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Israel: The U.S. Watchdog

(Spring 1998)

From International Socialist Review, Issue 4, Spring 1998.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE ESTABLISHMENT of the state of Israel coincided with the rise of the Middle East as an oil producer and with the displacement of Britain by the U.S. as the main imperialist power in the region. Until the Second World War, imperialist strategists considered the Middle East primarily as a passageway to trade in the Far East. But in the 1930s and 1940s, according to a U.S. oil industry report prepared in that period, “The center of gravity of world oil production is shifting from the Mexican Gulf and the Caribbean area to the Middle East-Persian Gulf area and is likely to continue to shift until it is firmly established in that area.” [1]

The U.S. wasn’t the only power to recognize the Middle East’s importance in the aftermath of the Second World War. So did the other major superpower, the USSR. In 1947, the USSR voted with the U.S. to approve the partition of Palestine in the United Nations. Later, in 1948, a shipment of Soviet Bloc arms from Czechoslovakia to the Zionist Haganah militia aided Israel’s conquest of Palestine. [2] In the geopolitics of the time, the U.S. and Russia competed to win allies in the Third World to their side. Both the Russians and the U.S. considered the loss of an ally an automatic gain for the other side. Although it seems absurd today, some U.S. Zionists argued for U.S. support on grounds that failure to aid Israel would drive the Jewish state to seek support from the USSR. “The United States is going to have to grant sufficient financial support to the present Israeli regime to avoid seeing the country go bust and perhaps swing into Communist hands,” wrote The New York Times’ Cyrus L. Sulzberger in 1948. [3]

Nevertheless, Zionist leaders like Ben-Gurion knew that the USSR could not provide the kind of financial and military aid to Israel that the U.S. and American Zionist organizations could. They continued to woo the U.S. to become Israel’s chief patron. The U.S. took the first step to underwriting the Israeli venture in 1949, when it extended a $100 million loan to Israel from the newly created Export-Import Bank. The U.S. justified its support for Israel as necessary to counteract “the Soviet threat” to the Middle East oil fields. But its true enemy was rising nationalism in the region.

When the moderate Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh announced his intention to nationalize Anglo-Iranian oil properties in 1952, the West responded with frenzied denunciations of the prime minister as a communist. The CIA overthrew Mossadegh in 1953, installing the pro-U.S. Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Iran. During the Mossadegh crisis, the “moderate” Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz made an offer to the West:

The West is none too happy about its relations with states in the Middle East. The feudal regimes there have to make such concessions to the nationalist movements ... that they become more and more reluctant to supply Britain and the United States with their natural resources and military bases ... Therefore, strengthening Israel helps the Western powers maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible. [4]

In the first decade of Israel’s existence, the U.S., France and England took turns holding the watchdog’s leash. Between 1948 and the early 1960s, France served as Israel’s chief arms supplier and sponsor of Israel’s nuclear power (and weapons) industry. In exchange for French patronage, Israel supported French colonialism in Algeria and Vietnam. When a 1952 coup brought the Arab nationalist regime of Gamel Abdul Nasser to power in Egypt, Ben-Gurion worried that Nasser “raised [Arab] spirits, changed their character and turned them into a fighting nation.” [5] To provoke Western intervention against Nasser, Israeli spies in Egypt set off bombs at the U.S. and British embassies in 1954. The plot backfired. Egyptian authorities arrested, tried and executed the Israeli agents in 1955. In response, Israel attacked Gaza (then under Egyptian rule), killing 37. Subsequent revelations showed that Israel’s military intelligence chief, most likely with the knowledge of Ben-Gurion’s inner circle, ordered the bombings in Egypt. The resulting scandal, known as the “Lavon affair” because Ben-Gurion tried to pin the blame for it on Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, forced Ben-Gurion from office. [6] Yet, as the Lavon affair showed, terrorism and assassination have been central to Israel’s foreign policy.

