From Challenge # 76 November-December 2002
Sowing the Whirlwind: Israel, America and the Coming War
Roni Ben Efrat
PRESIDENT George W. Bush gets wall-to-wall support in Israel for his impending war against Iraq. Left and right exalt him. The press beats the drum. Doves on the Palestinian issue become hawks on the question of Iraq. Among the wider Israeli public, 40% support a nuclear response if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons against them, even if these pose no real threat to the existence of the state. Israelis line up obediently to get their gas masks. The benefits of war seem so obvious that not a single discussion has taken place in either the Knesset or the cabinet.
When war comes, the country most likely to feel the wrath of Iraq will be Israel. Yet Israelis support Bush’s war even more than Americans do. This fact stands out all the more when we note that in the rest of the world, including America, the topic occasions heated debate. German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder won re-election because of his staunch stand against the war on Iraq. At the time of this writing, in the UN Security Council, France and Russia threaten to veto an American resolution that would authorize an immediate war if Iraq impedes the weapons inspectors.
Half of the American population supports the war, but that is a drop of 17% since June. On October 26, a coalition called ANSWER organized 150,000 Americans in a march against the war. In London on September 28, 350,000 protested. (According to the Guardian, only a third of the British support the war.) In Italy 1.5 million demonstrated against the pro-war stance (and the economic policies) of the Berlusconi government.
What about Israel’s opposition? One hears not a peep. Yossi Sarid, its parliamentary leader, gave a speech on October 14 at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session. He said nothing of either Iraq or the Palestinians. He confined his talk to the poverty in Israel. He spoke of a boy who received lunch at school. The teacher noticed a lump in his pocket, and it turned out to be a chicken drumstick, which the boy was saving for his mother. This is surely a legitimate story, but Sarid omitted the context: Israel’s deepening social disaster is largely a result of its worsening political entanglement, both with the Palestinians and with the wider Arab world. The war against Iraq will entangle it further.
A messianic junta
Israel is traditionally pro-American. This is nothing new. Israelis must ask themselves, however, whether the Bush Administration deserves the same fidelity as its predecessors. The answer is a resounding No! The world stands today before a new-old phenomenon, whose ramifications extend far beyond the American-Iraqi conflict. After dubious elections, the White House has been taken over by a right-wing junta, buttressed by 70 million Christian fundamentalists who link their destiny to Zion.
This messianic concept finds its secular match in the interpretation of history held by the people surrounding Bush: Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and their subordinates, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. In the Reagan era, as these people see it, a Republican administration defeated the “evil empire”, leaving America as the only superpower. Bush Senior exploited the new situation, mounting a successful worldwide offensive against Iraq. Then came a falling off. Because of economic trifles, Americans elected Bill Clinton. Instead of leading the nation towards its manifest destiny as world ruler, Clinton sought “peace dividends”. The country’s defenses went to seed. At last, however, the Reagan-Bush team is back. It will lead the US to global hegemony.
This notion is inscribed in a lengthy document entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses. It was published in September 2000, prior to the American presidential election, by a conservative group that calls itself “The Project for the New American Century.” “In broad terms,” say its authors, “we saw the project as building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The Defense Policy Guidance (DPG) drafted in the early months of 1992 provided a blueprint for maintaining U.S. preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” (, p. ii.)
Rebuilding America’s Defenses has been the basis for the foreign and defense policy of George W. Bush. Its main thrust is an expansion of American military might, such that the US will remain unchallenged as the world’s sole superpower. To that end, it holds, America must increase defense spending, develop nuclear power and resume nuclear testing. It advocates cancellation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Clinton signed (ibid., pp. 7-8). Its influence was already apparent during the first year of the new Bush Administration, which blocked international arms control treaties.
Rebuilding America’s Defenses was written before the attacks of September 11, 2001. These gave a new urgency to America’s drive for global control, as reflected in a more recent document, “The National Security Strategy of the United States”, published by the Bush Administration on September 20, 2002 ( ).
