An important question which continues to surface in the war against Iraq relates to Israel and the effort by the Zionist lobby to push the war option on the American administration as well as the American public. In other words, what are the goals that Israel seeks to achieve from the war in Iraq and how will it impact the Palestinian file?
First, Israel regards any strike against the Arabs, and particularly a chief enemy like Iraq, a major blow to the Arab order as well as weakening the position of the Palestinians. After the Camp David Accords in 1979, Egypt operationally removed itself (and continued to do so until present) from the ‘Arab/Israeli’ conflict, while intertwining its interests with the United States. Since then Israel has shifted its attention to Iraq, given its status as the sole remaining Arab country to have a powerful mix of resources unavailable to other Arab regimes: petrol, financial assets, plentiful water supplies, significant fertile soil, a sufficiently large population, a clear nationalist political agenda, and military, industrial and scientific infrastructure.
Second, war against Iraq will likely lead to dissolution of the country, even if this is not an immediate American plan. Such dissolution would be in accordance with Israel’s vision of the region, and would greatly enhance Israel’s power. This regional vision is based on a 19th and 20th century orientalist perspective of the Middle East. According to this view the region is seen as a mosaic composed of many ethnic groups, cultures and nationalities. Furthermore, Iraqi residents are also divided along Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurd, and Christian lines. Likewise there are powerful regional, denominational, and tribal allegiances concentrated around economic and politically important cities such as Baghdad, Tikrit, Basra, and Mosul. A mosaic perspective of Iraq would reject Arab national ideology and the relationship of Palestine to the Arabs. It would also legitimise Zionism, based on the idea of Jewish nationalism and power for the weak.
Abba Eban succinctly described Israeli Zionist ideology in this respect, in his collection of writings entitled The Voice of Israel. Eban contests the assumption that the Middle East represents a cultural unit, and that it is incumbent upon Israel to integrate within this unit. Instead he ‘clarifies’ that the Arabs always lived disparately and that the short periods of unity only took place under the power of the sword. He continues by describing how political divisions were not introduced by Western colonialism, and stresses that the cultural and traditional ties which unite Arab countries are insufficient to form the base upon which political unity can be achieved.
For this reason, successive Israeli governments have adopted policies based on the principle of supporting non-Arab ethnic minorities such as the Kurds in Iraq or the Maronites in Lebanon. Literature on the Zionist movement — particularly those published at the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the Arabisation of the Palestinian question — indicate that the Zionist leaders in general, and yeshiva leaders in particular, placed their hopes and concerns on establishing relationships with every minority within the Arab world and neighbouring non-Arab countries.
Since the end of the 1930s, Ben Gurion articulated some principles which would become indisputable Zionist tenets:
1.The Arabs are the primary enemy of the Zionist movement. To confront this chief enemy, it is necessary for Zionism to search for allies in the East to stand with its allies in the West. These are needed to act as a counter force and support the power of the Zionist project when faced with this (primary) confrontation. At the end of the day it is a ‘bloody struggle between us and them’. Therefore, any group or sect which opposes Arab nationalism — “the primary enemy of the Jewish people”– or is prepared to fight against it, is an ally which helps Zionism implement its settlement and state-driven policies.
2.The Jewish people, who have been subjected to the terrorism and oppression of various governments, and particularly those who lived in Arab countries, perceive all minorities and groups “oppressed” by the Arabs or Muslims as allies and partners. Thus the need to free oneself from this oppression is felt and in common to both.
The two principles above form the basis of what is known as the ‘Theory of Allying the Periphery.’
3.After the establishment of the state of Israel, Ben Gurion hoped to develop this theory further and create a ring of adversaries around the Arab countries. He focused his on attention on building strategic relationships with Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia (Encirclement Theory). He also aimed to expand the links of this encirclement against the Arab world by expanding Israel’s relationships with other Asian and African countries. The most recent phase of this policy focuses on India — largely as a result of Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons, the emergence of Hindu revisionism in India, and the desire to penetrate India’s enormous market.
Ben Gurion’s ideas (the Theory of allying the periphery and the Theory of encirclement) which were formulated with other Zionist leaders, have provided the basis for interacting with allies in regards to the Arab world.
