Hal Draper

Zionism, Israel & the Arabs

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Chapter V

The Suez Invasion: Israel’s Alliance With Imperialism

Hal Draper, Zionism, Israel & the Arabs, pp. 88–91.

Labor Action, Vol. 20 No. 46, November 12, 1956, pp. 1 & 2.

The joint attack on Egypt by the British, French, and Israeli forces is as gross an imperialist aggression against a small country as any in the history of colonialism.

Led by Britain and France, with Israel acting as their catspaw and junior partner in behalf of its own aims, the attack by the Western allies is a continuation of their three-month-old drive to blackjack Egypt over possession of the Suez Canal and reverse the nationalization of the Canal Company, to put the waterway under “international” (i.e., imperialist) control.

But Egypt had and has a sovereign right to take control of this piece of Egyptian territory.

Cairo was willing to, and proposed to, concede various guarantees of free shipping through the canal, of compensation of the Canal Company coupon-clippers, etc. But Britain is really concerned that any victory for Egyptian rights would inspire other Arab and Middle East countries to make difficulties about the foreign exploitation of their oil resources and European domination of their affairs; the French government hates Nasser’s support to the Algerian fighters for national freedom; both are deathly afraid in the first place that any backdown before Egypt’s rights on the Suez will inspire the whole region to defy the European colonialists and encourage resistance to their power.

This, the irrepressible revolt against colonialism that has swept the world since the Second World War weakened the old colonial empires, is the background and context of the Middle East war that has been unleashed with the decision by London and Paris to settle affairs with the defiant Egyptian regime by the same methods and instruments as Russia is using to settle with the defiant Hungarian revolutionaries.

They are not attacking Egypt because Nasser is a despotic military dictator. They are not attacking Egypt because Nasser’s regime rules over an oppressed and poverty-stricken people who need domestic reforms instead of an expensive army buildup. They are not attacking Egypt because Nasser has been keeping Israeli ships out of the Suez Canal in violation of Israel’s rights ever since 1949–50. They would be glad to prop up this same oppressive dictator if he would play ball with their power-play.

Their aims converged with a different set of aims in the minds of the leaders of the Israel government, who had their own accounts to settle with Egypt.

Up to the day before yesterday, figuratively speaking, the main open advocate of Israel’s starting a “preventive war” by initiating aggression against its Arab enemies was the Herut party, second largest in Israel, which shades from extreme reaction into fascism. With the outbreak of the Suez dispute, Herut leader Beigin openly proposed backing Britain and France in their assault on Egypt. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion ruled it out, at least in public.

All over the world, and most particularly in America, Zionist leaders held up their hands in horror at the very idea that Israel (“the democratic bastion in the Middle East”) could even be thought to be capable of such an offense against peace, international morality and simple good sense.

As we remarked on August 20: “If one wishes to conjure up an appalling prospect that would finish off Israel in the Middle East, then one can take seriously a suggestion made by the Franco-fascist organ Arriba (Madrid) that Britain use Israeli troops as ‘Sepoys’ to reoccupy the Suez Canal.” In this article, however, we refused to take this seriously, and instead gave credence to Ben-Gurion’s proclaimed intention of keeping out of the British-French line-up.

The “unthinkable” is now a fact on both counts – launching of “preventive war” and open alignment with the brutal colonialist aggression – and the result is bound to be an historic tragedy for the people of Israel and the Jewish people generally, regardless of military victory and regardless of how much added real estate the Israeli leaders may be able to grab.

The strategic timing of the attack may well have been determined of the Israeli leaders by three considerations,

  1. The Suez affair, as we explained above, seemed to be petering out; yet the Israeli leaders had undoubtedly hoped that, without their having to take a hand themselves, Britain and France would “take care” of Nasser.
  2. November 6 was a deadline set by the U.S. election; till that date, they expected, Washington would be hamstrung by vote-getting considerations from taking too strenuous action against them.
  3. Then, when Russia became unexpectedly embroiled in revolts against its rule in Poland and Hungary, and therefore also seemed immobilized, the plotters may well have decided that their cup was overbrimming.

It was the Israeli partner which triggered off the events by sending its armies across the border into Egypt, to seize the Sinai peninsula. It was the British and French partners who moved in to seize Suez, cynically using as pretext their benign desire to stop the fighting between their partner and their intended prey. To this end they issued their farcical ultimatum to “both sides,” which invited the Israelis to move up to 10 miles from the Suez Canal while their victim moved away from the canal so that the outside imperialists could step in and seize it just as they had been threatening to do all along.

