Coalition Building Against Iran by Israel Shahak
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Coalition Building Against Iran


written by

Israel Shahak





from the book
Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies
Chapter 6
pages 71-77
ISBN 0-7453-1152-0








Israel's Middle Eastern policies, centered on its enmity to Iran need to be discussed in a global context. For example, Israeli relations with a country located as far away from Iran as Estonia have a lot to do with the Israeli hostility toward Iran. On January 5, 1994, Maariv published an article by Shlomo Avineri, Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University who, as the newspaper noted "is a former Director General of the Foreign Ministry," and whose involvements in shaping Israeli foreign policies are certainly not yet terminated. In Avineri's view, the recent Israeli arms sales to Estonia, "were not an initiative of those in charge of Israeli foreign and security affairs. The main reason the Israeli government approved this transaction was the intention to extricate Israeli military industries (or some individuals within them) from their present crisis. This was enough to grant Israeli credits to Estonia, which had no substantial foreign currency reserves at its disposal." Avineri's argument against that deal was that it "might impair Israeli relations with Russia." In his view Russia and Israel have "important strategical interests in common, such as the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism." The Estonian deal "gave rise to very hard feelings in Moscow, thus undermining the potential for developing those all-important relations." Although information on such subjects is hardly ever published, Israel does seem to help advance Russian interests in various Muslim states of the former USSR.

But this is just a case in point, illustrating a broader phenomenon. Before discussing Israeli policies toward several Middle Eastern states, let me yet say something about their general background which normally escapes the attention of observers who merely monitor the UN Resolutions or diplomacy in general. Since 1991, Israeli relations with most Middle Eastern regimes have ranged from good to excellent. For instance, Gabby Bron writes in Yediot Ahronot (January 25), that "Israel buys 90 per cent of its oil from Arab countries" (the remaining 10 per cent comes from Norway), and feels secure enough about these supplies to cancel its oil purchase contracts with Mexico. Of the 90 per cent oil bought in the Middle East, 40 per cent comes from Egypt, and no less than 50 per cent "from Arab states of the Gulf."

On February 8, Hayim Handwoker noted in Haaretz that Benny Ga'on, the Director General of Koor, one of the largest Israeli corporations, told the Wall Street Journal that "the trade between Israel and the Arab states amounts to $500 million annually." As Haaretz admits, with the exception of Egypt the Arab states concerned are those which are still formally boycotting Israel. On the basis of well-informed sources, I can only see the quoted figure as a gross underestimate, because in 1993 this trade amounted already to about S1.4 billion. Also on February 8, Zohar Blumencrantz informed Haaretz that "the Israeli Export Institute has very close relations with its partners in Lebanon, Algeria and Tunisia" and that Israeli trade with such traditional Arab outlets for Israeli exports as Morocco had recently increased. Israelis with double citizenship who recently visited Syria on their foreign passports report that a lot of clothes and textiles on sale in Syrian shops or bazaars were recognizable as Israeli-made. Moreover, the fictitious tags to be seen until few years ago, for example, "Made in the Occupied Territories" or "Made in Gibraltar" now have disappeared from sight. Syrian customers appeared well aware where the clothes had come from. Palestinians who returned from Iraq report similar sightings in the shops of Baghdad, although without being able to say whether the Iraqi customers, too scared to talk freely, were as aware of the origin of the merchandise as the Syrian ones.

Another example of close Israeli relations with an Arab Gulf regime was provided by Amir Oren (Davar, January 7). Undoubtedly echoing views of some high-ranking officers in the Security System, Oren opines that in addition to using its Air Force as an anti-Iranian nuclear deterrent, Israel should "plunge its strategic [that is, nuclear] deterrence power into the depths of the sea, where it can be best protected and from where it can threaten potential attackers. Since deterrence rests on the image of power, Israel needs to stress the existence of its submarine weapons." Oren finds cooperation with the U.S. for this purpose essential, because only the U.S. can sell suitable submarines cheaply to Israel. Oren also has an opinion about where Israeli nuclear submarines should be stationed in order to have a maximum deterrent power against Iran: Oman, with which Israel should fast form an alliance. As seen on a map, Oman is close to what Oren terms "Iran's hinterland." Although the U.S. consent to this scheme is problematic, the plan is by no means absurd. Covert Israeli relations with Oman go back at least to 1968, when Israel started drilling for oil in what it then regarded as "its" part of the Gulf of Suez. The drilling platform on the sea surface used for the purpose was imported from Oman. It was escorted half-way by the Shah's Navy, and the other half by the Israeli one. After the Shah's downfall the Israeli relations with Oman to all appearances improved even further.

