Netanyahu: Intellectual Father of the ‘War on Terror’

Writing last week on the redoubtable Phil Giraldi said:

The Israel connection is significant because Israel has long been at the heart of America’s foreign policy woes. America’s misguided war on terror is in fact a complete adoption of Israeli security paradigms without any regard for the actual threats that confront the U.S., making Israel’s many enemies also the foes of Washington. The Israeli Lobby might not have singlehandedly brought about the disastrous Iraq war, but it certainly was a major factor in the push to invade, taking its cues from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”

Reading Giraldi’s article I thought back, as I have intermittently through the years, to a late night in 1995 when, after a long day’s work, I sat down to watch the Charlie Rose Show in the hopes of getting smarter. Back then, I had not yet realized just how bought-and-paid-for Charlie is (Bloomberg, Sumner Redstone, and a long et cetera of media magnates underwrite his program) and thus incapable of considering ideas that challenge in any substantial way the notion that the U.S. and Israel are anything but positive factors on the world stage.

In my mind’s eye, I remembered seeing that night’s guest, Benjamin Netanyahu, talk about a book he had written in which he argued for the need of the “West” to engage in a “War on Terror.” I also remember quite clearly chortling out loud at the stupidity and chutzpah of the proposition.

Well, I recently went back through the online archives of the program and found the interview. And sure enough, it was exactly as I had remembered it. There was Netanyahu pushing the “War on Terror” as a concept, some six years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001!

I don’t know about you, but I was truly amazed at the alacrity with which the concept of the “War on Terror,” and with it, the thousand some-odd page PATRIOT Act was rolled out in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers. There was no way, I thought then, and I think now, that this stuff was not sitting there in fairly finished form on the shelves of some very high-level White House offices.

It seems Netanyahu or people very close to him might very well have placed it there.

Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, still alive at 102, is one of the major standard-bearers of Revisionist Zionism, an explicitly expansionist, militaristic, and anti-Arab form of Israeli nationalism founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the early part of the 20th century. Given its attraction to energetic action and expansionism, it is not surprising that the movement should have been attracted to Fascism during the Thirties. Indeed, an important member of Revisionist Zionism’s Palestine-based guerrilla arm, Abba Ahimeir, a great fan of Mussolini, also expressed admiration for Hitler, saying in 1932, “Were it not for Hitler’s anti-Semitism, we would not oppose his ideology. Hitler saved Germany.”

After the Second World War, the Revisionists formed guerrilla gangs aimed at terrorizing both the British and the Palestinian natives out of what they saw as their land. Among the members of these cells were Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Dalck Feith (Douglas Feith’s father), and Benjamin Emanuel (Rahm Emanuel’s father).

Emanuel’s father, living comfortably in retirement in Chicago, was responsible, according to some sources, for terrorist attacks on buses full of Arabs and of British soldiers in the 1945-48 period. Feith’s father was similarly involved in campaigns to induce terror among non-Jewish residents of Palestine prior to his emigration to the U.S. in 1942.

This gives us some context in which to interpret Benjamin Emanuel’s remarks on the accession of his son to the role of White House chief of staff: “Obviously, he’ll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping floors at the White House.”

After Israeli independence in 1948, the internal politics of the country were dominated by the Labor Party, which believed in the creation of European-style social democracy and a relatively discreet maltreatment/dispossession of Palestinians. In this context, the Revisionists were considered to be nuts from the fringe, and as such, were largely cut out of the structures of official power. I have been told by an Israeli academic that this contributed to Netanyahu’s father, a scholar of the Spanish Inquisition who had also been Jabotinsky’s personal secretary in New York between 1935-1940, having difficulties in securing a regular academic appointment in Eretz Israel. Hence, he shuttled back and forth several times between that country and the U.S. This is the reason why Benjamin Netanyahu speaks perfect American English; he spent much of his youth in the U.S.

This all changed in 1977 when Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud Party, a formation rooted deeply in the beliefs of Revisionist Zionism, got elected to power in Israel. They did so, in no small measure, on the basis of their ability to sell their expansionist form of nationalism to the country’s new wave of immigrants, Sephardic Jews from Arab and/or Islamic countries such as Morocco, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, who tended to be of considerably lower educational levels than the European Jews who had made up the bulk of the country’s first and second generations of settlers.

Revisionist Zionism’s long walk in the desert was over. Indeed, since that time, the Revisionists have steadily increased their domination over Israeli political life to the point where the Labor Party, like the Democratic Party in the U.S., spends much of its life cowering in front of the Likud Partyout of fear of being called “unpatriotic” and “soft on terror.”

Key to the continued rise of Revisionist Zionism was the ability to organize key elements of American Jewry around this new, hyper-martial view of the Israeli reality. They did so by infiltrating AIPAC and by flooding the think-tanks then being created to prop up the Reagan Revolution (e.g., the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute) with thinkers amenable to their cause, and by founding think-tanks of their own (e.g., the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Hudson Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Middle East Media Research Institute) dedicated wholeheartedly to promoting a pro-Likud approach to Mideast policy.

If you were a viewer of the McNeil Lehrer Report in the ’80s, you saw the first fruits of this propaganda push in abundance when think-tank heroes, Reagan appointees, and Likud sympathizers such as Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, and Paul Wolfowitz were paraded across our screens almost nightly to ply their bellicose, Israel-centered view of the world to people (PBS viewers) who like to think of themselves as America’s thinking elite. All polite, articulate, and calmly spoken, they made “muscular foreign policy” and the “show ’em who’s boss” treatment of Arabs (and all of the other ungrateful brown people of Earth, for that matter) seem the most natural and sensible thing in the world.

During the Clinton years, these neocons largely retreated into the think-tanks to plan their next assault on power, letting less overtly bellicose pro-Israel types such as Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk (the U.S. correlates of the Laborites Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres) manage Mideast affairs for the Clinton administration.

The major concern of the Revisionist Zionists-cum-neocons at this point became the Peace Treaty signed by Rabin and Arafat in late 1993. They understood quite rightly that if it were allowed to go into full effect, it would spell the end of the core Revisionist Zionist mission of having Israel occupy all of the “historic lands” of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River.

So the now well-installed members of the Washington media elite, in coordination with their friend and intellectual first cousin Netanyahu – ever mindful of fulfilling his father’s dreams– went to work on undermining compliance with the treaty and portraying it in the U.S. media as a sellout for Israeli interests. It was in this context that Netanyahu authored the book Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists , which he is promoting in the Charlie Rose clip mentioned above.

In the interview, and even more so in the book, you will hear spelled out most of the conceptual building blocks of what was later to become the U.S. “War on Terror.”

A more synthetic rendering of the vision can be found in the “Clean Break” paper written a year later (1996) as a policy blueprint for Netanyahu’s incoming prime ministership by a team that included Feith, Perle, and the husband and wife team of David (Heritage Foundation) and Meyrav (founder of MEMRI and the author of a Ph.D. thesis on Revisionist Zionism) Wurmser, which highlighted the need to engage in preemptive strikes against Iran and Syria, the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq, and the abandonment of the traditional “land for peace” framework for negotiations with the Palestinians.

Hmm. Sound familiar? It should.

This is exactly the plan rolled out within days of the attacks of 9/11, when all of the people mentioned above, except for Meyrav Wurmser, plus like-minded, pro-Likud figures such as Abe Shulsky, Eliot Cohen, and Dov Zakheim had key positions in the Bush administration, having been invited en masse by Dick Cheney.

Does anyone else remember the visit to Washington of Netanyahu two weeks after 9/11? He was greeted by official Washington as a hero and gave speeches before Congress and elsewhere in which, barely hiding his glee, he advocated the need to pursue the “War on Terror” and how, thankfully, the U.S. and Israel were now all in this together.

Mission accomplished. The U.S. and Israel were now joined at the hip on the basis of a lunatic paradigm, the “War on Terror” Netanyahu and his friends developed as a way, first and foremost, of pursuing Revisionist Zionism’s expansionist dreams. If you have any doubt, take a look at Netanyahu holding court among West Bank settlers and mocking the U.S. just weeks before we signed on to his “all for one and one for all” dream of endless war on people who are rightly his enemies but not necessarily ours.

Future historians will marvel at these developments and wonder how the world’s most powerful nation allowed it to happen without any serious public debate or reaction.

Author: Thomas Harrington

Thomas Harrington teaches Iberian studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.