Israel and the US War on Iraq: A Lethal Warning to US Client States: Behave or Else (A good tonic for those who claim that Israel dictates U.S. foreign policy)

Mike Friedman mikedf at
Wed Feb 26 12:44:15 MST 2003


February 26, 2003

Israel and the US War on Iraq

A Lethal Warning to US Client States: Behave or Else


It's remarkable how rarely Israel is mentioned in regard to the
American plans to attack Iraq -- with the exception of occasional
notices of how strongly the Israeli government supports those plans.
A proper assessment of its part in this war depends upon an
understanding of Israel's position in the United States' overall
policy for the Middle East, and how that policy is being implemented
with specific regard to Iraq.

Patrick Buchanan was thoroughly rebuked when he remarked on the eve
of the US attack on Iraq in 1991, "There are only two groups that are
beating the drums for war in the Middle East -- the Israeli Defense
Ministry and its amen corner in the United States." But he was saying
aloud what few others were. What his national chauvinism prevented
him from noticing was that, in its avidity for war, the Israeli
government was acting -- as it had for more than a generation -- as
the principal US client, our "local cop on the beat," as the Nixon
Administration had put it. It's this ongoing role that explains what
part Israel has in the current slaughter of Iraqis.


Since the Second World War -- from which the United States emerged as
the world's only undamaged major country and proceeded to organize
the economy of the world -- a cornerstone of American policy has been
control of Middle East energy resources, the greatest geopolitical
prize in the modern world. Control, not just access, was what was
demanded by all US administrations, Republican and Democrat, because
control of those resources gave the US control of its principal
economic competitors -- which turned out to be, by the late 20th
century, a German-led Europe and a Japan-led East Asia.

The US has never in fact required Mideast oil for its own society --
all the energy requirements of the US could be filled from national
sources (especially when we include in "national sources," our
"backyard" -- Latin America) But Germany imports 80% of its energy
resources, and Japan, 100%. Who controls world oil, controls the
life-line of the modern world.

And the principal threat to U.S. control has always come from what
the US called "domestic radicalism" -- the dangerous idea amongst the
peoples of the oil-producing regions that their natural wealth should
be used for their benefit, rather than for that of the corporations
and the economic elites to whom the US might assign it. And the chief
form of "domestic radicalism" was Arab nationalism. To guard against
it, the US constructed (and took over from Britain) a series of
repressive Arab governments, the family dictatorships around the
Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia at their head.


Since it launched a war and destroyed the center of Arab nationalism
in 1967, Israel's job in America's "overall framework of order," in
Henry Kissinger's phrase, was to guarantee that those conservative
Arab governments were protected from their most dangerous enemy --
their own populations. Israel was to be the final bulwark against the
dangers that would be posed to US control if "domestic radicals" came
to power in one of the oil-producing states -- as happened in Iran in

For that reason (and not because of some imagined invincibility of
the pro-Israel lobby), the US is willing to provide Israel with
vastly more money and support than it gives to any other country in
the world. (In second place is Egypt, Israel's principal antagonist
in 1967, whom the Carter administration bought off at Camp David in
1978, securing Israel's southern border; in third, Turkey, Israel's
principal military ally in the present-day Middle East.) Today as a
result Israel has perhaps the third strongest military in the world,
with hundreds of advanced nuclear weapons (Israel did not sign the
Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), missiles and submarines with which
to deliver them, and an air force of US-supplied F-16s and attack

For that reason too the US is willing to support Israel's brutal and
racist occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (condemned by the United
Nations thirty-five years ago in Security Council Resolution 242) and
its settlement of its citizens in the occupied territories
(recognized as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention -- a war
crime -- around the world). Not only have these been the consistent
policies of all Israeli governments, Labor and Likud, they also serve
the US purpose of discouraging domestic radicalism, a democratic and
secular Palestine being seen as a "threat of a good example" even by
some Arab states. To discourage the threat of progressive Arab
nationalism, the US and Israel have on occasion been willing to fund
even Islamicist movements (Hamas and the Mujahideen) that they saw as
counters to it. Consistent US/Israeli policy has been largely
successful in destroying secular Arab nationalism as it existed two
generations ago -- and replacing it with religious fundamentalism.

In 1982, in order to consolidate the Israeli control over the
occupied territories, the US armed and supported the most extreme
terrorist act in the Middle East in a generation, the invasion of
Lebanon, which killed about 20,000 people (many more than Iraq's
invasion of Kuwait). It was conducted by the current Prime Minister
of Israel and launched because of the danger that peace might break
out in the Middle East. That motive grows to the extent that the
state is militarized. In the principal American client as perhaps
nowhere else in the world is it true that war is the health of the
state. And that war is principally a war against Palestinians.

