Israel’s Independence Day: Commemorating the dispossession of the natives and rise of the West’s outpost in the Middle East

Below is an excerpt from my new book, Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform. The excerpt is from Chapter 3, titled Nakba. The book is available from Baraka Books.

May 14, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution 181, calling for the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, linked by an economic union, with Jerusalem set aside as an international territory outside the jurisdiction of either state. Palestine would be divided into eight parts. Three parts would constitute the Jewish state, while the Arab state would be comprised of three other parts, plus a fourth, Jaffa, which would be an Arab exclave within the territory of the Jewish state. Jerusalem—envisaged as a corpus separatum, or international city—was the eighth part.

The Jewish population had grown rapidly from World War I under the stewardship of the British colonial administration from approximately 10 percent of the population to about one-third. Yet, while Jewish settlers remained in the minority and were outnumbered two to one by the indigenous Arabs, the resolution granted the Jewish state 56 percent of the Palestinians’ country, while the Arabs, with two-thirds of the population, were given only 42 percent. The balance, two percent, represented Jerusalem.

Some people continue to see the partition resolution—and its descendant, the two-state solution—as fair and practical, but it was neither of these things. Laying aside the inequitable apportionment of a greater territory for a Jewish state to a smaller Jewish population, there are larger issues to confront.

The first is the denial of Palestinian sovereignty. There is no question that the indigenous population was adamantly opposed to the expropriation of its land. While it made up the majority of Palestine’s inhabitants, its wishes were completely ignored by the United Nations. This was predictable. At the time the world body was dominated by First World powers steeped in the colonial tradition. Many of the countries that voted for the resolution were settler colonial states themselves: Britain, France and Belgium, and the British settler offshoots, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. There was no chance that a similar resolution would have passed from the 1960s onwards, when the balance of power in the United Nations General Assembly shifted from the First World to the Third World. Countries with colonial pasts unwaveringly considered Zionism a legitimate political ideology, while countries victimized by colonialism regarded it as a form of colonialism.

The second issue, following from the first, is that the partition resolution called for the creation of an unacceptable institution: a colonial settler state. Colonial settler states have been overcome one by one by the determined resistance of the political Left—in Algeria, Rhodesia, South Africa, and elsewhere—to the deserved applause of the majority of humanity. The demise of each settler colonial state is a sign post in the progress of humanity. The question of whether the Jewish state envisioned by the partition resolution, or Israel today, is a colonial settler state isn’t even controversial. Neither Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, David Ben-Gurion, the father of the state of Israel, nor Le’ev Jabotinsky, founder of revisionist Zionism, were in any doubt that a Jewish state built by settlers on the land of another people was unequivocally settler colonialism.

As to the practicality of Resolution 181, it is as indefensible as the partition plan’s alleged equity. A practical settlement to the conflict would have been one that all sides accepted. But neither side accepted the resolution. The indigenous population rejected it for the obvious reason that it denied them sovereignty over 56 percent of their territory and handed it to a minority population of recent immigrants. No people on earth would have accepted this proposal for themselves; why the Palestinians were expected to accept it, boggles the mind. Ben-Gurion accepted the resolution in words, but only as a tactical manoeuvre, recognizing that an embryo Jewish state could be incubated into the Land of Israel through military conquest. The Revisionists rejected the planned partition, because it fell short of fulfilling Zionist aspirations for a Jewish state in all of south Syria (the name by which Palestine and Jordan were known by the indigenous population.)

For the settlers, the demographics of the partition plan were all wrong. The Jewish state would contain 500,000 Jews but almost as many Arabs. There would be 440,000 Arabs living in the territory Resolution 181 envisioned for the Jewish state. Jews, then, would constitute only a bare majority. A bare majority could quickly become a minority, depending on immigration, and on the birth rates of the two communities. Moreover, how could 500,000 Jews rule almost as many Arabs, considering that the Arabs rejected Jewish rule? The plan was completely unworkable. The only way to create a viable Jewish state would be to engineer a radical reduction in the number of Arabs living within its frontiers while at the same time expanding its borders to absorb as many of the 10,000 Jewish settlers the resolution had assigned to the Arab state.

The resolution’s proclamation immediately touched off fighting between the native Arabs and the immigrant Jewish settlers. The settlers were determined to drive as many natives as possible out of the territory assigned by the UN to a Jewish state, while capturing territory assigned by the UN to an Arab state. When the dust settled, a Jewish state, named Israel, was proclaimed, comprising 78 percent of Palestinian territory, not the 56 percent envisaged by the resolution. Meanwhile, 700,000 Arab natives had been exiled from their homes and the settlers refused their repatriation, keen to protect the outcome of their demographic engineering.

Today, Israelis insist their state grew out of a UN resolution that Arabs rejected and Jewish settlers accepted. While the Arab natives certainly rejected the resolution, the settlers rejected most of it as well, accepting only one small part of it—the call for the creation of a Jewish state. They rejected all the other parts, including the call for the creation of an Arab state within specified borders; the prohibition against expropriating Arab land within the Jewish state; the designation of Jaffa as an Arab exclave; the creation of an international Jerusalem; and the creation of an economic union between two states.

British rule of Palestine came to an end on May 15, 1948. On May 14, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, sparking what has become known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It was the first in a series of settler-native wars—armed conflicts between the army of the Jewish colonial settler state and various Arab armies and Arab irregulars.

The Arab belligerents in 1948—Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria—dispatched some 20,000 troops to help their compatriots resist settler efforts to transform Palestine into the Land of Israel. Only three of these states— Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq—had armies of consequence, and only one, Jordan, had an army that was prepared for war. All three states were British clients, governed by kings who served at the pleasure of London. All were armed by John Bull, and Jordan’s army was under the direct command of 21 British officers who took their orders from London. This was significant, since Britain favored the settlers, and could—and did—restrict the flow of weapons and ammunition to their client states. It’s not by accident that the core Arab armies did not intervene in Palestine until after British forces exited Palestine, even though settler forces began operations to drive the Arab natives out of Palestine five months earlier. When the British-controlled Arab armies did finally intervene, the settlers had largely ethnically-cleansed Palestine, and their entry into the affray was a near farce.

The Arab forces had no central command and no coordination. It has been remarked that one of the reasons five Arab armies were defeated by one Israeli army was because there were five Arab armies.

Worse, there were inter-Arab rivalries that further weakened the combined Arab forces. Jordan and Iraq, led by British-installed kings, brothers of the Hashemite dynasty, were eager to see the defeat of the Egyptian army of King Farouk. Farouk was a rival for influence in the Arab world, and the Hashemites desired his defeat. Jordan and Iraq, then, had no intention of doing anything to help their rival’s military forces.

On top of these problems, was the general weakness of the Arab armies. The Egyptian forces were under equipped and poorly led. They had no maps, no tents, and insufficient logistical support. Their officers were generally incompetent, having attained their rank through political connections. When orders were issued to soldiers in the field, they were often contradictory. The Iraqi army was even worse; it was sent into battle without ammunition.

Finally, there was betrayal. Abdullah, the king of Jordan, had secretly worked out an arrangement with the settlers to annex the West Bank to his kingdom. Glubb Pasha, the British officer who commanded Abdullah’s army, deliberately restrained his forces, ordering them not to enter territory assigned by the UN to a Jewish state, though Israeli forces had seized territory assigned to an Arab state.

It would have been difficult enough for the Arab armies to prevail under these trying circumstances, but the fact that they were outnumbered made victory all but impossible. Under-manned, lacking coordination, incompetently-led, ill-equipped, largely untrained, betrayed from within by Abdullah, and sabotaged by their British masters, 20,000 Arab soldiers were no match for the 60,000 unified and determined settlers under arms, many of whom were highly trained soldiers, having served in the British Army during the Second World War.

The Israelis have misnamed the First Settler-Native War as The War of Independence, as if it were a national liberation struggle of an oppressed people against a colonial power, Britain. On the contrary, it was a colonial war fought by Jewish settlers whose victory was aided in the background by the British. It was a war of dispossession, not a war of restitution.

Even if true, The New York Times’ secret torture prison allegations hardly make Syria a rogue state

May 13, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Reporter Anne Barnard has written a long piece in The New York Times titled Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent. The undoubted effect of the article—which accuses the Syrian government of running “a sprawling system of secret prisons” in which opponents of the Syrian state are maltreated, even raped and tortured—is to cast Syria as a rogue state operating outside the bounds of international norms.

It’s difficult to assess whether Barnard’s accusations are true. Exaggerated and even false atrocity stories are the norm in times of war, and the United States is unquestionably at war with Syria, and has been since the 1950s. This doesn’t mean that Barnard’s story is, ipso facto, false or exaggerated, only that it must be treated with scepticism appropriate to the context in which the story has been published, i.e., by a US newspaper, interlocked with the US state, reporting on an officially designated enemy.

Barnard relies on the work of an outfit called The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). It is a civil society organization, likely reliant on funding from Western and allied governments and wealthy individuals. Judging by its partnership with The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, the SNHR is part of the civil society apparatus of human rights imperialism, a movement which accepts a view, at odds with international norms, that Washington has a unilateral right—indeed, an obligation—to abridge the sovereignty of foreign states in response to major violations of human rights. In practice, the responsibility to protect movement gives license to the United States to intervene against whichever of Washington’s adversaries it can prepare a human rights case against, but never against its allies, many of which, by the US State Department’s own accounting, are major human rights violators. Expecting the United States—long a de jure white supremacist state, now a de facto one, which boasts the world’s greatest per capita incarceration rate, and which, until recently, ran a sprawling network of CIA secret torture prisons and continues to carry out targeted assassinations of political opponents—to act as the world’s champion of human rights, makes as much sense as asking Al Capone to protect banks from robbery.

All the same, the basic accusation levelled by Barnard and the SNHR—that the Syrian government jails its opponents—is beyond dispute. Imprisoning political opponents, especially during times of war, is hardly a departure from international norms. A fundamental characteristic of all states is to deny the freedom of state opponents who seek to organize the state’s demise.

It is also likely that some opponents of the Syrian government have been maltreated, even tortured, by state authorities. Maltreatment of prisoners appears to be an invariable characteristic of states, across time and place.

Barnard’s accusations do not demonstrate that Syria is a rogue state, or that it is in violation of international norms.

  • Syrian government actions toward its opponents, principally jihadists, including those belonging to, or affiliated with Al Qaeda, are not out of line with the accustomed practice of states facing existential emergencies.
  • Indeed, the United States itself ran a sprawling system of secret prisons, in which Al Qaeda and other jihadists were imprisoned and tortured, many to death.
  • Human rights issues including allegations of torture by security officials are hardly unique to Syria, but are typical of the United States’s closest allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.

The US State Department has long viewed Middle East oil as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” [1] But in order to seize this prize, Washington has had to overcome an obstacle—the Arab and Persian peoples. The people of the Middle East have formed, or backed, what one State Department official called “local forces of independence and national assertiveness.” These forces have sought to control the great material prize of Middle East oil for their own development.  The Arab nationalist movement has been counted among local forces opposed to US control of the region’s resources, and Syria has been a principal state representative of the movement. Indeed, it remains the sole state representative today.

