News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Does the Iraq War Benefit Israel?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Does the Iraq War Benefit Israel?

In an article at Foreign Policy in Focus, Stephen Zunes counters arguments that the Iraq War somehow benefits Israel. Zunes states four main positions on this issue and provides some insightful commentary on how and why these arguments fail.

The problem with Zunes' article is that it seems to come out of the blue, out of left field, and seems like a pre-emptive strike on an issue that has not gained any mainstream coverage in the US, at least. ...

To see where or why Zunes might consider the issue a live question, one must look at some context. Unfortunately for Zunes, there does seem to be some basis for the counter-notion that the US architects of this war, at least, saw it as beneficial to Israel's interests. For example, the President himself has suggested as much. In a speech on December 16, 2005, Bush told an audience:

"If you're a supporter of Israel, I would strongly urge you to help other countries become democracies," President Bush declared Monday, in a major address defending American policy in Iraq and his wider vision for the region. "Israel's long-term survival depends upon the spread of democracy in the Middle East."
Mr. Bush's comments here echo those of others in his administration. For example, in 2002 Philip Zellikov, former member of the Bush admin. and executive director of the 9/11 investigation panel, told a group in
"Why would IRAQ attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990--it's the threat against Israel," Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on behalf of a team of foreign policy experts evaluating the impact of 9/11 and the future of the U.S.‘s “war on terror”.

"And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell," he added.
These dated comments, when coupled with the President's comments a month ago, reinforce the notion that the war in Iraq was indeed initiated with Israel's interests as partial justification.

What is somewhat misleading about Zunes' comments, however, is that because they occur without this context and are seemingly thrown out into an informational void, you can't ascertain whether they reflect the way that he feels the Israelis think now about the war--after the war has gone somewhat haywire--or whether they reflect the way the Israelis might have argued before the war.

Without evidence that Israeli government officials knew about the war, whether it lodged objections to it, or whether it indeed supported the effort, discovering what the Israeli government though before the war is difficult.

I suggest that there is circumstantial evidence that shows the real position of the Israeli government about the war before it started. The Israeli spy service, Mossad, has been active in northern Iraq from the first days of the invasion by US forces. It continues to train Kurdish fighters, as well as perform secret maneuvers along the Iranian border.

Be that as it may, one question looms larger than others. What objectives might Israel hope to achieve by supporting the US attack on Iraq? Such a rationale would easily lend itself to assessing whether Israel indeed does benefit from this invasion as well as to provide insight into longer-term objectives of both the US and Israel in the region.

One such rationale for why Israel would support the invasion of Iraq comes from a little-noticed report at The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies’ "Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000." Contributors to this paper include Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser participated. These are people who are well-known insiders within the Bush administration. Indeed, Douglas Feith still works for the executive branch.

According to this report, the main objective in strengthening the Israeli economy as well as to ensure Israel's security in the region is to neutralize a perceived threat from Syria. Strangely enoug--at least to someone not knowledgeable about the area--the writers of this report see toppling Saddam Hussein and destabilizing Iraq as a means of eventually destabilizing Syria.

The report says:
Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. This has triggered a Jordanian-Syrian rivalry to which Asad has responded by stepping up efforts to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom, including using infiltrations. Syria recently signaled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam, if only to undermine and humiliate Jordan in its efforts to remove Saddam. [my emphasis]
At the least, these comments show how the Iraq war might benefit Israel's interests in the mideast. That key members of the Bush admin.'s team in developing strategy for the war included Perle and Feith speaks adequately to the potential for these concerns to have formed an element in that strategy. Pres. Bush's recent comments about how the war benefits Israel only bolster that point.

What these comments do not prove is that the Israeli govt. played a role in the decision-making process leading up to the war. Certainly, there are reports that Israel--at the least--knew details of the attack that probably even those in Congress did not know. On the other hand, there are indications that the progress of the war and its resulting chaos soured some members of the Israeli govt. to the efficacy of it. These concerns, however, only point to the mismanagement of the war, not to any disagreement within the Israeli govt. with the overall decision to instigate war in the region.

One last point to note comes in the article that reports Pres. Bush's comments about how the war benefits Israel. Much of the recent rhetoric generated by the White House and the Pentagon is that the war in Iraq will promote peace in the region by introducing "democracy." Strangely enough, some Israeli decision-makers see this very possibility as a threat and not a boon to their interests there.

According to the Forward newspaper article cited above:
"I am skeptical when it comes to the supposition that democracy is a panacea. Not all democracies are good," said General Shlomo Brom, former chief of the Israeli army's strategic planning division. "What about a democracy in Egypt — let's say — which is governed by the Muslim Brotherhood? Would Egypt then have better relations with Israel than under Mubarak's regime?"
In hearing such comments, the Bush admin. must feel as though it is caught in a catch-22--you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

While the US public of various political persuasions see democracy as a "panacea," an assumption that seems to go with the ideology of Americansim, Israel sees its own interests in the mideast as not promoting democracy per se but in maintaining control--even if this control were to include unjust regimes and oppressive governments that persecute their own people.

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