That war is not simply killing. To take one example from far too
many, Israeli forces closed the Islamic University and the
Polytechnic Institute in Hebron last month, actions to which even the
US State Department took mild exception. Elsewhere, the Israeli army
looked for similarly creative forms of collective punishment and
ethnic cleansing: in east Jerusalem, they sealed the apartments of
three imprisoned Hamas militants (one of whom had been sentenced to
thirty-five consecutive life terms) by filling the rooms with
concrete. The Guardian (UK) reports that now more than a thousand
Palestinians are held by the Israeli army under detention without
charge (the sort of thing we used to think only totalitarian
governments did -- it is of course now US practice, too).

This oppressive and anti-intellectual policy is practiced by other
American clients as well. US financial and military aid to Turkey was
used brutally to suppress the Kurds in the southeast in the 1990s,
creating millions of refugees, destroying some 3500 villages, and
killing tens of thousands of people -- an ethnic cleansing supported
by the Clinton administration. Since the military coup in 1980,
Turkish universities have been rife with police spies, and evidence
of Kurdish culture, to say nothing of Kurdish nationalism, has been
suppressed. America and its clients in the Middle East have as their
enemies whole peoples of the region.

Any understanding of Israel's role in the coming US attack on Iraq
has to begin with the Jewish state's continuing position in US
policy. Those on the American Right (and elsewhere) who think that
the Israeli tail is wagging the US dog have got it quite wrong: the
dog is firmly in control. Israeli governments, whether Labor or
Likud, do nothing without the approval of their American paymasters.
Noam Chomsky offers three recent examples, beginning with the first
Bush administration:

"--The Bush #1 case involved $10 million in loan guarantees, which
Israel was using (illegally, but with US connivance) for settlement
in the territories. The Shamir government was doing it in a brazen
way that annoyed Baker-Bush. Bush suspended the guarantees, ...
Israel returned to the preferred Labor-style hypocrisy ('thickening
settlements,' 'natural growth,' etc.) and all was well. "--In 2000,
Israel's highly militarized high-tech economy was counting heavily on
a huge sale of Phalcon air war technology to China. The US didn't
like it. Barak said Israel would never back down. Clinton told them
quietly, 'Sorry, no.' End of story. "--Sharon's siege of Arafat in
Ramallah was interfering with Bush administration efforts to garner
support for the war on Iraq. The orders came quietly from Washington.
Same [result]."

Chomsky points out that there are many such cases, "some major ones
(like Eisenhower ordering Israel out of Egyptian territory on the eve
of a presidential election), others minor ones like Ramallah, many in
between." Were it not for the part that Israel plays in the US
government's decades-long plan for control of Middle East energy
resources, it would be of no more concern to us than any other state
with a questionable racial policy and a population less than that of
New York City -- Zimbabwe, say, or Uganda (even if the latter had
become a Jewish state, as was once proposed).

Israel's military usefulness to the US is not limited to the Middle
East. In two of the worst examples -- near-genocidal campaigns in
which the US government was hampered by political pressure at home --
Israel carried out the bidding of its patron. In the 1970s, at the
request of the Carter administration, Israel transferred war-planes
to Indonesia to aid in the suppression of the East Timorese, a
massacre comparable to those in Cambodia. In the 1980s, Israeli
military advisors aided the Reagan administration in genocidal
campaigns in Guatemala (for which Clinton later apologized, with
monstrous inadequacy).

Chomsky refers to Israel as "virtually an offshore US military
establishment." An Israeli journalist recently described the country
as "an army with a state, not state with an army," and that army is
"almost an offshoot of the Pentagon," Chomsky adds. He points out,
"Unfortunately for Israel, it's coming to resemble the US in other
ways. It approximates the US in having the highest inequality in the
industrial world, and its social welfare system, once impressive, is
visibly declining. It may end up being almost a caricature of the
worst features of American society. These are consequences of the
choice of confrontation and dependency rather than peaceful
integration into the region, fateful choices decades ago." It also
makes the Israeli polity dependent on war: Zalman Shoval, former
Israeli ambassador to the US, is quoted as saying recently to
Israel's Military Radio (GALATZ), "The postponement of the war
against Iraq is against the Israeli interests."


In 1934 Fascist Italy invaded the impoverished kingdom of Ethiopia to
build its new Empire, and in the event the principal contemporary
organ of international law, the League of Nations, was destroyed. The
US war on Iraq resembles Italy's, not least in that it shreds
international law and subverts the UN. The comparison perhaps
reverses a famous observation about everything in history happening
twice: the first time it may have been a farce, but the second may be
a great tragedy indeed.

The Bush administration has at least three important goals in
launching this criminal enterprise:

First, consistent with the fundamental principle of US foreign
policy, this is a war for oil, for control of (not just access to)
Iraqi oil reserves, the second largest in the world. That control
rather than access is the issue, is shown by the hesitation of the
large oil companies about this war: they have access now and fear its

Second, it is a demonstration war, as all US wars since World War II
(including Vietnam) have been: a state which refuses to obey
Washington's orders -- or has the dangerous idea that it wants to use
its resources for the purposes of its population, rather than
integrate them into the world economy on terms set by the US -- must
be punished severely.

Third, the war distracts from our wretched economy at home; the
administration mobilizes for war and encourages the fear of terrorism
to cover over their understandably unpopular economic policy --
nothing less than the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich --
and nevertheless to assure their reelection (if you agree that they
were elected in the first place).

