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Everywhere But There

If the mounting litany of threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran are any indication, Israel definitely intends to go to war. Barely a day passes, or so it seems, without a member of the Israeli government making a statement … Read More

By / May 29, 2009

If the mounting litany of threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran are any indication, Israel definitely intends to go to war. Barely a day passes, or so it seems, without a member of the Israeli government making a statement about Israel’s intention to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weaponry. The warnings are forceful, consistent, and, increasingly, emotionally riven. If Israel does eventually raid Iran’s strategic facilities, no one will contest that Israel’s intentions weren’t laid painfully bare, well in advance.  As the saying goes, with repetition, truth accretes. The rest is simply confirmation. While Israeli leaders are reknown for build up, particularly when it comes to justifying the necessity of armed conflict, this time there is something especially fatalistic about the ritual that distinguishes it from prior campaigns of this nature. It is as though the threats were meant to communicate something else, something far greater, in terms of reach, than Israel’s determination to do "everything it has to" in order to insure it’s security. Is it because the threat itself is no longer a sufficient deterrent? Is it because the the bearers of the message are untrustworthy? The answer is neither. As critics of this Israeli government have repeatedly argued in reference to its proposed domestic policies, this is the first government in Israel’s history that has formally called into question the health of the country’s democracy. Best identified with the anti-Arab incitement of Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman, (and now cabinet member Alex Miller) and to a lesser degree, their Israel Beiteinu party’s proposals to swap Israeli Arab communities for settlements, for Israelis to sign loyalty oaths to the state, obtain national ID cards, and to restrict civil rights, the concerns are wholly justified. Such a political program is patently authoritarian. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to explicitly endorse a two state solution, and the verbal combat both himself and his aides have engaged in with the Americans and Europeans since assuming office is simply the foreign policy corollary to such domestic initiatives. Best summed up by the continual invocation of the Iranian threat, and Israel’s willingess to "go it alone", the entirety of his government’s rhetoric can be summed up in one word: fear. The only way Netanyahu and his cabinet seem to know how to govern is by fostering tension. Not just in the Islamic world, but amongst Israel’s historic allies, as well, as though Israel is paranoid that the US and EU are potential enemies on the same scale that the Arabs have always been.

The resort to fear-mongering as a foreign policy strategy is not new. Ever since the establishment of the state in 1948, Israeli leaders have always been quick to advise potential Western friends of the benefits of partnering with Israel against any number of emerging threats in the Middle East. What’s new, in this case, is the intimidatory quality of the rhetoric, and the suspicion it communicates that even the Americans are possible antagonists, who have to be won over, again, and remade as Israel’s friends. This has been particularly shocking to those Americans who do not understand Israeli political culture, and who found themselves wholly unprepared for this level of hostility, particularly given the sacrifices the US has made for Israel over the course of the last decade. Indeed, Israel’s political echelon has demonstrated remarkably little understanding of how the new US administration’s positions on the Middle East do not reflect an ideological change in Washington concerning Israel, as much as they demonstrate the maturation of American political thinking about the region as a consequence of its military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hence the Obama administration’s priorities in forming alliances, facilitating dialogue, and engaging in peacemaking, where possible. These impulses are as much a product of the opportunity that the Americans have taken to learn more about the region as both a military occupier and now a local power, governing as much as engaging in warfare. This is by no means to praise Washington’s new savoir-faire as a result of its Mideastern sojourn.  However, it is to point out that the Americans have come to derive the benefits of being a Middle Eastern hegemon in a manner that Israel’s most ambitious rightists can only dream of. The US may be hopelessly enmeshed in violent conflicts from Baghdad to Peshawar. Nevertheless it is anything but isolated like Israel, particularly under the presidency of Barack Obama, who wisely has sought to exploit this aspect of America’s regional presence by seeking to reconcile the US with the Islamic world. It is a singular opportunity, taken by a country still at war, and this is something that despite his bluster, Bibi cannot only identify with, but similarly lust after. The Israeli government’s rage – at the Americans, at the Arabs, at Israel itself – is a reflection of the Israeli right’s inability to find a space for itself in such a context, to find itself useful, or even relevant. This is where the real anger at the Americans lies. No one knows better that the last fourty years of occupation and violence could have only taken place in a context in which the US had to tolerate Israeli territorial expansion in order to eventually justify its own permanent presence in the region. In a sense, the deepening of American involvement in the Mideast, especially since the end of the Cold War, has made Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and its conflict with the Palestinians, redundant, albeit counterproductive. One cannot, logically, have both an American and an Israeli occupation simultaneously, albeit indefinitely, into the future.

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