Israel's Strategic Aims and Nuclear Weapons

Israel's Strategic Aims and Nuclear Weapons

written by

Israel Shahak

from the book
Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies
Chapter 2
pages 31-45
ISBN 0-7453-1152-0

This chapter illustrates, quoting the most important Israeli generals and intelligence experts commenting, in the pages of the Hebrew press, what I consider to be the real aims of the Israeli policies: establishing a hegemony over the entire Middle East, "stabilizing" the regimes which do not disturb too much the Israeli progress toward that aim and a possible use of nuclear weapons for this purpose. General Amnon Shahak-Lipkin, mentioned in this chapter, is now, under the name of General Amnon Shahak, the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army. General (Reserves) Shlomo Gazit was one of the Israeli negotiators in the talks with the PLO (or rather with the PLO's secret police commanders) which led to the Oslo I Accord.

On April 17 1992, the Passover Eve, two Israeli Army generals who can be regarded as the next in rank after the Chief of Staff gave exhaustive interviews to the Hebrew press. The Deputy Chief of Staff, General Amnon Shahak-Lipkin [now Chief of Staff] was interviewed in Maariv by Ya'akov Erez and Immanuel Rozen; the Commander of Military Intelligence, General Uri Saguy was interviewed in Yediot' Ahronot by Ron Ben-Yishay. On the same day Oded Brosh, a distinguished expert in nuclear politics who can be presumed to speak in a semi-official capacity, published an article in Haaretz which for the first time in the Hebrew press openly discusses the options for the actual use of Israeli nuclear weapons during a war. The contents of these items should be juxtaposed with some recent press articles to generalize our knowledge of Israeli strategic aims and of the nuclear factor in Israeli strategic planning.

Before doing so, however, it may be worthwile to remind non-Israeli readers that since Israel's strategies are regional in their orientation, their concern with the Palestinians is secondary. In fact, the oppression of Palestinians does not interest the Israeli strategists in the least. It follows that what goes under the name of "the solution of the Palestinian problem," whatever the nature of that "solution" is, cannot bring about peace, because Israeli strategies are aimed at establishing a hegemony over the entire Middle East, conceived of as extending from India to Mauritania. Of course, the first victim of Israeli expansionism in search of such a hegemony is the Palestinian nation. But, it should be added, establishing a hegemony over the entire Middle East is more important in Israeli strategic thinking than the extension and the perpetuation of Jewish jurisdiction over the entire land of Israel, however extravagantly its borders may be defined.

Before really proceeding to the subject-matter of this report, let me retell a story, described by one of the better-informed Israeli strategic commentators, Yoav Karni ("Old fashioned Israeli methods," Haaretz, March 25). The story needs to be placed in the context of the American factor in the Israeli grand strategy. Karni is critical of the idea of a world-wide strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel as proposed in public by the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, Zalman Shoval but not mentioned in the U.S. press. According to Karni, "the White House was asked to ignore the misdeeds of the [Israeli] government and their consequences, and to overcome its understandable resentment [of Israeli conduct] in recognition that Israel can be for the U.S. an irreplaceable strategic asset." Why? Because "the new Muslim republics in Central Asia, emerging from the ruins of the USSR, 'will certainly become Muslim fundamentalist and anti-Western states and thereby terrorize the Middle East more than the USSR ever terrorized it.'" Shoval "expressed his astonishment that the U.S. does not understand" how imminent this danger is, and the fact that only Israel is capable of countering it. While poking fun at Shoval, Karni shrewdly (so as to confound the censors) revealed for the first time an authentic story of Israel's diplomatic pursuit of its strategic aims: "Even India, which nine years ago expelled a garrulous Israeli consul who wanted to elicit its participation in a cosmic struggle against all Muslims, recently requested to be placed on the Israeli Foreign Ministry's mailing list." The episode referred to occurred in 1983. Sharon, then a Defence Minister, felt self-confident after signing, with full American blessing, a "peace" with the puppet Lebanese government. With all complacency, he proposed to India an alliance for the sake of jointly attacking Pakistan, with the aim of destroying the latter's budding nuclear capability. In this scheme Israel was to supply the aircraft and India provide the bases. Incidentally, only two years earlier, in 1981, Sharon made a speech, later widely publicized, in which he defined the extension of Israel's influence "from Mauritania to Afghanistan" as an Israeli aim. There is plenty of evidence from openly available Israeli sources that this is Israel's strategic aim. The only problem is that this conflicts with U.S. policies, whether avowed or actually pursued. Still, Israel has an enormous latitude for action when the Americans know nothing about Israeli aims because they don't want to know. Interestingly, all branches of American Intelligence may be even more wilfully ignorant in this respect than the U.S. media.

