ISRAELI NUCLEAR AND FOREIGN POLICIES
By Israel Shahak
Israeli Foreign Policy after
the Oslo Accord
1 November 1993
The right word to describe the thirty-year-old dependence of Israeli policies an the US was coined by Davar's political commentator Daniel Ben-Simon, who speaks of the `former American tutelage' of Israel (18 October 1993). Ben-Simon's view is correct when he says that `until quite recently Israeli foreign policy was carried out according to the rules imposed by the State Department and the White House. Nothing was done in defiance of those rules. All former peace initiatives in the Middle East were launched by the Americans.' Yet Ben-Simon also says that `the Oslo Accord put Israel's patron to shame. While chiefs of the State Department were busily overseeing the progress of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington, Rabin and Peres closed the deal in distant Oslo. The US was notified of the Accord barely a few days before its finalization, as a gesture to spare them an overt insult, and in order to make it still possible for them to disburse money needed for its implementation.'
His conclusion, with which I again concur, is that `the main loser from this rapid increase in the Israeli power of diplomatic manoeuvre is the US. The Accord with the PLO which generated sympathy for Israel has also made it more confident of its power than it ever was.' Commenting on this new sell confidence, Ben-Simon elaborates that `some factions of major importance within Israeli establishment are quite satisfied with this weakening of the American tutelage', but `Rabin does not belong to them. Regardless of gains in the independence of Israeli policies, he still feels that the American protective umbrella over Israel is the best guarantee of its security.' Right now, however, Israeli foreign policy is noticeably different from what it was before, increasingly aiming at getting rid of `American tutelage'. This change, placed in a broader historical context, will be described here.
The politically prodigious and financially unprecedented support which Israel was receiving from the US since the early 1960s until this year has actually never determined Israeli policies entirely. To begin with, it superseded the period of frequent conflicts between
the US and Israel in the 1950s. These conflicts flared up during the Suez affair of 1956 when Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw unconditionally not only from Sinai but also from the Gaza Strip. Since the early 1960s, however, Israel has wielded tremendous influence within the US, and it was capable of turning that influence to its advantage. Owing to this, `American tutelage' has never worked perfectly, as Israel did occasionally pursue policies not in accord with US interests. Even more than that: by exploiting its influence on the Congress and the US media, Israel could occasionally force the US administration to reverse its policies completely. When the Carter administration announced its accord with the USSR as its policy programme for the Middle East, which was not to the taste of the Begin government, the latter dispatched its then Foreign Minister, Dayan to the US. Within three days, Dayan succeeded in making the Carter administration ignominiously reverse itself. Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David negotiations, the Israeli-Egyptian peace and the 1982 invasion of Lebanon can all be seen as contingent upon Dayan's humiliation of Carter in this affair.
Israel's economic situation and its standing within the international community can also be reasonably supposed to affect the degree of Israeli dependence on the US. Whenever Israel is in financial straits (whether for economic or other reasons) and whenever its relations with other great powers are strained, its dependence on the US cannot but be on the rise. But whenever the Israeli government and the Israeli wealthy elite are financially well-off (even if the Israeli poor then get poorer) Israel's dependence on the US can be reduced, and Israel can then assume a more independent policy posture.
For example, the invasion of Lebanon resulted in an Israeli conquest of a relatively large territory and in Israel's deep involvement in Lebanese domestic affairs. The invasion was made possible by a long period of steady and enormous increases in the size of the Israeli Defence budgets, beginning in 1967 and continuing until 1984. But the occupation of Lebanon resulted in a bloody guerilla war in which Israel was defeated not only militarily but also economically. Nehemya Strassler, writing in Haaretz, (6 August) gave the following vivid picture of the resultant economic situation: `By the beginning of 1985 the Israeli economy was on the verge of collapse, which could lead to a collapse of Israeli democracy. The only way to avert it was by stopping the hyperinflation. The monthly inflation rate stood then at 15 per cent. The economy was in a shambles, the dollar reserves were already almost spent. The situation was grievous enough to make the Treasury contemplate the imposition of quotas on all imports to stave off the vanishing of all hard currency.' Being in such a
shambles, Israel was shunned by all major Third World states. Given such realities, Israel's dependence on the US couldn't but stand at its highest.
In my view, this state of affairs continued until 1992, all the shows of the Shamir government's defiance of the US notwithstanding. The Madrid Conference was convened through American efforts and was run openly by the US. In contrast to that, the signing of the Accord on principles on the White House lawn belonged in a show-business category, constituting a facade behind which we machinations were done by Israel without US knowledge or involvement. In contrast to 1985, the Israeli government now has plenty of money, due to US military aid of unprecedented magnitude granted by the Bush administration during and after the GulfWar, and to guarantees granted by the Clinton administration which are hardly used for their avowed purpose of helping absorb the Jewish immigrants from the former USSR. The fact of their being used for other purposes can best be seen from long lines of those immigrants before the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv looking forward to their return to Russia.
