Notes From the Margins…

Israel’s Golden Summer

  • September 01, 2013
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In the midst of the carnage and political chaos that is sweeping through the Middle East, one state is basking in one of the most satisfying periods in its history.     Reporting from Jerusalem last week on the Israeli national mood regarding the possibility of missile strikes on Syria, the New York Times found a generally contented populace that was not particularly concerned about its possible consequences, despite the gas masks being handed out by the government:

The retired men who parse politics on Monday mornings over cappuccino at the Hadar Mall here have watched all manner of war, uprisings and chaos. To them, the chemical attacks to the north in Syria and the military crackdown against Islamists to the south in Egypt are almost comforting, a confirmation of a common Israeli view that their Arab neighbors are unready for democracy, while also offering a diversion from their own conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel certainly has reasons to feel relaxed, if not complacent.       With Syria wrecked by civil war, Egypt now under the control of a US-compliant military regime that is firmly committed to the Camp David process, and Iraq trapped in an incipient sectarian conflict that is now averaging about 600 deaths a month, the three pillars of Arab nationalism have effectively been hamstrung for the indefinite future.

As far as Syria is concerned, the faint possibility that Israel might once have been obliged to return the Golan Heights has now all but disappeared.   In Gaza, Hamas is well and truly quarantined, and so too is a population of one million Palestinians, thanks to the combined efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian army to close the Gaza-Egypt border.

This means that the Palestinians no longer have any friends in the Arab world, unless you count Saudi Arabia, which you definitely shouldn’t.     Hamas might be able to rely on the fitful financial support from Iran, but that support can’t be guaranteed and in any case cannot do much to further the Palestinians’ national aspirations, given the de facto separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

Iran is now under sanctions and moving closer into the Imperium’s gunsights as the Syrian tragedy unfolds.     According to the old neocon cliché, the road to Teheran   lead through Baghdad.   As Israel and Iran know, it now leads through Damascus.     This is why the Foreign Policy Initiative – a lobby group/thinktank formed by the same folks who brought you the Iraq War – sent an open letter to Obama last week urging the United States and its allies to ‘consider direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime.’

The signatories included Elliott Abrams, Fouad Ajami, Max Boot, Bernard Henri-Levy Douglas Feith, and pretty much every gimlet-eyed, pro-Israeli foreign policy hawk on the main circuit, who argued that:

Left unanswered, the Assad regime’s mounting attacks with chemical weapons will show the world that America’s red lines are only empty threats.  It is a dangerous and destabilizing message that will surely come to haunt us—one that will certainly embolden Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons capability despite your repeated warnings that doing so is unacceptable.

So Syria now, and Iran later.     And however clumsily or ineptly, Obama is slowly lumbering towards this outcome, prodded and nagged by Netanyahu’s shrill hectoring about a new Iranian ‘Holocaust’, and by information from Israeli intelligence services which is intended to force the US to act on its ‘red lines.’

All this means that the Palestinians are weaker than they have been at any time since the formation of the Jewish state.       So no wonder Israel is keen to re-start the ‘peace process’,   on its own terms as usual.     Its leaders clearly believe that the Palestinian Authority has no choice but to bend to the inevitable – a belief embodied by its arrogant decision to expand settlement building on the eve of ‘peace’ talks.

But then, when the US Secretary of State reacts to that decision by telling the Palestinians not to ‘act adversely’ you know that you can pretty much do what the hell you like.

What Kerry is saying to the Palestinians is this: Even though you are an occupied people;   even though Israel has built more settlements during the Oslo Process than it did during the decades that preceded it; even though it has built a giant wall running through your lands that has enabled it to seize more territory and expand its control over your population, it can still have more if it wants and you shouldn’t get upset about if you want ‘peace.’

With an honest broker like that, who needs enemies?     So from Israel’s point of view, it’s all good.     True, there are some clouds on the horizon.   There is the EU’s decision to ban settlement funding.   But such a ‘show of displeasure’ is not likely to bother Israel too much, when settlement products are still being sold in European supermarkets, and Israeli army and intelligence officers are flying in and out of Washington to help the Imperium get ready to restore its ‘credibility’ by blasting Syria.

Illegal African immigrants and refugees, or ‘infiltrators’, as Israel calls them, are also an irritant, but they can be deported or prevented from entering, thanks to the new security fence in the Sinai.

The virulently anti-Palestinian and pro-Israeli American commentator Daniel Pipes once said that ‘ The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.’

Many people have hoped for that outcome, and not only in Israel.     But that moment has not yet arrived.     When Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Kalandiya shot dead three Palestinians last week,   the protests that followed forced the Palestinian Authority to call off peace negotiations.

So the Palestinians are not finished yet.     But nor are they able – for the time being – to bring any significant pressure to bear on Israel to enter into meaningful negotiations.

Israel knows this.       As Hollywood stars like to say, it’s in a very good place right now, and as long as the United States insists that it can do nothing wrong, its golden summer can only go on and on.



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  1. Martin S

    1st Sep 2013 - 2:56 pm

    Hamas sided with the Syrian rebels so incurred the wrath of both Hezbollah and Iran.
    Hezbollah accused them of teaching the rebels techniques that they – Hezbollah – had taught them. All music to Israeli ears of course. Hamas also apparently moved HQ from Damascus to Doha and now receive funds from Qatar, having been cut off by Iran. Bad mistake that on Hamas’ part I think.
    Syria is key to isolating Hezbollah which is the real enemy, apart from Iran. Having an anti-Iran regime in Syria would block all the weapons getting through, isolating Hezbollah and also, of course, isolating Iran. So there’s a lot in play for Israel in this. If Assad wins it will strengthen the whole Shia arc and would embolden Hezbollah who would now be an even more formidable fighting force. It would reinforce a Russia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, China and possibly Iraq block. Turkey – a big Israel ally – would be substantially weakened as a regional power. That’s why the Israelis are desperate for the US/UK to intervene. That’s why their lobbies were working overtime over the summer. Pete Oborne wrote an impressive account of what they get up to here in Britain:
    If there is no intervention it is very likely that Assad forces will prevail at some point.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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