Crunch time coming for America in the Middle East?
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
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
"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.
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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."
days, perhaps hours, will tell us if this American policy preference is
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