It is against this backdrop that Israel has supported secessionist movements in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon and any secessionist movements in the Arab world which Israel considers an enemy. Yet the concern for Iraq and its attempts to weaken or prevent it from developing its strengths has always been a central Zionist objective. At times, Israel succeeded in gaining a foothold in Iraq by forging secret yet strong relationships with leaders from the Kurdish movement. In sharp contrast it failed to gain allies amongst the Coptic community in Egypt primarily because of the historical continuity of the Egyptian state.
Communications with the Kurds began at the end of the 1930s. The responsibility of establishing contacts with the Kurds fell to the infamous Zionist intelligence operative Rubin Shiluah — one of the important planners and thinkers of the strategy of “allying the periphery”.
Shiluah, who at the time was living as a spy in Iraq — under the guise of studying at a Jewish school in Baghdad — would take trips to the mountainous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The relationships he formed there towards the end of the 1940s were primarily with Kurds who were willing to help Iraqi Jews reach Palestine through Turkey.
Similarly, Israel supported the Shah of Iran in its struggle against Baghdad. The beginning of Israel’s relationship with the Shah was formed when the Mossad, acting in accord with British (MI6) and American (CIA) intelligence, worked to bring about the collapse of the democratically elected Iranian leader Mossadeq in 1953. Their role remains a secret to this day. The relationship forged with the Shah enabled Iran to be the primary importer of Israeli products until the rise of Khomeni. Israel also played a role in training the SAVAK, the infamous and brutal intelligence service which protected the Shah.
Likewise, Israel has worked closely to monitor Iraq, and has done everything in its power to prevent it from developing nuclear capabilities. In this context, Israel destroyed the Iraqi reactor during its assembly in France in 1977. It also assassinated scientists who worked in the Iraqi nuclear programme — most notably the Egyptian scientist Yehya El-Mashd who was assassinated in Paris. They also assassinated the brainchild of the Super Canon in Brussels, and destroyed the Usaris Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. At the same time Israel provided arms to Iran during the first Gulf War.
Israeli enmity towards Iraq precedes the Saddam Hussein regime — originating after Iraq participated in the 1948 War. At the time, Iraq was the sole country participating in the war which refused to participate in the negotiations leading up to the Rhodes Armistice agreement in 1949. Likewise, Iraq sent reinforcements to the Jordanian front in 1967. In addition, Iraq continues to refuse to acknowledge UN Resolution 242 and was actively engaged in the defense of Damascus in 1973.
Third, war as an end in and of itself, is an ever- present Israeli objective. Sequential wars with the Arab world have given Israel opportunities to exhaust the Arab world, as well as tipping the demographic and political situation against Palestinians. Even regional wars which Israel has not participated in have benefited Israel and weakened the Palestinian national movement The first and second Gulf War are a few examples.
The War of 1948 resulted in the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians, representing 87 per cent of the population to come under Zionist control. The War of 1956, according to declassified Israeli documents, relating to the Kufr Qasem Massacre, sought to facilitate a new wave of expulsions and to bring about the occupation of the West Bank. The expulsion of 400,000 Palestinians during the 1967 War, and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, further facilitated Israel’s ambitions as a regional powerhouse. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 also resulted in dangerous demographic changes for Palestinian refugees. Of the 450,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon in 1982, no more than 250,000 remain today. (Had the war not taken place, the number of Palestinians in Lebanon would have reached at least 650,000). Not to mention the social, morale and political subjugation the Palestinians in Lebanon faced as a result of that war.
The first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran also disempowered the Palestinian cause: the Arab world was split into two camps, Arab resources were squandered, oil income was depleted, and Arab attention was taken away from the Palestinian question. This all negatively impacted the Palestinian position.
Finally, the second Gulf War of 1991 resulted in the expulsion of the Palestinian community from Kuwait, which formed one of the primary arteries of Palestinian income and power in the occupied territories. In my opinion, Yitshak Shamir sought, through the implementation of the 1990 Massacre, to exploit these events by creating a dynamic that would result in the expulsion of West Bank residents. The massacre took place within the Haram Al-Sharif compound three months before the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf War. Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian demonstrators, killing twenty. Yet at the time, the American administration which hoped to preserve the Arab alliance in the war against Iraq, was one of the main reasons which prevented Shamir from realising his plans.
The writer is a professor at Beir Zeit University.