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Thread: In The Shadow Of Israel

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    In The Shadow Of Israel

    In the shadow of Israel
    Some prominent supporters of Israel, writing in The Australian, have rejected a contentious study of the Middle East and US policy by American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Here is part of the internationally debated study

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au...-28737,00.html

    April 22, 2006

    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. 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 US political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies to advance the interests of another state? One may assume that the bond between the two countries is 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, 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 convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country -- in this case Israel -- are essentially identical.

    Since the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, 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 WarII, to the tune of more than $US140billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives $US3billion ($4 billion) or so in direct assistance each year, about one-fifth of the US foreign aid budget, and worth about $US500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking given that Israel is a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.

    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 $US3 billion to develop weapons systems and given it access to top-drawer weaponry such as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the US gives Israel access to intelligence it denies 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 UN 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 International Atomic Energy Agency's agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel's side when negotiating peace.

    One may argue that Israel was an asset during the Cold War. By serving as a US proxy after 1967, it helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients such as Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (such as King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its client states. It also provided intelligence about Soviet capabilities.

    Backing Israel was not cheap, however, and it complicated US relations with the Arab world. For example, the decision to give $US2.2 billion in emergency military aid during the 1973 war triggered an Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo that inflicted damage on Western economies.

    Beginning in the 1990s, and even more after 9/11, US support has been justified by the claim that both states are threatened by terrorist groups originating in the Arab and Muslim world, and by rogue states that back these groups and seek weapons of mass destruction. This is taken to mean not only that Washington should give Israel a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and not press it to make concessions until all Palestinian terrorists are imprisoned or dead but that the US should go after countries such as Iran and Syria. Israel is thus seen as a crucial ally in the war on terror because its enemies are US enemies. In fact, Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.

    Terrorism is not a single adversary but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organisations that threaten Israel do not threaten the US, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or the West; it is largely a response to Israel's prolonged campaign to colonise the West Bank and, until recently, Gaza Strip.

    More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism but it is an important one and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel. Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons - which is obviously undesirable - neither the US nor Israel could be blackmailed because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation.

    The danger of a nuclear handover to terrorists is equally remote because a rogue state could not be sure the transfer would go undetected or that it would not be blamed and punished afterwards. The relationship with Israel makes it harder for the US to deal with these states. Israel's nuclear arsenal is one reason some of its neighbours want nuclear weapons and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire.

    A final reason to question Israel's strategic value is that it does not behave like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore US requests and renege on promises (including pledges to stop building settlements and to refrain from targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders). Israel has provided sensitive military technology to potential rivals such as China, in what the US Department of State inspector-general called "a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorised transfers". According to the General Accounting Office, Israel also "conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the US of any ally".

    Israel's strategic value isn't the only issue. Its backers also argue that it deserves unqualified support because it is weak and surrounded by enemies; it is a democracy; the Jewish people have suffered from past crimes and therefore deserve special treatment; and Israel's conduct has been morally superior to that of its adversaries. On close inspection, none of these arguments is persuasive. There is a strong moral case for supporting Israel's existence but that is not in jeopardy. Viewed objectively, its conduct offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians.

    Israel is often portrayed as David confronted by Goliath, but the converse is closer to the truth. Its conventional forces are far superior to those of its neighbours and it is the only state in the region with nuclear weapons. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with it and Saudi Arabia has offered to do so. That Israel is a fellow democracy surrounded by hostile dictatorships cannot account for the level of US aid: there are many democracies across the world, but none receives the same lavish support. The US has overthrown democratic governments in the past and supported dictators when this was thought to advance its interests; it has good relations with several dictatorships today.

    A third justification is the history of Jewish suffering in the Christian West, especially during the Holocaust. Because Jews were persecuted for centuries and could feel safe only in a Jewish homeland, many people now believe that Israel deserves special treatment from the US. The country's creation was undoubtedly an appropriate response to the long record of crimes against Jews, but it also brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.

    This was well understood by Israel's early leaders. David Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress: "If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country ... We come from Israel, but 2000 years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?"

    End Part I
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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    Since then, Israeli leaders have repeatedly sought to deny the Palestinians' national ambitions. When she was prime minister, Golda Meir famously remarked: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian." Pressure from extremist violence and Palestinian population growth has forced subsequent Israeli leaders to disengage from the Gaza Strip and consider other compromises, but not even Yitzhak Rabin was willing to offer the Palestinians a viable state. Ehud Barak's purportedly generous offer at Camp David would have given them only a disarmed set of Bantustans under de facto Israeli control.

    The tragic history of the Jewish people does not obligate the US to help Israel today no matter what it does.

    Israel's backers also portray it as a country that has sought peace at every turn and shown great restraint even when provoked. The Arabs, by contrast, are said to have acted with great wickedness. Yet Israel's record is not distinguishable from that of its opponents. The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres and rapes by Jews, and Israel's subsequent conduct has often been brutal, belying any claim to moral superiority. From 1949 to 1956, for example, Israeli security forces killed 2700 to 5000 Arab infiltrators, most of them unarmed. The Israeli Defence Force murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war in the 1956 and 1967 wars; in 1967 it also expelled 100,000 to 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights.

    The Palestinian resort to terrorism is wrong but it isn't surprising. Palestinians believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions. So if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for US support for Israel, how are we to explain it?

