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Israel and Its Neighbors

Leveling the Playing Field

by MICHAEL NEUMANN

In the last few years, both Zionism and the occupation have been criticized, if not to death, as fully as possible. America’s pro-Israel loudmouths should deceive no one:   most of the world has taken the criticisms to heart. Even Israel’s supposed undying allies know the occupation has to end; so do a majority of Israelis.Though some of the preachier critics love to think otherwise, the US government – meaning the executive branch – has known this for some time. Its official position has always been that the occupation has to end. As for the massive aid accorded to Israel, two points should be borne in mind. First, the US gives at least as much aid, including military aid, to the Arab states and Pakistan – and sells advanced weapons to the Gulf States.  Second, the aid is largely part of a pathetic attempt to bribe Israel into something like a reasonable accommodation with the Arab world.

Some suppose that the attempt is pathetic because it is insincere. This view is wildly optimistic, and presupposes an article of faith curiously popular on the left:  that America is a colossus which can, with the beckoning of a finger, bring to heel the pygmies that surround it. Whatever the truth about American power in general, this certainly does not hold in the case of Israel. The power of the entire Western world may not suffice to bring that country to heel.

Israel is not only a nuclear power, but one of the world’s leading nuclear powers. What’s more, it is the only nuclear power that has openly toyed with the idea of using nuclear weapons even when that would be suicidal.   Israeli strategists, perhaps assured of divine approval, call this the Samson option. With a bit of ingenuity and luck, Israel could manage a very credible first strike against any power on earth.   It won’t do so, of course, but the ‘of course’ relies on our assurance that not even the other leading nuclear powers would use military force to compel Israel to do anything at all.  So push come to shove, in the case of Israel, there is no push, and no shove.

What then, if the US ‘turned off the aid spigot’?   Israel’s critics, not excluding some Israelis, are increasingly indignant in their demands for this to happen. Again, they are wildly optimistic.  No doubt Israel finds US aid a great convenience. But the US also finds Israeli aid a great convenience. Israel’s defense establishment not only produces but develops many capabilities of vital importance to the US, among them anti-missile systems, drones, and cyberwarfare solutions. And this is why economic sanctions wouldn’t work. Israel has an abundance of technology and even military hardware that much of the world would line up to buy, at almost any price. Not only would Israel be able to sustain itself financially and economically; it would do so through commerce that the West could only consider catastrophic.

This doesn’t mean the Israel/Palestine conflict is insoluble.   It means that any solution is out of ‘our’ hands – of the critics, certainly, and even of the Western powers.   The solution, if there is one, will have to be built on a true balance of power in the Middle East. The prospects for such a balance are not entirely dim, but they involve realities that few are willing to face.

At best (!), the prospects of peace, of an end to Israeli/Palestinian ‘terror’, lie in the hands of those alleged terrorists, Hizbollah, and their sponsors, including Iran.   Perhaps Hizbollah is just powerful enough so that Israelis will, like white South Africa, see the writing on the wall, and settle with their conquered people. Until the next war with Lebanon, the chances of this are anyone’s guess.

There is, however, a more frightening possibility. It can be rendered less frightening only if the West bows to the inevitable.

The ‘Arab’ world, like Iran, certainly realizes the crushing and dangerous advantage represented by Israeli nuclear weapons. Yet these countries lack the capacity to confront Israel and the political clout to make others do so.    What if the means to acquire this clout became available?

In fact the means are already at hand.

By now, the world, and therefore the ‘Arab’ world, knows that the West will never, ever, act against Israel:  the very opportunity to do so has slipped away. Sooner or later, this will drive Israel’s neighbors to their only alternative.  It is cost-effective, not only in dollars but very likely in lives.

Arab nations, and Iran, would be quite within their rights to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation agreements.  (These in any case are scandalous in their net effect, which is to protect Israel from military competition while securing Israel’s carte blanche in the nuclear arena.) The Arab world, likely with the cooperation of other nations, could then pursue a collective program of nuclear development and research, with the declared and explicit purpose of securing military as well as civilian nuclear capacity.

The mere announcement of these plans – with their effects on Israeli morale and Western resolve – might produce considerable results at no real cost to anyone. Should Israel persist in its obstinacy, development would proceed, increasing the pressure to find – impose – a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. One might think this very idea a piece of wild-eyed extremism. But what is extreme is to let Israel first develop and then brandish nuclear weapons, while tying the hands of all its potential victims.   To untie their hands is simply to return to the balance-of-power politics that, for centuries, has been seen as the best guarantor of peace.

Today, this is mere fantasy. But the Arab world, with support from the non-Arab Muslim world, will change enough to put this strategy within the realm of the possible.  Collectively, those nations have ample wealth and technical abilities. They are increasingly aware of the need to put aside old animosities. And presumably they will eventually tire of being treated with contempt.

And what is the role of the West in this?   Only to stay out of the way; it is capable of no more. Instead, there will be hand-wringing, hysteria, moral epilepsy. Perhaps the fits will pass, and the West will find the resolve to do what it has done so well for so long: nothing.

MICHAEL NEUMANN is a professor of philosophy at a Canadian university.  He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel.  He also contributed the essay, "What is Anti-Semitism", to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.  He can be reached at mneumann@live.com