The Israeli government does not control the foreign policy of the United States. However, the two regimes have formed an alliance seemingly overseen by forces of darkness that is designed to keep the rest of the Middle East in check. The basic intention of that alliance is to control access to the massive reserves of oil in the region. This is the essential argument of Stephen Gowans’ newest book, Israel: A Beachhead in the Middle East. It is a necessary and forceful rebuke of those on the left and right who insist that the US government is controlled by Zionists. In writing the text, Gowans provides a reasoned argument against those who—for religious and/or political reasons—propagate what is an essentially anti-Semitic argument concerning the nature of the Washington-Tel Aviv alliance.
The book begins with a brief history of the Zionist movement; its beginnings in Britain in the late nineteenth century, its support from apocalyptic Christians, its essentially colonialist ideology and subsequent support by members of the British government. The Balfour Declaration is briefly discussed, as is its eventual realization as an endorsement of the Zionist colonial project in Palestine. Simultaneous to this discussion, Gowans relates a history of the Arab nations in the region that is both anticolonial and critical in nature. He highlights the governments who sided with the colonialists and those who opposed it, including the Nasser government in Egypt and the short-lived Mossadegh government in Iran. Woven into this discussion is the changing nature of the various imperial relationships, especially the growing power of the United States in the region as the power of the earlier colonial regimes of Britain and France subsided in the wake of World War Two. The fact is that the United States was the victor in the inter-imperial rivalry that war was about. Its only competition was the Soviet Union, which was overwhelmed with internal and external issues that made their opposition relatively muted, despite the propaganda from Washington that pretended otherwise.
The history told here is fairly up to the moment. It is a story of lies and propaganda, power plays and bloody war. The constant thread in this narrative is the never-ending attempt to neutralize and destroy any and all attempts by the Arab and Muslim inhabitants of the Middle East to assert their right to live free of imperial intervention. From Nasser to Saddam Hussein, Mossadegh to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Palestine Liberation Organization to Hamas, Gowans reminds the reader that the common link between these and every other organized resistance to US and Israeli attempts to dominate the region is their determination to rule themselves. In many of these cases, the other less fortunate link is the failure to achieve that goal because of US and Israeli intervention in their affairs.
The final chapter of the book, titled “Diversion,” can be summed up best using Gowans own words. “It is not Israel that has made the Middle East a region of unremitting war; it is the mutual hostility of US investor interests and those of local forces of independence that have turned the region into a zone of unceasing conflict. These two forces are fighting over who will benefit from West Asia’s petroleum resources—the local population, or the investors in New York.” (206) His argument includes remarks from various US military leaders and Israeli cabinet members (active and retired), all of whom emphasize Israel’s role as Washington’s imperial beachhead in the Middle East and West Asia. An interesting anecdote provided in the text is that the approximately four billion dollars in military aid Washington gives Tel Aviv every year is about the same it would cost the Pentagon to have an aircraft strike force there year-round. In other words, the Israeli military presence is, in the minds of strategic planners in DC, worth funding given the forward role it plays in US designs on the region.
There are those who will dismiss Gowans’ argument, despite its rationality, and continue to accept the trope that Israel controls Washington. Others will focus on his portrayal of the Ba’athist governments of Syria and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, consequently missing the point of his argument—that these regimes played significant historical roles in the resistance to US economic and political intervention in the region; roles that cost Saddam Hussein his life and put Syrian President Assad’s nation under military and economic attack for over ten years now. Even if one holds either of these prejudices, reading this book is worth the time. It might change your mind. It certainly will give it something to consider.
(The title of this review is a quote from Alexander Haig, retired UA Army general and Secretary of State. Quoted in https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/04/25/the-ultimate-ally-2/ )