The new National Security document contains what has come to be known as the Bush Doctrine: “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology.” America must prove its determination to act. “Our immediate focus will be those terrorist organizations of global reach and any terrorist or state sponsor of terrorism which attempts to gain or use weapons of mass destruction. …While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively...” And later: “For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. … We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.” The consequence is clear: Americans will not be safe until their Uncle Sam becomes the world’s Big Brother.
In the New York Review of Books (September 26), Frances Fitzgerald points out that the senior Bush, unlike his son, knew his way around in foreign affairs. Among George Senior’s top advisors, Defense Secretary Cheney was a hawkish minority of one. In the new White House, the junior Bush depends completely on his advisors. Here VP Cheney is joined by his old friend and mentor, right-winger Donald Rumsfeld, who took Paul Wolfowitz, co-author of the DPG, as his deputy. To the latter’s former Pentagon position, Rumsfeld appointed Douglas Feith, a favorite of Richard Perle, who was a leading hawk in the Reagan Administration. (Perle today advises the Pentagon.) Thus the war-mongering minority from the time of the elder Bush is today the main advisory group around his ignorant son.
There is an Israeli connection. In 1996, according to Fitzgerald, Perle and Feith wrote a document advising Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new prime minister, to make a clean break with the Oslo peace process and renew direct Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza. When Netanyahu declined to accept this counsel, Feith published it in a piece of his own. “The price in blood would be high,” he wrote, but it would be a necessary form of “detoxification – the only way out of Oslo’s web.” (Quoted by Fitzgerald, op. cit.)
This advice from Perle and Feith should interest Oslo-supporters on Israel’s left, who back the war against Iraq in the fond belief that after his victory, while imposing new order in the Middle East, Bush will compel Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. The fact is, however: the same advisors who today lead the way to Baghdad fervently advocate a permanent Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza.
Rebuilding America’s Defenses goes a long way toward solving the mystery as to why Bush Junior is so keen on fighting Iraq: “Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence [sic] in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” (Op. cit., p. 14.)
The American bases are not in the Gulf, then, in order to protect the neighbors of Saddam Hussein. “From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region” (Rebuilding…, p. 17). We should not, then, expect to see a strong connection between the findings of the arms inspectors and Bush’s decision to deploy for war.
The candor of this document is unusual, but what it reveals is frightening: In its quest to dominate, America is ready to go it alone, dragging us all toward chaos. Not less alarming is the reaction in Israel, where the vast majority ingests with relish all the messianic cant about a war between Good and Evil.
The role of Israel’s press in war mongering accounts for the fact that no alternative discussion is taking place. Even liberal Ha’aretz, which prides itself on its reputation as the newspaper of the “thinking person,” entitled its main editorial on September 11, 2002: “Confronting the Axis of Evil”. Without qualification, this piece connects the disaster that befell America with the coming war against Iraq. “And so, a year later, the US is preparing to attack Iraq within the context of the same war-to-the-finish (milhemet hurmah, a biblical expression, applied here to the war against terrorism – RBE). For the challenge, and the war, are not limited to the enclaves of the terrorist organizations, ramified and dangerous though they be. The ambitious goal that President Bush has set for himself, and rightly so, is to smash the same force of evil that toppled the Twin Towers in New York and, in its various permutations, has foisted war upon the life of the whole free world.” After mentioning Pearl Harbor, the editorial goes on: “America understood [in 1941] that the war was not just with Japan, but with the entire “axis of evil” of that time. The lucidity of that moment, the determination, the sacrifice and the leadership displayed by America in those years – are what saved our civilization.”
While Ha’aretz rewrote history, Yediot Aharonot was not to be left behind. In three of its main editorials (which the Yediot editors sign), Sever Plotzker lashed out against opponents of the war throughout the world. Here is an example: “By this time it must be clear to all: The fascistic, homicidal, terrorist Islam, nourished by fanatic religious inspiration – but also by the support of dictatorial regimes like Saddam Hussein’s, constitutes a direct threat to the peace, prosperity and progress of the entire civilized world… Demonstrators opposing the war against Saddam Hussein must finally understand that they, in effect, are demonstrating for the terrorist attack in Bali, for the attack in Tel Aviv, for the attack in Helsinki and for the attack that will strike in their own backyards.” (Yediot Aharonot October 14.) This crusader, be it noted, is a former editor of al-Hamishmar, a socialist daily that closed as a result of privatization.
