Ron Wyden and Israel

It is not often that we get to hold our elected representatives accountable. And so, I was very happy for the chance when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden recently made a public appearance in Klamath Falls. Wyden fielded questions and generally impressed me as a thoughtful, caring, and articulate individual, that is, until I questioned him about the Mideast–at which point Wyden dissembled and intelligence went flying out the window.

I had hoped to get some substantive answers, because the official reasons given as justification for a bill that would impose sanctions on the state of Syria just don’t add up. (For my former assessment see <>) Wyden voted for the measure passed by Congress last fall and signed into law by President Bush in December.

In my view, the legislation is dangerous. The bill authorizes a variety of cultural and economic sanctions against Syria. It is dangerous because imposing sanctions is an extreme foreign policy–only one step from war.

Nothing I heard from Wyden changed my opinion that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was the driving force behind this bill. Not even the neo-cons in Washington initially wanted it. The Bush administration announced its support–to save face–only when the bill’s passage became inevitable.

This bill renders absurd any further talk about a roadmap for peace. There is no roadmap: Sharon tore it to shreds last summer, and with this bill he has blown back the pieces into Bush’s face. Now armed with an obsequious US Congress (one house in each pocket), Sharon is perfectly positioned to wring even more aid/concessions from the White House.

The best that Wyden could do was blame Syria for terrorism and recite the familiar litany of clichA(C)s about Arafat. Notably, Wyden never mentioned the Israeli air attack on a site near Damascus that occurred just days prior to the House vote, a brazen act of war that hardly generated a ripple of concern–forget criticism–here in the US. Sharon probably ordered the attack, in part, just to show the Syrians and the world that within the larger framework of US global hegemony he has license in his own backyard to do almost anything he pleases. The air attack was also a thumb in the eye of the US public, which though it very much wants a just Mideast peace settlement unfortunately hasn’t yet discovered the disconnect in Washington on the matter of Israel.

Wyden’s lame defense of the sanctions bill showed that he doesn’t understand what he has unleashed. Wyden seemed strangely unaware that by supporting Ariel Sharon he himself is aiding and abetting a war criminal.

Bush called Sharon a*oea man of peace,a** but the reality is very different. The record shows that Sharon has in fact opposed every peace initiative in Israel’s history. Sharon did not earn his nickname a*oeArika** (the lion) by working for a peaceful settlement–on the contrary. He was busily helping to destroy peace talks years before the PLO even existed–the PLO was founded in 1959–and long before Arafat had emerged on the world scene. This is why the proclivity of Wyden and other US politicians–both Democrat s and Republicans–to blame Arafat and the PLO is a dodge. The truth is that Israel could have had a peace treaty as early as the mid-1950s, if men like David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan had wanted it. Peace was there for the taking. All they had to do was reach out and grab it. And no excuse is acceptable from liberals like Wyden for not knowing this.

The standard history we all know is that tiny Israel (David) was surrounded by the Arab behemoth (Goliath). The problem with this picture is that it is a fairy tale. In fact, Israel faced no significant military threats in the 1950s from any of its Arab neighbors. What is more, during the period 1953-55, under the leadership of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, the only moderate leader Israel has ever had, the region probably came closer to peace than at any time before or since.

True, Sharett was a Zionist. But, unlike his rival David Ben Gurion , Sharrett knew Arabs very well. He had had lived among them, he spoke Arabic, and thus he knew that peace was possible. Shortly after becoming prime minister of Israel in 1953, Sharett launched a historic peace mission with Egyptian President Abdul Nasser. To everyone’s surprise the talks progressed rapidly, even to the stage of drafting a formal peace treaty on refugee resettlement and the future status of Jerusalem.

Despite pervasive propaganda to the contrary, there is no doubt that Nasser genuinely wanted peace with Israel. US and UN diplomats who knew Nasser well later confirmed this. Nasser wanted to focus his considerable energies on his nation’s many internal problems; and to do this he needed peace on his northern border. In those days there was no talk of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian issue was viewed strictly as a refugee problem. For this reason Israel could have had peace on very favorable terms; and because Nasser was the acknowledged leader of the Arab world, a separate peace with Egypt would almost certainly have led to a wider peace settlement, also on favorable terms.

The reason Sharrett’s peace initiative failed should be of interest to us, today. The facts reveal much about the current Mideast disaster, and expose the dissembling of US politicians like Wyden, who keep telling us that we don’t have peace because there is no one on the other side to talk to: a lie.

