Lessons from the Israeli School on How to Win Friends in the Islamic World

OK, now it’s official. The United States is taking lessons from Israel on appropriate ways to deal with the Arab and Islamic world.

This is clear in Seymour Hersh’s story on Israeli-trained American death squads in the latest New Yorker, and Chalmers Johnson’s December 3 article on the same subject on the Common Dreams website.

Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, the U.S.-Israel connection comes as no surprise. The U.S. occupying force in Iraq has been adopting tactics, one after the other, that mirror those used by the Israelis against the Palestinians. “No,” you think to yourself. “Even Bush and the prevari-cons can’t be that stupid. Even in all their arrogance they can’t overlook the implications that such a parallel will have for U.S.-Arab relations.” Well, unfortunately, it turns out they are, and they can.

For example, the Independent of London reported on October 12 that U.S. troops had destroyed groves of date palms, lemon trees, and orange trees in central Iraq. Their owners’ offense? They were being punished for not fingering the insurgents supposedly in their midst. Collective responsibility of this sort is outside the traditions of American political thought and jurisprudence, but Israel applies it frequently to the Palestinians.

In a similar vein, the United States has killed fifteen children in separate bombing raids on Afghani villages. The raids were to “take out” Taliban operatives. The problem is that in both cases, the Taliban operatives were reportedly nowhere near their villages at the time. Very similar tactics are now used in Iraq ­ dropping 500 pound bombs in Fallujah and Tikrit ­ under Operation Iron Hammer. The Israelis, of course, frequently fire rockets into Palestinian neighborhoods, accepting the inevitable civilian casualties as the price of (maybe) killing Palestinian militants.

The latest bogeyman identified by the pentagon media machine is General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. This is the evildoer, we are told, who is coordinating the attacks on American soldiers in Iraq. This bogeyman has yet to be caught, but in the interim, U.S. forces have arrested his wife and daughter, and have destroyed the family home. This has been a staple of Israeli campaigns against the Palestinians ­ taking action against families and destroying homes when perpetrators are not available. As might be expected, they are much better at it than we. In our first clumsy attempts we have used expensive ordinance. The Israelis have the Caterpillar factory build them gigantic tractors to knock down houses ­ much more cost effective.

Americans have taken to cordoning off particularly troublesome villages behind razor wire, limiting access to certain hours during the day, and allowing no one to pass who does not have the appropriate identification card. The Israelis pioneered this technique.

The latest parallel, of course, is the American adoption of assassination squads of the same kind that the Israelis use. Indeed, the Israelis are training our death squads at Fort Bragg. The dangers of this strategy are palpable. As Seymour Hersh notes, with such an operation, everything depends upon quality intelligence. In the Phoenix Program, American death squads were directed to candidates for assassination by the Vietnamese army and village chiefs. One problem of the program was that the targets were as likely to be personal rivals of the snitch as they were to be Viet Cong. Another problem was that the death squads got out of control, killing on whim. The South Vietnamese government claimed that 40,000 were killed by Phoenix (the American government admits to 20,000), and many victims, perhaps the majority, had no relationship with the communists.

There is no reason to believe that our intelligence in Iraq is any better. In fact, there is every reason to believe that it is terrible. This is confirmed by U.S. Army reports, and by journalists on the ground. The death squads are likely to duplicate the kind of flailing around that Operation Iron Hammer brings to our television screens ­ green, night-vision videos of American troops kicking down doors, screaming “Get your fucking ass down” to uncomprehending families, and trucking off grab-bags of Iraqis into the night.

This kind of blunderbuss, street-level diplomacy wins us no friends. When countries that are founded on the primordial principles of land and blood use these tactics, we are not surprised. Everything can be justified in defense of the clan. Being associated with such tactics does more injury to the image of the United States, however. The “First New Nation’s” identity does not derive from a tribalistic commitment to a “homeland,” but from the democratic idea, that individual human rights and responsibilities reside in morally autonomous citizens. More than any other country, when we resort to collective punishment, we lose all moral authority in the eyes of the world.

And speaking of the rest of the world, the worst consequence of sidling up to the Israelis is not often mentioned. What is at stake is not building democracy in Iraq, liberating the Iraqis from the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, or saving American face. What is really hanging in the balance is the War of Civilizations. Already, large majorities in Islamic nations say that they dislike the United States. Whatever the prevari-cons might argue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like a raw wound in the consciousness of the Islamic world. Can you imagine what Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya will do with the news that American death squads are being trained by Israeli commandos for operations in Iraq? Can you imagine how it will play in the Arab street when Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya report that, like Israel, the liberators of Iraq have taken to erecting security fences, destroying the homes and arresting the families of suspected insurgents, and razing the olive groves of bystanders who do not turn in their neighbors?

The worst of many dire consequences of learning at the Israeli school of Arab liberation is that it moves us one step closer to the civilizations war. That is one step closer to enmity with 1.2 billion of the planet’s occupants. If you think that the $147 billion that Congress has appropriated for the Iraq war is a lot, and that our 400 plus dead and 10,000 casualties have been a substantial loss, think again. If the civilizations war comes along, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

GREG WEIHER is a political scientist and free-lance writer living in Houston, Texas. His previous commentaries on the Iraq war have been published in the Houston Chronicle, on the OpEdNews Website, in The American Muslim, and in CounterPunch. He can be reached at gweiher@uh.edu.



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