Despite Israel’s best efforts, the U.S. wasn’t yet convinced that Israel could serve as the main prop to U.S. power in the region. The U.S. maintained ties with Arab regimes, including Egypt, throughout the 1950s. When Israel, Britain and France went to war against Egypt in 1956, the U.S. opposed the war and forced its allies to back down. The U.S. could afford to show this kind of independence because it knew that Britain’s and France’s influence in the region was waning. The U.S. thus positioned itself to assume full dominance in the region without its “allies” getting in the way. In 1958, the U.S. sent the Marines to prop up the right-wing Christian regime of President Chamoun in Lebanon. But U.S. efforts didn’t stop the rise of Arab nationalists – who overthrew pro-Western regimes in Iraq in 1958 and Yemen in 1962 – or their courting of Russian support. The U.S. began to look more favorably on Israel’s value as a “strategic asset.” A 1958 National Security Council document stated that the “logical corollary” of opposition to radical Arab nationalism “would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.” [7]

U.S. strategic doctrine relied on building a network of pro-Western states to hem in any Arab regime which bucked the West. Over the years, the U.S. relied on combinations of Turkey, the Shah’s Iran, Israel and the Gulf monarchies to forge this alliance. But Israel became the first among these only after its quick victory in its 1967 war. Following months of provocations against its Arab neighbors, Israel struck in June 1967, having planned the war with an eye to throttling Nasserism and conquering what parts of Palestine it hadn’t seized in 1948. [8] In six days, Israel crippled the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian military forces. It seized the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Nothing proved Israel’s value to the U.S. better than its blitzkrieg through the Arab states. The U.S. was even willing to forgive and forget Israel’s attack on a U.S. surveillance ship, the Liberty, anchored off the Sinai coast. Israeli planes bombed the Liberty, and naval vessels torpedoed it. Thirty-four U.S. sailors died in the attack. [9]

The payoff from the U.S. to Israel was immediate. Between 1967 and 1972, total U.S. aid to Israel jumped from $6.4 billion per year to $9.2 billion per year. U.S. loans for Israeli purchases of U.S.-made weapons jumped an average of $22 million annually in the 1960s to a yearly average of $445 million between 1970 and 1974. The U.S. Congress even allowed the Pentagon to hand weapons to Israel without expecting any payment. House Speaker John McCormack noted in 1971 that “Great Britain, at the height of its struggle with Hitler, never received such a blank check” in U.S. military aid. [10] Israel had finally gained its desired status as “strategic asset” to the U.S. in the Middle East. Democratic Sen. Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, nicknamed the “Senator from Boeing” for his hawkish views, pronounced in May 1973 that “the strength and Western orientation of Israel on the Mediterranean and Iran on the Persian Gulf safeguards U.S. access to oil.” They have “served to inhibit and contain those irresponsible and radical elements in certain Arab states, who, were they free to do so, would pose a grave threat indeed to our principle sources of petroleum in the Persian Gulf.” [11]

Israel’s role as regional enforcer for the U.S. fit the Nixon Administration’s post-Vietnam policy of subcontracting U.S. foreign policy to local client states. Nixon and his errand boy, National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, assembled a “strategic triangle” of Saudi Arabia, the Shah’s Iran and Israel to guard U.S. interests in the Middle East. The Nixon administration remained “firmly committed to Israel’s security and to her military superiority in the Middle East, for only Israel’s strength can deter attack and prevent a call for direct American intervention,” the pro-Zionist New York Times explained. [12] During the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel, Nixon put U.S. forces on nuclear alert. Nixon willingly risked nuclear war to protect the U.S.’s “strategic asset.”

