FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The March of Folly

by URI AVNERY

Nothing could be more scary than the thought that this duo – Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak – is in a position to start a war, the dimensions and outcome of which are incalculable.

It’s scary not only because of their ideological fixations and mental outlook, but also because of the level of their intelligence.

The last month gave us a small sample. By itself it was but a passing episode. But as an illustration of their decision-making abilities, it was frightening enough.

The routine conference of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations was to take place in Tehran. 120 states promised to attend, many of them represented by their presidents or prime ministers.

This was bad news for the Israeli government, which has devoted much of its energies during the last three years to the strenuous effort to isolate Iran – while Iran was devoted to a no less strenuous effort to isolate Israel.

If the location of the conference was not bad enough, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced that he would attend, too. And as if this was still not bad enough, the new president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, also promised to come.

Netanyahu was faced with a problem: how to react?

If a wise expert had been consulted, he might have asked: why react at all?

The Non-Aligned Movement is an empty shell. It was created [or “founded”] 51 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, by Nehru of India, Tito of Yugoslavia, Sukarno of Indonesia and Abd-al-Nasser of Egypt. 120 nations joined. They wanted to steer a course between the American and the Soviet blocs.

Since then, circumstances have changed completely. The Soviets have disappeared, and the US is also not what it was. Tito, Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno are all dead. The Non-Aligned have no real function anymore. But it is much easier to set up an international organization than to disband it. Its secretariat provides jobs, its conferences provide photo opportunities, world leaders like to travel and schmooze.

If Netanyahu had kept quiet, chances are that the world media would have ignored the non-event altogether. CNN and Aljazeera might have devoted a full three minutes to it, out of courtesy, and that would have been that.

But for Netanyahu, keeping quiet is not an option. So he did something exceedingly foolish: he told Ban Ki-moon not to go to Tehran. More precisely: he ordered him not to go.

The aforementioned wise expert – if he existed – would have told Netanyahu: Don’t! The Non-aligned make up more than 60% of the UN membership. Ban wants to be re-elected in due course, and he is not going to insult 120 voters, much as you wouldn’t want to insult 80 members of the Knesset. His predecessors have attended all former conferences. He cannot refuse now – especially not after you publicly ordered him around.

Then there was Morsi. What to do about him?

If another wise expert, this time on Egypt, had been asked, he would have given much the same advice: let it be.

Egypt wants to resume its role as the leader of the Arab world and as an actor on the international stage. The new president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, certainly would not want to be seen giving in to Israeli pressure.

So, as the Hebrew saying goes, better to swallow a frog – even two frogs – then do something foolish.

But Netanyahu couldn’t possibly follow such advice. It would be contrary to his nature. So he and his assistants proclaimed loudly – very loudly – that the 120 attending countries are supporting Iran’s effort to annihilate Israel, and that Ban and Morsi are promoting a Second Holocaust.

Instead of isolating Iran, Netanyahu helped Iran to isolate Israel.

The more so as both Ban and Morsi used the Tehran stage to castigate the Iranian leadership and its Syrian allies. Ban condemned Ahmadinejad’s denial of the holocaust as well as his proclaimed hopes for the disappearance of the “Zionist entity”. Morsi went even further and castigated the murderous Syrian regime, Iran’s main ally.

(This speech was broadcast live on Iranian television. The translator evoked general admiration for his presence of mind. Whenever Morsi said in Arabic “Syria”, the translator said in Farsi “Bahrain”.)

This whole episode is important only insofar as it illustrates the incredible folly of Netanyahu and his close advisers (all of them handpicked by his wife, Sarah, easily the most unpopular person in the country). They seem to be cut off from the real world and to live in an imagined world of their own.

In this imaginary world, Israel is the center of the universe, and Netanyahu can give orders to the leaders of the nations, from Barack Obama and Angela Merkel to Mohamed Morsi and Ban Ki-moon.

Well, we are not the center of the world. We have a lot of influence, owing in part to our history. We are a regional power, much beyond our actual size. But to be really effective, we need allies, moral standing and the support of international public opinion, just like everybody else. Without this, Netanyahu’s pet project, to secure for himself a place in the history books by attacking Iran, cannot be carried out.

I know that many eyebrows were raised when I categorically stated that neither Israel nor the US would attack Iran. It seemed that I was risking my reputation – such as it is – while Netanyahu and Barak were preparing for the inevitable bombing run. When talk about the impending attack reached a crescendo, my few well-wishers were sincerely worried.

However, during the last few days, there has been an almost imperceptible change of tone here. Netanyahu declared that the “family of nations” must lay down a “red line” and timetable for stopping Iran’s nuclear arms effort.

Translated into simple Hebrew: there will be no Israeli attack, unless approved by the US. Such approval is impossible before the coming US elections. It is highly unlikely afterwards, too, for the reasons I tried to set out. Geographical, military, political and economic circumstances make it impossible. Diplomacy is called for. A compromise based on mutual interests and respect may be the best outcome.

An Israeli commentator has made the interesting suggestion that the President of the United States – after the elections – personally travel to Teheran and reach out to the Iranian people. That is no more improbable than Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China. I would add the suggestion that while he is at it, the President come to Jerusalem, too, to seal the compromise.

A year and a half ago, I also dared to suggest that the Arab Spring would be good for Israel.

At the time, it was a common assumption in Israel, and throughout the West, that Arab democracy would lead to a surge of political Islam, and that this would present a mortal danger to Israel. The first part of the assumption was right, the second was wrong.

The obscurantist demonization of Islam can be dangerously misleading. The painting of Islam as a murderous, inherently anti-Semitic religion, can lead to destructive consequences. Fortunately, the dire forecasts are being disproved daily.

In the homeland of the Arab Awakening, Tunisia, a moderate Islamic regime has taken root. In Libya, where commentators foresaw chaos and permanent civil war between the tribes, chances for stability are growing. So are the chances that Islamists will play a positive role in post-Assad Syria.

And most importantly – the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is behaving with exemplary caution. Six thousand years of Egyptian wisdom is having a moderating effect on the Brothers, including Brother Morsi. In the few weeks of his rule, he has already demonstrated a remarkable ability for compromising with divergent interests – with the secular liberals and the army command in his own country, with the US, even with Israel. He is now engaged in an effort to settle things with the Sinai Bedouins, addressing their (justified) grievances and calling a halt to military action.

It is, of course, much too early to tell, but I believe that a rejuvenated Arab world, in which moderate Islamic forces play an important role (as they do in Turkey), may form the environment for Israeli-Arab peace. If we desire peace.

For this to happen, we must break out of Netanyahu’s imaginary world and return to the real world, the exciting, changing, challenging world of the 21st century.

Otherwise we will just add another sad chapter to the late Barbara Tuchman’s brilliant book, The March of Folly.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.


COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

 

 

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
Anthony DiMaggio
Illinois’ Manufactured Budget Crisis
Colin Todhunter
Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack
Binoy Kampmark
Warring Against Sanders: Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Robert Koehler
Presidential Politics and the American Soul
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids
Cesar Chelala
Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?
February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail