Zionists have worked hard and cleverly for their successes, but their cause has been greatly advanced at each stage by the logic of their colonial project aimed at the creation of a Jewish settler state at the very center of the Islamicate.
Most importantly, Zionism created a geopolitical realignment of great importance. It brought together two strands of the Western world previously at odds – Christians and Jews – to join their forces against the Islamicate.
At every stage in its history, Israel has ratcheted its power by unleashing forces, even negative forces, which it has then turned to its advantage. Power, intelligence and luck have played into this.
Israel’s birth radicalized important segments of the Arab world, creating anxiety among Arab Jews about their future. Israel fanned this anxiety, with help from agent provocateurs – but also aided in some cases by myopic Arab policy – to force a Jewish flight from the Arab world. As a result, Israel doubled its Jewish population – and fighting force – within a few years after its creation.
Arab nationalism – if properly harnessed and directed – could end the Jewish state and Western hegemony in the Middle East. Unafraid, Israel took steps to fan this nationalism and used it to push the US to embrace Israel, firmly and openly, as the West’s bulwark against the Arab world. The plan worked, and by the late 1950s, if not earlier, the US was on Israel’s side.
Defeating the Arab nationalists too carried a risk. By eliminating the threat of Arab nationalism, Israel risked losing its strategic value to the US. Considering the payoff, Israel was eager to defeat the Arab nationalists. As for the risk, the Jewish lobby in the US, energized by Israel’s victory, ensured that US could only draw Israel tighter to its bosom.
A weak civil society in the Arab states also helped Israel. Although the mantle of resistance passed to the Islamists after 1967, they could not displace any of the discredited Arab regimes. The US and Israel too gave a boost to these regimes. With US prodding, Israel returned a demilitarized Sinai to bring Egypt on its side. In return, Egypt switched sides.
In time, most of the Arab regimes would serve as Israel’s first line of defense against the Islamists. This was a self-reinforcing arrangement. As US-friendly Arab regimes lost legitimacy and became more repressive, they could only survive by drawing closer to the US and Israel.
At this point, luck too favored Israel, as it often has in the past. In 1979, Iran, the second pillar of US hegemony in the region, fell to Islamists who openly opposed US presence in the region. Instantly, Israel began to promote itself as the rampart against the rising Islamist tide.
In the wake of the Iranian Revolution, the Zionists also made renewed efforts to resurrect the old Western animus against Islam. Next to communism, Islam was now the principal threat to ‘civilization.’ After the Soviet collapse, the Neocons began drumming a new civilizational thesis. War between the West and Islam was inevitable.
Israel’s creation and military successes energized Christian Zionists in the US. In their millennial theology, the ingathering of Jews in Palestine was a precursor to the Second Coming. This theology demanded unconditional support for Israel. Over time, the Christian Zionists became the second organized force – next only to the Jews – that firmly backed Israel.
The end of the Cold War did not dent US commitment to Israel. It should have, since Israel was seen as America’s leading ally against Soviet influence in the region. On the contrary, in the absence of the balancing Soviet presence, pro-Israeli forces tethered the US more firmly then ever to Israeli demands.
Israel now had a free hand in dealing with its foes. It used the Oslo Accords to neuter the PLO and assigned it to police the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and Gaza. With the PLO neutered, Israel accelerated its colonization of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
This was also a signal for Israel to pursue more ambitious goals. In a 1996 document, the Neocons announced their plans to “engage” Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, “as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon.” Iraq, however, was their first target.
The 9-11 attacks offered the occasion to put these plans into action. Working in concert, Israel and its backers convinced Bush to invade Iraq. There would be more wars to redraw the map of much of Middle East. Israel would emerge from these wars as the undisputed regional hegemon, and, possibly, a world power.
Just when Israel was grasping for the moon, history took a number of ‘wrong’ turns. Iraq became a quagmire for US troops. Iran’s Shi’ite allies Iran gained control over much of Iraq, barring the Kurdish region. Soon, Iran had extended its influence into eastern Afghanistan. Israeli policy had boomeranged.
In a strange reversal, Iran now cast its shadow over much of the Middle East. It mocked Israel, stood up for the Palestinians, showed up the pro-American Arab regimes for what they are, forcing them to openly identify with Israel. In bitterness, some Arab commentators blamed the US for resurrecting the ancient Persian empire.
Now, suddenly – so it appears – the US love fest with Israel has run into a spot of trouble. In a reversal of its previous policy, the US is insisting that Israel suspend new settlement construction in East Jerusalem to pave the way for ‘peace’ talks with the Palestinian Authority. For a change, the US is countering Israel’s ‘No’ with tough talk not heard in a while.
On March 9, when the US Vice President was greeted in Tel Aviv with news of new settlements in East Jerusalem, he was furious. Privately, he told Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel’s settlement activity “undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.”
This was not a message right-wing talk artists could shout down. Joe Biden was echoing the message delivered by General Petraeus, commander of US troops in the Middle East, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Armed Services Committee. Hillary Clinton too reiterated this message in her speech to AIPAC.
What has occasioned this open rift between two spouses in a heavenly marriage? There have been tiffs before between them, but never before has a US administration told Israel that its policy endangers American troops or American interests in the Middle East. This talk is serious. It belies decades of rhetoric that has boosted Israel as America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East.
It appears that the past is beginning to catch up with Israel. Adversaries it had long suppressed, forces it had harnessed for its expansionist policy, blowbacks from decisions made in hubris have now converged to limit Israel’s options. Is the Zionist logic that had brought endless successes in the past now working in the opposite direction? Is Israel running out of its fabled resourcefulness?
Israel’s stunning victory in June 1967 had produced two destabilizing results. Having solved its native problem in 1948, Israel had created it anew in 1967 by its decision to retain the West Bank and Gaza. The June War also swelled the ranks of extremist Jews who began to colonize East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. Unable to drive out the Palestinians, this new round of colonization would turn Israel into an apartheid state.
In the 2000s, international civil society started taking notice. Movements were launched to divest from, boycott and sanction Israel. Activists began to use Western legal systems to prosecute Israelis for war crimes. Israeli leaders visiting Western campuses are now heckled routinely. Slowly, Western publics are turning away from Israel.
In 1982, in a bid to extend Israel’s northern border, Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon. The Lebanese Shi’ites responded by creating Hizbullah, a multi-layered grass-roots resistance, the most formidable adversary Israel had ever faced. In 2000, they forced Israel to withdraw unilaterally, and in July 2006 repulsed a fresh Israeli invasion, giving Israel a bloody nose.
No more was Tehran a distant threat for Tel Aviv: it was now positioned right next to Israel’s northern border. Although Hizbullah spoke to the grit and discipline of Lebanese Shi’ites, it could not have grown without Iranian support.