From the 1950s, Washington sought to undermine, degrade and eventually destroy Arab and Persian nationalist opposition to US control of the Middle East. In addition to intervening directly in Arab Asia, Washington has worked through three proxies to crush Arab nationalist opposition to US hegemony: the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni political Islamist offshoots, Israel, and local British-imposed Arab monarchies, which depend on US protection to survive. (As US president Donald Trump recently reminded Saudi King Salman: “King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us.” [2])

Syria has been at war with Israel since 1948. The Jewish settler state currently occupies part the Syrian Golan. Israeli warplanes regularly bomb Syrian territory. Israel is immeasurably stronger militarily than Syria, largely owing to generous subsidies it receives from Washington. These subsidies are provided for the purpose of weakening local forces of independence and national assertiveness which resist US control of the Middle East.

Since the 1960s, Washington has worked with the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow Arab nationalism in Damascus.  Recently, Israel armed, equipped, and healed, Islamist fighters operating in south Syria against the Arab nationalist government.

In 1979, the United States initiated a campaign of economic warfare against Syria, reacting to the Arab nationalist government’s alliance with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which proclaimed its opposition to US domination of the Middle East. Washington escalated sanctions in 2003, as an alternative to a contemplated US military invasion, which was to follow the invasion of Iraq, but was abandoned when opposition in Iraq proved more vigorous than anticipated. US efforts to strangle Syria economically—to detonate an economic atom bomb (a metaphor alluding to the devastating human consequences of sanctions)—grew even more determined in 2011, as an accompaniment to an Islamist uprising Washington facilitated.

On top of Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan, one-third of Syria is now under US military occupation.

US efforts to crush Arab nationalist opposition to US control of the Middle East are explored in two of my books, Washington’s Long War on Syria and Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East.

In the face of the high level of threat to the Arab nationalist project posed by the United States, Israel, and US-, Israeli-, Turkish-, and Saudi-backed jihadists, the Syrian government has two choices: allow opponents operating within its territory to freely organize the government’s demise (that is commit suicide), or abridge civil and political liberties in the face of an undoubted national emergency. As Lenin said when the Bolsheviks similarly faced determined opposition to their project, “We do not wish to do away with ourselves by suicide [by allowing our opponents to freely organize against us] and therefore will not do this.” [3] This is true of all governments.

During both the First and Second World Wars, the executive branches of the US and Canadian governments assumed dictatorial powers, limited civil and political liberties, and locked up political opponents and suspected or potential fifth columnists. Significantly, neither country faced a national emergency as severe as that faced by Syria today. Both countries were protected by two vast oceans from their enemies; neither was subjected to an economic blockade; neither faced an internal insurrection supported by enemy powers; and North America wasn’t under occupation by enemy forces. On the battlefield, US and Canadian soldiers maltreated and abused prisoners, engaged in unlawful killings, and resorted to torture.

Similarly, when Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington in 2001, the US government escalated its police state powers, and launched the most extensive program of internal surveillance any country has ever carried out, and yet the threat posed to the United States by Al Qaeda paled in comparison to the damage the same organization has inflicted on Syria. What Al Qaeda did to the United States on one day, it did to Syria every day for years. In pursuit of its Al Qaeda foe, the CIA ran a sprawling network of secret prisons, in which jihadists were tortured. At the same time, the Pentagon ran a prison at Abu Ghraib, in which opponents of the US invasion were infamously abused. Jihadists of the same stripe the Syrians have locked up, were sent to a prison at Gauntanamo Bay, which operates outside the parameters of US law.

In its war against violent jihadism, the United States tortured to death more than 100 prisoners in a sprawling system of prisons. [4] US General Barry McCaffrey said, “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” [5] And when, embarrassed by negative publicity, Washington abandoned its torture program, it replaced it with targeted assassinations by drone strikes, i.e., unlawful killings.

To the extent that Barnard’s and the SNHR’s allegations are true, the actions of Damascus are no different from those of Washington. Nor are they different from the actions of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East.

Consider, for example, the actions of the Egyptian government in connection with the Muslim Brotherhood. What follows are excerpts from a January 25, 2019 Wall Street Journal article, “Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a new autocrat is determined not to permit a sequel.”

Mr. Sisi’s government is restricting freedom of expression more than Mr. Mubarak ever did, jailing thousands of dissidents, expanding censorship of the media and banning key opposition parties.

Mr. Sisi , a former chief of the armed forces, came to power after the military ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was the country’s largest opposition group under Mr. Mubarak.

Mr. Sisi soon began a lethal crackdown on political opponents. He has said that he wants to prevent a repeat of the 2011 uprising, arguing that his type of security state is the only alternative to the chaos gripping such Arab countries as Libya and Yemen. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have lauded Egypt’s regime as a bulwark against extremism in the Middle East.

Since the 2013 military coup, Mr. Sisi has given the country’s security forces a free hand to detain political opponents and snuff out dissent. Many activists and intellectuals associated with the 2011 revolt are in prison or exile. [6]

“Some 40,000 people have been arrested for opposition to the government since 2013,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officials and their supporters have been sentenced to death, including Mr. Morsi.” [7]

Volumes could be written on the draconian lengths to which the Saudi government goes to repress the very strong opposition to its illegitimate rule, but a Wall Street Journal assessment sums up the situation succinctly: “Saudi Arabia remains one of the planet’s most repressive societies, where public practice of religions other than Islam is outlawed, where women can’t drive and where critics of the government face prison or execution.” [8] The following, from a recent New York Times article, offers only a hint of the kingdoms brutality:

On Tuesday, the official Saudi news agency announced that 37 men, nearly all from the minority Shiite Muslim community, had been executed on terrorism-related charges. Executions in Saudi Arabia are usually by beheading, often in public, and the Interior Ministry said one man was also crucified, something reserved for the most grievous crimes.

According to Human Rights Watch, 11 of the men were charged with spying for Iran and 14 in connection with protests during the Arab Spring of 2011. Some of the convictions were based on confessions that the men withdrew in court, saying they had been tortured. One of those beheaded was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was 17 and preparing to enter Western Michigan University when he was arrested in 2012 after attending a pro-democracy rally.

The most-heralded evidence of modernization under Prince Mohammed was his lifting of a ban on women driving. The very fact that there was such a ban is ridiculous, but a few weeks before it was ended, in May 2018, several women’s rights activists were rounded up — including women who had campaigned against the driving ban — and accused of crimes against the kingdom.

According to human rights organizations and their families, at least some of the women were tortured. The techniques included beatings, electric shocks, whipping and waterboarding. [9]

About Turkey, a US ally that borders Syria, and has been instrumental in facilitating the armed jihad against the Arab nationalist government in Damascus, we can note this: The government, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, immures 50,000 political opponents in a sprawling network of prisons, “including, by several counts, more than 170 journalists and over a dozen lawmakers.” Additionally, it has dismissed or suspended “more than 140,000 Turkish workers, including several thousand academics as well as tens of thousands of teachers, prosecutors and civil servants who were believed to be critical of Turkey’s authoritarian, religiously conservative government.” [10]

The United States State Department has this to say about the Kingdom of Jordan, another US ally:

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by security officials, including at least one death in custody; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; reports of refoulement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria without adjudication of whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution; allegations of corruption, including in the judiciary; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.

Here’s the State Department report for the United Arab Emirates, a close US ally:

Human rights issues included allegations of torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity, although no cases were publicly reported during the year. The government did not permit workers to join independent unions and did not effectively prevent physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers.

Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinian are too innumerable to mention, and are in a category of their own. The apartheid state’s treatment of the occupants of the open-air prison known as Gaza, to say nothing of its brutal treatment of other Palestinians, exceeds in cruelty Syria’s repression of internal opposition. There are 1.8 million people imprisoned in Gaza, far in excess of the number of people Barnard and the SNHR claim are locked up in Syrian prisons. Additionally, Israeli authorities jail, and in some cases assassinate, Palestinians who resist their ongoing and systematic oppression. They even shoot unarmed demonstrators. A recent independent investigation sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council found that Israeli security forces unlawfully killed almost 200 and wounded by gunfire over 9,000 Gaza residents last year who were peacefully protesting Israeli oppressions. More significantly, by itself, the settler colonialism on which Israel is founded as a state, is a gross violation of human rights.

Clearly, no matter how unpleasant the Syrian government’s crackdown on its opponents, the jailing and maltreatment of its opponents is by no means an indication that Syria is a rogue state operating outside the bounds of international norms. On the contrary, its actions are consistent with, if not more restrained relative to the existential threat it faces, than those of other states in the region, and with those of the United States itself.

With the able assistance of the interlocked US media, Washington has labored to make the world perceive the Syrian insurgency as the product of a vicious crackdown on pro-democracy dissent by a brutal dictator. Not only is this a misrepresentation (the insurgency is Islamist-inspired and what democratic content it had was meager at best), it is sheer hypocrisy and indicative of Washington’s lack of sincerity. Washington has no particular dislike for vicious crackdowns on pro-democracy dissent; its Arab clients—all of them anti-democratic kings, emirs, sultans, and military leaders—are doing precisely what U.S. officials accuse the Syrian government of doing, except in their case, Washington averts its gaze. “We give a free pass to governments which cooperate and ream the others as best as we can,” a U.S. official explained in a moment of candor. [11]

The Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Jordanians, Emiratis, and Israelis cooperate with Washington in protecting US access to the stupendous strategic and material prize of Middle East oil; the Syrians do not. Accordingly, Washington’s regional allies get a free pass to crack down on dissent without restraint while the Syrian government is reamed, including by the US state-interlocked New York Times, for reacting to the eruption of jihadist violence in the same manner U.S. authorities reacted to jihadist violence from the same organization, Al Qaeda. What is clear is that the actions of the Syrian state are hardly unique, and are hardly unexpected in light of the national emergency it faces.

To be sure, the Syrian government might be admired as a moral paragon if it gave its opponents a free hand to organize its downfall, but the moral victory it would gain would come at the expense of an opportunity to build a society in the Middle East that is responsive to local needs, rather than to those of US investors bent on monopolizing the stupendous material prize of the region’s oil and a US government determined to control a stupendous strategic asset.

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

2] “Patrick Cockburn, “How the disappearance of a journalist and a humiliating remark by Trump shows Saudi Arabia’s weakness,” The Independent, October 5, 2018.

3] “A Letter to G. Myasnikov,” Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, vol. 32, (Progress Publishers, 1965), 504-509.

4] Seamus Milne, “Sending troops to protect dictators threaten all of us,” the Guardian, December 10, 2014.

5] Glenn Greenwald, “The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture,” Salon.com, June 30, 2009.

6] Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki, “Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a new autocrat is determined not to permit a sequel,” The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2019.

7] Tamer El-Ghobashy, “Egypt moves to head off popular unrest,” The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2016.

8] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Saudi claim to lead Muslims gets a Trump boost,” The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2017.

9] “What price profit in Saudi Arabia?”, The New York Times, April 24, 2019.

10] Patrick Kingsley, “On the road with protesters marching across Turkey to condemn Erdogan’s purge,” The New York Times, July 2, 2017.

11] Craig Whitlock, “Niger rapidly emerging as a key U.S. partner,” The Washington Post, April 14, 2013.