Doing the U.S.’s Dirty Work

Israel took to its newfound U.S. responsibilities with gusto. When King Hussein moved to crush Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan in September 1970, Syrian tanks invaded Jordan. Fearing that Palestinian and Syrian resistance would topple his regime, Hussein pleaded with the U.S. and Israel to intervene. Kissinger relayed this message to Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin: “King Hussein has approached us, describing the situation of his forces, and asked us to transmit his request that your air force attack the Syrians in northern Jordan. I need an immediate reply.” Rabin objected to the U.S. acting as a “mailman” for Jordan, but he agreed to comply with the request. The IDF mobilized its forces, giving Jordan cover to attack the Syrians. Within a day, Hussein had regained control of Jordan and proceeded to expel Palestinian guerrillas. The IDF never carried out its attack plans. [13]

The Jordanian crisis highlighted one of Israel’s chief values to the U.S. – helping to prop up reactionary regimes in the Middle East. But Israel didn’t confine its dirty work for the U.S. to the Middle East. Since 1948, just about every pro-U.S. repressive dictatorship in the world has received some kind of overt or covert Israeli aid. The U.S. funnels weapons and aid through Israel when it wants to evade congressional bans on aid to repressive regimes. The U.S. and the CIA subcontract training of death squads and terrorists to Israel.

Consider the following examples:

Israel’s aid to repressive regimes reflects more than a tradeoff for U.S. dollars. To be sure, Israel’s economy, of which one-fifth is devoted to the military, gains from the military contracts and trade. But there is a more fundamental reason why Israel supports murderous dictatorships. As a state whose entire existence depends on an alliance with imperialism to suppress the Palestinian national liberation movement, it opposes in principle any movements for democracy or liberation in what used to be called “the Third World.” In the Middle East, “ ... [t]he Israeli establishment knows that an Arab democracy will be much stronger than any Arab autocratic regime,” the radical Israeli human rights campaigner Israel Shahak explained. Israel wants an undemocratic Palestinian bantustan in the occupied territories because it knows that “democracy will strengthen the Palestinians while Israel wants to keep them weak.” [17] From Rhodesia to apartheid South Africa to the Gulf monarchies, Israel ties its interests not with the masses fighting for freedom, but with their jailers.

The Nature of Israel’s Class Society

As an outpost for imperialism in the Middle East, Israel depends for its survival on military, economic and political support from outside its borders. The Zionist myth that Israeli “pioneers” made “the desert bloom” ignores the fact that massive economic subsidies from the West – and in particular, from the U.S. Treasury – support its European-like living standards. Since Israel’s establishment, funds flowing into Israel from a combination of sources – Zionist organizations outside of Israel, post-World War II reparations from West Germany and grants and loans from the U.S. government – regularly exceeded Israeli capital exports. “The importance of the United States as a source of capital imports (as well as of political support in general – not to mention defense goods!) can hardly be overemphasized,” one academic study of Israeli society noted. [18] Between 1949 and 1996, the U.S. gave Israel about $62.5 billion in foreign aid – about the same it gave all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean during the same period. [19] Israel remains the U.S.’s single greatest recipient of foreign assistance, pocketing more than $3 billion in aid each year. But even this figure underestimates the extent of U.S. assistance to Israel. When U.S.-government tax breaks for donations to Zionist organizations, Israel bonds sold by U.S. firms, loans and other forms of aid are taken into account, the yearly U.S. subsidy to Israel more than doubles. One estimate placed the aid level at nearly $1,400 per Israeli citizen. [20] The close relation between the U.S. and Israel ensures that the Israeli military arsenal is the most advanced and deadly in the region.

