The Rev. Pat Robertson, the prominent American televangelist and “Christian Zionist,” says the felling of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a massive stroke is punishment from God “for dividing the Land of Israel.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Robertson, speaking on the 700 Club on Thursday, said that both Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin murdered by an Israeli extremist in 1995 were victims of retaliation by God Himself. Saith Robertson:
“He was dividing God’s land. And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations, or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.”
Robertson, the Protestant dispensationalist fanatic who is a more fervent Zionist than even the prime minister of Israel, speaks of “appeasing” the United States of America as if it were a foreign country or, at any rate, not his country, but something equally foreign and, presumably, repugnant to him as the EU and the UN.
The charge of “dividing God’s land” is a reference to the withdrawal of Israeli military units from Gaza: that this “withdrawal” was accompanied by simultaneous announcements of yet more Israeli “settlements” populated by ardent Zionists from Brooklyn, and paid for by U.S. taxpayer dollars, does nothing to placate the Ayatollah Robertson and his flock. Their belief that the ingathering of Jews in Palestine is a sign that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent is rooted in a literal interpretation of the Bible and the firm belief that the End of the World is nigh. According to dispensationalist theology, with the “rapturing” up into heaven of the Christian elect, the “new dispensation” of the Almighty on earth is no longer the Church, but the Jews God’s chosen people.
The enmity between such ardent Zionists as Robertson and Sharon reflected in Sharon’s split with the ultra-right wing of the Likud Party and the creation of a new, Sharon-centric formation, the Kadima Party is rooted in the Israeli leader’s acquiescence to American pressure for a Palestinian state. Ironically, the anti-Americanism behind Robertson’s charge that Sharon is too eager to “appease” the U.S. was formerly shared by the ailing prime minister, who once compared George W. Bush’s peace plan for the Middle East to the 1938 Munich agreement, and angrily declared that Israel would not be sold down the river “like Czechoslovakia.” (A statement with which neocons like Bill Bennett dutifully agreed.)
Sharon’s subsequent revision of the old Likud agenda of a Greater Israel extending “from the Nile to the Euphrates” was as intolerable to Israel’s religious fundamentalists as it was to our own, since both see their views as a matter of theology, rather than mere politics. It is God’s will that Israel shall be undivided and that it should encompass the same geographical dimensions as mentioned in the Bible: on this, and much else, the Likudniks and Robertson’s followers agree. Known as “the Bulldozer” for his policies of decimating Palestinian communities in order to make way for Israeli “settlements,” Sharon rose to power on the strength of this vision. Today he can credibly claim that it is largely accomplished: in exchange for ungovernable Gaza and a few strips of bantustan-like enclaves that resemble America’s Indian reservations more than a legitimate sovereign entity, Israel’s power and influence does indeed almost extend “from the Nile to the Euphrates,” as the old Zionist slogan put it or, at least, as Seymour Hersh reports, from the River Jordan to the Tigris, which is in Kurdistan. Even if he had to compromise on the key question of Jerusalem’s status or, at a minimum, kick that can down the road the cagey old warhorse clearly saw that he was getting the better part of the bargain.
That bargain, struck informally between Bush and Sharon, involved a simple trade: the invasion of Iraq and subsequent start of a whole new era in the Middle East in return for the shell of a Palestinian “state” and a peace plan signed, sealed, and delivered by Bush II.
I won’t reiterate the case for believing that the main motive for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was rooted in American support for Israel. Suffice to say here that the other ostensible reasons for such a misdirected effort in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks oil, Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, “weapons of mass destruction” all dissipated rather rapidly after the president declared “mission accomplished.”
The oil that Paul Wolfowitz assured us would pay the full cost of this war has disappeared, and in Iraq a gas shortage has everyone lining up at the pumps. Furthermore, as the 9/11 Commission concluded and the evidence shows, Iraq never had anything to do with Osama bin Laden and his Islamist followers, contrary to this administration’s clear intent in linking the two. As for those fabled WMD: like Shangri La and the Abominable Snowman, this Holy Grail of the War Party has yet to show up anywhere, although the most deluded wing of the War Party is still insisting in television ads, yet! that these weapons really, really do exist, just you wait and see
So why did we invade and occupy a country that had never attacked America, and was no military threat to us, incurring thousands of casualties and costing hundreds of billions so far? Stephen Zunes, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University and a longtime antiwar activist, says it couldn’t have been due to pressure from Israel because well, because to say so would appear to mimic classic anti-Semitic tropes. As he puts it:
“Because this particular theory parallels dangerous anti-Semitic stereotypes which exaggerate Jewish power and influence, however, it is a particularly grievous misinterpretation, not just because it reinforces longstanding oppressive attitudes against a minority group, but because it diverts attention away from those who really are responsible for the unfolding tragedy in Iraq.”