Recently, much publicity has been given to the Israeli enticement of Turkey as a prospective ally against Iran. This has obvious implications for Israeli attitudes toward the Kurds and Israeli relations with Turkey's neighbours, Syria and Iraq. A considerable amount of space was devoted by the Hebrew press to the Turkish visit of the President Ezer Weizman of lsrael, who was accompanied there by a number of businessmen. I am going to rely primarily on two articles by AlufBen (Haaretz, January 11 and 31) and one by Yoav Karni (Shishi, February 4) which emphasizes the Kurdish issue; but I will draw some information from other articles as well. Both Ben and Karni recall that the close relations of Israel with Turkey go as far back as 1958, when Ben-Gurion formed "the periphery alliance" with Turkey, Iran was still ruled by the Shah, and Ethiopia was still ruled by Haile Selassie. According to Karni, one purpose of that alliance was "to throttle the very notion of Arab nationalism." Eventually, the alliance collapsed as a result of the revolutions in Ethiopia and Iran. But as Karni writes, the relations between Israeli and Turkish armies and intelligence services have remained fairly close since, in spite of diplomatic ups and downs.

As Ben informs us on January 11, the relations between the Israeli and Turkish armies and intelligence services have recently become even closer after "the 1993 visit of the Commander of the [Israeli] Air Force, General Herzl Budinger, to Turkey" and of several Turkish ministers, including the Prime Minister, to Jerusalem. But apart from marginal matters, like some Israeli weaponry sales to Turkey and some enlargement of the volume of mutual trade, the visits were not crowned by agreement on basic issues, despite American encouragement. Ben reports that "the Americans are encouraging their allies in the Middle East to cooperate, and officials in the State Department stress to their Israeli opposite numbers the central place of Turkey in U.S. strategic plans, whether in the Middle East, in the Balkan peninsula or toward the states of the former USSR. The American officials recommended to Israel to look upon Turkey through American spectacles." No doubt as a result of an encouragement by the U.S., even prior to Weizman's visit Turkey "proposed to Israel a formal alliance which Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey would join on equal terms as the four allies of the U.S. in the region." Although no Israeli commentator said so explicitly, the proposal didn't seem to arouse any enchantment, whether official or non-official and Israel clearly rejected it. It is particularly noteworthy that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres who is so busy advocating "a regional alliance system" said not a word in commendation of the Turkish alliance. The "encouragements" of the "officials in the State Department" have turned out to be of no avail. The talks merely articulated the fundamental disagreements between Turkey and Israel, even though Weizman's visit was officially characterized as "extraordinarily successful" (January 31).

As reported by Ben on January 31, the main bones of contention were over nuclear politics, the attitude towards Iran and the policy toward Syria, with their implications for the Kurdish question and the so-called "struggle against terror and the drug trade." Ben's comment on the central issues at stake seems to be well-taken: "Just as Israel hesitates whether to attack Syria, which is Turkey's enemy number one, Turkey hesitates whether to declare publicly its enmity towards Iran, which is Israel's enemy number one." It turns out that Israel queried Turkey "whether the latter is as concerned by Iran's nuclearization efforts as is Israel. But President Suleiman Demirel and the Prime Minister answered [Israel] by hinting that Israel is no less involved than Iran. They said that "we oppose proliferation of nuclear weapons in all Middle Eastern states." Demirel further said that "he did not know" whether Iran indeed wanted to produce nuclear weapons, adding a transparent allusion to the effect that "Iran does not talk about it." The Israelis reacted by pressing him: "And do you believe the Iranians?" To that his answer was the same in a different phrasing: "They are denying it."

The discussion of the nature of Iranian regime also ended in talk at cross purposes. Israel pressed Turkey to denounce the "Iranian fundamentalist regime," arguing that "as a secular state Turkey has a duty to do so." The Turks responded that "in our view the character of a regime is a purely internal affair of every state." Ben is quite displeased by the Turkish positions on both issues. In his article of January 11 he quotes Israeli "experts" who, even prior to the high-level negotiations, communicated to their Turkish counterparts their dissatisfaction that "the Iranian Vice President, Hassan Habibi, had visited Ankara in December 1993," and that even earlier "the Iranian Foreign Minister had also visited Turkey." The "experts" admonished the Turkish government for ignoring "the deadly insult to Turkey" on the part of both visitors "who refused to lay a wreath on Ataturk's tomb." Catching the Israeli "experts" off-guard, the Turkish response was that "although Turkey does speak up against Iranian and Syrian support of Kurdish terrorism, it is vitally interested in cooperating with the two states to solve the Kurdish question." In line with that, Turkey announced that its overriding interest lay in Iran's fulfilment of promises made by Hassan Habibi during his visit, to the effect that "Iran and Turkey shall strike powerfully at terrorism and cooperate in finding new ways of guarding their common frontier against it." Compared to that, symbolic gestures were defined as secondary .

It seems that Turkish and Israeli negotiators spent much of their time discussing Syria, the Kurdish implications of the problem included. In his January 11 article Ben reports that "Turkey asked Israel to demand that as a precondition for signing a peace treaty Syria stops supporting Kurdish terrorism and close all Kurdish offices and bases, in Syria and in Lebanon alike," and that the U.S. was approached by Turkey with the same demand. In his January 31 article Ben reports that "during Weizman's visit all pro-government Turkish journalists completely ignored the Palestinians and Israeli intentions in regard to the Territories. Instead of asking any questions about Palestine-related issues, they kept asking Weizman whether Israel would welcome an independent Kurdish state and what is Israel's attitude towards the Kurdish terror." Ben doesn't bother to say how Weizman answered these questions but he mentions that "on such occasions Weizman talked about Assad's importance for the peace process." Such evasion was not likely to please his questioners. Ben also mentions some alternative official Turkish proposals, one to the effect of issuing a joint condemnation of terror "in which Turkey would condemn Hizbollah and Israel the PKP, the strongest Kurdish terror organization"; and the second to the effect of "Israeli promises to help Turkey in its struggle against terror, at least by explicitly condemning the PKP," preferably by "signing a pledge in which the two countries would fight terror and the drug trade together. The Israelis answered that these proposals needed to be carefully examined. In the meantime, therefore, such [Turkish] ideas hang in the air. The only thing Israel agreed to was to set up a joint committee for the purpose of strategic consultations and an exchange of political assessments of the 'regional threats'." Apart from that, the only thing Turkey could obtain was Weizman's declaration, described by Ben as "not committing Israel to anything concrete." Weizman said that "every organization which carries out terrorist actions is a terrorist organization," without naming any such "organization." After the visit ended, the disapointed Turkish press deplored "Israel's unwise refusal to sign formal treaties against terror," and claimed that, unlike Israel, "Turkey believes in open diplomacy."

Ben and Karni make it clear that Israeli rejection of Turkish proposals did not stem from any sympathy for the Kurds. If anything, Israel is now quite hostile toward them. But, as Ben puts it in his January 31 article, "Israel refuses to make any public statements which might be interpreted adversely by Syria while hoping that alliance with Turkey 'will make a fellow in Damascus sweat a little'." Karni recounts a long history of Israeli relations with the Iraqi Kurds. The story goes back to the 1950s, but the relations were abruptly severed in 1975 to please the Shah after his deal with Saddam Hussein. The details of that deal are too well known to be retold here. Karni, however, says nothing about a later phase of Israeli relations with Iraqi Kurds which occurred after the end of the Gulf War. During the entire Gulf Crisis and War, Israel, seconded by its foreign friends, was supporting the Iraqi Kurds and their national and individual rights. But in March 1991, the then Israeli Chief of Staff, General Dan Shomron, formed a "broad Knesset coalition," comprising politicians from all the parties in support of Saddam Hussein. Let me quote the argument of MK Avraham Burg, a Labor "dove" in favor of joining that coalition: "Unless Saddam Hussein is supported, a vast Shi'ite empire extending from Iran up to the Occupied Territories will become a real prospect. " Some supporters of such a pro-Iraqi coalition, such as Moshe Zak (Jerusalem Post, April 4, 1991) explained that it implied leaving the Iraqi Kurds to their own devices, because "syria and Iran are lodged behind the Kurdish revolt and hoping to create a territorial link between them." In vaguer language, other commentators hinted that Israel and Saudi Arabia were jointly exerting their influence in Washington to convince the U.S. to go along with the scheme. Avner Tavori (Davar, Apri1 4, 1991) wrote that "any attempt to introduce democracy to Iraq may only result in its partition into a Kurdish state in the north, a Sunni state in the center around Baghdad and a pro-Iranian Shi'ite state in the south, which would be located too close to Saudi Arabia to please it." There are reasons to presume that Israeli policies are still based on such assumptions, even if they are also informed by contempt for all the "Orientals" and fear of democracy in any Arab country.