Karni by no means exaggerates when he speaks of an Israeli "cosmic struggle against all Muslims." The same or similar notions crop up constantly in official explanations of the Israeli Security System's current policies. Thus, the chief political correspondent of Haaretz, Uzi Benziman describes on (March 20) how his sources in the Security System reacted to his mild and censorship-conscious reservations about the wisdom of the assassination of the Lebanese Sheikh Mussawi and his family, in view of possible adverse consequences for Israel. The reaction was: "the killing of Mussawi can be considered a retaliation for murders and deadly assaults against the Israelis committed by Muslim fanatics of any stripe. Some people are always ready to remind us that Israel is engaged in the long-term struggle against all Arab states and against all Islamic fanaticism, which all accept murder as a norm of behaviour . Because of that, blood-price-calculation-based criticism of the [Israeli] government is inherently unjust. The [Israeli] norm is best expressed by the words of [the then Labor Prime Minister] Levy Eshko: "the account book is open, but it is our hand which is filling it." This means that blood accounting is to be made by the State of Israel vis-a-vis all its enemies treated as a single whole, rather than on the basis of calculations which particular citizens of Israel want to use against their own government." (Notice Benziman's peculiar censorship-conscious vocabulary, e.g. his use of such terms as "some people.") This view may seem to be mad, but it has been held by the Israeli Security System from time immemorial, since long before Israel's inception. In Hebrew, it has been quoted often enough by prestigious commentators, Benziman included. But to the best of my knowledge, it has never been quoted by any mainstream paper outside Israel. But even in Israel, open challenges to this strategic madness are relatively rare, due not only to censorship but even more so to the customary adulation of Israeli Intelligence. Yet, translated into plain language, this strategy assumes a perpetual warfare to be carried out by Israel against a sizeable proportion of humanity.

Recent announcements by Israeli generals and nuclear experts can be properly understood only when these overall strategic aims are taken into account. Let me open my list of quotes with the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Amnon Shahak-Lipkin, whose rise in the ranks began in 1982-85, when, still a mere Military Intelligence Colonel, he escorted Israeli newsmen on visits to Falangist leaders, using this occasion for peddling to the media his views on how strong Falangist forces were, and how firmly Israel could rely on them in the pursuit of its own goals in Lebanon. His crucial statement was made in his reply to the questions "Assuming that the Middle East becomes nuclearized, hasn't the time come to change our attitudes towards nuclear realities? Shouldn't we begin thinking about them in terms of negotiations, of secret diplomacy? Will we be always able to prevent the progress of nuclearization?" His answer: "It is never possible to talk to Iraq about no matter what; it is never possible to talk to Iran about no matter what. Certainly not about nuclearization. With Syria we cannot really talk either. I also don't agree that preventing or postponing [nuclearization] is not in our power. A postponent by one week may be crucial, while a postponent for ten years would be magnificent. Today, not a single Arab state has a proven nuclear capability. I believe that the State of Israel should from now on use all its power and direct all its efforts to preventing nuclear developments in any Arab state whatsoever." Question: "Does this imply the need for violent means as well?" Answer: "In my opinion, all or most [available] means serving that purpose are legitimate."

Shahak-Lipkin's reference to Iraq should not be construed, however, as his opposition to the rule of Saddam Hussein. The interviewers reminded him that "at a meeting held on the last day of the Gulf War, [but not reported then] you opined that it was in the Israeli interest that Saddam Hussein remained in power." When they probed whether he considered "this opinion still correct," the General answered, "As far as I am concerned, it would be preferable if Saddam Hussein had not been born. We tried to prevent his birth but we failed. Now we need to decide what to do. It would have been ideal for everybody if it were possible to change the character of the Iraqi regime, and its insane attitude of hostility toward the entire world. But in Iraq no change will ever be possible. Iraq will always remain the same, bent on defying the entire world. True, it was helped by the entire world to become what it became. But since Iraqi thinking can never change, a possible removal of Saddam Hussein alone can only lead to the emergence of another dictator who will smile nicely to the entire world. And the entire world, anxious to somehow recompense Iraq for hardships it had inflicted on it, will help in its recovery and in restoration of its capabilities. Therefore, if I have to choose between a boycotted Iraq with Saddam and an Iraq without Saddam again supported by the entire world, then I opt for Saddam, because Saddam will never be helped by anyone."

Before discussing the little that is known about how Israel is actually helping Saddam Hussein to survive in power in accordance with the just declared preferences, let me yet comment on the recurrent phrase "the entire world." This phrase reflects another concept underlying Israeli strategic thinking. The concept is that in addition to the Arabs or the Muslims who are open enemies, other Gentiles, regarded as a single entity and united in pursuing aims correctly detectable and decipherable by Israeli Intelligence, are without exception both evil and stupid. This concept, at least, has been frequently challenged in Israel in public, in contrast to perception of the evil nature of the Arabs or the Muslims. A typical example of such a challenge is a critique of Shamir's speech in the Knesset, eulogizing (and misrepresenting) Begin, authored by Amnon Abramovitz (Maariv, April 10). In his speech Shamir said that during World War II "the Jewish nation was left to be ground between the two belligerent blocs equally hostile toward the Jews and indifferent to their bitter fate." Abramovitz comments: "What does it mean that "the Jewish nation was thus left to be ground between the two belligerent blocs?" It can only mean that the two sides in World War II had the same moral qualities, while we, the Jews, were being ground as they fought each other. Is it possible that the news of extermination of 6 million Jews by the Germans hasn't yet reached Shamir's notice? What does it mean that "both [were] equally hostile toward the Jews and indifferent to their bitter fate?" It can only mean that the Nazi Germany was merely indifferent to our bitter fate. Does Shamir mean to say that Churchill and Hitler treated us in the same way? Yet it is not hard to conjecture what Shamir had in mind. In his view, the entire world has always been against the Jews and so it remains. In this respect, Churchill is no different than Hitler, George Bush no different than Saddam Hussein and Mitterand no different than Gaddafi." Israeli strategical ideas are incomprehensible without the realization that a vision of the world such as Shamir's is shared by the Israeli Security System. The pronouncements of its generals and highly placed "sources" are the best evidence of that.

In the remainder of his interview, General Shahak-Lipkin reiterates, often verbatim, the conventional views of the Israeli Security System which require here no more than a quite cursory presentation. Israel acts under "a threat to its survival," Syria is "a terrorist state" and "almost all terrorist infiltrations from Lebanon [to Israel] originate from Syria." (Interestingly, Iran is not mentioned in this context, nor is Libya; there is no comment about these by Saguy either). Shahak-Lipkin's other arguments of the same type are that Iraq's military power is still great, that the killing of Mussawi was fully justified, (his family is not mentioned), that the Israeli public is guilty of criticizing the Army and that "we [the Army] have received only 40 per cent of the money we requested" and therefore need a lot more. Although little space is devoted to the situation in the Territories, it is assessed as satisfactory, since a lot of wanted Palestinians have been killed.

General Saguy fully shares the notion of a threat to Israel's very survival: "Syria has always been and still is a threat to the security and very survival of the State of Israel," the reason being that "Syria continues to arm itself." This statement is documented by a long list of Syrian weaponry purchases, without mentioning Israeli ones. Saguy does admit that Syria is afraid of Israel and that its armament is motivated by the wish "to confront the Israeli strategic [i.e. nuclear] weaponry, which the Arabs believe Israel possesses." He also admits that Syria is afraid of a massive Israeli invasion of its territory: "According to the Taif Agreement [between Syria and Lebanon] Syria is allowed to keep the bulk of its armed forces in the [Lebanese] Baalbek area. The Syrians believe that such a deployment can be an answer to an Israeli attempt to outflank Damascus [from the north] in the event of a war." Let me comment on this. As is known, the area between Damascus and the Golan Heights is heavily fortified, but no fortifications seem to exist north of Damascus or along the Syrian-Lebanese borders. Since outflanking a fortified defence line has been the Israeli Army's favourite method of attacking, Syrian fears appear to me well-grounded.