 

Jacobin stabs Venezuela in the front

May 2, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

On the heels of another Washington-backed attempt to engineer a coup d’état in Venezuela, Jacobin, a periodical that bills itself as “a leading voice of the American Left,” has published an assault on the Bolivarian Revolution. Following Oscar Wilde’s quip about enemies stabbing you in the back but friends stabbing you in the front,  Jacobin contributor Gabriel Hetland has aimed his dagger thrust squarely from the front, though not before voicing a profusion of friendly bon mots about Leftist solidarity.  The University of Albany academic, another agent of imperialism masquerading as a beautiful soul, has done what a long line of Left imperialists has done before him: counselled against supporting those who have organized to overcome their oppression by the Left imperialists’ own governments.

In “Venezuela and the Left,” Hetland draws on a 2016 article he wrote for The Nation, titled “Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?” In that article, the Jacobin contributor points to the near “impossibility of disentangling the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of the crisis” in Venezuela, noting that “the government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment.” A reasonable person might agree. The hostile domestic and international environment has structured the viable range of responses available to the Venezuelan government, and we can’t understand or evaluate the government’s actions without taking account of the environment in which it has had to act. One might conclude, then, that Hetland is a reasonable person.

However, no sooner does he acknowledge the near impossibility of disentangling the internal and external aspects of the crisis, than he declares the Gordian knot cut. “To an agonizingly large degree,” he tells us, “Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making.” And thereupon the hostile domestic and international environment vanishes, never again to trouble our thoughts.

According to the political sociologist, “Chávez committed several major errors that have come back to haunt Venezuela today. In particular, he failed to effectively tackle corruption, dismantle currency controls after they had served their purpose, and wean Venezuela from its extreme dependence on oil.”

Doubtlessly, Chavez made errors. But what Hetland calls Chavez’s errors are not errors at all, but failures to work miracles. Hetland presents weaning Venezuela from its extreme dependency on oil as a policy lever that Chavez could have pulled or not. In Hetland’s thinking, Chavez faced a binary choice: end oil dependency or continue it, and the Venezuelan leader chose to continue it rather than end it, and thereby blundered.

Does Hetland really believe that it was possible for Venezuela, over a little more than the decade Chavez was in office, in a hostile domestic and international environment, to wean itself from its extreme oil dependency? If so, he’s living on a planet of utopias. How many major oil-producing countries have successfully weaned themselves from oil dependency in half a century, let alone the 11 years Chavez was president? Perhaps how to wean a country from its oil-dependency is common knowledge in the sociology department of the University of Albany, surely one of the world’s great institutions of higher learning, but for mere mortals the code is not readily cracked. I await with bated breath, as does the rest of the world, Hetland’s disquisition from the heights of Olympus on how this apparently simple task is accomplished

The same can be said about corruption. Hetland seems to think that corruption in Third World countries is easily eradicated, as if a lever simply needs to be pulled, and shazam, corruption comes to an end. If we think like Hetland, then Chavez could have chosen to accept corruption or reject it. In Hetland’s agonizingly confused thinking, because corruption carried on, Chavez must have accepted it—wrong choice.

This isn’t serious analysis. To an agonizingly large degree it is superficial; a large dollop of virtue-signalling upon a veneer of utopianism. Hetland may just as well have said that to an agonizingly large degree, Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making because Chavez failed to surround himself with angels capable of carrying out miracles.

Hetland mimics the agonizingly didactic style of Patrick Bond, Stephen Zunes, and Gilbert Ashcar, other members of the academy, who also deliver pronouncements with great certitude on both empirical and moral questions, backed up by an agonizingly large degree of superficial thinking. Presumably, they can’t get away with this in peer-reviewed journals, but feel free to stretch their legs on Z-Net, Jacobin, and Counterpunch, where the demands for defensible analysis are less exacting.

Hetland appoints himself as the great docent of the Left, a man with all the answers, able to sort through what he assures us are difficult questions, and to do so in only 1,000 words. He begins his Jacobin article by asking: “How should we respond?” to the crisis in Venezuela (which, let’s remember, was brought about by Washington seeking to topple the Maduro government) after which he proceeds to enumerate a series of “we shoulds,” as if he’s a pontiff declaring how the faithful ought to conduct itself. Amusingly, he tells us there are no easy answers, and then quickly furnishes us with some. Easy answer 1. Chavez should have ended Venezuela’s oil dependency. Easy answer 2. Chavez should have ended corruption. Easy answer 3. Chavez should have….And so on. If only Chavez had consulted Hetland, arbiter of difficult questions, the whole crisis could have been averted. Easy answer 4. We should support the angels.

I was also struck by this: “The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed.” I would have thought that the first duty of leftists is to overcome oppression, and, that the second is to provide solidarity to organized projects that aim to do so. Without reference to a concrete project of overcoming oppression the statement “We ought to provide solidarity to the oppressed” is meaningless. Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser also argued that the left should confine itself to showing solidarity with the oppressed of Syria, but it was unclear who he meant by the ‘oppressed.” He seemed to mean Syrians who neither support the US government’s attempt to dictate the political and economic policies of Syria or the government that zealously resists this.

Hetland and Draitser are simply calling for a withdrawal from the real world of politics and the abjuring of side-taking in clashes between an organized project of oppression and an organized project to overcome it. When they say we ought to provide solidarity with the oppressed they really mean we ought to avoid providing solidarity to organized projects—such as those of the Bolivarian Revolution or the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party—which seek to overcome the international dictatorship of the United States. Whether we support the US Empire or not, is immaterial; US imperialism will carry on. It doesn’t need the solidarity of the Left to operate. But whether the Left supports organized projects to resist and overcome US imperialism does matter. But it is those projects that Bond, Zunes, Aschar, Draitser, and Hetland would prefer the Left not support. Who comes out ahead in this is clear.

For all their attempts to present themselves as champions of the oppressed, Hetland and Draitser come down on the side of the US oppressor. Hetland makes a show of acknowledging the hostile domestic and international environment, but ends up attributing the hardships Venezuelans endure to Chavez’s “blunders” rather than the hostile domestic and international environment, or even to decisions Chavez made that were constrained by the hostile domestic and international environment. The regime-change efforts of the US government to bring the Bolivarian Revolution to an end—hardly secret—are dismissed by Hetland as a matter of little moment

Accordingly, the solution to the crisis appears, in Hetland’s view, to lie in the removal of the Venezuelan government; after all, isn’t it the Venezuelan government that, to an agonizingly large degree, has created the crisis in the first place? It would seem to follow, then, that its abolition would relieve Venezuelans of their crisis. Accordingly, Hetland endorses “a peaceful transition,” but to what he doesn’t say. Just as long as Maduro goes, the faux-neutral Hetland will be happy. So too will Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Elliot Abrams.

 

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

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.

So, you think Washington’s long war on Syria is almost over. Think again.

April 11, 2019

 By Stephen Gowans

If you think Washington’s long war on Syria has been largely defeated by the combined opposition of Syria, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, think again.

While attention turns to another US regime change campaign, this one in Venezuela, the long war on Syria grinds on.

“The United States still has cards to play in Syria,” concludes two analysts linked to the US foreign policy establishment. “If it plays them well, the U.S. intervention in Syria may yet become an enduring American success.”

Indeed, the US intervention in Syria has already been a success in at least one respect.

“Syria is currently in a state of de-facto partition,” observe Merve Tahiroglu and Andrew Gabel, research analysts at the billionaire-backed Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think-tank that is interlocked with the US government.

The SDF, the 60,000-strong US-superintended Kurd-led army, controls about one-third of the country, containing “more than 90 percent of Syria’s remaining oil reserves and a significant portion of its viable agricultural land.”

To repeat: Through its SDF proxy army, Washington controls a substantial part of Syria—and not just any part, but the richest part. What’s more, Washington has no intention of giving this territory back to any government not under its sway. Indeed, one of the United States’ goals is “to prevent the Syrian [government] from attempting to [recover] the country’s northeast with Iranian and Russian assistance.”

And with Washington’s 60,000 SDF boots on the ground and the United States Air Force’s unchallenged supremacy over northeastern Syria, Washington is much farther along the road to calling the shots in Syria than it was in 2011. Why, then, would anyone believe that Washington’s war on Syria has failed?

Writing in Foreign Affairs, the unofficial journal of the US foreign policy establishment, Tahiroglu and Gabel point out that without northeastern Syria, Assad lacks “access to almost all of Syria’s remaining oil reserves, in addition to much of its arable land, on the heels of Syria’s worst crop yield since 1989.”

Denying Damascus access to the country’s oil and arable land ties in with US sanctions that have ravaged Syria’s economy for the past 40 years—and were put in place long before the 2011 Islamist uprising that is mistakenly believed to mark the beginning of US efforts to oust the Assad government. By strangling the economy, the United States is hurting not only Syria, “but its backers in Moscow and Tehran, who [are] stuck propping up an expensive, economically moribund partner,” the analysts note.

These are the other respects in which the US intervention has scored successes. It has greatly weakened Syria, a pole of opposition to US hegemony in the Middle East. And it has drawn Russia and Iran into a conflict that strains their treasuries.

No less part of the US war on Syria is Washington’s recent declaration of two-thirds of the Syrian Golan as part of Israel, an event greeted with yawns by much of the world, including the anti-war Left.

Golan, a New York Times reporter once observed, is the forgotten occupied territory. By contrast, northeastern Syria may become the occupation that will never be forgotten for the simple reason that it was never noticed.

As to Washington’s long war on Syria, it was largely unnoticed until 2011, and appears to be returning to an unnoticed-in-the-West phase, partly because it depends in large measure on economic weapons (which have far less sway over the attentions of anti-war activists than does kinetic warfare, even though economic ‘atom bombs’ can be equally, if not more, devastating) and partly because it relies on diplomatic measures, like recognizing Israel’s annexation of Syrian territory. Also, the US and other Western forces in Syria are mainly special operations forces that operate under the radar.

Another factor explaining the near invisibility of the US war on Syria is that it is hardly talked about anymore in the Western mass media. As we allow the White House-driven media agenda to divert our attention to other matters, the real business of extending the reach of the international dictatorship of the United States goes on unobserved.

Meanwhile, some friends of Syria are in raptures over the possibility of Tulsi Gabbard, the US representative for Hawaii, capturing the Democratic nomination for US president. Gabbard, who volunteered to join the US occupation force in Iraq, recycles US war propaganda about Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “There is no disputing the fact that Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a brutal dictator,” she announced on the TV talk show The View. “There is no disputing the fact that he has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people.”

Gabbard believes US interventions are motivated by humanitarian goals, but are misguided because they fail to achieve their humanitarian objectives. Presumably, she would favor any US intervention that lived up to the humanitarian ideals she believes undergird US foreign policy. It’s not imperialism or the international dictatorship of the United States she opposes—just US imperialism that produces outcomes that make the United States look bad.

You cannot turn US citizens away from policies that facilitate their country’s imperialism by reinforcing the myths that are used to justify them. Rather than challenging these myths, Gabbard accepts them, and offers, instead, an appeal to US citizens’ self-interest. The interventions are costly, she says, and cause harm.