The war is meant to secure and defend the long-term foreign policy of
the US, in the Middle East and in the world at large. To understand
why that policy requires the reduction of Iraq -- and indeed the
destruction of any regional power with "weapons of mass destruction"
(WMDs) -- we need to grasp what might be called "asymmetrical
deterrence," the way in which a weak state may have just enough
weapons to deter the threats of a strong one.

The US enjoys nuclear dominance in the world and Israel, with a
stronger military than any European NATO country, nuclear dominance
in the region. (General Lee Butler, head of the Strategic Command
under Clinton: "It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron
of animosities that we call the Middle East, one nation has armed
itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps
numbering in the hundreds, and that inspires other nations to do
so.") These weapons are used primarily as a threat against weaker,
non-nuclear countries. Thus every US president since Truman has
threatened to use nuclear weapons against a Third World country. But
the US ability to threaten another country is limited if, even though
the US reduced that country to nuclear waste, it could itself be hit
with even one nuclear weapon.

Similarly, Israel has an overwhelming dominance of weapons of mass
destruction (nuclear, biological, and chemical) in the region, but
the possession of only a few -- or even one -- by a rival to the US
cop can neutralize the cop's offensive dominance. Of course it would
be insanity for Iraq or any other state to attack Israel -- it would
be immediately obliterated by Israel and the US -- but Israel has to
hesitate to use its weapons of mass destruction, or even threaten to
do so, if there is any chance that the cost would be Tel Aviv...

The American "framework of order" is endangered if its regional
enforcer can be constrained. It is in this way that the possession of
a few WMDs (by Iraq, Iran, or any other state in the region) is a
defensive posture, not an offensive one -- and surely the policy that
would have to be adopted even if the government in Baghdad were
democratic (highly unlikely, because the US doesn't want it).
Similarly, on an international scale, China developed nuclear weapons
and the missiles to deliver them a generation ago and produced about
twenty, which they still have -- not an offensive threat, but a
defensive caution to the US and Russia.

The new US attack on Iraq, then, is based first of all on maintaining
the persistent US position in the Middle East and eliminating a check
on America's regional enforcer. But it is a good deal more than that.
It is also part of a plan for a new colonialism, a plan quite
publicly announced by the most extreme elements in the US government,
in league with the most right-wing elements in Israel (much to the
right of the current prime minister, war criminal as he may be).

As Kurt Nimmo explained in CounterPunch, "...the idea of killing
Saddam Hussein and inflicting depredation on the Iraqi people is not
a Bush idea (it can be argued Bush has no original ideas of his own)
-- the current scheme was a roughcast devised by Likudite Richard
Perle. In 1996, Perle (and Douglas Feith) wrote 'A Clean Break: A New
Strategy for Securing the Realm,' which he presented to then Israel
Prime Minister Netanyahu. The plan called for not only eliminating
Hussein and installing a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad, but also for
trashing the Oslo Accords, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and
Gaza, and overthrowing or destabilizing the governments of Syria,
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Perle's master plan for Likud
regional dominance ... was crafted for the Jerusalem and Washington,
D.C.-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies

The plan had been announced in the Clinton administration (which was
more extreme on Israel than the first Bush administration), but the
planners came to power in the Pentagon and the State Department in
the second Bush administration. They saw 9/11 as a heaven-sent
opportunity to put the plan into operation. As the Washington Post
recently reported, Bush signed a document directing the Pentagon to
begin planning for an invasion of Iraq less than a week after the
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington -- although the
administration has never had any evidence of Iraqi complicity in
those attacks. And, quite consistently with the views of the
Washington hawks ("chicken-hawks" who avoided the military
themselves), Israeli Prime Minister Sharon told The Times (UK) that
Iran -- one of the "axis of evil" powers identified by Bush -- should
be targeted "the day after" action against Iraq ends because of its
role as a "centre of world terror". The plan is clearly underway.

* * *

IN SUMMARY, ISRAEL'S PART in the US attack on Iraq depends on its
central role in the on-going American policy of controlling Middle
East energy resources, which gives the US a strangle-hold on the
world economy; the US attack removes the defensive constraint that
even one weapon of mass destruction might have on Israel's ability to
threaten its neighbors with its overwhelming nuclear advantage, while
the US issues a lethal warning to the world of what happens to
American clients who stop obeying orders.

The conservative columnist Robert Novak said on Meet the Press in
December that the extremists in the Bush administration never wanted
inspections in Iraq: "This is really about change of regime in Iraq
and change of the political outlines in the Middle East more to
Israel's benefit. That's what this has all been about, and since it's
very hard to sell that to the American people, they have done it on a
weapons of mass destruction basis." With the proviso that "Israel's
benefit" here means the enhancement of the role that US foreign
policy provides for a militarized Israel -- hardly to the benefit of
the people of Israel -- the comment seems about right.

Carl Estabrook is a Visiting Scholar University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign and a CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at:
galliher at


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