What Saguy says he is afraid of, is "a Syrian-Iranian alliance." The exchange on this subject with his interviewer deserves to be quoted in extenso: "Question: Can an alliance of Syria with Iran serve as a substitute for an alliance between Syria and Iraq in the formation of the eastern front against Israel? Answer: There is a collaboration between Syria and Iran in plenty of things. It is going to be closer. Perhaps even in strategic weaponry, and the non-conventional ventures. Question: Is Iran helping Syria to obtain nuclear weapons? Answer: At this stage not yet. But when Iran itself becomes nuclearized, I cannot see how it can avoid cooperating [in this matter] with Syria. Such a prospect should worry us, even though it is still distant.... In ten years' time Iran will certainly become a decisive factor in the entire region, and as such an ever-present threat to its peace. This can hardly be prevented, unless somebody intervenes directly. It is quite probable that outside factors such as the U.S., alone or together with other states, would intervene to halt the progress of Iranian rearmarment. But a historical paradox is also possible: Iraq may rearm itself, with the effect of checking the growth of Iranian armed power."

A long-standing Israeli custom commands the generals in active service to stop short of saying too much in interviews, but it lets semi-official experts or retired generals reveal the Israeli strategic intentions to the nation's elite in a more informative manner. The explanation of the crucial and most sensitive Israeli strategic aims, concerning the role of nuclear weapons in overall Israeli strategy was left to Oded Brosh. Brosh begins by saying that some Israelis are now raising the question whether "Israeli nuclear power" helps or obstructs a transferral of the regional conflict to diplomatic channels. This he deplores, since the very phrasing of this question in such terms "introduces a bias in favour of the recent opponents of Israel's nuclear option, while casting a negative light on the supporters of this option." He is particularly virulent against some unnamed advocates of an "appeasement" in the form of only "a limited use of Israeli nuclear power, referred to as "the last-minute option'". Those obscure remarks may refer to the bare beginning of a belated but at least serious discussion of the health hazards contingent on the existence of nuclear installations. Brosh's article was indeed, "balanced" in Haaretz by another article, printed right next to it which for the first time in Israel's history reported how people had organized themselves in protest against health hazards stemming from the existence of a civilian nuclear installation in their neighbourhood. But without any attribution, Brosh also refers to claims, still unattributable, to the effect that "Dimona might yet become another Chernobyl." He concedes that "the responsible authorities indeed need to test again and again" their precautionary measures, forgetting that "the authorities responsible" for Chernobyl also claimed that they had been recurrently testing their precautions. He leaves unanswered the question of who in Israel can be authorized to test the testing undertaken by unnamed "authorities."

Brosh must be presumed to aim his polemic at critics more prominent than those concerning themselves with health hazards, because he mentions some unnamed Israelis who are said by him to argue "that in view of what the foreign media report from time to time about the growth of Israel's nuclear assets, their further growth should be halted. Sometimes it is even being argued that somebody authorized or unauthorized might activate one or several Israeli nuclear warheads through either error or accident. Moreover, some argue that Israel's unremittent nuclear development only propels Arab countries, Iran and other Muslim states to equip themselves with all sorts of non-conventional, but primarily nuclear, weapons." None of these apprehensions have ever appeared not only in the censored Hebrew press but, to the best of my knowledge, in the mainstream international press as well. All of them are nevertheless in my view quite justified. Not only is the prospect of Dimona one day becoming another Chernobyl something to be seriously discussed. The prospect of Gush Emunim ("the Block of the Faithful"), or some secular right-wing Israeli fanatics, or some of the delirious Israeli Army generals, seizing control of Israeli nuclear weapons and using them in accordance with their "knowledge" of politics or by the authority of "divine command" cannot be precluded either. In my view the likelihood of the occurrence of some such calamity is growing. We should not forget that while Israeli Jewish society undergoes a steady political polarization, the Israeli Security System increasingly relies on the recruitment of cohorts from the ranks of the extreme right.