The trouble with this approach is that Washington uses tools deliberately designed to minimize and disguise the burden on US citizens of its interventions in order not to arouse public opposition. These tools include economic warfare, cyber-warfare, covert CIA operations, special operations forces, mercenaries, proxy armies, and allies—weapons of war that can be concealed behind a cloak of secrecy and which minimize the involvement of the US public. For example, we don’t know how many US troops are in Syria, but we do know that the number is greater than Washington will say. The Pentagon has admitted that its number of 2,000 troops is an “artificial construct”—that is, a low-ball figure that excludes special operations forces and other troops on secret missions. It also excludes the British, French, and German special operations forces that work under US leadership. For all we know, there could be 10,000 Western troops and mercenaries or more occupying northeastern Syria, on top of the 60,000 strong SDF proxy army.

Gabbard also invokes the idea that US interventions make matters worse for the people of the countries in which the interventions take place. This inevitably invites the reply, “But how can we stand by idly while brutal dictators gas babies?’ Having reinforced the very myth that enkindles these concerns, she offers nothing but, what can only appear to be, cruel, hard-hearted counsel that, tough as it may be to turn away, turn away we must. Her advice fails to comport with the myth US citizens imbibe at their mothers’ breasts, that the United States is a force for good in the world, and has a duty to lead for the greater welfare of humanity. So long as US interventions impose no burdens, the country’s citizens will gladly accept them, as a measure of their moral superiority.

Curiously, Gabbard excites the imaginations of some of the very same people who rail bitterly against Noam Chomsky for similarly characterizing Assad as a brutal dictator. But Gabbard’s sins appear to have been cancelled by her virtues: youth, undoubted good looks, eloquence, and a pleasing personality. “She’s very charming,” one besotted friend of Syria put it. Plus, she has a superficially pleasing patter about avoiding interventions. Were Chomsky female, 50 years younger, and whole lot better looking, he too might be setting hearts atwitter.

Trump’s support for Zionism includes defining US Jews as foreigners

April 8, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

A core Zionist principle is that Jews are foreigners in their own countries, and belong in Israel, a principle many Jews reject for obvious reasons, as do all people committed to human progress and equality.

By contrast, Donald Trump embraces the Zionist vision. On Saturday the US president referred to Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu as ‘your prime minister’ while addressing a group of US Jews. [1] This wasn’t the first time Trump defined US Jews as Israelis. “At a Hanukkah celebration at the White House” Trump “told American Jews…that his vice president had great affection for ‘your country,’ Israel.” [2]

In 1917, British cabinet member, Edwin Montagu, a Jew, strenuously opposed the Balfour Declaration—Britain’s pledge to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine—for precisely the reason evinced in Trump’s remark.

Montagu foresaw that the creation of a Jewish homeland would reinforce the prejudice that Jews are a nation (rather than a religious community) and that, therefore, they are foreigners in the lands in which they reside, a prejudice Hitler nurtured into what historian Arno J Mayer has called the Judeocide. [3]

“Montagu saw Zionism as a threat to the position in British society that he and his family had so recently, and with so much exertion, attained. Judaism, he argued, was a religion, not a nationality, and to say otherwise was to say that he was less than 100 percent British.” [4]

Anti-Semites would find Zionism to be a simpatico creed. It encourages the emigration of Jews. Indeed, Theodore Herzl, the ideological forefather of the Israeli state, offered this as a reason why Europe ought to support the creation of a Jewish state;  it would rid the continent of Jews, something he believed non-Jews—who he viewed as incorrigible anti-Semites—fervently wished for. [5]

Mike Pence and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo are Christian Zionists, [6] as indeed were many early supporters of the Zionist movement, including Arthur Balfour and US president Woodrow Wilson. Christian Zionists believe the settlement of Jews in historical Palestine will hasten the rapture, that is, the return of Jesus; and so they have done all they can to encourage Jews to settle in the Holy Land. Many evangelical Christians see the founding of the state of Israel as an act of their God.

Trump’s designation of US Jews as properly Israeli and not American (‘Netanyahu is your prime minister’ and ‘your country’ Israel), is as much a gift to Israeli Zionism as is his declaration that Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan belong to Jews.

Israeli Zionists are as keen to see ‘diaspora’ Jews take up residence in Israel, as they are for US presidents to present Israel as the state of the Jews and official representative of world Jewry.

To be sure, Trump is not the first US president to vigorously support either Israel or Zionism. The West’s outpost in the Middle East, as Benjamin Netanyahu once called Israel [7], has, from day one, been used by imperialist powers as an instrument to achieve their own end, namely, protecting their profit-making and profit-making-related strategic interests in the petroleum-rich Arab and Persian worlds.

It is not Christian Zionism, or a sincere (though misplaced) effort to protect Jews from anti-Semitism, that motivate Western governments to support Israel. Nor is US foreign policy in thrall to wealthy Jews and their lobbying efforts, a theory propounded by people whose grasp of the forces that shape US imperialism is tenuous at best. Instead, Western support for Israel is grounded in economic interests.

This point of view was clearly articulated by the British communist Rajani Palme Dutt, six months before the infant UN, at the time dominated by colonial powers, served up part of Palestine to a European colonial movement, Zionism, that had pledged to champion Western interests in the Arab world in return for Western sponsorship and protection.

Dutt authored a declaration adopted on 3 March 1947 at the Empire Communist Parties Conference in London. [8] The declaration adumbrates the arguments presented in my forthcoming book, Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform.

Dutt called for “the ending of the imperialist policy which seeks to retain Palestine, not only as an [outpost for dominating the petroleum resources of the Middle East] and point for the military control of Suez, but as the strategic base protecting imperialist interests throughout the Middle East, against the interests and rights of its peoples.”

He warned Jews that Zionism “seeks to make … a Jewish state an ally of the imperialist powers and their base in the Middle East.” It also seeks, he warned, to divert “Jewish people from the real solution of the problem of anti-Semitism,” which he defined as “full equality of rights within the countries where they live.”

Dutt pointed out that it was in the interests of Jews residing in Palestine “to oppose the Zionist conception which seeks to put them in the position of being an instrument of [imperialist powers] in the Middle East [and] in opposition to the struggle for national liberation in Palestine.”

Zionism, he observed, was a tool used by Britain and the United States in pursuit of their “policy of divide and rule; it also seeks to secure the support of reactionary Arab elements to strengthen the Middle East as a base for operations … against the liberation movement of the masses throughout the Middle East,” he wrote. Today, Israel works with the principals of Arab reaction—the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the military dictator of Egypt—to safeguard Western business interests against the aspirations of the Arabs to take control of their land, resources, labour, and markets for their own welfare.

In place of an ethnically-cleansed exclusivist Jewish settler state, Dutt proposed “the creation of a free, independent and democratic Palestinian state”—one that would “guarantee equal rights of citizenship with full religious freedom and full opportunities to develop their culture to all its inhabitants, Arab and Jewish.”

Dutt’s proposal for a single state in Palestine based on equality—once also the vision of the PLO—has increasingly come to be seen as the only practicable and morally defensible position, superior to the misnamed two-state ‘solution,’ whose implicit basis is the assumption that Palestinians will eventually capitulate to the denial of their fundamental rights.

In place of the negation of one people’s rights, Dutt offered the realization of all people’s rights. A free, independent and democratic Palestinian state would deliver Jews from anti-Semitism, and at the same time, deliver Palestinians from anti-Hamitism and the scourge of colonialism.

Zionism, with its nineteenth century vision of an ethnic state, where one ethnic group imposes a lordly rule over another, is an anachronism; the idea of the ethnic state has happily given way in large parts of the world to the idea of universal equality, an idea pioneered by the French Revolution (which emancipated the Jews of France) and brought forward by the Russian Revolution (which emancipated the Jews of Russia).

The notion implied in Trump’s remarks that US Jews are foreigners in their own country is hardly one that anyone who cares about authentic liberal democracy and a world of universal equality ought to be pleased about. Perhaps Netanyahu and other devotees of ethnic Jewish rule in Palestine are pleased, but they are the bearers of an ugly ideology of colonialism and ethnic rule that has been overcome throughout most of the world, and equally deserves to be overcome in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

1) Emily Cochrane, “Pushing for tighter borders, president asks Jews for support,” The New York Times, April 6, 2019.

2) Jonathan Weisman, “American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup,” The New York Times, January 4, 2019.

3) Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The Final Solution in History, Verso, 2012.

4) David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace, Holt, 2009, p 292.

5) Theodore Herzl, The Jewish State, Quid Pro Books, 2014, p. 20.

6) Edward Wong, “The rapture and the real world: Mike Pompeo blends beliefs and policy,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019.

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

8) Declaration on Palestine, 1947, https://www.marxists.org/archive/dutt/1947/03/palestine.htm .

Land theft, ethnic cleansing, and Jewish supremacy: Israel’s settler colonialism in Syria’s Golan, the forgotten occupied territory

By Stephen Gowans

March 31, 2019

Israel’s occupation, annexation, and plunder of Syria’s Golan recapitulates all that is repugnant about the Zionist state: its wars of aggression, land theft, ethnic cleansing, racism, quest for lebensraum, and contempt for international legal norms. It also shows that Israeli citizens, including the country’s Left, are not only complicit in these abominations, but approve of them. Moreover, Washington’s toleration of Israeli actions reveal that it has long accepted the Zionist state’s criminality, while falsely professing the deepest respect for international law; US president Donald Trump’s sanctifying Israel’s illegal 1981 annexation of Syrian territory only formalizes the United States’ informal acceptance of the Israeli crime.

Syria’s Golan is a 1,800 square kilometer plateau which overlooks Israel to the west, Lebanon to the north, and Jordan to the south. Two-thirds of the territory, 1,200 square kilometers, is occupied illegally by Israel, while Damascus retains control of the remaining one-third. Exhibiting a pro-Israeli bias, Western journalists often define the territory as coterminous with the area occupied by Israel, ignoring the Syrian-controlled portion. [1]

Golan is coveted by Israel for its strategic military significance as a commanding height overlooking three Arab countries, as an important source of fresh water, and as lebensraum—soil on which to settle Jews who have difficulty finding housing in crowded Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An important oil discovery in recent years has only enhanced the attractiveness of the Syrian territory to the self-proclaimed Jewish state. (Many Jews reject the idea that Israel is their state and prefer not to be associated with it. The appellation Jewish state is one Israel arrogates onto itself.)

Through the years, Israel has used its possession of stolen Golan territory to attempt to extract concessions from Syria; Israeli politicians have offered to return the occupied parts of the plateau to Damascus in return for a peace deal of the kind worked out with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in the late 1970s. In exchange for the Sinai, seized by Israel in 1967 along with Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan, Egypt agreed to renounce its Arab nationalism, and accept as legitimate Zionist claims to a state in Palestine. As recently as 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu offered to return the Israeli-occupied part of Golan to Syria, if Syrian president Bashar al-Assad severed his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, and renounced the Syrian Arab Republic’s commitment to Arab nationalism.