Aside from Zunes’ conflation of “Jewish” and “Israeli,” which diverts attention away from Israel’s ruthless support of its national interests, one has to ask: who is “really” responsible? Why, the U.S., of course: it’s the Americans who really are in the saddle when it comes to the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Israel, according to this classic leftist view, is a “colony” specifically, a “settler colony,” made possible first by the British and today by the American “ruling class.” This view, however, neglects the growth of Zionist power in its own right as an independent force in world politics. It also presupposes an identity of U.S. and Israeli interests, a view also held by Israel’s most fervent partisans, albeit coming from a different perspective than Professor Zunes. The neoconservatives and their Christian evangelical amen corner proclaim this perfect congruence of interests as a matter of pride, while Zunes and the Left point to it as a sign of capitalist America’s universal malignity. Yet the reality is much more complicated than that and has lately especially since 9/11 undergone a considerable evolution, much of which has taken place out of sight, occasionally rising to the surface in the form of seeming rifts in the “special relationship.”
Zunes’ theme that the interests of the U.S. and Israel are virtually identical, and that the latter is merely the Middle Eastern district office of the former, doesn’t hold water on a number of grounds. For example, it isn’t generally known that the U.S. recently rejected Israel’s request to join the Visa Waiver Program, which would have exempted Israelis traveling to the U.S. from having to obtain a visa. Israeli citizens will also have to comply with the new visa requirements put in place this past July and undergo an interview before obtaining permission to travel to the U.S. legally. Whether this has anything to do with recent indictments [.pdf] accusing prominent pro-Israel lobbyists of spying on behalf of Tel Aviv or is in any way connected to the massive theft of U.S. military technology by the Israelis, who then sold it to the Red Chinese, is a matter of pure speculation. Yet one has to wonder if Israel is simply a cat’s-paw of the U.S., a “colony” in all but name, then why isn’t the simple courtesy of a visa waiver being extended?
This is a very special special relationship, so close as to qualify as symbiotic yet not at all precluding antagonism of the sort that characterizes all such intimacies. While the Israelis are entirely dependent on economic and military aid from the U.S., this very fact is the source of a certain amount of resentment, a sentiment that Sharon eagerly cashed in on during his rise to power.
In addition, this resentment birthed an Israeli effort, which began under the aegis of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to break out of their position of total dependence and renew the national spirit of a beleaguered Israel, which, surrounded by a sea of Arab hostility, seemed to be stumbling and drained of vitality. The solution to this dilemma was dreamed up by a group of Americans Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks Jr., Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, acting as advisers to Netanyahu in a policy paper entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm.” The authors who rose to top defense and foreign policy positions in the administration of George W. Bush were referring, in the title, to Israel “breaking out” of its economic and political isolation by taking the offensive against Iraq and, ultimately, Syria, extending its sphere of influence well beyond its present boundaries. Syria and Lebanon were the primary concern of the Clean Break gang, but the road to Damascus, they averred, must run though Iraq. Only when Iraq is humbled, they argued, will Syria be outflanked and cut off from the rest of the Arab-Muslim world, militarily isolated and ready to be targeted.
The “Clean Break” scenario was created to change the terms of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, from king to feudal lord into an alliance of equals:
“Israel can make a clean break from the past and establish a new vision for the U.S.-Israeli partnership based on self-reliance, maturity and mutuality not one focused narrowly on territorial disputes. Israel’s new strategy based on a shared philosophy of peace through strength reflects continuity with Western values by stressing that Israel is self-reliant, does not need U.S. troops in any capacity to defend it, including on the Golan Heights, and can manage its own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of pressure used against it in the past.
“To reinforce this point, the prime minister can use his forthcoming visit to announce that Israel is now mature enough to cut itself free immediately from at least U.S. economic aid and loan guarantees at least, which prevent economic reform. (Military aid is separated for the moment until adequate arrangements can be made to ensure that Israel will not encounter supply problems in the means to defend itself).”
While we have yet to see Israel or its amen corner demanding an end to U.S. aid and that’s one event I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the implicit resentment that fuels this sort of rhetoric on the Israeli Right easily transmutes into ill-disguised anti-Americanism, which Sharon expressed quite well (albeit more subtly than the Rev. Robertson) in this letter to then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright on the occasion of his provocative visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. His message to Albright basically boiled down to: “Bug out, Madame Secretary what we do on our own soil is our business!” And no subtlety was involved in this Jerusalem Post article, published in 2000, in which he argued against signing a defense treaty with the U.S.:
“A defense treaty will neither deter nor halt limited terrorist activities and minor infringements of the law. The U.S. will not wish to be involved in such incidents, but will instead press Israel to show restraint. What would Israel do, for instance, if, while bound by a treaty with the U.S., the Syrians one night introduced small antitank forces into the demilitarized zone in the Golan, or if Hizbullah attacked a northern border community, or an IDF outpost? What if there is a Hizbullah attack within Israel, or against Jewish and Israeli targets in the Diaspora (as is already planned)? Is Israel willing to defy the U.S. if the superpower demands restraint, so that it can avoid direct confrontation with the Arab countries that are becoming its allies? Even more serious, from the moment that Israel fails to retaliate after the first infringement because of U.S. influence, new rules will apply that will permit both the Syrians and the terrorist organizations to erode the Israeli deterrent and apply constant pressure for further concessions. Jerusalem, water, negotiations with the Palestinians, and other issues will all be pressed upon Israel even after signing an agreement.”
Today, the Syrians are in no position to reclaim the Golan Heights, and Hezbollah is hunkering down in its south Lebanon fastness, while U.S. forces make occasional incursions into Syrian territory, and Washington in league with the “peace-loving” UN openly threatens Damascus with “regime change.” In return for allowing the creation of a defenseless Palestinian quasi-state which could be rolled over by the IDF at a moment’s notice a great deal of the pressure has been taken off Israel and redirected at the U.S. Israel has made inroads in reasserting its influence in Lebanon and has the Syrians cornered between the IDF and the Americans. By appearing to give in to American demands for restraint which he formerly railed against Sharon came out the winner.
So did Israel, which has gone a long way toward making a clean break with its former position of total servility in relation to the U.S. I have seen one study that compares Israel’s military might in the Middle East favorably to that of the Americans, and Israel, need I remind you, is a nuclear power, with as many as 400 nukes aimed at G-d-knows-where.
Professor Zunes makes a number of other arguments against the idea that the pursuit of a pro-Israeli agenda had anything whatsoever to do with the U.S. launching a war against Iraq, all of which are quite beside the point. Nowhere does he note the “Clean Break” document, although some of its authors are mentioned in passing. Instead, he argues that Iraq presented no military threat to Israel a fact that is quite irrelevant, insofar as it fails to address the strategic initiative represented by the “Clean Break” strategy. He sets up another straw horse and then energetically knocks it down by claiming that, since Iraq only supported a few rather isolated and obscure Palestinian factions with somewhat limited aid, invading Iraq was hardly worth it from an Israeli point of view. This, however, ignores the undeniable reality that the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops in the Middle East diverts terrorists away from Israel and points them in the direction of Iraq. This is the real “flypaper strategy.”
Zunes also makes the argument that the invasion was not in Israel’s interests, because this would mean that Israel and the Arab states would never “normalize” relations: Israel, he argues, is more “isolated” in the region than ever. However, the idea that Israel wants to “normalize” relations with Arab states is laughably naïve: the Israelis have always sought to deal with the Arabs from a position of “peace through strength” that is, keeping them at arm’s length while keeping their own powder very dry. With the construction of the Wall of Separation and the increased settlement activity, Sharon’s plan is to solidify and define Israel’s borders while working tirelessly, of course, to extend the Israeli sphere of influence into Lebanon and Iraq. “Normalize”? Professor Zunes has got to be kidding
The new power relationship between the U.S. and Israel is not recognized by Professor Zunes and much of the antiwar Left, just as it is ignored by neoconservative apologists for Israel and their evangelical cheering section on the Right, yet this is the major achievement of Sharon as politician and statesman. He was and is, first and foremost, an Israeli nationalist who always put the interests of his own country first. While much is made of his supposed turning away from the radical Zionist agenda of Likud, a good argument could be made that instead of betraying it he went a long way toward fulfilling it. After all, who would have dreamed, at the height of the first Intifada, that Israel’s influence would one day extend all the way to Kirkuk and that a longtime ally, Ahmed Chalabi, would become Iraq’s oil minister?
If Israel was once subservient to the Western powers, and their willing instrument, it has now largely broken free in an important sense. The Jewish state is, today, a rising world power: one of the few that successfully bargains with and often defies the United States, all without being bombed into submission or targeted for regime change. If and when Sharon’s obituary is written and, as this column is being composed, he’s still clinging stubbornly to life this will be his legacy and his epitaph.