Karni writes that since the early 1960s Israel has been consistently helping Turkey by whitewashing, especially in the U.S., its soiled record of human rights violations. Whitewashing extended as far back as the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War I: "Israeli diplomats in Washington were mobilized to use their influence in the Congress to try to squash a law establishing the [Armenian] memorial day in 1989." But Karni also provides examples of Israeli attempts to prevent or at least to postpone holding symposia discussing the Armenian or Kurdish question from either the human rights or the historic point of view. He does not object to such practices in principle, because "we should not be sanctimonious when Israel is pursuing its legitimate interests in this affair," or elsewhere in the Third World. Yet he says that "no survival imperative can command Israel to lie non-stop for the sake of profits obtainable in relations with a foreign state for our weapons industry. The Israeli government and even more so a President of Israel whose authority is limited to purely ceremonial matters, can afford to occasionally say something in public in praise of democratic foreign policy that would place moral considerations above profitability." This can only be interpreted as meaning that Karni wants Israel to be even more sanctimonious than it is.

Roughly the same is the attitude of Motti Zaken (Davar, January 31), introduced as "the chairman of the Israeli Association of Friendship with Kurdistan," a curious organization almost hardly ever heard of in Israel but quite active among the Kurds in Europe. Zaken objects to Israeli pro- Turkish and anti-Kurdish gestures, but especially if they are publicized. After repeating Ben's story about the cooperation of Turkey and Iran against the Kurds, he says: "It is impossible not to compare Israeli and Iranian conduct in matters which for the Muslims' own good should be better kept secret from them. Yet Israel stridently talks about a policy which some may find objectionable, already at its designing stage." After such a preamble, the reader is caught off-guard by the writer's demand for a "public and parliamentary debate" about Israeli policies towards the Kurds. Zaken speaks about "love" which supposedly existed between the Kurds and the Kurdish Jews in order to advocate a return to pro-Kurdish policies Israel once pursued. But in spite of his recommendation of a debate, he utters no single word about how would he envisage those "pro-Kurdish policies." Unlike Karni, he does not even call upon the President to "say something in public."

Minimalistic as the proposals of Karni and Zaken are, there is no hope that they will be put into effect. Even Aluf Ben's lucid views on the problems dividing Israel from Turkey do not square with what the majority of Israeli commentators have written on the subject. To give a notion of a typical account of Israeli-Turkish relations, let me briefly quote Yoram Levy from Davar of January 31. The relations between Israel and Turkey are for Levy based on "love" and "true friendship" and secondarily on their common attitude toward "Kurdish terrorism," which in his view Syria supports for the same reasons it supports Hizbollah. He doesn't even hint that this "love" and "true friendship" may be somewhat ragged.

The evidence presented here can only corroborate the conclusions about the more independent nature of Israeli foreign policies reached earlier. At the time of the "periphery alliance" Israel was quite satisfied with its status of an equal partner with three other U.S. allies, among which Turkey was the most important. The Camp David Accords and the peace with Egypt conformed explicitly to the principle of equality between the two states and tacitly to the fact of their common dependence on the U.S. Now, however, Israel insists that its special status, superior to all other Middle Eastern states, be explicitly acknowledged. The case of the failed Israeli negotiations with Turkey proves that Israel was guided in them by hegemonic ambitions. Regardless of whether the Clinton administration bows to such Israeli pretensions, they cannot be brought about except by force. And hence the hazards they invite.


Israel Shahak
February 21 1994


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