Part of this complex story is told in my book Dimona the Third Temple (see chapter 2). Also see Elmore Jackson’s Middle East Mission and Livia Rokach’s important book, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, largely based on Sharrett’s personal diaries.

Sharrett’s peace initiative failed for a simple reason: Israel’s military chiefs, Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, and others, decided on their own that peace was not acceptable and took steps to prevent it. In this they had the backing of former PM David Ben Gurion, who supposedly had retired from politics to his desert retreat at Sdeh Boker. Though Ben Gurion later denied any involvement, there is no doubt that he actively encouraged the subsequent military intrigues that doomed peace with Nasser and led to the disasters that continue in our time.

Without PM Sharrett’s knowledge or approval, Dayan and Lavon ordered a series of military raids and adventures along the Syrian border and in the West Bank, which at this time was part of Jordan, and also in Egypt. One of these provocations was the world’s first airline hijacking. On December 12, 1954 Israeli warplanes forced a Syrian commercial airliner to land in Israel, where passengers and crew were detained for two days, until a storm of international protest brought about their release.

Israeli agents also staged terrorism in Cairo. By chance, however, the Israeli spy ring was broken up by Egyptian police after one of the agents triggered a bomb prematurely. Several Israelis were captured and subsequently convicted in a public court trial. Most of the accounts of this intrigue, which became known as the Lavon Affair, succeed in obscuring its true purpose, which was to murder Americans and Brits and thereby to disrupt Nasser’s ongoing diplomacy with the western powers. The imbroglio was obviously a case of state-sponsored terrorism.

Large-scale military attacks were also launched along the Egyptian border. These were often led by Ariel Sharon, who commanded the 101 force, an elite commando unit that specialized in atrocities and massacres. Sharon’s trademark was dynamiting homes with the occupants entombed within. Entire villages were destroyed in this way.

The justification given by Israel for these heavy-handed raids were sporadic attacks on Israeli settlers by Palestinians. And while it is certainly true that such attacks occasionally happened, at no time did they pose a military threat to Israel’s existence. No doubt, some of these incidents were the result of the enormous refugee problem. At this time more than 200,000 Palestinians were crowded into camps in the Gaza strip, with another 300,000 in the West Bank. It was only natural that these refugees would wish to return to their homes and property, of which they had been recently dispossessed. Nor is it surprising that some of these encounters resulted in violence.

During this period, however, Israel’s massive attacks along the Egyptian border were out of all proportion to the infiltration problem. Numerous entries in Moshe Sharrett’s personal diary reveal his shock and frustration, indeed his horror, on discovering–always after the fact–that his peace policy was being undermined at every step by members if his own cabinet.

Sharrett’s military colleagues clearly were not interested in grappling with the refugee issue. They had far grander designs. Other entries describe the vociferous exchanges in the party councils, as men like Dayan hatched plans to dismember neighboring Lebanon, to seize the West Bank, to annex Sinai, and to topple Nasser from power. It’s clear that the planning for Israel’s part in the 1956 Suez War began as early as 1953, and brought Sharrett into direct conflict with Israel’s military leadership. In the end Sharrett was outmaneuvered and defeated, forced to resign even as Ben Gurion reassumed control and forged ahead with the final planning for the 1956 War, not to mention his secret program to develop nuclear weapons. It is no wonder the Israeli government tried to block publication of Sharrett’s voluminous memoirs!

Ariel Sharon was a key player in these events: a useful instrument, the willing means to subvert peace talks.

The schemes for territorial expansion hatched in the 1950s were played out in future wars. In 1982, for instance, General Sharon finally brought to fruition the plan to dismember Lebanon. Sharon was both the architect and leader of the IDF’s 1982 invasion of that country, which slaughtered 10-20,000 people, mostly civilians. This includes the massacre of more than 1,000 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut, for which Sharon was found personally responsible. Only a legal technicality has prevented the International War Crimes Tribunal from indicting him for his leading role: Sharon is currently immune from prosecution because he is a standing head of state.

The question we Americans should be asking our elected representatives is: Why is this war criminal dictating US foreign policy?

Clearly, the US role in the region will not change for the better until we Americans confront our elected representatives with the real history. We need to get in their faces, talk truth to power, and do it in a respectful way.

MARK GAFFNEY is the author of Dimona the Third Temple? (1989). a pioneering study of the Israeli nuke program. His forthcoming book about early Christianity, Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes, will be released by Inner Traditions in May. He can be reached at: