The elaborate pretenses that surround any discussion of Israel are fast making it impossible to say a word about that country without uttering a number of increasingly obvious lies.
We are, for example, supposed to believe that Israel is really a part of the West, when demographics – and the country’s radical political shift – point in the opposite direction. It is commonly asserted as incontrovertible fact that Israel is a democracy, just like us, the only one in a region ruled by monarchs, mullahs, and secular nationalist despots – and we aren’t supposed to notice its population of Palestinian helots in the occupied territories.
Defenders of Israeli government policies – the settlements, the repeated invasions of Lebanon, the prolonged agony of the West Bank and Gaza, the Wall of Separation – rationalize these actions by explaining that the country is beleaguered, a tiny island of Western liberal values in a sea of Arabic absolutism, one in constant threat of annihilation. Yet Israel is a military powerhouse, thanks to the US: its armies have beaten the combined Arab forces on several occasions, notably the Six Day War, and Tel Aviv has a trump card they could always play if that “existential threat” to its existence that we keep hearing about should ever materialize: a substantial nuclear arsenal.
The Israeli nuclear program began in 1949, when a special scientific unit was set up by the government for that express purpose, and they made some progress, but the effort couldn’t have succeeded without outside assistance, a technology transfer that would give the Israelis the ability to produce a functioning weapon.
France stepped into the breach, and offered assistance, in exchange for Israel’s invasion of the Sinai during the Suez crisis. French-Israeli cooperation was based on more than geopolitical advantage, however: the French were confronting the Arabs in Algeria, and the Egyptians, and the Israelis were their natural allies, and yet there was also an ideological motive. In solidarity with his fellow socialists in the Israeli Labor party, who dominated Israeli politics in the early years, French Socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet is reported to have said, in private: “I owe the bomb to them.”
The US offered credible cover for the clandestine within the framework of the “Atoms for Peace” agreement initiated by President Dwight David Eisenhower: the building of a small, “swimming pool” reactor under this initiative effectively camouflaged the construction of the much larger nuclear facility at Dimona, where the Israeli nuclear arsenal was conceived and assembled.
In spite of the fact that the whole world knows, by now, the story of the Israeli nukes and how they came to be, thanks to the sacrifice of one man – Mordecai Vanunu – both the US and the government of Israel have kept up an elaborate pretense, ever since the Eisehower era, never alluding to Israel’s nukes, although the Israelis have indirectly alluded to their power to annihilate any city in the Middle East at will. The US, for its part, has maintained a discreet silence on the subject – until now.
Assistant secretary of state Rose Gottemoeller’s surprise announcement that the US would like every nation – including Israel – to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) sent shockwaves from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, confirming the worst fears of the Obama-haters who make up the radical fringe of the Lobby. You’ll recall that the first thing accused Israeli spy Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former chief lobbyist, did when he resurfaced was to set up an “Obama Watch” blog on the web site of the crazed Daniel Pipes, one of the main perpetrators of the “Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim” meme. Expect the attacks on the President coming from the Lobby to intensify.
The Israelis are citing a supposed 40-year-old secret agreement to permanently shield the Israeli arsenal from international inspections – the same inspections Iran is expected to undergo without protest. Iran, unlike Israel, is a signatory to the NPT. To the Israelis, however, Tehran’s signature is proof that “the NPT is not “a miracle cure for the world’s ills.” Presumably Israel’s policy of nuclear “ambiguity” is one such solution, if not for the world’s ills, but for a very small part of the world. That this solution comes at the expense of the peace of the region – i.e. at everyone else’s expense – seems not to bother the elected leadership of the Jewish state at all. Indeed, under the new ultra-rightist regime – which includes neo-fascist Avigdor Lieberman, a former bouncer, as “foreign minister” – the Israelis seem to revel in it.
This is just posturing, of course, since the US could bring Israel to its knees rather quickly if it chose: without US aid, the Zionist settler colony would have disappeared long ago. What the Israelis depend on for their very survival is the existence and unmatched power of their lobby in America, which ensures the Jewish state a very large piece of the foreign aid pie. This lobby will now be mobilized for an all-out assault on the new policy, which could spell the end of our old Israel-centric stance in the region, and map out a new beginning for the US insofar as its historic role as the inheritor of Britain’s mistakes is concerned.