Prior to its capture by Israel, Golan was home to approximately 140,000 Syrians. All but a little over 6,000 were ethnically cleansed by Israel–expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. Today, the population is a little more than one-third of what it was then. About half of the current population of 50,000 residents of the Israeli-occupied part of Golan are Jews and the other half are Syrian Druze the Israelis didn’t expel to avoid alienating Druze citizens of Israel. Most Druze residents of Israeli-colonized Golan do not recognize Israel’s conquest, and refuse to take Israel citizenship. Israel runs an apartheid regime on the captured territory, denying the Syrians equality with Jewish settlers.

How Israel came to occupy Golan

In1967, a half century had elapsed since the British cabinet, on no authority, moral, legal or otherwise, promised Palestine, part of the Arab homeland, to Jews who viewed their co-religionists as a nation rather than a religious community and sought to recreate the Jewish state of antiquity in Palestine as a palladium against European anti-Semitism. Twenty years had elapsed since the United Nations, at the time dominated by First World states, many with long histories of colonizing Asia, Africa, and Latin America, promised 56 percent of Palestine to a Jewish state, even though Jews in Palestine, most of them recent immigrants, constituted a minority that owned no more than ten percent of the land. Their immigration to Palestine had been opposed by the Arab natives who recognized that the Jewish settlers had come not to live as equals but to displace the Arabs. Nineteen years had elapsed since the declaration of a Jewish state, ruling on nearly eighty percent of Palestinian territory, and the defeat of the Arab armies in 1948. The plunder of most of Palestine, by colonial settlers, abetted by colonial states, was attended by the forced exile of over 700,000 Arabs. For 50 years Arabs had been afflicted by one Zionist injury after another, and in the view of the Arab people, it was time for the injustices to end. Arabs pressured Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, who they viewed as a new Saladin, to carry out a war of liberation, to free the homeland from the European implantation in Palestine, and to recover Arab dignity.

In Arab aspirations for immediate redemption, however, lay the seeds of a disaster. The Arab armies were in no state to wage war against Israel. The Egyptian military, the largest of all, had an air force that lacked pilots; its army reserve was poorly trained; and Egyptian officers were largely incompetent. [2] The government’s financial situation was so straitened that Nasser could afford a war that lasted no more than a few days. [3] A lightening war, a blitzkrieg, may have been possible if Egyptian military power was many orders greater, but it wasn’t, and to make matters worse, Nasser’s best troops were tied up in Yemen, fighting with republican forces against a monarchy supported by Israel, the Shah of Iran, and the Saudi royal family, coordinated by Washington. [4]

The Israelis welcomed a war with Nasser, were ready to start one, and knew they would win. [5] What’s more, they were certain that if, by chance, matters should go awry, the United States would step in to prevent a Nasserist victory. More importantly, they had an ace up their sleeve—an atomic bomb. As The New York Times reported in 2017, in the weeks leading up to the war, the Israelis raced to assemble an atomic device. A secret plan, called a ‘doomsday operation,’ had been developed to force the Arab armies to back off if the tide should improbably turn against the Jewish state. In the event of an impending defeat, the atomic bomb would be detonated atop a mountain in the Sinai desert as a demonstration of the horror Israel could inflict on its Arab adversaries. [6] Victory for the Arabs, then, was completely out of the question. The Israelis had a nuclear sword, and all Nasser had was a poorly-trained, ill-equipped, under-staffed and incompetently-led military, the best part of which was deployed over a thousand miles away. Everything augured against an Arab victory and everything portended a rapid Arab collapse. Leaving nothing to chance, the Israelis had even arranged for the Kurds, who they had been supplying with training and arms since 1958, to mount an offensive against Arab nationalist Iraq, to prevent the Iraqi army from rushing to Nasser’s aid. [7] A trap had been set, and the Arab street was blindly pushing Nasser toward to it.

In March 1967, tensions grew between Syria and Israel over the demilitarized zone separating the two states. [8] The Soviets warned Nasser that Israel was preparing an attack on his Syrian ally. In April, the Jordanians and Saudis, taking their instructions from the CIA, accused Nasser of cowardice. He talked big, they said, but his inaction belied his words. He was nothing but a paper tiger. Their intention was to goad the Arab leader into attacking Israel, to hand Israel the casus belli it needed to eliminate the new Saladin and his Arab nationalist movement, a movement which threatened the Saudi and Jordanian monarchies as much as it did Zionist settler colonialism. [9]

On May 12, Israel threatened to invade Syria to topple its Arab nationalist government, and immediately moved troops to the Syrian border. Convinced that an Israeli attack on Syria was imminent, Nasser ordered UN forces to withdraw from the Sinai, to clear the way for a deployment of Egyptian troops to the Israeli border. The United Nations had deployed peacekeepers to the Sinai in 1956 in the wake of the British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, known as the Suez Canal Crisis. The withdrawal of UN forces would allow the Egyptian army to advance toward the Israeli border, positioning Egypt for an attack on Israel if Israel pursued an attack on Syria. [10] On May 18 and 19, Egyptian troops, dressed for battle, paraded in front of Western embassies in Cairo, before heading to the Sinai. In a further effort to deter Israeli aggression, the Egyptian president signed a defense pact with Syria and Jordan.

With Egyptian forces advancing on the Israeli border, Arab states importuned Nasser to close the Strait of Tiran, Israel’s nexus to the Red Sea and to the Indian Ocean beyond, in order to pressure the Zionists to back off their threats to attack Syria. Nasser complied, blocking Israeli shipping from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea. The Israelis declared this to be an act of war. [11]

In an effort to lower tensions, the US and Soviet ambassadors to Egypt told Nasser on May 26 that the Israelis wouldn’t launch an attack. Nasser assured the ambassadors that he too had no intention of firing the first shot.

Nasser was in no position to go to war with the Israelis and expect anything other than total defeat. The odds were stacked heavily against him. It’s very unlikely that he was ready to undertake a suicide mission. The Israelis knew this. Yitzhak Rabin, at the time Israeli chief of defense staff, noted that Nasser had sent only two divisions to the Sinai, hardly sufficient to launch an offensive war. “He knew it and we knew it,” recalled Rabin. “I don’t think Nasser wanted war.” [12] Menachem Begin, a guerrilla leader and prime minister, and at the time an Israeli cabinet minister, said: “We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” [13]

On June 2, Moshe Dayan joined the Israeli cabinet as minister of defense. Dayan, a one-eyed Zionist Spartan who defined Israel’s role as acting as the West’s bulwark against Arab nationalism, was known for advocating war with Egypt to undermine Nasser. [14] Having lulled the Arab paladin into a false sense of safety by assuring him that Israel would not attack, Washington gave Dayan the green light to initiate an attack. Working with the Israelis, the CIA developed the military plans that would guide the Israeli offensive. [15] CIA director Richard Helms assured the US president Lyndon Johnson that an Israeli victory was certain. [16]

On June 5, Israel struck, executing a plan that had “been in the making for ten years,” according to Shimon Peres, an Israeli prime minister who years before had been involved in the planning of the British-French-Israeli assault on Egypt. [17] Israel destroyed 304 Egyptian warplanes of a total of 419, or 73 percent, in the first two hours of the war, most as they sat on ground. [18] Four days later, most towns and cities in the Sinai had fallen to the Israelis. On June 10, Israeli forces captured Syria’s Golan, and prepared to march on Damascus. The Soviets warned the Israelis to go no further. Washington took the warning seriously and enjoined the Israelis to stand down. [19]

On June 11, a ceasefire went into effect. In just six days, the Israelis reduced the Egyptian army to ruins. According to Nasser’s accounting of Egypt’s war losses, eighty percent of its military equipment was destroyed. [20]

The war was an unalloyed triumph for Israel; it significantly expanded its territory. Rather than the Arabs moving forward to victory against the colonization of the Arab world, an outcome they hoped their new Saladin would bring about, the Zionists had colonized even more of it. [21]

On November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council weighed in on Israel’s occupation of Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan. Resolution 242 noted that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible under international law and affirmed that the fulfillment of the principles of the United Nations Charter required the “[w]ithdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Israel ignored the resolution.

With Israel defying international law, Egypt and Syria took matters into their own hands. On October 6, 1973, the two countries launched a surprise attack on Israeli forces in the Sinai and Golan, with the aim of recovering their territories. The two armies initially met with considerable success. Iraq sent 30,000 troops, including an armored division, to reinforce Syrian troops in the battle to recover the Golan. But Israel, as it had from the moment of its birth, enjoyed technical superiority over its Arab adversaries. This, combined with emergency airlifts of arms by the United States, negated Syria’s early gains. By October 26, the fighting was over, and Israel was still in possession of the territory it had captured in 1967. [22]

A disengagement agreement in 1974 divided Golan into three zones. The largest, comprising two-thirds of the plateau, would be controlled by the Israelis. The remaining territory would be split between the Syrians and UN peacekeepers, with the peacekeepers controlling a thin buffer zone between the two armies. [23]

In 1981, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin annexed the Israeli-occupied portion of Golan, touching off riots by Syrian locals and a complaint by Syria to the UN Security Council. [24] The Security Council issued Resolution 497, declaring “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.” Israel ignored this resolution, as it had Resolution 242. In practice, so too did the rest of the world ignore the resolutions, including those countries such as the United States which exercised great leverage over Israel, but did little to force the Zionist state to comply with the Security Council’s directives.

Israel’s settler colonialism in Golan

According to the New York Times, within a month of the 1967 war, Israel had established a settlement, Merom Golan, on Syrian soil. [25] Settlement building on occupied territory is illegal under international law, but Israel acts as if it’s unbound by the international legal order and its patron, armorer, and financier, the United States allows the Zionist state to defy international law with impunity. That Israel allowed Jews to establish exclusivist communities on the plateau belied its claim that it was occupying Syrian territory for defensive purposes. Settlement activity was an early indication, since confirmed by events, that Israel’s aim is to build a Jewish settler colonial state on as much of Arab land as it can seize by force of arms.

At first, the settler population was small, only 600 in 1972, but it has grown apace. In 1983 it reached 6,800, jumped to 13,000 in 1995, grew to 20,500 in 2014, [26] and has reached an estimated 30,000 today, spread out over 33 Jews-only colonies. [27] Jewish aliens now outnumber those of the original inhabitants and their descendants who weren’t ethnically cleansed in 1967. [28] “The settlers [have] built orchards, wineries, boutique hotels and a ski resort, turning the area into an Israeli vacation spot.” [29] In 2015, Naftali Bennett, at the time a senior Israeli minister, proposed an aggressive development goal — 100,000 new residents across the Golan in five years … to solidify Israel’s hold on the Golan.” [30]

To make way for Israeli boutique hotels and ski resorts, 130,000 Syrians were driven from their homes and two hundred Syrian villages were razed. [31] Only five Druze villages remain. [32]

The ethnic cleansing of Syrians from Golan is hidden by Western press reports, which use anodyne language and obfuscations to spare the Israelis bad press. The New York Time’s David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner characterized the systematic expulsion of over 95 percent of the Syrian community as a ‘depopulation,’ in which “thousands of Syrians [fled] north.” [33] In the New York Times’s account, Syrians appear to have engaged in a voluntary act of self-depopulation. Worse, Sophia Marchesin, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, conceals Israeli ethnic cleansing altogether behind these words: “Some 115-120,000 Syrians are believed to have moved from the Golan to Damascus and other parts of southern Syria early that June.” [34] This is equivalent to saying that a number of people the Nazi state deplored moved to the Polish town of Auschwitz in the early to mid 1940s, or that the aboriginal people of the Ohio Valley moved to the West.

