Stephen Gowans

Why the United States has a special relationship with Israel. It’s not the Israeli lobby.

Posted in Israel, Syria by what's left on April 23, 2019

Israel does Washington’s dirty work in Syria where US law limits the Pentagon’s actions, former US envoy reveals

 April 23, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

In his book A World Without Islam, former Kabul CIA station chief, Graham E. Fuller, argues that the 9/11 and other attacks on the United States by aggrieved Muslims would have occurred even in a world without Islam, because the attacks were a reaction against US imperialism, and were not a product of the attackers’ religion. It “would be a mistake,” wrote Fuller, “to consider Islam as the source of the resistance; otherwise we would have to believe that if these Muslims were not Muslims, they would not be rebelling against foreign domination.” [1]

US domination of the Middle East is attributable, above all, writes Fuller, to “the Muslim world’s oil and energy-resources.” Oil is the “key driver for incessant Western intervention.” US Middle East policy is shaped by concerns about “ownership of oil, control of the oil companies, pricing policies and shares of prices [and] political manipulation of leaders in order to obtain the best deals on oil,” [2] according to Fuller, who also served as the vice chairman of the US National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

What’s more, there’s the reality that “The United States today is, by its own reckoning, the overwhelmingly dominant power of the globe in nearly all spheres, with the determination to impose its will by one means or another.” [3] This, it does, far beyond the Middle East. As a country that began as 13 colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, but expanded across a continent, and added colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean, the United States is, and always has been, an imperialist country.

In contrast, some people believe that US domination of the Muslim world is traceable to the influence of wealthy Jews and the Jewish lobby on US foreign policy decision-makers, and that, in a world without Israel, the United States would not intervene militarily and politically in the Middle East.  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt famously made this case in a 2006 article in The London Review of Books, “The Israel Lobby,” and in a book the following year. Others, including Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone, have gone further, arguing that “as far as the drive to war with Syria is concerned, it is Israel that directs U.S. policy.” [4] According to these analysts, the processes that made the United States an imperialist behemoth the world over are somehow absent in the Middle East. But to paraphrase Fuller, it would be a mistake to consider the Israeli lobby or Tel Aviv as the source of US foreign policy decisions; otherwise we would have to believe that if Israel didn’t exist, the United States would not seek to dominate the oil-rich Muslim world.

The United States has used Israel as an instrument for protecting and advancing its economic and related strategic interests in the Middle East since 1967, when the self-proclaimed Jewish state did a great service to Washington and US oil interests by handily defeating Arab nationalism—which opposed US domination of the region under the slogan “Arab oil for the Arabs” —in the June War.

Ever since, the role that Israel has played as an instrument of US power has been overlooked in the West, but rarely in the Third World. Arab opponents of US imperialism, from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Leila Khaled to Hassan Nasrallah, have understood Israel to be a cudgel used by the United States against the Arabs. For Hugo Chavez, Israel was one of the United States’ “imperialistic instruments.” [5] Even Israel’s political and military leaders, from Moshe Dayan to Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed. Dayan said that Israel’s mission is to “be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism [bearing the banner Arab oil for the Arabs] will be broken.” [6] Netanyahu described his country as the “West’s outpost in the Middle East.” [7]

Only in the West has Israel’s role as an apparatus of the United States been difficult to grasp. That’s partly because the contribution of Israel to US power projection has sometimes been inconspicuous. At other times, it has hidden behind false claims of self-defense, with Israel’s actions on behalf of its US patron appearing to be motivated by purely Israeli concerns for self-preservation rather than shared US-Israeli goals of weakening forces inspired by the idea that the Arab world should exist for the Arabs, not Jewish settlers and US oil companies.

For example, Syria and Iraq declined to back the PLO in 1970 against Jordan’s King Hussein, fearing that if they acted to help topple a US puppet, that Washington would order Israeli attacks against both countries. Both Syria and Iraq knew they were no match for the powerful Israeli military, and had no intention of precipitating Israeli retaliation. As Sun Tzu observed, the best general is the one who wins without fighting, and Israel has often used its US-supplied military edge to deter local forces of independence and national assertiveness. But because in these instances it doesn’t have to fight to win, its contribution to cementing US domination of the region is difficult to see.

Israel played the lead role in preventing Iraq and Syria from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, destroying nuclear reactors in both countries, thereby facilitating the US invasion and conquest of Iraq in 2003 and the recent US invasion and occupation of one-third of Syria. The airstrikes which destroyed the reactors were presented by Israel and its US patron as self-defensive, but since Israel was already nuclear-armed, the development of a nuclear weapons capability by either Arab country would only have established nuclear parity, not an offensive threat to Israel. Nuclear arms in the hands of Iraq or Syria, would at best, have deterred US and Israeli attacks. This was confirmed by Major General Amir Eshe, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division, who asked whether the United States would have “dared deal with …Saddam Hussein if [he] had a nuclear capability?” “No way,” he replied. [8] The same question can be asked about Syria. Would the United States have so freely installed itself in one-third of Syria had Assad possessed a nuclear capability? Doubtful.

More recently, Israel has acted as a US instrument by carrying out airstrikes in Syria against forces aligned with Damascus. The attacks—Israel carried out thousands of bombing raids in Syria in 2017 alone [9]—are portrayed as defensive strikes against Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria to threaten Israel. But that’s a cover.

The truth of the matter is that the United States has no domestic legal authorization to attack Syrian and Iranian forces, both of which seek militarily to recover on Damascus’s behalf Syrian territory under US occupation. To conduct its ongoing fight to shape Syria’s post-war environment, Washington has recruited Israel, unconstrained by US law, to act as its proxy. As Brett McGurk, until recently the United States’s special envoy in Iraq and Syria, revealed a few days ago in Foreign Affairs, “The United States coordinated its approach with Israel, which in 2017 began launching air strikes against Iranian military assets in Syria [because] Washington had no legal authority to target Iranian forces inside Syria.” McGurk notes that the “combination of Israeli hard power, American diplomacy, and the U.S. military presence [in northeastern Syria have given] Washington a powerful bargaining chip with the Russians” to influence what McGurk calls “post-civil war” Syria. [10]

None of this is to say that Israeli actions on behalf of its US patron are inimical to its interests; they aren’t. Israeli and U.S. objectives in the Middle East largely overlap, which is why the two states have a special relationship. Both are keenly interested in suppressing local forces of independence and national assertiveness, though their reasons for doing so differ. Washington aspires to control the region’s petroleum resources and the sea and land routes to and from them on behalf of the US business elite, monopolizing the benefits at the expense of the local population. Israel seeks to contain, weaken, and undermine local forces of independence and national assertiveness in order to preserve its Herrenvolk democracy on land plundered from the Arabs. Both states rely on the other to achieve their respective goals.

While U.S. and Israeli objectives mesh, US foreign policy goals in the Arab world exist independently of Israel. A Middle East without Israel would still be a region bursting with “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history” [11], as a US State Department analysis described the Arab world before there was an Israel. What’s more, a world without Israel would still be a world in which the United States was dominated by titans of industry and masters of finance, scouring the globe for profit-making opportunities, acutely interested in great material prizes.

As I explain in the final paragraph of my new book Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East,

At the heart of the unceasing wars on the Middle East reposes the question of who owns and controls Arab and Persian oil and the marine and overland routes to and from it—the natives, or the US government and the investors it represents? The Zionist answer has always been clear: Western political and economic interests must have supremacy in the Middle East. Israel began as a European colony, established anachronistically just as the great wave of decolonization was getting underway. As the United States superseded Britain and France as the dominant imperialist power in the region, Israel transitioned from the formers’ outpost of terror in the Arab world into a power projection platform for US investor interests. Throughout this transition Israel has remained interlocked with imperial power, unfailingly serving as the West’s beachhead in the Middle East.

These arguments are developed more fully in Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East, now available from Baraka Books.

1) Graham E. Fuller. A World Without Islam, (Little, Brown & Company, 2010), 256.

2) Fuller, 262.

3) Fuller, 252.

4) Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone, “The People Against the 800 Pound Gorilla,” counterpunch.org, September 13, 2013.

5) “President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez: Israel Uses the Methods of Hitler, the U.S. Uses the Methods of Dracula. I’m a Nasserist who Has Crossed the Deserts, Ridden Camels, and Sung Along with the Bedouins. Al-Jazeera Plays a Role in Liberating the World,” Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project, August 4, 2006, https://www.memri.org/tv/president-venezuela-hugo-chavez-israel-uses-methods-hitler-us-uses-methods-dracula-im-nasserist/transcript August 4, 2006.

6) Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, Pantheon Books, 1987), 5.

7) Adam Shatz, “The sea is the same sea,” The London Review of Books, (Vol. 40 No. 16 · 30 August 2018).

8) Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.

9) David Morrison, “Israel complains about violation of its sovereignty while being a serial violator,” Open Democracy, March 1, 2018; Gregory Shupak, “Painting an Israeli attack on Syria as Israeli ‘retaliation’,” Fair.org, February 21, 2018.

10) Brett McGurk, “Hard truths in Syria: America can’t do more with less, and it shouldn’t try,” Foreign Affairs, April 16, 2019.

11) Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (Pluto Press, 1999), 61.

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