U.S. and Western subsidies to Israel have distorted the country’s development, producing a society whose dynamics differ from those of other capitalist societies. In any other capitalist society, the class struggle between workers and bosses contains the kernel for a challenge to the country’s ruling class. Israel’s dependence on external resources have blunted the impact of class struggle involving Jewish workers within Israel. “This means that although class conflicts do exist in Israeli society they are constrained by the fact that the society as a whole is subsidized from the outside,” an Israeli revolutionary socialist explained. “This privileged status is related to Israel’s role in the region, and as long as this role continues there is little prospect of the internal social conflicts acquiring a revolutionary character.” [21] In contrast, “all the Arab regimes are vulnerable to movements from below which express the interests of millions who have not shared in the oil boom, in the privileges of the ruling families and bureaucracies, or in the wealth of those who profit from the ‘opening’ to Western capital.” [22] For this reason, Israel is the most stable and pro-American country in the region, which explains its privileged position among U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Much has changed in Israeli politics and society in the last decade. While the U.S. continues to underwrite Israel’s economic and military infrastructure, Israel has established trade links with a wider range of countries. Between 1990 and 1995, the Israeli economy grew at an average of 7 percent per year. After the 1993 Oslo Accords signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israeli diplomats are now welcome in many countries from which they had previously been barred. The stronger Israeli economy and decline of Israeli isolation has even allowed Israel to pursue high-profile dealings with countries like China and North Korea. These Israeli contacts certainly displease Washington.

In line with many of the world’s governments in the 1990s, Labor and Likud have pushed free-market “reform” in Israel. The right-wing Netanyahu government, elected in 1996, has pushed through massive plans for privatization of state-owned firms and cutbacks to the country’s welfare system. These attacks provoked weeks of general strikes in late 1997. While these developments showed workers’ discontent in Israel, they did not pose a challenge to the Zionist state – or even to its Zionist policies. The majority of Jewish workers still identify with the state of Israel even if they disagree with government policies. This identification with the state stems from the Jewish working class’s creation as a product of the exclusion of Palestinian labor. This is true even for the poorest Jewish Israelis. Israeli immigrants from Middle Eastern countries and their descendants face discrimination at the hands of the country’s European-origin elite. Traditionally, these “Oriental” Jews are among the poorest Israelis. But they, who make up the Israeli right-wing’s base, also tend to be the most hawkish and racist towards the Palestinians. [23]

Many individual Israeli Jews have contributed heroic work to the struggle for Palestinian rights. The war in Lebanon and the intifada stirred movements in Israel of deserters from the Israeli military and other dissidents. But the majority of Israeli workers continue to identify their interests with the state and its Zionist enterprise. As long as this situation persists, Jewish workers are weaker in their own confrontations with Israel’s rulers. Israel’s rulers can always claim that workers’ selfish economic demands are imperiling the state’s security. For Israel’s Jewish working class, a political break from Zionism is the precondition for its emancipation as a class.

For the time being, a large-scale challenge to Zionism and Israel is more likely to come from outside Israel. A serious challenge to Israel’s role in the region would raise the issue of the nature of the Israeli state, wrote Israeli revolutionaries:

... [A] revolutionary breakthrough in the Arab world could change this situation. By releasing the activity of the masses throughout the Arab world, it would change the balance of power; this would make Israel’s traditional politico-military role obsolete, and would thus reduce its usefulness for imperialism. At first Israel would probably be used in an attempt to crush such a revolutionary breakthrough in the Arab world; yet once this attempt had failed Israel’s politico-military role vis-a-vis the Arab world would be finished. Once this role and its associated privileges had been ended, the Zionist regime, depending as it does on these privileges, would be open to mass challenge from within Israel itself. [24]

The Contradictions of U.S. Support for Israel

U.S. Middle East policy rests on a dilemma. The U.S. maintains its “special relationship” with Israel because Israel is the most pro-Western and stable country in the region. Yet the U.S. realizes that it must also have support from some Arab regimes, the mass of whose populations resent the U.S. links to Israel. The 3.4 million Palestinian refugees living around the region remain a destabilizing factor in countries like Jordan and Lebanon. Thus, despite the fact that every person in the region knows the close links between the U.S. and Israel, the U.S. must sometimes try to play them down. For example, as the U.S. assembled an Arab coalition to crush Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991, it couldn’t make use of its most reliable ally. Knowing that Israeli intervention against Iraq would break up its alliance with Egypt, Syria and the Gulf states, the U.S. kept Israel “on the sidelines.” When Iraqi Scud missiles fell on Israel, the U.S. strong-armed its ally not to respond.