Brosh hurries to admit to his readers that "not everybody who hates Dimona--whether in Israeli or abroad--hates Israel. On the contrary, a great many foreigners who perceive the Dimona reactor as an evil have an affection for Israel." Yet the Israelis who "hate Dimona" are apparently not quite the same. Brosh is worried by their critique, especially since they are said by him to propose "that the Dimona reactor be closed" in order to be thereafter "accessible to international controls capable of proving to our neighbours that we no longer produce any fissionable substances." Such a proof could be offered "to our neighbours" either in a gesture of good will or within the framework of a regional settlement. But while admitting the desirability of more frequent and thorough checks to preclude Chernobyl-like accidents, Brosh disqualifies "all other apprehensions of the enemies of Dimona as flunking the test of technical and political realities in our region." We need to keep in mind that Israeli censorship has thus far prevented the publication of what "the enemies of Dimona" have to say. We know about their existence and their arguments only what their open enemy, Brosh, wanted and was permitted by that censorship to tell us.

Let me ignore Brosh's brief, superficial and in my view inaccurate presentation of the mentioned "technical realities." Let me just mention that he highly commends "what goes under the name of the neutron bomb, developed by the Americans in the 1970s." Let me concentrate on what, apparently reiterating the lessons learned from his mentors, he has to say about "the political realities in our region," in so far as they have a bearing upon Israeli nuclear power. Regarding the uses of Israeli nuclear weapons during a war, Brosh sees two major options. The first, "the last-minute option" is defined as "a scenario which in fact presumes that Israel will refrain from making any nuclear threats unless it is defeated by conventional weapons, or can realistically expect such a defeat as imminent, or is threatened by use of non-conventional weapons." In this way "the Arab leaders can be denied a victory" by the threat of "the destruction of Arab civilization." In my view, this can be interpreted as meaning that Israel has contingency plans for cases of extreme emergency which envisage a devastation by nuclear weapons of a considerable number of Arab urban centres and such crucial installations as the Aswan Dam (whose destruction was envisaged in Israel before 1973). This awful possibility needs to be faced, however horrifying may be the thought about its direct effects on the Arab world and indirect effects upon the entire world in terms of massive human casualties and the long-term effects of radioactivity. The likely existence of such plans needs to be considered jointly with a passage about "somebody authorized or unauthorized [who] might activate one or several Israeli nuclear warheads through error or accident." A juxtaposition of the two passages adds to both clarity and horror. By 1992, Israel already abounds in Jewish religious zealots whose influence within the Security System is growing steadily. Gush Emunim or the followers of any extremist Hassidic rabbi are quite capable in my view of activating such scenarios even in peacetime for the sake of thus advancing their Messianic prophecies which by definition imply that God will protect the Jews from any injury and inflict devastation on Gentiles alone.

But Brosh does not favour "the last-minute option." Being by no means a religious fanatic he does clearly realize that this option implies not just "the destruction of the Arab civilization " but also "our own national suicide." He also has strategic objections against this option which can be conjectured to draw on the experience of the October 1973 War. He anticipates that the Arab leaders might attack Israel, not for the sake of defeating it but for other reasons. In case the attack turns militarily successful, "the last-minute option" might prompt the Israeli leaders, even the relatively sane among them, to a nuclear response. When dealing with the long-concealed events of October 1973 War, I documented that the Israeli Army High Command of that time, possibly including Moshe Dayan, favoured Israeli nuclear response against Syria, but were halted in doing so by Golda Meir, backed by Kissinger. Much as I abhor what Brosh says I have to admit that he is not the most extremist among Israeli experts anticipating the use of nuclear weapons.

Brosh's own proposals, which can be assumed express the views of the Israeli Security System, rest on the assumption that "it is preferable to competently elaborate a system of options which would include the instrumentalities of handling the problems arising from a potential massive missile or armoured attack against us, if it one day materializes, and which would prepare means to deter such an attack, or to foil it, if the deterrence fails." He adds that pertinent Israeli "decisions should better not be dictated by outside factors," a transparent allusion to the U.S. This option should not be resorted to in his opinion, "as long as the threat to us comes from no more than a single, even if major, Arab state such as Syria" and if it involves only the use of conventional weapons. He immediately stipulates, however, that "even in such a case, it would be preferable to leave the enemy befogged about our intentions." Let me clarify, however, that in Israeli terminology, the launching of missiles on to Israeli territory is regarded as "non-conventional," regardless of whether they are equipped with explosives or poison gas.

