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The war on Iraq:
Conceived in Israel

© 2003 Stephen J. Sniegoski
All rights reserved.


In a lengthy article in The American Conservative criticizing the rationale for the projected U.S. attack on Iraq, the veteran diplomatic historian Paul W. Schroeder noted (only in passing) "what is possibly the unacknowledged real reason and motive behind the policy — security for Israel." If Israel's security were indeed the real American motive for war, Schroeder wrote,

It would represent something to my knowledge unique in history. It is common for great powers to try to fight wars by proxy, getting smaller powers to fight for their interests. This would be the first instance I know where a great power (in fact, a superpower) would do the fighting as the proxy of a small client state. [1]

Is there any evidence that Israel and her supporters have managed to get the United States to fight for their interests?

To unearth the real motives for the projected war on Iraq, one must ask the critical question: How did the 9/11 terrorist attack lead to the planned war on Iraq, even though there is no real evidence that Iraq was involved in 9/11? From the time of the 9/11 attack, neoconservatives, of primarily (though not exclusively) Jewish ethnicity and right-wing Zionist persuasion, have tried to make use of 9/11 to foment a broad war against Islamic terrorism, the targets of which would coincide with the enemies of Israel.

Although the term neoconservative is in common usage, a brief description of the group might be helpful. Many of the first-generation neocons originally were liberal Democrats, or even socialists and Marxists, often Trotskyites. They drifted to the right in the 1960s and 1970s as the Democratic Party moved to the antiwar McGovernite left. And concern for Israel loomed large in that rightward drift. As political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg puts it:

One major factor that drew them inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel and their growing frustration during the 1960s with a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly opposed to American military preparedness and increasingly enamored of Third World causes [e.g., Palestinian rights]. In the Reaganite right's hard-line anti-communism, commitment to American military strength, and willingness to intervene politically and militarily in the affairs of other nations to promote democratic values (and American interests), neocons found a political movement that would guarantee Israel's security. [2]

For some time prior to September 11, 2001, neoconservatives had publicly advocated an American war on Iraq. The 9/11 atrocities provided the pretext. The idea that neocons are the motivating force behind the U.S. movement for war has been broached by a number of commentators. For instance, Joshua Micah Marshall authored an article in The Washington Monthly titled: "Bomb Saddam?: How the obsession of a few neocon hawks became the central goal of U.S. foreign policy." And in the leftist e-journal CounterPunch, Kathleen and Bill Christison wrote:

The suggestion that the war with Iraq is being planned at Israel's behest, or at the instigation of policymakers whose main motivation is trying to create a secure environment for Israel, is strong. Many Israeli analysts believe this. The Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar recently observed frankly in a Ha'aretz column that [Richard] Perle, [Douglas] Feith, and their fellow strategists "are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments and Israeli interests." The suggestion of dual loyalties is not a verboten subject in the Israeli press, as it is in the United States. Peace activist Uri Avnery, who knows Israeli Prime Minister Sharon well, has written that Sharon has long planned grandiose schemes for restructuring the Middle East and that "the winds blowing now in Washington remind me of Sharon. I have absolutely no proof that the Bushies got their ideas from him. But the style is the same." [3]

In the following essay I attempt to flesh out that thesis and show the link between the war position of the neoconservatives and the long-time strategy of the Israeli Right, if not of the Israeli mainstream itself. In brief, the idea of a Middle East war has been bandied about in Israel for many years as a means of enhancing Israeli security, which revolves around an ultimate solution to the Palestinian problem.


War and expulsion

To understand why Israeli leaders would want a Middle East war, it is first necessary to take a brief look at the history of the Zionist movement and its goals. Despite public rhetoric to the contrary, the idea of expelling (or, in the accepted euphemism, "transferring") the indigenous Palestinian population was an integral part of the Zionist effort to found a Jewish national state in Palestine. Historian Tom Segev writes:

The idea of transfer had accompanied the Zionist movement from its very beginnings, first appearing in Theodore Herzl's diary. In practice, the Zionists began executing a mini-transfer from the time they began purchasing the land and evacuating the Arab tenants.... "Disappearing" the Arabs lay at the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition of its existence.... With few exceptions, none of the Zionists disputed the desirability of forced transfer — or its morality.

However, Segev continues, the Zionist leaders learned not to publicly proclaim their plan of mass expulsion because "this would cause the Zionists to lose the world's sympathy." [4]

The key was to find an opportune time to initiate the expulsion so it would not incur the world's condemnation. In the late 1930s, David Ben-Gurion wrote: "What is inconceivable in normal times is possible in revolutionary times; and if at this time the opportunity is missed and what is possible in such great hours is not carried out — a whole world is lost." [5] The "revolutionary times" would come with the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, when the Zionists were able to expel 750,000 Palestinians (more than 80 percent of the indigenous population), and thus achieve an overwhelmingly Jewish state, though its area did not include the entirety of Palestine, or the "Land of Israel," which Zionist leaders thought necessary for a viable state.

The opportunity to grab additional land occurred as a result of the 1967 war; however, that occupation brought with it the problem of a large Palestinian population. By that time world opinion was totally opposed to forced population transfers, equating such a policy with the unspeakable horror of Nazism. The landmark Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified in 1949, had "unequivocally prohibited deportation" of civilians under occupation. [6] Since the 1967 war, the major question in Israeli politics has been: What to do with that territory and its Palestinian population?