By contrast, Zena Agha, a Palestinian-Iraqi writer and poet from London, wrote in Foreign Affairs that “130,000 Syrians … were forcibly transferred or displaced at the start of the Israeli occupation of the Golan in 1967,” [35] while Zachary Laub, writing for The Council on Foreign Relations, an informal think-tank of the US State Department, noted that the Syrians had been “forcibly displaced in 1967.” [36] Nazareth-based independent journalist Jonathan Cook correctly characterized the depopulation of Golan as a systematic expulsion carried out by the Israelis. [37] In prosecuting a campaign of ethnic cleansing, Zionist Jews reprised the systematic expulsion of Palestinians they had carried out in 1947 and 1948, and later in 1967. The Zionists sought to accomplish a feat of demographic engineering necessary to create a Jewish-majority state in a land in which the Jews were a minority. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe called this ‘the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,’ and wrote about in a book by the same name. [38] The ethnic cleansing of Golan is continuous with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine; it is a manifestation of the same pathology of settler colonialism that lies at the core of the Zionist project.

Today, the Druze community in Israeli-colonized Golan numbers 22,000, up from 6,400 in 1967. Their five remaining towns and villages are outnumbered by the 33 illegal Jews-only settlements. [39] As non-Jews living in territory the Israeli state claims as a Jewish homeland, the Syrian Druze are subjected to unequal treatment, i.e., an apartheid regime. According to Al-Marsad, a Golan-based human rights group, “Syrians in the occupied Golan face calculated Israeli efforts to restrict their building and land use, destroy their enterprises, cleanse their Arab culture, manipulate their Syrian identity, and suffocate their freedom of movement.” [40]

Why Israel conquered the Syrian territory

There is no single reason why the Zionist state conquered Golan; Israeli actions in connection with Golan originate in a network of mutually reinforcing multiple causes.

First, Israel, from its inception, has been an expansionist state, bent on absorbing as much of its neighbors’ territory as it can seize, part of a vision of creating an expanded Jewish settler state, a Greater Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile, the territory the Jews’ mythology says a supernatural being named Yahweh gave them. Territorial expansion based on a desire to recreate the Jewish state of antiquity, justified by a mythology of a privileged relationship of Jews to Yahweh as a chosen people, is at the core of the Zionist project. In 1956, the Jewish nationalist state attempted to pirate the Sinai from Egypt, in a conspiracy with Britain and France, which, to the chagrin of the conspirators, was quickly upset by the intervention of Washington. As shown above, the June 1967 war was an Israeli-initiated aggression whose outcome was a vast expansion in territory under the control of Jewish nationalists. The evidence for Israeli expansionism is found in Israel’s behavior. The Zionist state settled Jewish colonists in all conquered territory—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan. After the 1967 War, Israel also settled Jews in the Sinai. The regional Leviathan invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the war aim of expelling the PLO, but continued to occupy southern Lebanon for the next 18 years, despite having quickly brought about the PLO’s expulsion. The only reason the Star of David no longer flies over Lebanese territory is because Hezbollah, a nationalist movement that arose with the specific purpose of expelling the Israeli invaders, through its violent resistance, made the foreign occupation of their land too costly for the invaders.

Second, conquering territory provides diplomatic leverage over hostile states that quite naturally want their territory back, and may be willing to bargain away principled opposition to Israel’s settler colonialism for irredentist aims. Anwar Sadat’s peace deal with Israel in exchange for the return of Sinai has been a boon for Israel. The compact eliminated Egypt as an Arab nationalist state and placed it firmly in the orbit of the US Empire. It is now a de facto ally of Israel, linked to the US satellite by a common patron, the United States. Israel no longer has to worry about Egypt limiting its room for manoeuvre, as it did when the Arab behemoth was led by Nasser, a man the Arab world counted on to rescue it from the settler colonial project that Britain had implanted at its heart (along with backing a string of puppet monarchs: the king of Egypt, the king of Iraq, the king of Jordan, the king of Saudi Arabia, among others.)

Since Israel’s annexation of Golan in 1981, “both left-leaning Labor and right-leaning Likud governments in the years after carried out negotiations with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and later his son Bashar, over a possible normalization of relations,” according to The Council on Foreign Relations. [41] “In the most recent round of negotiations, in 2010, Netanyahu reportedly was willing to withdraw [from Golan] in exchange for Bashar al-Assad breaking his ties with Iran and Hezbollah. But Netanyahu broke off those negotiations after the Arab Spring came to Syria in March 2011.” [42]

That may have been just as well, as far as the Israelis were concerned. As then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin remarked in 1995, “the greatest danger Israel has to face in the negotiations with Syria is the possibility of losing control over the Golan Heights’ water resources.” [43]

“More than one-third of Israel’s water supply comes from” Golan. The territory “offers access to two major water systems: the drainage basin of the Jordan River and its tributaries to the west, and Lake Tiberias and the Yarmuk River to the south.” [44]

What’s more, “Golan also has more than 200 springs and scores of streams, many of which Israel impounds in reservoirs for settler use. Since 1984, Israel has built more than eight deep wells to access Syrian aquifers. Combined, these wells have extracted more than 2.6 billion gallons of water, which is mostly pumped to settlements for unfettered access.” [45]

Four years ago, “Afek, an Israeli subsidiary of Genie Energy, a US oil company, announced that it had found considerable reserves of oil under the Golan,” [46] totalling potentially billions of barrels—a highly lucrative prize. But for US investors and the Israeli state, salivating at the prospect of reaping a bounty of oil profits from Israeli-colonized Golan, there was a hitch. Under international law the proceeds belong to Syria. [47] Jonathan Cook argued in 2015 that were “the US to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan, it would likely clear the way for Israel to plunder any economically viable reserves located there.” [48] That may be why shortly after the discovery Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began calling on the United States to recognize Israeli authority over Golan. In August 2016, Netanyahu led a cabinet meeting in Israeli-colonized Golan “calling on the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the conquered territory.” At the same time, the Israeli prime minister, who had only five years earlier been willing to bargain away Golan in return for Syria formally designating as legitimate a Jewish-exclusivist state on Arab soil, was now vowing “that Israel would never give [Golan] back.” [49]

Netanyahu advanced a series of sophistries to explain why Israeli-colonized Golan should be recognized as part of Israel. It had “been an integral part of the land of Israel since ancient times,” he argued, adding that “dozens of ancient synagogues in the area … attest to that.” [50] Soon after its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel dispatched survey crews to find evidence of ancient Jewish habitation of the country it had just invaded. As in Golan the purpose was to establish an historical claim to the territory. The presence of ancient synagogues on Syrian soil led Netanyahu to conclude that Golan had been occupied by Syria from the point Israel was founded in 1948, until the territory was ‘recovered’ in 1967. [51] His reasoning was that Golan was inhabited by Jews in antiquity, that Israel is the successor to the Jewish state of antiquity, and, as such, it has an historical right to all territory that the ancient Jews once controlled, including Golan. Therefore, authority over Golan reverted to Israel in 1948, and Syrian authority over the territory from that point forward was illegal. In fact, Syria had occupied Golan!  For his part, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman intoned that he could not “imagine, frankly, a circumstance where the Golan Heights is not a part of Israel.’” [52]

Golan offers Israel another attraction: living space. Michael B. Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, and an Israeli legislator, sees Golan “as a way to ease the housing crisis in crowded, expensive areas around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” [53] By settling Jews atop the 200 destroyed villages of the 130,000 original Arab occupants of Golan, the plan envisages surcease for Jews from the plagues of overcrowding in Israeli cities. How is this not like Hitler’s plan to dispossess Slav untermenschen to make way for German settlers devilled by the housing crisis in crowded, expensive areas around Berlin, Hamburg, and other pullulating German cities?

Once US president Donald Trump agreed to recognize Israel as sovereign over the two-thirds of Golan that Israel had stolen from Syria, Netanyahu struck a different note. Instead of invoking irredentist claims based on Jewish occupation of the land in antiquity, he declared that Golan was the just spoils of a ‘defensive war.’ “There is a very important principle in international life,” he opined. “When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory, do not come and claim it afterwards. It belongs to us.” [54] Of course, this inverted reality; Israel’s 1967 war of aggression—the one of which Menachim Begin had said “We must be honest with ourselves; we decided to attack”—had become a defensive war, in Netanyahu’s highly tendentious view of history. The Israeli prime minister told reporters, “Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.” [55]

The next day, at the State Department, a reporter had this question for secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is a Christian Zionist, who believes, as many evangelical Christians do, that as a project promoting the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, the creation of Israel is an act of the supernatural being in which the Christians believe, and that this presages an important supernatural event in Christian mythology, the rapture, when Christ will return to earth to lead believers to heaven, leaving Jews and other unbelievers to a Dantesque fate. [56]

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Just to follow up on the Golan, yesterday Prime Minister Netanyahu said that basically he is entitled to keep it because they won it by war. Are you setting a precedent that powerful countries can actually overtake land over international law?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am, that’s a good question. The answer is absolutely not. This is an incredibly unique situation. Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation, and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution is a suicide pact. It simply can’t be, and that’s the reality that President Trump recognized in his executive order yesterday. [57]

Pompeo wriggled out the conundrum of seeming to legitimize acquisition of territory by force by echoing Netanyahu’s mischaracterization of Israel’s part in the June 1967 war as self-defensive. Little noticed is that Pompeo inadvertently made the case for why North Korea should not face international sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang’s programs are self-defensive, intended to protect the small country against the aggressions of the US Leviathan, and it cannot be the case that a country’s bending to international sanctions is a suicide pact.