Still arguing against his unidentified opponents, Brosh contends that "there is absolutely no connection between unremitting Israeli nuclear development and Arab, Iranian or Pakistani pursuits," in spite of the fact that Israeli nuclear weapons are, or at least may be, aimed at those countries. But Brosh goes even deeper in his arguments: "Generally, in long-term security planning one cannot ignore the political factors. Israel must take into account, for example, that the Saudi royal family is not going to reign forever or that the Egyptian regime may change." Precisely because of such political contingencies Israel must remain free to use or threaten to use its nuclear weapons. Brosh argues that "we need not be ashamed that the nuclear option is a major instrumentality of our defence as a deterrent against those who may attack us. The three big democracies have relied on the same deterrent for decades." The very comparison of Israel's strategic aims with those of the U.S., Britain and France is an irrefutable proof of Israel's ambition to achieve the status of a superpower. But Israel can become a superpower only if it succeeds in establishing a hegemony over the entire Middle East. Meanwhile, there is one crucial difference between Israel and "the three big democracies." The French, for example, pay themselves for developing their own nuclear power. The development of Israeli nuclear power is, by contrast, being financed by the U.S. Money for this purpose can be obtained only if Congress toes the line of the organized segment of the American Jewish community and of its various allies. And in the process, the American public must be effectively deceived about Israel's real strategic aims.

The Israeli grand strategy has diverse strands. The task of blending them together into a single overarching concept was undertaken by General (Reserves) Shlomo Gazit in an article remarkable for its lucidity and forthrightness (Yediot Ahronot, April 27). Gazit is a former Military Intelligence commander who often explains in the media the strategic aims of the Israeli Security System, or else provides apologias for what the public tends to regard as its blunders or failures. His article has two avowed aims. The first, common also to several other prestigious Israeli press commentators writing at about the same time, is to convince the public that what "we used to hear for many years, almost since the birth of the State, about Israel as a strategic asset for the U.S. and of the free world," remains no less valid after the demise of the USSR and the termination of the Cold War than it had been before. Let me ignore a greater part of his historical presentation of how and why Israel could become so wonderful a strategic asset in the past, except for a single point which contains something new. The point is this: "Israel proposed to the American armed forces that in the event of a war [with the USSR] it might provide the Americans with a variety of services, namely harbour, resupply, storage, medical treatment and hospitalization services."

However, Gazit admits that the value of Israel's actually rendered services of the Cold War period "did dwindle, perhaps even completely, as [the U.S.] no longer needs to be prepared for war with the Soviet bloc." This became apparent "over a year ago, when the largest military force since World War II assembled during the Gulf War in our own region, in the very heart of the Middle East. Israel was ignored when this war was fought. Moreover, hope was expressed and concrete steps taken for the single aim of precluding Israel's involvement in that war." Gazit even admits why it was so: "due to what from the Israeli point of view is a very sad but salient fact, namely that (with the possible exception of Egypt which had signed a peace treaty with us), no other Arab state can be a party to any military or security-aimed alliance, if Israel is also a party to it." This was why, explains Gazit, "the Israeli Army was not actively involved in the war against Iraq." This was why the armed forces of the anti-Iraqi coalition were not stationed on Israeli territory, as a result of "the Arab veto." Expecting his readers to consequently ask, "What has still remained of Israel's traditional role as a strategic asset, then?", Gazit proceeds to lay bare the more decisive and lasting aspects of that role.