This is why the present situation is very different. Ben-Simon quotes the [Israeli] Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, as saying that `Israeli diplomacy extends all over the world. Israeli representatives are now welcomed in almost every capital and regarded by the international community as its equal members ... Rabin's recent journey to Indonesia can be seen as the culmination of this process of breaking the anti-Israeli taboos. After all, Indonesia is the largest Muslim state in the world, and yet Rabin's visit there was public. After the duly publicized deep Israeli penetration into China and India, Indonesia symbolizes the most radical change in Israel's international status.'
Israel also expects to profit from trade with countries such as China, even if such trade links displease the US. Of course, Israel is vitally interested in maintaining its influence upon the Clinton administration so as to prevent any reduction in the present levels of American aid and any serious US protest against its independent policy ventures. Israeli independence can work as long as Clinton remains ready to finance (or press other countries to finance) that 'independence'. Unless Israel soon acquires its own sources of income, its emancipation from American tutelage will remain contingent on the weakness and crassness of Clinton's foreign polices and on the recent remarkable gains in influence of organized US Jews upon his administration. The situation in this respect was well sumarized by Haaretz correspondent Orri Nir who reported (6 July) that `Clinton feels committed to the Jewish vote and even more to Jewish campaign donations', and that his administration `has ~ firm "Jewish connection"'.
Whatever financial benefits Israel expects to derive from its foreign policy ventures, their chief aim undoubtedly remains the neutralization of the power of Iran. To all appearances, Israel would like to overthrow the present Iranian regime and replace it with another one, upon which Israel could maintain an influence comparable to that it had upon the regime of the late Shah. It is again Ben-Simon who described it aptly: 'There is a latent factor behind Rabin's visits to two major countries on his route, that is, China and Indonesia. It is the Israeli fear of Iran. Once the Israeli top establishment came to the conclusion that Iran is the most dangerous enemy not just of Israel but of the entire Middle East, it has spared no efforts to disseminate this conviction abroad. Before departing to China the Prime Minister said that the real purpose of his visit was to explain to his hosts how terrible was the danger posed by Iran to the entire Middle East. "I intend to clarify to them how dangerous Islamic fundamentalism is, not just to Israel and all its neighbours, but also to the world at large", said Rabin in his interview with Davar, only one day before he embarked for China.
`China is one of the main suppliers of weaponry to Iran, so the Prime Minister had a good reason to concentrate on this topic during his recent tour. For the same reason Israel has opened the channels for the talks with North Korea, without bothering about the angry response of the US administration to them. The purpose was to do everything possible to halt the non-conventional [that is, nuclear] arming of Iran. For this purpose, Israel is now willing to talk to any state, so as to leave Iran to its own devices, or at least to decrease its receiving any non-conventional armament supplies from anywhere in the world.' It can be taken for granted that in regard to Iran, Israel wants more than `leaving it to its own devices'. Nevertheless, it is perfectly credible that stirring up any conceivable country against Iran remains the guiding principle of the new and independent Israeli policies.
The case of North Korea may not be the most important, but it is typical. It was described by Nahum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot on 20 August, that is before the signing of the Accord with the PLO. Barnea informs us that in its `talks with North Korea conducted by the Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry, Eitan Bentzur, Israel asked for stopping the sales of the North Korean Scuds to Iran and Syria. Like so many backward regimes, the North Koreans firmly stick to the myth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. From this myth they draw a conclusion that via Israel they can easily win some access to America, and that this access may perhaps rescue their regime in an hour of dire emergency.' Complicated as the deal was, it was almost finalized. There was a third party to it, namely `a Canadian bank, friendly to Israel, very interested in the project.
The bank proposed to consider an investment of $500 million on the sole condition that the North Koreans sever all relations with Iran.' The expression `friendly to Israel' may be safely presumed to mean that it was controlled by Mossad. The readers of the Hebrew press realize that at least since the 1960s Israeli foreign affairs are quite often run with the help of financial institutions or individual wealthy businessmen, usually but not necessarily Jewish, who act on orders from Mossad as a quid pro quo for the state of Israel's support for their private business deals. This was the pattern to be observed in the Irangate affair.