Collusion of Israeli Jews, including the Left

Today, the idea that Golan is an integral part of Israel “goes without saying for the vast majority of Jewish Israelis, including many on the political left who refuse to visit West Bank settlements but do not hesitate to drink wine produced in the Golan or hike among its waterfalls.” [58] In 2015, the Center-Left candidate for minister of defense, Amos Yadlin, proposed that Washington recognize Israel’s authority over Golan to repair the ill-will it had earned by signing the Iran deal. [59] “Before fighting took hold in Syria,” noted Jonathan Cook, “polls showed between 60 and 70 percent of Israelis rejected returning the Golan to Syria, even if doing so would secure peace with Damascus. The percentages are likely to be higher now,” he speculated. [60]

As for the United States and its allies, “neither the platitudes of the international community nor the displeasure of the United Nations [have] stopped Israel from building settlements, kibbutzim, wineries, and even a ski resort deep into the territory,” Zena Agha observes. [61]

Israel as a US bulwark against Arab forces of independence

Following Trump’s announcement that he would sanctify Israel’s Golan annexation, the Golan-based human rights group, Al-Marsad, issued this statement:

“Israel committed an act of aggression when it attacked Syria in 1967, seized the Syrian Golan, and forcibly displaced 95 percent of its population. Israel continues to violate international law in the occupied Golan, including the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions, which regulate belligerent occupation. The United Nations, including in multiple U.S.-backed Security Council Resolutions, has always rejected Israel’s activities in the occupied Golan. With its decision today, the U.S. shows support for egregious abuses of international law and encourages territorial expansionism through aggression. This sets an extremely hazardous standard. The U.S. has proved that it can no longer be an honest broker in the Middle East.” [62]

Notwithstanding the statement’s last sentence, the United States has never been an honest broker in the Middle East. US Middle East policy is governed by the interests of the US business community which seeks to control the region’s vast petroleum reserves and the shipping routes to and from its oil wells and gas fields; it does this for strategic and corporate profit-making reasons. Accordingly, US policy is to suppress the local forces of independence and national assertiveness that contest US control of the region’s assets, and which aim to vest them in the hands of the local population, for the local population’s benefit. That’s where Israel comes in. From its founding Israel has hired itself out to empires in exchange for protection. This was an imperative identified by Theodore Herzl, Israel’s ideological founding father. Since 1967, Herzl’s Jewish state has acted as an outpost of US power in the Middle East; before that, it was a beachhead of British and French influence in West Asia. In his 1993 book, A Place Among Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that Israel is, indeed, “the West’s outpost in the Middle East.” [63] Moshe Dayan, who had multiple roles in the Israeli state, including chief of defense staff, articulated the role Israel would play as the West’s cudgel against Arab forces of independence. The “Jewish people has a mission, especially its Israeli branch,” Dayan is reputed to have said. “In this part of the world, it has to be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism will be broken.” [64]

The Syrian Arab Republic, the self-proclaimed den of Arabism (i.e., Arab nationalism), has been among the most uncompromising of the Arab forces of independence and national assertiveness and has kept the flame of Arab resistance burning where it has guttered out in other Arab capitals. As a result, Washington has waged a long war on Syria, seeking to topple its Arab nationalist governments in favour of a collaborationist regime. Israel has played an important role in this effort.

To believe that the United States was ever an honest broker in the Middle East is to be misled by the guile Washington propagates to disarm its critics and pacify opposition. As the Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled observed in 1973, “Israel is America and Europe combined in Palestine” (emphasis added.) [65] For all his egregious failings, Trump’s lone virtue may be that he has made plain what Khaled observed years ago: the United States isn’t a neutral party. Israel is an instrument of US policy in the Middle East—a dagger pointed at the heart of the movement of Arab nationalism. The wielder of the dagger cannot be an honest broker between the weapon he brandishes and the enemy his weapon is intended to slay.

1. For example, William R. Polk, writing in The Atlantic (December 10, 2013), and Sophia Marches in Le Monde Diplomatique (October 2016) define Golan as a 1,200 square meter plateau, excluding the portion over which Syria exercises authority, as if it doesn’t exit, or the only part of Golan that is of any significance is that part in which Israel plays a role.

2.Said K Aburish (a), The Last Arab: A Biography, (St. Martin’s Press, 2004), 102.

3. Aburish (a) 257.

4. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, (Pantheon Books, 1987), 18.

5. Aburish (a), 251.

6. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Last secret’ of 1967 war: Israel’s doomsday plan for nuclear display,” The New York Times, June 3, 2017.

7. Beit-Hallahmi, 19.

8. Aburish (a), 252.

9. Aburish (a), 253.

10. Aburish (a), 253.

11. Aburish (a), 255.

12. Khalid Amayreh, “The 1967-war revisited (Part I),” The Palestinian Information Center, June 6, 2009.

13. Amayreh

14. Aburish (a), 255.

15. Aburish (a), 258.

16. Aburish (a), 256.

17. Aburish (a), 260.

18. Aburish (a), 260.

19. Aburish (a), 264.

20. Khaled, Leila, (with George Hajjar). My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary, (Hodder and Stoughton. 1973), 103.

21. “Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine”, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, February, 1969.

22. Said, K. Aburish (b), Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, (Bloomsbury, 2001), 106.

23. Zachary Laub, “The Golan Heights: What’s at Stake With Trump’s Recognition,” The Council on Foreign Relations, March 28, 2019.

24. Laub.

25. Jodi Rudoren, “As Syria reels, Israel looks to expend settlements in Golan Heights,” The New York Times, October 2, 2015.

26. Rudoren

27. Sophia Marchesin, “Golan Druze hang on,” Le Monde Diplomatique, October, 2016.

28. Ben Hubbard, “The Golan Heights Was Once an Arab Rallying Cry. Not Anymore.” The New York Times, March 22, 2019.

29. Hubbard.

30. Rudoren.

31. Jonathan Cook, “Israel stakes claim to Golan after oil find,” Middle East Eye, November 13, 2015.

32. Marchesin; Cook.

33. David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, “Netanyahu Says Golan Heights Move ‘Proves You Can’ Keep Occupied Territory.” The New York Times, March 26, 2019.

34. Marchesin.

35. Zena Agha, “What’s driving Israeli claims to the Golan Heights? Israel wants the region’s water,” Foreign Affairs, November 1, 2018.

36. Laub.

37. Cook.

38. Illan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (Oneworld, 2006).

39. Cook; Marchesin.

40. “Al-Marsad Denounces U.S. Recognition of the Occupied Syrian Golan as Israel,” March 25, 2019, https://golan-marsad.org/al-marsad-denounces-u-s-recognition-of-the-occupied-syrian-golan-as-israel/ .

41. Laub.

42. Laub.

43. Agha.

44. Agha.

45. Agha.

46. Cook.

47. Cook.

48. Cook.

49. Isabel Kershner, “Israel will never give Golan Heights to Syria, Netanyahu vows,” The New York Times, April 17, 2016.

50. Kershner.

51. Kershner.

52. Agha.

53. Rudoren.

54. Halbfinger and Kershner.

55. Halbfinger and Kershner.

56. Edward Wong, “The Rapture and the Real World: Mike Pompeo Blends Beliefs and Policy,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019.

57. Michael R. Pompeo. Secretary of State. Press Briefing Room. Washington, DC., March 26, 2019.

58. Rudoren.

59. Rudoren.

60 Cook.

61. Agha.

62. Al-Marsad.

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

64. Beit-Hallahmi, 8.

65. Khaled, 128.

In recognizing Israel’s conquest of Golan, Trump reveals the truth about the United States’ relationship with its beachhead in the Middle East

March 28, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Washington’s decision to recognize Israel as sovereign over Golan doesn’t make Israel’s possession of the Syrian territory legitimate; Golan will always be part of Syria by right, regardless of what is decided in the capital of a country with its own rich history of territorial annexations (one-third of Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands, to say nothing of the ruthlessly plundered land of the native Americans.)

Neither is legitimacy conferred on the possession of any other territory by the Jewish settler state as a consequence of US recognition—not Jerusalem, and not those parts of Palestine that the UN, in 1947, at the time dominated by colonial powers, assigned to a Jewish state. And not the territory the UN assigned to an Arab state that Zionist settlers seized and declared their own. Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, belongs to Palestinians, not to European settlers, no matter what the United States says.

Nor does recognition of Israel’s claim to stolen Syrian territory make the act of conquest lawful. In matters of international relations, Washington has no authority to decide unilaterally what is legal and what is not. The US decision, then, means nothing.

But by acknowledging openly what has long been acknowledged implicitly, Washington has torn the mask off its collusion with Zionist settler colonialism. Where the United States once affected to act as an impartial arbiter between the Israelis and the Arabs whose land the settler state had expropriated, it now declares it is no longer willing to maintain the fiction of neutrality. “Trump’s recognition of Israel’s” absorption of Syrian territory, observed the journalist Robert Fisk, merely accepts “what we’d all secretly gone along with.”

Indeed, the United States and its major allies could have easily forced Israel to relinquish the conquered Golan, but haven’t. In 1967, Israel was prepared to conquer Damascus, just a short drive down the road from the newly seized Golan. Washington laid a restraining hand on its Middle East Sparta, and Damascus remained an Arab capital. In 1982, at Washington’s behest, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, territory also pirated in 1967 as part of the Zionist state’s six-day war of territorial expansion. Israel, like an obedient attack dog, obeys its master.

As a small island of only six million Jews in a vast sea of Arabs, Israel depends on the West for its survival. Its 1967 conquest of Egyptian (Sinai and Gaza), Syrian (Golan), and Jordanian (West Bank and East Jerusalem) territory was possible only owing to its possession of an atomic bomb, acquired with the assistance of France, which it was prepared to detonate in the Sinai; arms from Washington; aid from the CIA; the diplomatic conniving of the United States; and the fact that a large part of the Egyptian army was in distant Yemen.

The states that border Israel—Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—are home to over 130 million Arabs who wish the dissolution of Jewish supremacy over Arab land as indigenous south Africans hoped for the end of apartheid.

As a state which assigns permanent political ascendancy to Jews, Israel would perish in a moment without Western support—not because Arabs have an enmity to Jewish settlers because they’re Jews, but because they’re settlers who have stolen their land and frustrate Arab aspirations to shape their own destiny.

On the other hand, transformed into a democratic state in which all citizens have equal rights and obligations, regardless of religious affiliation, language, and ethnicity, Israel, or a successor state under a different name, could exist quite peacefully with its neighbors, and would not require Western support to survive, so long as it renounced its existence as the West’s outpost in the Middle East, as Benjamin Netanyahu once called Israel.

Western states, inheritors of the colonial tradition, have, in practice favored the first model—Israel as a settler colonial state in which Jews (European settlers) exercise permanent political supremacy over the natives, just as they favored the apartheid state of South Africa, as a settler colonial state in which another group of European settlers did the same. The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—themselves the product of settler colonialism, go along with Israel’s annexations and land grabs, as does Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan, states which once dispatched their own settlers to foreign lands to exercise permanent political supremacy over the natives. It’s a Western tradition, and not one the West, in its support for its outpost in the Middle East, is entirely prepared to retire.

While going along with Israeli colonialism, the United States and its allies backed UN resolutions calling on their Israeli protégé to end its occupation of territories conquered in 1967, including Golan, but did nothing to enforce Israel’s compliance, even though, if the outpost’s compliance was genuinely desired, the United States had it within its power to obtain. It was a sham. And Trump has exposed the sham for what it is.

US vice-president Mike Pence declared that “we stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” What Pence didn’t say is that the cause, values, and fight which bind the two countries are rooted not in democracy but in its very antithesis—settler colonialism and the enforcement of the international dictatorship of the United States.

Moshe Dayan, an Israeli chief of defense staff, minister of defense, and minister of foreign affairs, is reputed to have said that the “Jewish people has a mission, especially its Israeli branch. In this part of the world, it has to be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism will be broken.” Those waves have included Nasser’s Egypt, Ba’athist Syria, and Ba’athist Iraq, fierce opponents of US domination of the Arab world. Iran and Hezbollah have also opposed US control of West Asia, and have, accordingly, been targeted by Israel.

The United States stands with Israel because her cause (the projection of US power) is its cause, because her values (settler hegemony over the natives) is it values, and because her fight (suppressing the national aspirations of the natives) is its fight.