The days leading up to the war with Iraq will go down in history (if anyone is still here to write it) as among the shallower moments of Israel’s press.
Israel waits for the Day After
Behind the blind Israeli adulation for America lies a worldview. The Gulf War of 1991 snuffed out what was left of the first Intifada, together with the Palestinian national movement as expressed in the historical PLO. Many Palestinian guerrillas became technocrats. Those who continued in uniform did so in the PA (Palestinian Authority), under the supervision of the CIA. In the Oslo years, however (1993 – 2000), as conditions in the Territories worsened, bitterness grew in the Palestinian street against both Israel and the PA. The explosion finally occurred in the form of a second Intifada, which quickly spun out of control. Today, both the left and the right in Israel believe that a new defeat for Saddam Hussein will have an effect like that of the first, subduing the new Intifada.
There are two further wrinkles in this theory. The simpler sees the military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein in tandem with Israel’s project of toppling Yasser Arafat. The second, more serious assessment comes from figures in Israel’s military intelligence. They believe that Israel can cope by itself with Palestinian terrorism, but that in order to reach a political solution, there is need for a major strategic change in the Middle East. Such change must come from outside. Only America can bend the region in accordance with Israel’s geopolitical needs. This position is often voiced in the press. For example: “Since we have been asked [by Bush – RBE] to keep clear of the Iraqi issue, the government’s real task must be to concentrate on the advantage to be reaped ‘the day after’.” (Yael Gvirtz, Editorial, Yediot Aharonot October 7.) Aluf Benn alludes to the same position in Ha’aretz (October 10): “One can also read the Israeli message thus: the crisis in Iraq provides a good opportunity to give the Palestinians the coup de grâce, which will end the Intifada and improve Israel’s opening position in the negotiations that will get underway after the removal of Saddam.”
Since Israel wants to eat the grapes, it won’t argue with the watchman. In his recent visit to the US, Sharon promised to behave in such a way as to help Bush market himself in the Arab world, while Bush helped Sharon to market himself in international business and banking circles, at a time when Israel’s credit rating is under scrutiny. (See article on p. 8 of this issue.)
The hope that the installation of a puppet regime in Iraq will pave the way for a corresponding puppet regime in the Occupied Territories is without foundation. Attempts to change or destabilize regimes have long been part of American policy. Far from succeeding, they have led to the very chaos (in Southeast Asia, in Latin America, in the Middle East) of which the Bush Administration now complains. Israel has met with similar failure in its own attempts to appoint Arab leaders. Here are two examples:
1) The Lebanon Adventure. In 1982, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, Menahem Begin was Israel’s PM. Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, undertook a grandiose campaign to change the political map of the Middle East, beginning with Lebanon. The idea was to eliminate the PLO as a force in that country, so that Christian militia leader Bashir Gemayal could take control and get the Lebanese Parliament to elect him president. Gemayal was then supposed to repay his debt to Israel by making peace. Moreover, having defeated Arafat in Lebanon, Israel would be free to exert its will in the demoralized West Bank and Gaza. According to historian Howard Sachar, Sharon also intended to unseat King Hussein, turn Jordan into the Palestinian state, and annex the Occupied Territories. (Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel, Volume II, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 172.)
In fact, Sharon’s army did oust the PLO from Beirut, and Bashir Gemayal was elected president on August 23. A few weeks later he was assassinated. Chaos erupted. Sharon instructed his chief-of-staff ‘to restore order’ and allow the Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps. The result was the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. At this point, the Americans returned to Lebanon, also with the aim of ‘restoring order’ – but a suicide attack killed 241 marines in October 1983. The Americans pulled out, and Israel’s army scurried south. What remained of Sharon’s sweeping plan was a narrow “security zone” beyond Israel’s northern border. This zone, in turn, cost hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Lebanese lives, until PM Ehud Barak vacated it two years ago. Lebanon did not become the “Christian democracy” of which Begin, Sharon, and (at one point) Ronald Reagan had dreamed. Israel’s invasion resulted, indeed, in the ousting of the PLO, but also in death and destruction; in the fragmenting of its own society; in its lasting discredit throughout the world; in the rise of the Hezbollah, and in the birth of a new guerrilla tactic: suicide bombing.