But let me return to the story of the deal with North Korea. The secret negotiations were first discovered by the Japanese, who `became enraged and made a scandal' but had no power to stop them: `It had already been arranged that Bentzur was soon to meet the daughter of the almighty North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung and close the deal. The daughter is third in the North Korean hierarchy, right after the son.' At the same time `the Americans claimed that they had opened negotiations with North Korea on the nuclear issue. Consequently, they were upset over Israel's messing up. The Deputy of the National Defence Council Sandy Berger and the Deputy State Secretary Peter Tarnoff put pressure on Christopher to drive Israel away from North Korea. They argued that they themselves could press North Korea to sever its relations wiih Iran.' Probably because this happened right before the finalization and publication of the Oslo Accord, the Israeli government reluctantly agreed to cancel the deal with North Korea. Barnea draws two conclusions from that affair. The first is that `unfortunately, Israel does not believe that for the US Iran is as important as it is for Israel.' It can be construed as meaning that if Israel's primary aim is to neutralize the Iranian power, Israel needs to get rid of the American tutelage, at least to some extent. Barnea's second conclusion is that `the great [Israeli] fear that other states may yet realize that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are after all a myth - that the Jews do not rule over the US, but the US rules over the Jews - cannot be so easily dissipated. For if this calamity indeed occurs, it is going to be unbearable for us.' Indeed, the Israeli power has two components: one real, based on its own strength and its real influence within the US, and the other imaginary, based on its cultivation of anti-Semitic myths in various countries. Especially under Clinton, these two components are craftily blended.
The most important state whose interests Israel is now advancing against (at least avowed) US interests is Iraq. After many previous hints to this effect in Hebrew press, the well-informed veteran journalist Moshe Zak brought the affair into the open in an article entitled `Are we ready to make peace with Iraq?' (Maariv,
28 October). He thinks Israel is indeed trying to establish friendly relations with Saddam Hussein's regime, his evidence being the words of Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, uttered in the course of an interview with the leading Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram. Peres said there that `Israel is ready to make peace with any Middle Eastern state with the exception of Iran.' Zak comments, 'Can this be true? Are we ready to make peace with Saddam Hussein, in defiance of sanctions imposed on him by all the states of the world? Will Israel be involved in an Iraqgate, responding to Iraq's frantic search for a hole in the wall erected by the Free World around Saddam Hussein?' Zak speaks of `an old Israeli delusion' contributing to its siding with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. His crucial argument, however, is that any evidence of good Israeli relations with Iraq will undermine current Israeli efforts to convince states like North Korea, China or `some European states' to stop arming Iran. He nevertheless concludes his article by formulating an argument in favour of what in my view can only be interpreted as the existence of an Israeli alliance with Iraq: `Some Arab oil states have already suggested through go-betweens that they may sell oil to Israel even prior to the signing of the Accord with the PLO. After discarding their erstwhile delusions that the7 will ever be able to prevent oil from reaching Israel, they arc already prepared to se11 their oil tn any purchaser. Therefore, Iraq's possible offer to sell oil to Israel should not be regarded as worth risking a political confrontation with the US. Iraq is not doing us any favour by such an offer, whereas for Israel the main thing is to keep international solidarity with states fighting terrorism.'
Let me comment here that Zak differs from Peres about Israeli relations with Iraq only on purely pragmatic grounds. For Zak, `a risk of a political confrontation with the US' or the persuasive power of Israeli arguments vis-à-vis gangster states like China and North Korea outweigh what in his view are problematic benefits, derivable from purchasing or reselling Iraqi oil. But Peres may know better that under the Clinton administration the US is not going co enter 'a political confrontation' with Israel no matter what the latter may do, or that an appeal to China or North Korea on grounds of `international solidarity' is bound to be useless. Since Zak has never joined any anti-Iranian propaganda campaign and since he writes under censorship constraints, my impression is that he is genuine in warning the Israelis against an alliance with Iraq, but cannot fully disclose his real arguments against it.
Israeli relations with Kenya and Eritrea seem to belong to the same category as its relations with Iraq. Hami Shalev and Yerah Tal report in Haaretz on 18 October, that the main aim of Rabin's visit to Kenya was `to coordinate ways to prevent the intrusion of fundamentalist Islamic forces into the Horn of Africa. Highly
ISRAELI NUCLEAR AND FOREIGN POLICIES
By Israel Shahak
Israel's Strategic Aims and
from chapter 2
Syrian Cities and Relations with Saddam Hussein
Israel Versus Iran chapter
Israeli Foreign Policy after the Oslo Accord
Israeli Foreign Policies, August 1994
Israeli Policies Toward Iran and Syria
from chapter 8
Israel and the Organized American Jews
from chapter 11
The Pro-Israeli Lobby in the US and the Inman Affair