Nothing embodies the U.S.’s search for stability more than the seemingly never-ending “peace process” which Nixon and Kissinger initiated – and every American president since has continued. The “peace process” has nothing to do with bringing peace and justice for the Palestinians. On the contrary, “The ‘peace process’ undertaken under U.S. auspices was always aiming to peripheralize the centrality of the Palestine question and to advance the bilateral dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” [25] In other words, the U.S. used the peace process to avoid dealing with the Palestinians and to entice Arab countries to cease hostilities with Israel. Because the peace process doesn’t deal with the root cause of instability in the region – the Palestinians’ dispossession – it can’t bring peace to the region.

The peace process produced one sought-after result when Egypt became the first Arab country to conclude a formal peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Then, President Jimmy Carter hosted the signing of the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. The accords, signed by Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, stipulated a five-year transition to Palestinian autonomy in all of the occupied territories. The accords also ceded back to Egypt the Sinai Peninsula Israel occupied in 1967. Israel finally ended its occupation of the Sinai in 1982. For the Palestinians, the accords pledged only to allow them “to participate in the determination of their future” – not to determine their future! [26] The Camp David Accords didn’t meet Palestinian demands, but they served Israeli, Egyptian and U.S. aims. For an investment of $3.5 billion a year in aid to Egypt, the U.S. gained a new Arab ally. Egypt opened its doors to Western investment. In completing the peace with Egypt, Israel neutralized its most powerful military rival in the region. This freed the Israeli army to concentrate on its main enemy: the Palestinians.

After being driven from Jordan in 1970, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the representative of the Palestinian liberation movement, set up its headquarters in Lebanon. Three years after signing the “peace” accords with Egypt, Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon. The invasion, dubbed “Operation Peace in Galilee,” aimed to accomplish two purposes: to drive the PLO out of Lebanon and to impose a right-wing pro-Israeli government on the country. Israeli forces killed 19,000 civilians and maimed 30,000 more in six weeks. Israeli warplanes dropped cluster and phosphorous bombs on whole neighborhoods of Beirut. Under Israeli protection, its allies in minority Christian neo-fascist Phalange militias massacred more than 2,000 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps. [27] With U.S. help, Israel forced the PLO out of Lebanon. The “peace” at Camp David had set the stage for more war.

Towards a “New Middle East”?

The U.S. defeat of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War eliminated the main Israeli adversary which had the military capability to pose even a minimal threat to Israel. The Gulf War severely weakened the PLO as well. Already reeling from losing financial and diplomatic support from the USSR and its Stalinist satellites in Europe, the PLO faced two more crises following the Gulf War. The Gulf monarchies cut off all financial support for the PLO. And they expelled more than 400,000 Palestinian workers, whose remittances to their families in the territories and refugee camps had been essential to Palestinian economic life. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the U.S. saw its opportunity to foist a new “peace process” on the Middle East.

Israel’s Labor government, elected in 1992, agreed to negotiate for “peace” with the PLO for three main reasons. First, Israel was unable to stop the intifada, the mass Palestinian uprising that erupted in the occupied territories in 1987. The costs of maintaining the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza seriously taxed the Israeli economy. Before the intifada, Israel patrolled the territories with 10,000 to 15,000 Israeli troops and an extensive network of Palestinian collaborators. The intifada destroyed that network, requiring Israel to rule the territories directly by military force. At the uprising’s height, 180,000 Israeli troops occupied the territories. Between 1987 and 1993, Israeli forces killed more than 1,200 Palestinians, including 344 children younger than 16, to crush the uprising.

