By Alan Hart
If more and more Arabs breach the wall of fear that has prevented them for decades from demanding their rights, expressing their rage at the corruption and repression of their governments and at regime impotence in the face of Israel’s arrogance of power, there’s one question above all others America’s policy makers will have to ask themselves. Who do we need most if America’s own real interests are to be best protected – the Arabs or Israel? And that, of course, begs the mother and father of all questions for them: Is Israel our most valuable ally in the region or our biggest liability?
Eisenhower was the first and last president to contain Zionism’s territorial ambitions. Kennedy might have been the second if he had been allowed to live. But from Johnson to Obama, and whether they really believed it or not (I think most if not all of them didn’t), every American president has paid extravagant lip-service to the idea that Israel is the U.S.’s most valuable ally in the Middle East.
Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government has not been good to say the least, but there are informed and influential Israelis who think the manifestation of people power in Egypt could provide both men with the opportunity to change the relationship for the better. Writing in Ha’aretz under the headline For Obama, Eygpt protests may garner a new friend – Israel, Aluf Benn wrote this (my emphasis added):
“If Netanyahu plays his cards right, he could leverage the fall of neighbouring regimes into a significant improvement in Israel’s relations with the United States.
“Obama wants to be popular among the citizens of Arab states at the expense of their leaders, as he tried to do in his Cairo speech some 18 months ago. He is betting that the new regimes will be grateful and will continue to rely on Washington for diplomatic and military support. But he is taking a risk: What if the revolution doesn’t stop at the moderate interim stage and keeps going till it reaches Muslim extremism? And what will the United States do in the interim phase, when the Middle East is sunk in uncertainty?
“When Obama and his advisers look at a map of the region, they see only one state they can count on: Israel. The regime is stable, and support for America is well-entrenched. Obama may dislike Netanyahu and his policy toward the Palestinians, but after losing his allies in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, and with the uneasiness gripping his friends in Jordan and the Gulf, Washington can’t afford to be choosy. It will have to move closer to Israel, and for another reason as well: An anxious Israel is an Israel that is prone to military adventures, and that’s the last thing Obama needs right now.
“Now is the time for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to justify their claim that Israel is a ‘villa in the jungle’, the West’s outpost in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu’s own contribution to fear mongering was the statement that “Egypt could follow the path of Iran”.
In my view it is not difficult to imagine the line the Zionist lobby in America was taking with the Obama administration. It might well have quoted a sentence from the National Security Network’s press release of 27 January. “The Obama administration seeks to encourage political reforms without destabilizing the region.” Then something like the following. “Your policy is failing. Your encouragement of political reforms is destabilizing the region, but what is happening is far more menacing than destabilization in the general sense. What we are witnessing is the beginning of a regional Arab intifada. The tide is turning in favour of the forces of violent Islamic fundamentalism in all its forms. If the war against global terrorism is not to be lost, America now needs Israel more than ever.”
In reality there is no evidence to suggest that change brought about by people power in Arab states would lead inevitably to rule by, or even popular support for, extremist and violent forces which use and abuse Islam in much the same way as Zionists use and abuse Judaism. From Tunisia and Eygpt in particular there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary (but as I will indicate later, everything will ultimately depend on whether or not policy makers in Washington D.C. put America on the right side of history).
The evidence to the contrary is in the fact that the manifestations of Arab people power the world has witnessed to date were not instigated by Islamist extremist groups They were spontaneous protests with demands by citizens from almost all sections of civil society, and very few were (or so it seemed) ideologically driven.
Given that policy makers in Washington D.C. say they want to see democracy alive and well in the Arab world, why, really, are they so alarmed by what is happening?
The answer is in this fact. What almost all Arab peoples want is not only an end to corruption and repression and a better life in their own countries. They also want an end to the humiliation caused by Israel’s arrogance of power, American and other Western support for it and the impotence of Arab governments, most of which are seen by their masses as agents of America-and-Zionism.
The implications are profound.
If change brings Arab governments which must and do reflect the wishes of their peoples, those governments will be under great and perhaps irresistible pressure to use their leverage in a serious effort to oblige the U.S. to use its leverage to cause Israel to end its occupation of all Arab land grabbed in 1967.
If Arab push came to American shove, Arab leverage options include withdrawing ambassadors from America; stopping assistance for propping up America’s ailing economy; and a credible threat to use the oil weapon. (As I have written in the past, the Arabs would not have to turn off the oil taps. A credible, behind-closed-doors threat to do would be enough. As I have also written in the past, if the boot was on the other foot – if the Zionists were in the Arab position, they would have played the oil card long, long ago).
If, in response to the wishes of the people, a new Arab Order did signal an intention to use its leverage, it would be crunch time for America in the Middle East; and its policy makers would have to answer the who do we need most question.
How they answered it would determine what side of history in-the-making America was going to be on – the right side or the wrong side.
The right side would see America using its leverage to oblige Israel to end its occupation. This would open the door to a real peace process (actually the first ever) and create an environment in which there would be no place for Muslim extremism.
The wrong side would see America continuing with the policy of support for Israel right or wrong and being complicit in its defiance of international law and war crimes. This would open the door to the forces of violent Islamic fundamentalism and set in motion a confrontation that could go all the way to a clash of civilizations.
Which option will America choose if crunch time comes?
As I watched the drama unfolding in Eygpt, I found myself wondering why, really, Mubarak was clinging on. I entertained the thought that it was because Obama was telling him to do so in the hope either that the “protesters” would run out of steam, or because he, Obama, needed time for his people to fix the succession. I was entertaining such a thought because I had just re-read an excellent piece by Philip Stephens published in the Financial Times last October. In it he wrote: “Five years ago Mr. Bush promised a democratic transformation in the Middle East. The ambition of his second inaugural address was abandoned almost as it was spoken. Offering a voice to the Arab street, it was soon agreed, risked empowering extremists such as Hamas. Better to slip back into the comfortable cold war posture of cuddling up to friendly tyrants.”
The coming days, perhaps hours, will tell us if this American policy preference is sustainable.