Sunday, January 11, 2009

Empowering Iran; Undercutting Israeli Security

EXCERPT: The ironic effect of Israel's policy of security through strength and expansion into the West Bank is the utterly non-intuitive empowerment of Hamas as the only representative of Palestinian liberty and Iran as the leader of Arab nationalism, not to mention the encouragement of an alliance between the two, resulting in the undermining of Israel's long-term national security.

TEXT: Ahmadinejad demonstrated his diplomatic skills and regional leadership potential with the smooth remark:

Today it has been heard in some of the West's political meetings that the Egyptian government is a partner in crimes in Gaza and they are after breaking Hamas as part of the resistance and bring it under their own influence….I ask the Egyptian officials to announce their stance on the Palestinian nation, especially on the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and the Zionist regime's crimes, as soon as possible.

While many Arabs may feel nervous about Iranian efforts to lead the Arab world anywhere, Ahmadinejad’s words on Gaza will resonate with virtually all. No Arab country is willing to defend the Palestinians, so this issue is worth its weight in gold for those Iranians who seek to stride the regional stage. One of the advantages Iran has in exploiting the Gaza crisis is that it does not need to exaggerate. It need only report the truth about conditions in Gaza and Palestine generally, the blatant lack of support for the Palestinian people by the conservative Arab regimes, and Israeli behavior (both its diplomatic intransigence and its military savagery).

Tel Aviv, Washington, Cairo, Riyadh, and Amman could of course easily undercut much of Iran’s rhetoric if they so desired. If they wished to make the case that Hamas is the problem, all they would have to do is support the emergence of genuine West Bank Palestinian autonomy, provide meaningful amounts of economic assistance for the West Bank, treat Palestinians there with some measure of respect, and generally enable West Bank Palestinians to improve their prospects. Then Israel could turn to Gazans and persuasively say, “Were it not for those nasty radicals of Hamas, you too could stand tall.”

But Israel is prevented from allowing the West Bank Palestinians to progress because of Tel Aviv’s insistence on swallowing the best parts of the West Bank into a greater Israel. A greater Israel means permanent repression of Palestinians. There is simply no way the tiny West Bank can form a legitimate country with its territory crisscrossed by Israeli-controlled and inhabited land, Jew-only highways, and—of course—the wall that imprisons the West Bank’s population. This policy gives the lie to Tel Aviv’s hypocritical protestations that it is the behavior of Hamas that is the problem.

Caught in its own web of hypocrisy, Tel Aviv oppresses Gaza and the West Bank with equal harshness, albeit for different reasons. It oppresses the West Bank because it wishes to eliminate the Palestinian residents as an organized society and steal the land for itself. It oppresses Gaza because the only visible alternative is effectively to admit that radical Hamas is right. Tel Aviv would like simply to throw Gaza away, whatever that might mean, and never think about it again. The problem with Hamas, from Tel Aviv’s perspective, is that Hamas is preventing Israel from discarding Gaza. Tel Aviv’s desires relative to the West Bank could not be more different: it treasures the West Bank for historical and blatantly imperial reasons. It wants the land, the strategic depth, and the water of the West Bank to enhance the power of Israel. Only Hamas stands in the way of this fundamental Israeli strategic project. That is why Tel Aviv hates and refuses to deal with Hamas. The rockets have nothing whatsoever to do with Tel Aviv’s attitude; they are a symptom that could be eliminated by a second’s worth of sincere diplomacy. The rockets are in fact a tremendous treasure for Tel Aviv because they obscure Tel Aviv’s true intentions. The fact is that Hamas represents Palestinian independence; Hamas is the only force resisting the permanent consolidation of Palestinian Bantustan, which has been the fundamental goal of Israeli foreign policy for most of the last generation.

The first price that Tel Aviv pays for this hypocritical and aggressive strategic policy is the building up of Hamas as a greater-than-life liberator of Palestinians. It is obvious to all that the security of the Israeli people would be far greater with some less radical and less fundamentalist force leading the Palestinian people, but Tel Aviv’s expansionist intentions lock them into the ironic and tragic position of empowering radical, Islamist Hamas.

The second price that the neo-cons of Tel Aviv pay for this hypocritical and aggressive strategic policy is the building up of the Iranian neo-cons. Tel Aviv’s neo-cons are the generation of post-1982 expansionists who have advocated military force as the solution to all Israel’s problems. The rise of American neo-cons during the same period was by no means coincidental, though that is another story. The rise of Iranian neo-cons (“conservative” like the religious clique that installed the Islamic Republic but “neo” because composed of the younger, post-revolutionary generation), however, was coincidental, as that generation of conservative, militant, ultra-religious nationalists arose in response to Saddam’s war of aggression that lasted throughout most of the 1980’s. Although the idea that they represent an existential threat to Israel is little more than a cover for Israeli aggression, it is nevertheless almost certainly true that enhancing the political power of the Iranian neo-cons complicates life for an expansionist Israel. (Were Israel to reject its “greater Israel” dream in favor of a good-neighbor policy and support a genuine Palestinian state, the Iranian threat would evaporate.)

The result, then, is that an Israeli policy of security through strength defined as including the absorption of the best parts of the West Bank undermines Israeli security in two significant ways: it empowers Hamas and it empowers Iran. Moreover, it thus of course pressures Sunni Hamas and Shi’ite Iran to form an alliance against Israel, thereby significantly undermining the very national security the policy of security through strength was designed to ensure. With further irony, this budding alliance of Sunni and Shi’ite radicals that Israel is fomenting also threatens the pro-Israeli Arab dictatorships because it offers the only effective nationalist voice currently available to Arab populations that are doubly irritated by domestic oppression and the highly visible suffering of Palestinians. This whole process is completely non-intuitive: there is no reason why a radical Islamist organization would under normal conditions have been expected to become the representative of liberty among the traditionally moderate Palestinians; there is no reason why the non-Arab Iranians would under normal conditions have had any way to claim to be the champions of Arab nationalism. Both owe their sudden influence to the Israeli policy of swallowing the West Bank.

It would be interesting to know how many Israelis would vote for the current Israeli foreign policy strategy backed by all major Israeli parties if they were informed that the cost of absorbing the West Bank was the generation of Hamas as the symbol of Palestinian liberty, Iran as the symbol of Arab nationalism, and an anti-Israeli alliance between the two. Perhaps some would say that in return for creating a greater Israel, this is a price worth paying. Those Israelis more concerned with the long-term security of their country would perhaps come to a different conclusion. The subjugation of others, ironically, imposes significant long-term costs that subtly undermine precisely the goals the subjugation was designed to achieve.

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