‘Rule of law’ states defend Israel’s cold blooded murder of peaceful demonstrators while trying to rob Venezuela of its oil

By Stephen Gowans

March 18, 2019

A recent independent investigation sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council into the killing and injury of unarmed Palestinian refugees who were participating in peaceful demonstrations demanding that they be allowed to return to territories they, or their forbears, had been driven from, concluded that Israeli security forces unlawfully killed almost 200 and injured over 9,000 over a nine-month period last year.

The February 28 report of the Human Rights Council’s independent international commission of inquiry into the protests in Gaza, concluded that Israeli snipers “killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor where they directly participating in hostilities.”

Israeli snipers killed 183 Palestinians and injured 6,106 by live ammunition; 1,576 by bullet fragmentation or shrapnel; 1,084 by direct tear gas canister hits; and 438 by rubber-coated metal bullets, the investigation found.

The overwhelming majority of victims, including clearly marked journalists and medical personnel, as well as children, women and persons with disabilities, “were hundreds of metres away from the Israeli forces and visibly engaged in civilian activities” when they were shot. Of the thousands of cases of injury or fatality, the commission found only two in which an individual was engaged in hostilities or posed an imminent threat to life or serious injury.

The commission concluded that “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces was unlawful” and observed that “intentionally killing a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.” It also raised the possibility that Israeli actions constituted a crime against humanity.

In less diplomatic language, Israel behaved as a gangster state, murdering nearly 200 Palestinians in cold blood, who posed no direct threat to Israel and injured over 9,000 others. Some of the injuries, the investigation found, were “long-term” and “life-changing” and in some cases led to “paralysis” or “amputations.”

These thuggish, criminal acts are hardly Israel’s worst atrocities. Tel Aviv’s contempt for international law is unmatched, except by its patron, the United States. It has undertaken a series of wars of aggression and territorial annexations, both de jure and de facto. The state is based on a racist doctrine that demands the differential assignment of rights to Jews and non-Jews. It constructs Jewish-only colonies on land it hasn’t already plundered from the original Arab occupants. The enterprise is redolent with the stench of settler colonialism, an institution long recognized as an abomination against humanity, which, all the same, carries on in Palestine under the aegis of the United States, Canada, and European Union.

If we are to enumerate the crimes of Israel and conclude that it is a gangster state, we will almost certainly be accused of practicing the ‘new’ anti-Semitism, an accusation no more meaningful than denouncing critics of Al Capone’s crimes as practicing a new anti-Italian bigotry.

The United States, Canada, and the EU—advocates of this new approach to silencing critics of the West’s beachhead in the Middle East—sanction dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea, and do so in many cases illegally, without the authorization of the UN Security Council, knowing that there are no legal grounds on which the sanctions can be based, and so bypass the Council altogether. These self-designated ‘rule of law’ states do not, however, sanction Israel.

Read that again. Western states, which never tire of presenting themselves as champions of an international order based on the rule of law, are unlawfully sanctioning Venezuela, while overlooking Israel’s cold-blooded murder of almost 200 Palestinians—people who were peacefully demanding their rights and asking for nothing more than to be granted the charter of humanity.

The sanctions on Venezuela have created untold economic hardship, according to Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert who wrote a report for the Human Rights Council in the autumn of last year. De Zayas wrote:

Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means. There is not only a horizontal juridical world order governed by the Charter of the United Nations and principles of sovereign equality, but also a vertical world order reflecting the hierarchy of a geopolitical system that links dominant States with the rest of the world according to military and economic power. It is the latter, geopolitical system that generates geopolitical crimes, hitherto in total impunity.

The ostensible reason for imposing a medieval siege on Venezuela is to drive the resource nationalist Maduro government from power for its alleged departure from democratic norms.

Set aside for the moment that Maduro’s favored replacement, the foreign-investment-friendly Juan Gauidó, intends to sell off Venezuela’s publicly-owned oil to private interests, and that this is a flagrant oil-grab, as US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has frankly acknowledged.

Even were it true that Maduro’s election was fraudulent—and there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that it was—this would hardly compare to the massacre of longsuffering residents of Gaza, who, it should be added, are living under an Israeli-imposed medieval siege which the “United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have both found” to constitute “collective punishment”—that is, to violate international law.

So, Israeli murderers gun down Palestinians who peacefully demand what is due to them as human beings, and this passes without comment by the self-proclaimed defenders of the rule of law. In Western capitals, the only discussion about Israel is one pivoting on the contrived concept of the ‘new’ anti-Semitism, an all too transparent ploy to suppress criticism of Al Capone’s crimes, while John Dillinger gets on with robbing Venezuela of its treasure trove of oil and gold.

 

Maduro’s claim that Washington has used cyberwarfare to bring down Venezuela’s power grid cannot be so easily dismissed

By Stephen Gowans

March 11, 2019

In the last few days Venezuela has been afflicted by power failures, escalating the misery of a population already menaced by an ongoing economic crisis.

Two explanations are offered to account for the outages.

Western news media point to the alleged economic mismanagement of the Maduro government, which has, in their view, crippled Venezuela’s power gird via under-investment.

The Maduro government counters that the United States has brought down the power grid through a cyberwarfare attack, part of its project of bringing Juan Guaidó, the US-backed Venezuelan legislator to power, by plunging the country into chaos and blaming the crisis on Maduro.

The US news media say that Caracas has offered no evidence to back up its accusation that Washington has unleashed a cyberattack on Venezuela, but equally offer no evidence to substantiate their own accusation that the Maduro government’s economic policies are to blame for the crisis.

We are thus presented with a fact (the outage) and two competing narratives, neither based on hard evidence. Which of these narratives is more credible?

Washington very likely has the cyberwarfare capability to cripple Venezuela’s power grid. On November 12, 2018, David Sanger reported in the New York Times that,

The United States had a secret program, code-named “Nitro Zeus,” which called for turning off the power grid in much of Iran if the two countries had found themselves in a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Such a use of cyberweapons is now a key element in war planning by all of the major world powers.

If the United States can turn off the power grid in Iran, using a cyberweapon that is now a key element in war planning of all the major world powers, it’s highly likely that it can do the same in Venezuela.

What’s more, the United States has on at least two occasions carried out cyberattacks against foreign states. Significantly, the attacks were unleashed against governments which, like Venezuela’s, have refused to submit to US hegemony. US cyberattacks were used to cripple Iran’s uranium enrichment program (now widely acknowledged) and to sabotage North Korea’s rocket program, the latter revealed by various sources, including, again, by the New York Time’s Sanger:  “[F]or years….the United States has targeted the North’s missile program with cyberattacks,” the reporter wrote in August, 2017.

The aforesaid, of course, is only evidence of capability, not of commission, but when placed within the context of Washington making clear its intention to topple the resource nationalist Maduro government, US capability, motivation, and practice, does very strongly cast suspicion on the US government.

Last week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton conceded (even boasted) that US policy in Venezuela is guided by the Monroe Doctrine, a doctrine which effectively claims US hegemony over the Western Hemisphere. In November, he used florid language to rail against Venezuela and other Latin American states which have rejected the Monroe Doctrine as belonging to a “Troika of Tyranny,” and forming part of a “triangle of terror” while acting as “a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.”

In 2002, as undersecretary of state, Bolton added Syria, Libya, and Cuba to George W. Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil,” a regime change hit list which initially included Iraq, Iran and North Korea. All of the designated states were regime-changed or subjected to attempted regime change by Washington.  Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria were or are resource nationalist states, like Venezuela.

Revealingly, Bolton used the occasion of denouncing what he called Venezuela’s “poisonous” ideology of socialism (more accurately termed resource nationalism) to sing hosannas to Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, an unequivocal reactionary, who Bolton lauded as a positive “sign for the future of the region” in light of Bolsanaro’s “commitment to free-market principles.”

Commitment to free-market principles is code for welcoming the takeover of a country’s land, labour, markets and resources by US free enterprise. Bolton infamously told Fox Business that “It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” Indeed it will. Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil, and is teeming with other natural resources, including gold, coveted by wealthy investors, including those with stakes in Canada’s giant mining companies (explaining why Ottawa has played a lead role in the Lima Group’s efforts to drive Maduro from power in favor of the foreign investment-friendly Guaidó.)

Guaidó showed why he has been decried as a US puppet when he said his economic “plan called for … opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment,” along the lines envisaged by Bolton. The self-proclaimed president’s plan “includes privatizing assets held by state enterprises,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Under the Maduro government, investment in Venezuela’s oil industry must take the form of joint ventures with the country’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which is required to hold a majority share. Under a Guaidó government, that would change. Foreign private-owned companies would be allowed to own a majority stake in any joint-venture, and reap higher profits.

To return to the US narrative: If we accept the US-directed view that the power outages are caused by the Maduro government’s putative mismanagement of the electrical system, it appears all too convenient that the blackouts should happen precisely at the moment Washington is engaged in an effort to drive Maduro, and his “poisonous” ideology of resource nationalism, from power.

It seems more likely, given Washington’s long history of sabotaging the economies of countries that are insufficiently accommodating of US free enterprise, that US cyberwarfare capabilities were pressed into service to force Venezuelans to endure even more misery than has already been engendered by US-orchestrated sanctions. The aim is to increase pressure on Maduro to step down. As the Economist revealed, “Mr Guaidó and Mr Trump are betting that hardship will topple the regime.”

This parallels US efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. As historian Louis A Perez Jr. explained in a 2002 article in the Journal of Latin American Studies,

[C]entral to US objectives was the need to maintain the appearance that the collapse of Fidel Castro was the result of conditions from within, by Cubans themselves, the product of government economic mismanagement, and thereby avoiding appearances of US involvement. The United States sought to produce disarray in the Cuban economy but in such a fashion as to lay responsibility directly on Fidel Castro.

US officials affirmed that the goal was to make “Castro’s downfall seem to be the result of his own mistakes’.”

[US Ambassador Philip Bonsal] in Havana early stressed the importance of appearance: ‘ It is important that the inevitable downfall of the present Government not be attributed to any important extent to economic sanctions from the United States as major factor.’ The United States, Bonsal wrote … sought ‘ to make it clear that when Castro fell, his overthrow would be due to inside and not outside causes’. This was the purport of a lengthy memorandum by George Denney, Director of State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The idea was to eliminate Castro ‘without resort to invasion or attributable acts of violence and violations of international law’, specifically by ‘creating the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba … as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the US’.

If the “Castro Communist experiment” was to “appear to have failed not on its own merits but as a result of obvious or inadequately disguised US intervention,… the validity of Castro’s revolutionary course might remain unquestioned.” Denney warned that if Cuba’s socialism was interrupted by the force of the world’s foremost ‘imperialist’ and ‘capitalist’ power in the absence of a major provocation, such action [would] discredit the US and tend to validate the uncompleted experiment.”

In Cuba, the United States sabotaged the economy through sanctions and tried to pin the blame on Castro and socialism. In Venezuela, the United States appears to have sabotaged the electrical grid and pinned the blame on Maduro

To be sure, there is, at this point, no concrete evidence that Washington has sabotaged Venezuela’s electrical grid, but it has the capability to do so, a record of using cyberattacks against countries slated for regime change, a motivation to throw Venezuela into crisis, and a game plan it has used repeatedly in other countries.

The US hand may be absent from this week’s power failures in Venezuela, but chances are it wasn’t.