My following book review appears in today’s edition of Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper:
Israel and the Clash of Civilisations
(Pluto Press, $42.95)
The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington caused the Western media and political elite to seriously examine their behaviour in the Middle East. Most concluded that maintaining client states was the only viable way forward; the desperate need for oil supplies supplanted most other considerations.
The US-led invasion of Iraq was a radical form of shock treatment designed to unseat a once friendly Washington-friendly dictator. The nationalist insurgency crushed those plans, leaving the world’s sole super-power battling a relatively small number of fighters whose sole goal was the removal of an unforgiving occupation.
One country that has received relatively little scrutiny in the years since September 11 has been Israel.
The Jewish state has the most powerful military in the region, with an estimated 200 nuclear warheads, and an arsenal of cluster bombs that it used against civilians in Lebanon in the final days of its botched 2006 campaign against Hizbollah.
During the recent Australian parliamentary motion to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the country as a “custodian of freedom” amongst dictatorships. In his compelling new book, Jonathan Cook, former Guardian journalist and current resident of Nazareth, challenges this perception and concludes that, like the Bush administration, Israel actively pursue policies that lead to civil war and partition. Cook bravely skewers the mainstream narrative of a Jewish state constantly striving for peace with the Palestinians.
Israel’s security establishment developed ideas in the 1980s that advocated dissolving many of the Middle East nations, leaving Israel, like the Ottomans in centuries past, to be the local imperial power. “In this way, hoped Israel and the [predominantly Zionist] neo-cons”, Cook writes, “large and potentially powerful states such as Iraq and Iran could be partitioned between their ethnic rivalries and sectarian communities.”
Aid agencies reported in 2007 that eight million Iraqis, nearly a third of the population, required emergency aid and millions were both internally and externally displaced. Was this the intended goal?
The similarities between the Israeli occupation of Gaza and West Bank and America’s plans in Iraq are meticulously examined. Cook argues that Washington found an invaluable template for its own occupation after carefully studying the Jewish state’s record in dividing and conquering the indigenous population.
Cook approvingly quotes Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi who has written of a “Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism and co-opted collaborationists.”
David Rose, in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, reported on Bush administration plans to trigger a civil war between Hamas and Fatah after the former won a free and fair election in the Palestinian territories in 2006. The “wrong” party had won. Nabulsi’s nightmare had come true.
“As far as the neocons were concerned, whatever Israel wanted, it should get”, writes Cook, whose summary of the last eight years is reflected in the public utterances of Washington’s leading power-brokers. After Israel’s futile war against Lebanon in 2006 – with over 1000 Lebanese civilians killed – leading neocon Meyrav Wurmser, whose husband was a former senior advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, lamented Israel’s performance. “The anger [in the White House] is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians”, she said. “The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space [before the UN resolution ended the conflict.]”
These noble ideas were clearly what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had in mind when she talked during the war about “birth pangs” of a new Middle East. Cook explains that there are times when Washington tries to push Israel into actions it would not rather not do itself and other times when the Jewish state acts recklessly, such as the ever-growing expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and America remains mute. It’s a relationship that is widely accepted by the foreign policy elite and the vast majority of the establishment media.
Challenging its integrity guarantees charges of anti-Semitism or disloyalty by the Zionist lobby.
This book, while not containing a great deal of original research, is an important contribution to understanding why “Israel’s role [is] to dictate and terrify other states in the region with threats of punishment so that they dare not step out of line.”
The result, while temporarily successful on military grounds, has left the Jewish state isolated internationally and reviled across the Arab world. If Israel is to survive for another 60 years, it will need to understand that the ongoing occupation has corrupted its soul. The current signs are that its leadership doesn’t grasp this basic fact.