The arrival of more than 525,000 Jewish immigrants from the former USSR accelerated the crisis. Faced with a massive increase in demand for jobs, housing and social spending for the immigrants, Israel could not continue to spend one-third to one-half of its budget on the military. Israel decided to cut the cost of repressing the Palestinians by handing over much of the job to Arafat’s Fatah wing of the PLO. As the cynical Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explained in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot:

I prefer the Palestinians to cope with the problem of enforcing order in Gaza. The Palestinians will be better at it than we were because they will allow no appeals to the Supreme Court and will prevent the [Israeli] Association for Civil Rights from criticizing the conditions there ...

They will rule there by their own methods, freeing – and this is the most important – the Israeli Army soldiers from having to do what they will do. [28]

Second, Israel clearly saw PLO leader Yassir Arafat’s Fatah movement as a lesser evil to any other possible representative of Palestinian aspirations – especially the Hamas fundamentalists. Arafat, whose organization faced further disintegration, perceived the deal as his last chance to administer a small patch of Palestine. In grasping the Israeli offer, Arafat sold out Palestinian refugees, whose interests aren’t addressed in the Oslo Accords. Oslo deferred fundamental issues, like the final status of Jerusalem – which both Israel and Palestine claim as their capital – to undetermined future talks.

Third, Israeli business hoped the deal would open avenues to its domination of a Middle East free-trade bloc with the Arab states. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, states like Jordan, Syria and others desired normalized relations with Israel for years, but they held back, fearing domestic reaction to dealings with Israel while the Palestinians remained under occupation. Arafat’s surrender let the Arab regimes off the hook.

Israel allowed Arafat to assume responsibility for some government functions in about 60 percent of the Gaza Strip and, to date, in only about 3 percent of the West Bank. In exchange for “autonomy” in the areas under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, Arafat agreed to act as Israel’s cop. Populating the PA with Fatah loyalists and building a security apparatus of nearly 50,000 police and paramilitary forces, Arafat has used his authority to crack down on opponents – and even criticism – of the deal with Israel. Ultimate authority in the PA still lies with Israel, which controls the PA’s borders and can intervene militarily at any time it wishes in “autonomous” regions. Even candidates for the PA’s Legislative Council, elected in 1996, had to pass Israeli approval. As a result, the majority of the Council was composed of “Arafat clients, loyalists, and pro-Oslo people. And thus, ‘The election campaign ended with a deepening feeling of an emerging ruling elite, whose economic interests are tied with Israel.’” [29]

Economically, Israel remains dominant over the PA. Not only does it retain full control over all of the region’s resources (like water) and trade, it imposes regulations which impede economic development in the autonomous areas. Also, Israel has brought economic misery with its repeated closures of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian workers. It envisions the PA as a source of cheap labor for its service industries – to be absorbed when needed and discarded and barred from working at other times. Between 1993 and 1996, Israel reduced the number of Palestinians working in Israel from 116,000 to 29,500. Since the PA took over formal rule of six West Bank towns and most of Gaza in 1994, the Palestinians living in those areas have seen their already miserable incomes decline by nearly 40 percent.

In truth, the Oslo peace process envisions the formation of a Palestinian bantustan like the fake homelands run by African collaborators that the South African apartheid regime set up in the 1960s and 1970s. Radical scholar Norman Finkelstein argues that the language in the accords outlining the PA’s powers matches nearly word-for-word the legislation setting up the Transkei bantustan in South Africa. Farsoun and Zacharia provide this assessment of the current peace process:

We ... believe that in the context of such an imbalance of power between the politically weak Palestinian Authority and a strong Israel, the [Oslo Accords’] Declaration of Principles will not lead to Palestinian self-determination and independent statehood or to the restoration or compensation for the internationally codified rights of the Palestinian diaspora. [30]

Today, not much is left of the Israel-PLO “peace process” inaugurated with the 1993 Oslo Accords. Since 1996, when the Netanyahu government was elected as an opponent of Oslo, Israel has been backing off commitments the previous Labor Party government made under Oslo. In 1997, when Netanyahu announced that he would go ahead with the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem, he signaled that Israel wasn’t simply trying to stall implementation of the Oslo Accords – it was trying to rewrite them. From that point until August 1997, the Palestinian Authority broke off meetings between PA and Israeli security forces. Then, Netanyahu’s threats to reoccupy the PA autonomous areas marked the lowest point in relations between Israel and the PA since September 1996 gun battles between PA police and Israeli soldiers. At the time of writing, Israel continued to stonewall negotiations.

