by Curt Jones
Since Israel proclaimed independence in 1948, it has been striving for acceptance by its eighteen neighbors in the Middle East. The effort has been essentially unsuccessful. Egypt and Jordan have gingerly signed peace treaties in response to American pressure and annual bribes, but in both cases the product is a cold peace—one opposed by large majorities of the Egyptian and Jordanian populations. Similar cooption of Syria is ruled out as long as Israel sees military necessity in retaining the Syrian Golan.
The Islamist opposition neutralizes the pro-Western faction in Lebanon. Turkey’s alliance with Israel is an opportunistic transaction negotiated by the military bloc, primarily in hopes of advancing the cause of Turkish entry into the European Union; the alliance is suspect in the eyes of many Turkish parliamentarians. Detente between Zionist Israel and Saudi Arabia, custodian of the Muslim Holy Places (which include Jerusalem), is a nonstarter.
The Israeli-American diarchy has made two efforts to impose pro-Western regimes by armed force. In 1982, Israel applied its conventional military preeminence to the occupation of southern Lebanon as far as Beirut, but its choice for puppet president was assassinated, and after eighteen years of Syrian-backed guerrilla resistance, Israeli forces abandoned the country.
In 2003, American forces tried to achieve in Iraq what Israel failed to do in Lebanon. Once again, conventional attack knocked out the existing government. Once again the resistance went underground. The Iraqi venture is threatening to turn out much worse than the Lebanese. After three years and a half, the American forces are confronted by two challenges: a Sunni guerrilla war against the Americans and their half-hearted Iraqi allies, and an escalating power struggle among at least five Iraqi factions: Kurds, Turkmens, Sunni Arabs, along with Shiites for preserving a united Iraq and Shiites for Iraqi partition. No one can predict the outcome, but it promises to be bad for America and bad for Israel. It may be cataclysmic for the Middle East, and particularly for Arab policies of appeasement.
So far, the Iraqi power struggle—inhibited by American tanks and aircraft—has been fought in the shadows, by abduction and assassination. Once the Americans leave — which now looks to be sooner rather than later—the mayhem could escalate to full-scale civil war, in which Iraq would be brutally partitioned among three or more militias, and neighboring armies might be tempted to participate.
In South Asia, post-imperialist partition brought calamity to the region. By precipitating intervention by some or all of the six neighboring states, partition of Iraq could inflict calamity on the Middle East.
The invasion of Iraq has been widely identified as the greatest blunder in the history of American foreign policy. It exemplifies the delusion, shared by recent American and Israeli administrations, that political disputes can be resolved by military surgery.
Israel’s mistake has been its effort to translate its regional military supremacy into two impossible objectives: 1) neutralization of the Arabs dispossessed of Palestine and 2) regional acceptance of the de-Arabized state. By pursuing this delusional policy, Israel has condemned itself to perpetual unrest in Palestine, and perpetual rejection by neighboring states. On October 9, Gideon Levy wrote in Ha’aretz that the Israeli administration in the Occupied Territories is the most undemocratic regime in the Middle East.
Washington’s mistake has been its effort to translate its global military supremacy into political hegemony over the Middle East — with the goal of exploiting this hegemony to impose peace with the discriminatory state of Israel. By pursuing this unrealistic policy, America has condemned itself to subversion by nongovernmental factions such as Al Qa’idah, and to antagonism from rival states — notably Iran.
The threat to the United States is severe, but not indefinitely grave. It will abate once Washington recognizes that America is not a viable contender in the Middle East power struggle.
The threat to Zionist Israel is existential. It will end only after the Israelis adapt to their geopolitical environment. Adaptation will be intensely traumatic. Scarred by the memory of the Holocaust, the present generation of leaders seems incapable of seeing through the Zionist fantasy. Shocked by their failure to wipe out Hizballah, they are now reportedly gearing up for another try. They seem blind to the lesson of Lebanon — and Iraq — that the Israeli-American diarchy can win air battles and tank battles, but not the political battle. Most Middle Easterners, including some Israelis, recognize that Zionism is not the end of the aliyah story. It is a transitional phase in the return of Jewish people to the Middle East.
A Jewish state in Palestine is a geopolitical inconsistency, based on the illusion that a community of six million can dictate the terms of its integration into a region populated by three hundred million adherents of rival communities. In this futile cause, the diarchy has won eight conventional wars— 1948, 1956, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1982, 1991, and 2003. But it lost two guerrilla wars in Lebanon and can be expected to lose the guerrilla war in Iraq.
The military obsession blinds Washington and Jerusalem to the fact that the adversaries of the moment — Hizballah in Lebanon, Sunni resistance in Iraq, theocracy in Iran, and Islamists in hiding — are the contemporary manifestations of overarching geopolitical reality. That is, the future of the Middle East will be determined by Middle Easterners. America is not a viable contender. Israel can be, but only by combining Palestinian Jews and Arabs into one political entity, divorced from neoimperialistic ties to any foreign power.
Curt Jones, a member of this journal’s Board of Directors, has contributed frequent commentaries to American Diplomacy. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1975 after more than thirty years of service, including assignments to seven posts abroad.