    The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel lobby. We use "the lobby" as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations that work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that the lobby is a unified movement with a central leadership or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the lobby because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, about 36per cent of American Jews said they were "not very" or "not at all" emotionally attached to Israel.

    Jewish Americans also differ on specific policies. Many of the key organisations in the lobby, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud party's expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians and a few groups - such as Jewish Voice for Peace - strongly advocate such steps.

    Despite these differences, moderates and hardliners both favour giving steadfast support to Israel. Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence US foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known. In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People but ahead of the AFL-CIO union movement and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March last year reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington muscle rankings.

    The lobby also includes prominent evangelical Christians such as Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the US House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, is contrary to God's will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as UN ambassador John Bolton, former Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, former US secretary of education William Bennett, former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters.

    In its basic operations, the Israel lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers unions or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy; the lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better. By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel lobby's task even easier.

    The lobby pursues two broad strategies. First, it wields its significant influence in Washington, pressuring Congress and the executive branch. Whatever an individual legislator or policy-maker's views may be, the lobby tries to make supporting Israel the smart choice. Second, it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations may lead Americans to favour a different policy.

    AIPAC forms the core of the lobby's influence in the US Congress. Its success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda and to punish those who challenge it. Money is critical to US elections (as the scandal over lobbyist Jack Abramoff's shady dealings reminds us), and AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the many pro-Israel political action committees. Anyone who is seen as hostile to Israel can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their political opponents. AIPAC also organises letter-writing campaigns and encourages newspaper editors to endorse pro-Israel candidates.

    Thanks in part to the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections, the lobby also has significant leverage over the executive branch. Although they make up less than 3 per cent of the population, they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic Party presidential candidates depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 per cent of the money. And because Jewish voters have high turnout rates and are concentrated in key states such as California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them.

    During the Clinton administration, Middle Eastern policy was largely shaped by officials with close ties to Israel or to prominent pro-Israel organisations, among them Australian-educated Martin Indyk, the former deputy director of research at AIPAC and co-founder of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Dennis Ross, who joined WINEP after leaving government in 2001; and Aaron Miller, who has lived in Israel and often visits the country. These men were among Bill Clinton's closest advisers at the Camp David summit in July 2000. The situation is even more pronounced in the Bush administration, whose ranks have included fervent advocates of the Israeli cause such as Elliot Abrams, Bolton, Douglas Feith, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and David Wurmser. These officials have consistently pushed for policies favoured by Israel and backed by organisations in the lobby.

    Pressure from Israel and the lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003 but it was critical. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure. According to Philip Zelikow, a former member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and a counsellor to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the real threat from Iraq was not a threat to the US. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel, Zelikow told an audience at the University of Virginia in September 2002.

    Israeli leaders were deeply distressed when George W. Bush decided to seek Security Council authorisation for war and even more worried when Saddam Hussein agreed to let UN inspectors back in. "The campaign against Saddam Hussein is a must," Shimon Peres told reporters in September 2002. "Inspections and inspectors are good for decent people, but dishonest people can overcome easily inspections and inspectors."

    Although neo-conservatives and other lobby leaders were eager to invade Iraq, the broader American Jewish community was not. Just after the war started, columnist Samuel Freedman reported that "a compilation of nationwide opinion polls by the Pew Research Centre shows that Jews are less supportive of the Iraq war than the population at large, 52per cent to 62 per cent". Clearly, it would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq on Jewish influence. Rather, it was due in large part to the lobby's influence, especially that of the neo-conservatives within it.

    The neo-conservatives had been determined to topple Saddam even before Bush became President. They caused a stir early in 1998 by publishing two open letters to Clinton, calling for Saddam's removal from power. The signatories, many of whom had close ties to pro-Israel groups such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs or WINEP, and who included Abrams, Bolton, Feith, Perle, Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis and Donald Rumsfeld, had little trouble persuading the Clinton administration to adopt the general goal of ousting Saddam. But they were unable to sell a war to achieve that objective. They were no more able to generate enthusiasm for invading Iraq in the early months of the Bush administration. They needed help to achieve their aim. That help arrived with 9/11. Specifically, the events of that day led Bush and Dick Cheney to reverse course and become strong proponents of a preventive war.

    One may argue that Israel and the lobby have not had much influence on policy towards Iran because the US has its own reasons for keeping Iran from going nuclear. There is some truth in this, but Iran's nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US. If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran. Iran and the US would hardly be allies if the lobby did not exist but US policy would be more temperate and preventive war would not be a serious option.

    Can the lobby's power be curtailed? One would like to think so, given the Iraq debacle and the obvious need to rebuild America's image in the Arab and Islamic world.

    Although the lobby remains a powerful force, the adverse effects of its influence are increasingly difficult to hide. Powerful states can maintain flawed policies for quite some time, but reality cannot be ignored forever. What is needed is a candid discussion of the lobby's influence and a more open debate about US interests in this vital region. Israel's wellbeing is one of those interests, but its continued occupation of the West Bank and its broader regional agenda are not. Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided US support and could move the US to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region and with Israel's long-term interests as well.

    London Review of Books

    This is an edited extract from a longer article. John Mearsheimer is the Wendell Harrison professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Stephen Walt is the Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His most recent book is Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy.

    End
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


  3. #3
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    "Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim."

    That's an inaccurate statement. A VERY inaccurate statement.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


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