The U.S. is trying to salvage at least the shell of the peace process because it fears what the worst-case alternative could be. An adviser on Middle East affairs to several U.S. administrations spelled out one worst case: “A total breakdown of the peace process, combined with a hard-line Israeli government, could conceivably result in a more humane but very real form of ‘ethnic cleansing’.” [31] Considerations of how “humane” Israeli ethnic cleansing would be aside, the U.S. cares little about the fate of the Palestinians. It is much more concerned that a total collapse of the peace process will set back its alliance with Arab regimes and, worse, radicalize the populations of Middle Eastern countries.

Still the Watchdog State?

Israel remains the region’s most dangerous threat. It is the only country in the region with a nuclear arsenal. It has started or participated in nearly every major war in the region in the last 50 years – in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 and 1991. It regularly conducts military operations outside of its borders, such as the 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” bombardment of Lebanon which drove 400,000 civilians from their homes. And it regularly carries out assassinations on its enemies drawn from a list the Israeli secret service, Mossad, prepares. “One of the first duties of any new Israeli prime minister is to read the execution list and to decide whether or not to initial each name on it,” according to a former Mossad agent. [32] When Mossad agents botched an assassination attempt on a Palestinian Islamist leader in Jordan in September, 1997, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced extensive criticism in the Knesset (Parliament). Yet almost no one who criticized Mossad’s failure questioned its right to kill opponents of the Israeli state. In February 1998, a government commission cleared Netanyahu of any responsibility in the assassination attempt.

Even after the Cold War rationale for supporting Israel – namely – “containing communism” – evaporated, Israel’s role as protector of U.S. interests remained. In a 1992 article in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, retired Israeli Gen. Shlomo Gazit, former head of Military Intelligence and West Bank Administrator, forthrightly spelled out Israel’s valuable service to imperialism. It is worth quoting Gazit’s article at length.

”[After the Cold War] Israel’s main task has not changed at all, and it remains of crucial importance,” Gazit wrote. “Its location at the center of the Arab Muslim Middle East predestines Israel to be a devoted guardian of the existing regimes: to prevent or halt the processes of radicalization and to block the expansion of fundamentalist religious zealotry.” [33]

Gazit noted that Israel asserts its right to intervene militarily in any Arab state, particularly one facing threats of revolt, whether military or popular, which may end up by bringing fanatical and extremist elements to power in the states concerned. The existence of such threats has no connection with the Arab-Israeli conflict. They exist because the regimes find it difficult to offer solutions to their socio-economic ills. But any development of the described kind is apt to subvert the existing relations between Israel and this or that from among its neighbors.

Which brings Gazit to the special role that Israel would continue to play for Western allies:

In the aftermath of the disappearance of the USSR as a political power with interests of its own in the region a number of Middle Eastern states lost a patron ... A vacuum was thus created, leading to the region’s instability. Under such conditions the Israeli role as a strategic asset guaranteeing a modicum of stability in the entire Middle East did not dwindle or disappear but was elevated to the first order of magnitude. Without Israel, the West would have to perform this role by itself, when none of the existing superpowers really could perform it, because of various domestic and international constraints. For Israel, by contrast, the need to intervene is a matter of survival. [34]

Almost five decades after Ha’aretz declared Israel the West’s “watchdog,” Israel still hasn’t been muzzled. The names of its enemies have changed from “communism” and “Arab nationalism” to “Islamic fundamentalism,” but the same dynamic holds. Israel remains the U.S.’s chief guarantor of “stability” in the Middle East. Preserving stability means preserving the region’s status quo. And preserving the status quo means maintaining repressive conditions which can only be a catalyst for future wars.

