US Interests and The Middle East

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Growing up as an Arab-American, political discourse was as familiar in our home as Sesame Street. I remember the first time I was allowed to sit in on the discussions. I was twelve and the feeling that I was an “adult” was overwhelm-ing at the time. Shortly thereafter, I gave my first political speech at school…it was a fifteen-minute exposition on the Balfour Declaration.

From that moment forward, Middle East politics was in my blood. I was like most who discussed and debated in our living room, the only point of agreement centered around how successful the Zionist or “Jewish lobby” was in control-ling US policy. Among many observers on Middle Eastern affairs this perception still persists to this day. Coincidentally, that perception was also promoted by Zionists since the perception of power often becomes the reality.

Signs for Zionist influence were all around. The media lionized Israelis. Movies like Exodus, starring the handsome Paul Newman added to the mystique. Editorials helped cast the patina of invincibility around whatever Israel did. Congress gave billions of dollars in aid without much dissension. Senators would fight over who could wax more eloquently in praise of Israel. And of course, woe be to those who dared stand up to this force. Senator Charles Percy and Representative Paul Findley would lose elections for swimming against the tide regarding Israeli policies.

But as is often the case, conventional wisdom was wrong. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on 9/11, the mechanism for what animates regional dynamics is crystal clear. US economic interests are first and foremost in the region. As the grand coalition is built, regional regimes walk the tightrope to align themselves with US interests. And which country is the odd man out? If you guessed Israel, you would be correct.

For years, Israel was always on the wrong side of history. Holding on to an ideology based upon an ethnic-religious-national definition of being “Jewish” and granting preferential treatment based on this definition was never viable for the long term. It could only be sustained by its alignment with US national interests.

As a Palestinian-American, this eluded me for years and my critique therefore was misguided. It was too easy to point the finger at the “Jewish lobby” and this obscured what was animating US policy in the region. But, it must be said that for years Israel truly did serve US interests. How?

After WWII, Israel became a bulwark against Soviet expansion. Cold War politics allowed Israel to be a colonial outpost in the Middle East. Israel was to be the eyes and ears for US interests. The US Navy would frequent the hospitality of Haifa, and of course be resupplied as well. MOSSAD would train US allies’ intelligence services (Iran’s SAVAK the most notorious.) Israel would share intelligence assets with the US. Lastly, Israel became the release valve for internal dissent all over the Middle East, further maintaining the stability of friendly regimes to the US.

For fifty years, this symbiotic relationship between US and Israeli interests had few divergences. There was Israel’s attack on Egypt in 1956, but this was rolled back quickly after Eisenhower’s demands. There was the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the 1967 war, but US interests required a strong ally in the region and suppressed the information. Jonathan Pollard was a source of irritation, but by and large, the history of Israel was an ode to serving US interests. As long as it did this, Zionism was safe.

But today, we have a different reality. US troops are in Saudi Arabia. Arab regimes friendly to the US are aligning with her. The Soviet Union is only a faint memory. Israeli intelligence did not presage the most massive terrorist operation in the history of the world. This intelligence failure further negated yet another interest for which Israel was supposed to serve.

Israel is no longer a military asset to the US. Since the Gulf War, Israel has had to sit on the sidelines as US exercised its military muscle. Not only was Israel “not an asset”, but it is a strategic military liability to US interests. Israel’s military expertise cannot be used as long as a coalition of Arab nations is desired.

But the coup de grace for Israeli and US interests diverging must be seen as the growing instability its policies are bringing to the region. Its brutal Occupation of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and Gaza requires a solution. Without one soon, the stability of friendly regimes to the US could be in jeopardy. Instability means economic upheaval regarding oil. And this is a vital, strategic interest of the US.

As long as Israel served US interests, we were treated to an Orwellian world of discourse. One could rattle them off as if talking points:

Israel, the lone democratic regime in the region…

Israel made the desert bloom…

Israel was attacked in every war…

Israel was the only reliable ally in the region…

These and many other myths became part and parcel of conventional thinking. But today, the long Orwellian nightmare is giving way as the absurdity of Israel’s brutal Occupation is seen worldwide. US interests and Israeli interests will never again converge. And with this, the myth of the “invincible Jewish lobby” will forever be laid to rest.

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