "front office"; and a frontline base in case of dire need.
Israel's standing was thus transformed from pariah to a major non-NATO ally overnight (a status officially granted it in 1987). Israel felt sufficiently secure in its newfound pivotal strategic role to reject a peace plan forwarded by then Secretary of State, Will Rogers in 1970.
Yet, even in the heyday of this "special relationship", Israel refrained from defying the USA and feared the repercussions of any disagreement, major or minor. This hesitancy and dread were not confined to the political echelons: the entire population were affected. People of all walks of life engaged in reading the tea leaves of "the mood in Washington" and what should Israel do to placate its fickle, thuggish, and overbearing "partner".
Thus, despite numerous warning signs that it is about to be attacked by superior Arab forces in 1973, the Israeli leadership gambled with the country's very existence and did not launch a pre-emptive strike, having been cautioned not to act by President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
When Israel repelled and encircled the invading Egyptian Army, Kissinger called Israel's Ambassador in Washington, Simcha Dinitz and instructed him not to pursue a military victory. When Dinitz protested, Kissinger told him that disobeying the United States (and destroying the aggressor's remaining forces on the ground) was "an option that simply does not exist".
Kissinger then proceeded with shuttle diplomacy aimed at pressuring Israel into ceding most of the land it conquered in the last two wars in return for a mere ceasefire. Whenever Israel resisted any of his dictates, however inconsequential, Kissinger would publicly threaten Israel with abandonment and even sanctions. This modus operandi continued throughout President Carter's years in office.
Even in the early Reagan years, Israel was berated and threatened on a regular basis, owing to its invasion of Lebanon and its rejection of yet another American-imposed "peace" plan in 1982 and in 1988. The Reagan Administration also openly consorted with the PLO, at the time still an unrepentant, anti-Jewish terrorist organization.
Yet, throughout these very public and advertent humiliations, the USA remained Israel's main backer. Friendship and bullying appeared to be two inalienable facet of the same coin of American-Israeli relations.
The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1981; formed a Joint Military Political Group in 1983; conducted joint air and naval exercises in 1984; stockpiled American weapons and materiel on Israeli soil; and signed a free trade agreement in 1985. Israel has also been the recipient of 3 billion USD annually (until 2004, one third of all American foreign aid) since the early 1980s.
At the very same time, Secretary of State, James Baker reprimanded Israel for its "expansionist" policies and his boss, President Bush (the father) insisted that east Jerusalem - the very soul and heart of the Jewish state - was an "occupied territory".
Blowing hot and cold on the "special" relationship strained them to the hilt. Disagreements and misunderstandings proliferated as the USA began to micromanage Israeli affairs, telling the country how to conduct its investigations into incidents and even how to hold elections (for the Palestinian delegation to a peace conference).
With the first Gulf War imminent in 1990, Bush affirmed the USA's commitment to Israel's existence and security. But, only a year later, when Iraq attacked Israel with Scud missiles and Israel heeded America's request not to retaliate did relations between the two asymmetric allies thaw. Israel was granted loans, albeit under the condition that it freezes all settlement activities in the West Bank.
Relations between Israel and the Administration of President Bush (the son) started off on the wrong foot, with recriminations and accusations, only to be rendered an intimate collaboration by the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
Currently, in the throes of an umpteenth honeymoon, Israel can do no wrong. But, history teaches us that such phases are invariably followed by discord. Israel has consistently jeopardized both its national security and its interests to placate American impetuous demands and to cater to its ally's geopolitical and -global economic interests.
Thus, at America's vehement and minacious behest, Israel has ignored Syrian offers to negotiate a peace accord. Similarly, Israel has cancelled the sale or maintenance of proprietary weapons systems to China, Venezuela and other countries the USA deemed "unfriendly".
When Israel dared to service and upgrade an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) it has previously sold to China, it was harshly penalized: joint development programs, shipments of military equipment, and regular communication between the departments of defense of the two allies were all suspended.
Acting as the latter-day equivalent of a colonial or imperial master, the USA demanded from Israel a detailed report about dozens of transactions with Mainland China; the right to supervise and inspect Israel's military equipment sales supervision system; and an effective veto power on all future arms sales.