The very idea that Israel and Iran should be treated as equals, that they should both have to live up to the same standards, and go through the same inspections of their nuclear facilities, is unacceptable to the Israelis, and to this government in particular. The outright racist Lieberman reflects a very widespread sentiment in the country.
The idea of a nuclear-free Middle East is an old one, raised by the Syrians, and I believe the Saudis. This was immediately dismissed, during the Bush years, as propaganda. If President Obama actually takes them up on this proposal, however, it would signal a historic shift – not just a shift in American policy, but in the outlook and policy of the West.
The legacy of Western imperialism in the region is written on the map, which delineates borders drawn by the British Foreign Office with a stick in the sand. Divided up amongst the victors in the wake of World War I, and the lingering death of the Ottoman “sick man of Europe,” the Middle East was dominated by the European imperialist powers up until the end of World War II, when the Americans moved in. The white man’s burden, as Kipling dubbed it, turned, in American hands, from a civilizing mission into a strictly commercial enterprise.
The very existence of Israel, its genesis in the Balfour Declaration and its historic economic and military links to the West, is, in the Muslim mind, the living symbol of this imperialist legacy, just as the Iranian Shah was. The Khomeini movement had its roots in the struggle against Western imperialism, and the admixture of religious fervor and the movement for national self-determination was made possible due to Western intervention. The CIA overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh diverted secular nationalist sentiment into the only alternative outlets: the ayatollahs. We have to live with that blowback from 1953.
Obama, however, promises to reverse it, to neutralize the long history of Western betrayals, insults, and indifference and strike a grand bargain with the peoples of the region, one that will put them on an equal footing with the rest of the world – and with the Israelis, too.
Not if the Lobby can help it, mind you, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that Ms. Gottemoeller’s statement is “clarified” to mean its exact opposite – and that Gottemoeller herself is out on her ear (or, at least, called on the carpet) before this post gets Googled.
If Gottmoeller’s statement stands, and she isn’t exposed as a secret neo-Nazi by Monday morning, then Obama will be the first US President since John F. Kennedy to put pressure on the Israelis to abandon their status as nuclear rogues, as David Bedein, the Philadelphia Bulletin‘s Middle East correspondent points out. Although Kennedy did not pressure them in public, but only in private communications: that Obama is putting the screws on them publicly is a real giant step forward to peace in the Middle East. The idea of a nuclear-free zone in that region makes so much sense that there is no way the Israelis could credibly oppose it. The ultimate argument in favor can be made by simply pointing at Israel’s foreign minister, the crazed Lieberman – who once advocated bombing the Aswan dam – and asking: Do you want to put nuclear weapons in his hands? I have no doubt that the prospect of a future Israel led by this fascist nutball is one of the considerations behind the timing of Gottemoeller’s speech.
This bombshell announcement – that the US is openly calling on the Israelis, along with the North Koreans, to join the rest of humanity in containing the spread of nuclear weapons – will hit US-Israeli relations with the force of a tsunami. If Obama follows through on this one – and I have my doubts – it will truly mean an end to the “special relationship,” or, more accurately, the current Israeli interpretation of the terms of that relationship. Obama, it seems, wants those terms renegotiated, which is why invoking a mysteriously vague 40-year-old secret agreement probably won’t have much effect on the White House’s apparent determination to make a historic breakthrough on the Middle Eastern front.
We’ll see, however, if that determination is somewhat blunted in the coming months, under relentless pressure from the Lobby, which will go all out to crush this initiative before it gets off the ground. President Obama is being tested. Here is a man who has all the mannerisms of greatness, but whether he’s merely aped these, like any second-rate actor is capable of doing, or is the real thing, has been a matter of some debate. The next few months should be enough for us to see what he is made of. If he lasts that long without capitulating entirely, I’ll be surprised – and honestly delighted.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
What did Nancy Pelosi know, and when did she know it, suddenly became a pressing issue overnight, as the CIA – Obama’s CIA, Leon Panetta’s CIA – releases documents showing she was briefed about “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on Abu Zubaydah – yes, the one who was water-boarded 83 times. Read my take here. (Note: that’s not my title).