It was during the 1980s, with the coming to power of the right-wing Likud government, that the idea of expulsion resurfaced publicly. And this time it was directly tied to a larger war, with destabilization of the Middle East seen as a precondition for Palestinian expulsion. Such a proposal, including removal of the Palestinian population, was outlined in an article by Oded Yinon, titled "A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s," appearing in the World Zionist Organization's periodical Kivunim in February 1982. Yinon had been attached to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and his article undoubtedly reflected high-level thinking in the Israeli military and intelligence establishment. The article called for Israel to bring about the dissolution and fragmentation of the Arab states into a mosaic of ethnic groupings. Thinking along those lines, Ariel Sharon stated on March 24, 1988, that if the Palestinian uprising continued, Israel would have to make war on her Arab neighbors. The war, he stated, would provide "the circumstances" for the removal of the entire Palestinian population from the West Bank and Gaza and even from inside Israel proper. [7]

Israeli foreign policy expert Yehoshafat Harkabi critiqued the war/expulsion scenario — referring to "Israeli intentions to impose a Pax Israelica on the Middle East, to dominate the Arab countries and treat them harshly" — in his very significant work, Israel's Fateful Hour, published in 1988. Writing from a realist perspective, Harkabi concluded that Israel did not have the power to achieve that goal, given the strength of the Arab states, the large Palestinian population involved, and the vehement opposition of world opinion. He hoped that "the failed Israeli attempt to impose a new order in the weakest Arab state — Lebanon — will disabuse people of similar ambitions in other territories." [8] Left unconsidered by Harkabi was the possibility that the United States would act as Israel's proxy to achieve the overall goal.


U.S. Realpolitik

In the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. Middle Eastern policy, although sympathetic to Israel, was not identical to that of Israel. The fundamental goal of U.S. policy was to promote stable governments in the Middle East that would allow oil to flow reliably to the Western industrial nations. It was not necessary for the Muslim countries to befriend Israel — in fact they could openly oppose the Jewish state. The United States worked for peace between Israel and the Muslim states in the region, but it was to be a peace that would accommodate the demands of the Muslim nations — most crucially their demands involving the Palestinians.

Pursuing its policy of ensuring the security of Middle East oil supplies, by the mid 1980s Washington was heavily supporting Iraq in her war against Iran, although for a while the United States had also provided some aid to Iran (viz. the Iran-contra scandal). Ironically, Donald Rumsfeld was the U.S. envoy who in 1983 paved the way for the restoration of relations with Iraq, relations which had been severed in 1967. The United States along with other Western nations looked upon Iraq as a bulwark against the radical Islamism of the Ayatollah's Iran, which threatened Western oil interests. U.S. support for Iraq included intelligence information, military equipment, and agricultural credits. And the United States deployed the largest naval force since the Vietnam War in the Persian Gulf. Ostensibly sent for the purpose of protecting oil tankers, it ended up engaging in serious attacks on Iran's navy.

It was during this period of U.S. support that Iraq used poison gas against the Iranians and the Kurds, a tactic that the U.S. government and its media supporters now describe as so horrendous. In fact, U.S. intelligence facilitated the Iraqi use of gas against the Iranians. In addition, Washington eased up on its own technology export restrictions to Iraq, which allowed the Iraqis to import supercomputers, machine tools, poisonous chemicals, and even strains of anthrax and bubonic plague. In short, the United States helped arm Iraq with the very weaponry of horror that administration officials are now trumpeting as justification for forcibly removing Saddam from power. [9]

When the Iran/Iraq war ended in 1988, the United States continued its support for Iraq, showering her with military hardware, advanced technology, and agricultural credits. The United States apparently looked to Saddam to maintain stability in the Gulf. But American policy swiftly changed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Neoconservatives were hawkish in generating support for a U.S. war against Iraq. The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, headed by Richard Perle, was set up to promote the war. [10] And neoconservative war hawks such as Perle, Frank Gaffney, Jr., A.M. Rosenthal, William Safire, and The Wall Street Journal held that America's war objective should be not simply to drive Iraq out of Kuwait but also to destroy Iraq's military potential, especially her capacity to develop nuclear weapons. The first Bush administration embraced that position. [11]

But beyond that, the neocons hoped that the war would lead to the removal of Saddam Hussein and the American occupation of Iraq. However, despite the urgings of then-Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the full conquest of Iraq was never accomplished because of the opposition of General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, the field commander. [12] Moreover, the United States had a UN mandate only to liberate Kuwait, not to remove Saddam. To attempt the latter would have caused the U.S.-led coalition to fall apart. America's coalition partners in the region, especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, feared that the elimination of Saddam's government would cause Iraq to fragment into warring ethnic and religious groups. That could have involved a Kurdish rebellion in Iraq that would have spread to Turkey's own restive Kurdish population. Furthermore, Iraq's Shiites might have fallen under the influence of Iran, increasing the threat of Islamic radicalism in the region.

Not only did the Bush administration dash neoconservative hopes by leaving Saddam in place, but its proposed "New World Order," as implemented by Secretary of State James Baker, conflicted with neoconservative/Israeli goals, being oriented toward placating the Arab coalition that supported the war. That entailed an effort to curb Israeli control of her occupied territories. The Bush administration demanded that Israel halt the construction of new settlements in the occupied territories as a condition for receiving $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees for Israel's resettlement of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Although Bush would cave in to American pro-Zionist pressure just prior to the November 1992 election, his resistance disaffected many neocons, causing some, such as Safire, to back Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. [13]

To part two

© 2003 Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved.

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