2) The Oslo Adventure. After the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, the main center of Palestinian resistance shifted to the Occupied Territories. The result was the first Intifada (1987). Israel responded with a more sophisticated kind of Occupation. In the 70’s and 80’s, it had tried without success to install collaborators as leaders (the so-called Village Leagues). The new idea was to transform the PLO itself into a subcontractor of Israeli control.
The combination of Israel’s policies and those of its creature, the corrupt Palestinian Authority, led to the chaos of Intifada II. The Labor Party, which had placed all its chips on Oslo, has found itself since October 2000 sans partner, sans agenda. Having lost all that distinguished it, Labor joined the Likud, ostensibly in an attempt to put out the fire. (After 20 months, the partnership has broken.) The Intifada also sent Israel’s economy into a nosedive, making it once again an American charity case.
This time around, though, America itself is immersed in an economic crisis. William Greider writes in The Nation (September 13, 2002):
“The US economy’s net foreign indebtedness--the accumulation of two decades of running larger and larger trade deficits--will reach nearly 25 percent of US GDP this year, or roughly $2.5 trillion. Fifteen years ago, it was zero. …The specter of America’s deepening weakness seems counter-intuitive to what people see and experience in a time of apparent continuing prosperity… But the quicksand is real. We are already in up to our knees.”.
The US of Gulf War II will be different from that of Gulf War I. Ten years ago, hope abounded in Wall Street that the markets of the world would open before American corporations; the dividends of the Soviet collapse would be theirs for the reaping. Instead, the crumbling Twin Towers have shaken America. Where the war with Iraq is concerned, Europe defies her, the Third World defies her, anyone in his right mind defies her. Washington, in turn, feels betrayed. Despite the fall of communism, peace and prosperity have failed to arrive. Only little Israel stands firmly by her side, government and people alike. After two years of suicide bombings, Israelis are resolute in their determination not to see the fact that rage breeds chaos. Now they are ready, right and left, to support a crusade whose result will be an exponential increase in that rage. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. But those who sow the whirlwind – what will they reap?
The combination of military power and economic crisis is dangerous. It tempts the mighty to solve economic problems by military means. This is the mixture that not long ago engendered Fascism. It brought a holocaust upon humanity. We are again at such an intersection. The question is not, Can the world live with Saddam Hussein? The question is rather, Can the world live with George W. Bush?
The disappearance of the socialist camp is felt today more than ever. Those who stopped Hitler were not chiefly (with due respect to Ha’aretz) the Americans, but the Soviets at Stalingrad. The Soviets prevented America from invading Cuba. They mitigated poverty throughout the world. With the Soviet collapse, the world’s working class and the forces of peace have undergone a major setback. They have paid a grievous price because the socialist endeavor went awry. The Soviet Union failed because its leaders excluded the people from decision-making. They failed to build socialism in the only way it can be built: democratically. They failed, in short, to keep up the spirit of the revolution. We should view this experiment, however, not as the last of its kind, but as the first.
A mass movement has arisen, in recent years, against globalization. Much hope has been placed in it, but in the face of impending war, it does not rise to the occasion. A key reason for this failure is the movement’s abhorrence of political parties. Eschewing permanent organizations, it cannot establish itself as an alternative to the existing global order. It cannot seize power and initiate policy change. In the present circumstances, when the other side is organized in corporations, parties and regimes, protests that merely react to events are a luxury we can ill afford.
We cannot count on Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, who took part just a few years ago in the attack on Yugoslavia. Nor can we count on Vladimir Putin, who has his own ambitions.
The immediate need is indeed reactive: to put a stop to White House megalomania. In the long run, though, we must deny the capitalists the means of dragging us into war. We must organize our protest around a socialist agenda.