This is the second purpose of Gazit's article, even more important than the first. He believes, correctly in my view, that Israel still remains a strategic asset as it was in the past. His lucid explanation deserves to be quoted extensively: "Israel's main task has not changed at all, and it remains of crucial importance. The geographical location of Israel at the centre of the Arab-Muslim Middle East predestines Israel to be a devoted guardian of stability in all the countries surrounding it. Its [role] is to protect the existing regimes: to prevent or halt the processes of radicalization and to block the expansion of fundamentalist religious zealotry. Israel has its "red lines," which have a powerful deterrent effect by virtue of causing uncertainty beyond its borders, precisely because they are not clearly marked nor explicitly defined. The purpose of these red lines is to determine which strategic developments or other changes occurring beyond Israel's borders can be defined as threats which Israel itself will regard as intolerable to the point of being compelled to use all its military power for the sake of their prevention or eradication." In other words, the red lines are Israeli dictatorial ultimata imposed by it on all the other Middle Eastern states.

Gazit distinguishes "three kinds of developments" among the processes of radicalization "which qualify as intolerable" [to Israel]. The first category is constituted by acts of anti-Israeli terrorism originating from the territory of another state. Gazit is forthright enough to say that Israel retaliates against a given state not only in its own defence, but more in the best interest of an Arab government concerned: "An Arab government allowing a terrorist organization to run free, creates a monster which sooner or later will turn against it. If it does not take steps to halt any development hostile to itself and to re-establish its total control, it will eventually cease to rule its own country."

The second category of the red line is applied in case of "any entry of a foreign Arab military force on to the territory of a state which borders on Israel, i.e. practically Jordan, Syria and Lebanon." (Although Egypt borders on Israel, it is not mentioned.) As in the previous case, Gazit is anxious to show that Israel has in such cases a benevolent concern for the stability of a given Arab regime: "An entry of a foreign Arab military force poses also a threat to the stability of the regime of the country thus affected, and sometimes also to the latter's sovereignty. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Israeli red line which deters and prevents entries of foreign Arab military forces to countries neighbouring with Israel is also a stabilizing factor which really protects the existing states and regimes in the entire Middle East."

The third category of the "red line" is in Gazit's view, and in mine as well, the most important. It is intended to preclude the developments which he defines as "threats of a revolt, whether military or popular, which may end up by bringing fanatical and extremist elements to power in states concerned. The existence of such threats has no connection with the Arab-Israeli conflict. They exist because the regimes [of the region] find it difficult to offer solutions to their socio-economic ills. But any development of the described kind is apt to subvert the existing relations between Israel and this or that from among its neighbours. The prime examples of such a red line are concerns for the preservation of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt and of the de facto peaceful cooperation between Israel and Jordan. In both cases it is Israel's red lines which communicate to its neighbours that Israel will not tolerate anything that might encourage the extremist forces to go all the way, following in the footsteps of either the Iranians to the east or the Algerians to the west." Gazit backs this statement by mentioning the Israeli intervention in defence of the Jordanian regime during the "Black September" uprising of 1970. He discussed more extensively the developments in Lebanon in the wake of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975: "When the Syrians were invited by some Maronites to intervene to stop the fighting and trounce the Muslims, they were at first deterred [by Israel] from advancing. When in the end the Syrian forces did advance, they clearly avoided anything which Israel could interpret as aberrant and thereby violating its red line." It is well known (at least in Israel), that Syrian advancement had culminated in the 1976 siege of Tel El-Zaatar and the massacre of the Palestinians there. The massacre was perpetrated by Falangists supported by the Syrian army, with Israel fully approving. Senior Israeli Army officers were then spotted as observers in the Falangist camp, located in the vicinity of where the Syrian troops were stationed.

According to Gazit, however, this form of "Israeli influence" may well extend beyond the Arab countries neighbouring with Israel: "Indirectly, it also radiates on to all the other states of our region. In almost all of them, some kind of radicalization is going on, except that the radical forces are deterred from pushing all the way through out of fear that their maximalism might prompt Israel to respond. Although no one would say so openly, I am positive that the regime of President Mubarak benefits from such an Israeli deterrence. If power [in Egypt] is ever seized by Islamic extremists, they will at once have to decide whether to recognize the peace treaty with Israel as binding or not. It will be a most difficult decision for them. If they do recognize the treaty, they will compromise their own ideology. And if they don't recognize it, they will at once have a war for which they cannot possibly be ready."