* * *


1. Quoted in Tony Cliff, The Middle East at the Crossroads in Neither Washington Nor Moscow (Bookmarks London, 1983), p. 13.

2. See Joel Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? (University of California Press Berkeley, Calif. 1990), pp. 45–50 and Phil Marshall, Intifada (Bookmarks, London 1989), pp. 65–69.

3. David Schoenbaum, The United States and Israel (Oxford University Press, New York 1993), pp. 75.

4. Phil Marshall, op. cit., pp. 76–77.

5. Ben-Gurion quoted in Naseer Aruri, The Obstruction of Peace (Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine 1995), p. 39.

6. Joel Beinin, op. cit., pp. 11–12.

7. Quoted in Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle (South End Press, Boston 1983), p. 21.

8. See Norman G. Finkelstein’s demolition of Israeli lies surrounding the 1967 war in To Live or Perish in Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Verso, New York 1996), pp. 123–149.

9. D. Schoenbaum, op. cit., pp. 156–159.

10. Aid figures and the McCormack quote are from Phil Marshall, op. cit., pp. 82–85.

11. Jackson quoted in Noam Chomsky, The Middle East Settlement: Its Sources and Contours in Power and Prospects (South End Press, Boston 1996), p. 139.

12. N. Aruri, op. cit., p. 45.

13. Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, Dangerous Liaison (Harper Collins, New York 1991), p. 167.

14. Israel Shahak, Israel’s Global Role: Weapons for Repression (Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Belmont, Mass. 1981), pp. 15–16.

15. Penny Lernoux, Israeli Arms Sales Imperil Vital Latin Friendships in Ibid., p. 53. Timerman’s story is recounted in his powerful Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (Vintage, New York 1988).

16. A. Cockburn and L. Cockburn, op. cit., p. 300.

17. Israel Shahak, Open Secrets (Pluto Press, London 1997), p. 162.

18. Michael Wolffsohn, Israel, Polity, Society and Economy, 1882–1986 (Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, N.J. 1986), p. 264.

19. See Richard H. Curtiss, True Lies About U.S. Aid to Israel, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1997, pp. 43–45.

20. Samih K. Farsoun and Christina E. Zacharia, Palestine and the Palestinians (Westview Press, Boulder, Colo.,1997), p. 243.

21. Haim Hanegbi, Moshe Machover and Akiva Orr, The Class Nature of Israel, in New Left Review 65 (January-February 1971), p. 11.

22. Phil Marshall, op. cit., p. 203.

23. See the discussion of Oriental support for the right in Emmanuel Farjoun, Class Divisions in Israeli Society, and Avishai Ehrlich’s The Oriental Support for Begin – a Critique of Farjoun, in Khamsin 10 (1983), pp. 29–46.

24. H. Hanegbi, M. Machover and A. Orr, op. cit., p. 11.

25. N. Aruri, op. cit., p. 111.

26. Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation (Touchstone Press, New York 1990), p. 142.

27. Israeli General Rafael Eitan congratulated the murderers on having “carried out good work” and offered them an IDF bulldozer to help them out. Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, was forced to resign in the wake of the debacle in Lebanon and the massacre. Yet both Eitan and Sharon, the country’s current Infrastructure Minister, remain leading politicians in Israel today.

28. Rabin quoted in N. Aruri, op. cit., p. 210.

29. S.K. Farsoun and C.E. Zacharia, op. cit., p. 285.

30. Ibid., p. 312.

31. Anthony H. Cordesman, Perilous Prospects (Westview Press, Boulder, Colo. 1997), p. 152.

32. Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, By Way of Deception (St. Martin’s Press, New York 1990, pp. 25–26.

33. Gazit quoted in Noam Chomsky, The Middle East Settlement: Its Sources and Contours in Power and Prospects, op. cit., p. 165.

34. Gazit quoted in Israel Shahak, Open Secrets, op. cit., pp. 40–43.

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