This little piece of play-acting was no less and no more ham-handed than the equally benign consent of the Moscow murderers to bring the blessings of peace to Hungary by rolling tanks over the bodies of the Freedom Fighters.

The primary character of the present war, therefore is determined by the British-French colonialists’ aggression on Egypt, which is a continuation by guns and jetplanes of its three-months-old drive to punish that country for asserting its national rights over Suez. it is an outright imperialist attack against which the Egyptian people have every right to defend themselves.

The defense of Egypt will not be helped by the oppressive dictatorship under which they resist imperialism; it will not be helped by the social backwardness in which this regime has kept the country. Above all, it will not be helped by the fact that Nasser has forfeited great sectors of sympathy in the world by his own (and the other Arab states’) reactionary and provocative declamations about destroying Israel as a state, their militaristic threats to go with this, and refusal to consider a peace settlement with Israel; and by the Egyptians’ share of responsibility for the tension by organizing, stimulating and encouraging border raids and fedayeen forays into Israeli territory.

It is in spite of this, and only because of their socialist abhorrence of the colonialist politics behind the aggression, that the British Labor movement, both on top and in the ranks, is unlimbering such fighting spirit and fiery opposition to the war-mongering of the Eden government, as shown in the great Trafalgar Square demonstration and in Labor speeches and press attacks on the crime in the Middle East.

We hail British Labor’s fight all the more in contrast to the heinous role being played by the two self-styled “socialist” premiers who, with the Tory Eden, plotted this outrage against national freedom.

The role of Guy Mollet’s France against Egypt is a continuation of the frenzied persecution of nationalist freedom fighters in Algeria. In Algeria, French colonialism is bogged down in a hopeless struggle to suppress North Africa. Floundering in its crisis, the jingos in Paris drive themselves to try to break out of the North African impasse by “teaching Nasser a lesson.” They hope that a crashing success in Egypt will restore European supremacy all around the Mediterranean. Thus they try to break out of one trap by a desperate dash into another.

The role of Ben-Gurion’s Israel is at once more complex and more tragic.

It is in the first place, a subordinate partner in this imperialist enterprise, as we have been pointing out; and so also is its armed struggle subordinated to the over-all colonialist character of the war. Yet, at the same time, it must be recognized that the politics of which its attack was a continuation, from its own side, are different from that of Britain-France.

The question leads us to the current apologies being offered wholesale in the press for Israel’s disgraceful decision to launch that very “preventive war” which its leaders and spokesman had so often sworn was the Unthinkable.

In this connection we have naturally been hearing a great deal about that share of responsibility for the border tension which is Egypt’s, and which we took up above. This is one side of the truth.

The other side of the truth consists of the Israel government’s contributions, since the 1948 war, toward provoking border incidents, embittering relations, and refusing concessions indicated by simple justice.

This side of the truth would have to tell that the majority of the so-called border “infiltrators” are Palestinian Arabs who had been cruelly driven out or kept out of their native homes by Israeli force and laws, and that a good part of their “infiltrations” consist of attempts to recover some of their own property; that the Arab refugee problem, which is in very substantial part the creation of and responsibility of the Israelis, has been spurned by the government and all concessions refused; that in reply to the “infiltrations” the Israel regime has steadily, since the Kibya massacre, taken the initiative in raising the ante and heightening the savagery of the border fighting, up to and including the recent provocative shelling of Gaza by Israeli cannon; that the hatred of the Arab world has been wooed by the Zionists through the indefensible, discriminatory and second-class position in which even Israeli Arabs are place by law and practice, including military rule over most of them.

It is a story which would explain why Israel, through its reactionary chauvinist policies, has been working itself into an inextricable trap in its part of the world – a trap which closes in both economically and politically – as long as it sets a course which fails to integrate it into the Middle East of which it is a natural part and without which it cannot exist healthily. Its reactionary chauvinist policies have made it easy for the Nassers to isolate it (just as, we explained, Nasser’s reactionary regime makes it easier for world sentiment to be mobilized against Egypt’s rights).

Israel’s tumble into the pit of “preventive war” is a desperate attempt to extricate itself from the consequences of its chauvinism – by resorting to more of the same, and worse. It is like an alcoholic who is trying to cure the jitters with more drink, except this time the shot must be stiffer and the alcohol rawer. It is a classic pattern of the consequences of reactionary politics.

Last updated on 27 August 2020