In Gazit's view, by virtue of protecting all or most Middle Eastern regimes, Israel performs a vital service for "the industrially advanced states, all of which are keenly concerned with guaranteeing the stability in the Middle East." He speculates that without Israel, the regimes of the region would have collapsed long ago. He concludes, "In the aftermath of the disappearance of the USSR as a political power with interests of its own in the region a number of Middle Eastern states lost a patron guaranteeing their political, military and economic viability. A vacuum was thus created, adding to the region's instability. Under such conditions the Israeli role as a strategic asset guaranteeing a modicum of stability in the entire Middle East did not dwindle or disappear but was elevated to the first order of magnitude. Without Israel, the West would have to perform this role by itself, when none of the existing superpowers really could perform it, because of various domestic and international constraints. For Israel, by contrast, the need to intervene is a matter of survival."

Let me recall in this context several facts of crucial importance. First, that speaking in the context of possible uses of Israeli nuclear power, Brosh revealed that Israel has contingency plans to be applied if "the Egyptian regime may change" or because "the Saudi royal family will not reign forever." By comparing Gazit with Brosh, we can grasp better the nature of Israeli strategic aims. Israel is preparing for a war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states. At some time after the fall of the Shah it was disclosed that in the last days of his regime the Israeli Army planned to dispatch its elite units to Tehran in order to relieve the hard-pressed Iranian generals, except that Begin, in a display of relative moderation refused to okay the venture.

However, as Gazit rightly points out, the USSR collapsed. As long as it existed, it was a strategic factor of prime importance, because threat of Soviet intervention was to some extent deterring Israel from a direct and undisguised pursuit of hegemony over the entire Middle East. Now, as Gazir rightly observes, "a vacuum was created" which neither the U.S. nor any other "industrially advanced state" can fill up, at least in Gazit's sense of the term. No faraway power will in the foreseeable future be able to invade a Middle Eastern state, while using or threatening to use its nuclear arms in the process, only because it would dislike a domestic radicalization occurring within the internationally recognized borders of that state. Let us recall that even when Iraq persisted in its annexation of Kuwait, Bush could obtain only a slim majority in the U.S. Congress in favour of opening the Gulf War. Can Congress be envisioned to approve an invasion of a Middle Eastern state in a mere response to a popular revolution there? The answer cannot but be either categorically negative, or at least anticipative of nearly unsurmountable obstacles that the U.S. or any other Western power would in such a case have to cope with. There can be no doubt that in Israel, where even the Knesset doesn't need to be consulted before an armed aggression, no analogous obstacles exist. The Israeli government has the legal right to initiate a war, and it can be certain of an initial approval for it by a huge majority of the Jewish public, regardless of circumstances under which that war breaks out. In the past, whenever the Knesset was notified of an aggressive war already in progress, it would approve it enthusiastically, by a huge majority.

Knesset ratifications of the already ongoing wars actually occurred in 1967 and in 1982. But the best example of it, allowing us to probe deeper into the pattern of the Knesset's behaviour, is its ratification of the Suez War in 1956. After Ben-Gurion told the Knesset, on the third day of the war, that the war's purpose was "to re-establish the kingdom of David and Solomon" by annexing Sinai, our ancestral property "which is not a part of Egypt," as well as to liberate the Egyptians and the whole world from the tyranny of Nasser, the entire Knesset, with the exception of the four Communist MKs, got up and stood to attention to sing the Israeli national anthem. Only threats from Khrushchev and from Eisenhower eventually convinced Ben-Gurion to reverse himself on this score. Yet Ben-Gurion was a realist and he ruled over the Army with an iron fist.

Under the new conditions of "a vacuum [which] was created" by the demise of the USSR, and by the increasing vulnerability of the U.S., Israel clearly prepares itself to seek overtly a hegemony over the entire Middle East which it has always sought covertly, without hesitating to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear ones. Contrary to what Gazit, Shuval or other Israeli spokesmen say, however, this venture is not being undertaken for the sake of benefiting the West. The West is comprised primarily of Gentiles, and Israel is a Jewish state whose sole purpose is to benefit Jews alone. Israel's search for hegemony stems from its own time-honoured ambitions which now dictate its strategic aims.

Israel Shahak
April 27, 1992

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