The opposite side of that coin is that people who
criticize actions by the Israeli government often are deemed
“anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic,” just as Americans who question Bush’s
judgments are called “un-American” or “treasonous.”
But the reality is quite different. Endorsing a
misguided policy doesn’t make Israel safer nor does it advance the
interests of the United States. Indeed, there is a powerful argument
that the violent course of action now being pursued by Tel Aviv and
Washington will prove disastrous to both countries.
Waging war may satisfy short-term desires for
revenge or relieve a few fears about the future, but the violence is
taking the two nations in a far more dangerous direction, possibly past
a point of no return. If the course is maintained much longer, endless
war and widespread devastation may become inevitable.
Plus, Israel cannot escape one overpowering
reality: it can never build buffer zones wide enough to protect itself
from possible rocket attacks, anymore than the United States can prevent
some future 9/11 atrocity by invading Arab countries and bombing every
suspected “terrorist” target.
Even if Israel succeeds in forcing Hezbollah
guerrillas several kilometers away from Israel’s northern border, there
will always be longer-range rockets and angrier militants eager to fire
them. Eventually, Israel would need to extend this “buffer zone” to Iran
if it wants some guarantee of safety.
But that’s as impossible for Israel as the American
neoconservative dream was about imposing “regime change” on every
government in the Middle East that Bush saw as a potential threat. When
that scheme was tried in Iraq, it created what retired Army Lt. Gen.
William Odom called the “greatest strategic disaster in United States
So, it may be satisfying for Newt Gingrich and
other political theorists to muse about fighting “World War III” and
crushing Islamic radicalism once and for all. But the only realistic
hope for any long-term security is to address the genuine concerns of
Muslims, show true generosity toward the Palestinians in particular, and
take some risks for peace.
Arguably, Israel would have improved its security a
great deal more if it had stayed focused on achieving a settlement of
the Palestinian issue rather than retaliating for the capture of three
Israeli soldiers, one in Gaza and two in Lebanon.
The explosion in violence, including hundreds of
civilian deaths, set back progress that had been achieved by Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas in getting Hamas to agree to a plan that
implicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist.
On June 27, Abbas coaxed the more radical Hamas,
which controls the Palestinian parliament, into endorsing a document
that called for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The plan had been
drawn up by leading Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, with an expected
referendum in late July.
But the peace proposal drowned under the wave of
new violence. Reacting to the capture of its soldiers, Israel’s
high-tech military wreaked havoc on Gaza and then earned international
condemnation for inflicting hundreds of civilian deaths in Lebanon.
Much of what happened appeared in the U.S. news
media as simply Israel retaliating against provocations from Islamic
militants. But, on another level, the events of July were not that
At a White House meeting on May 23, Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and President Bush agreed on a strategy for
escalating tensions in the Middle East with the goal of neutralizing
Syria and forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The two leaders reportedly signed off on a
timetable that made 2006 the year to deal with Iran’s nuclear program
and 2007 the year to set new Israeli borders, either with the
acquiescence of a more compliant Palestinian leadership or by Israel
Under the Bush-Olmert timetable, the Israeli
government was less interested in winning immediate concessions from the
Palestinians than it was in delivering powerful blows against Hamas and
Hezbollah, which are supported by Syria and Iran.
As Israel attacked, the Bush administration
provided diplomatic cover by resisting calls for a Lebanese cease-fire.
Over the next few months, the United States intends to step up
diplomatic, economic and, if necessary, military pressure on Iran.
According to one Israeli source, Defense Minister
Amir Peretz and other members of Olmert’s coalition who supported the
prime minister because he campaigned as a peace candidate, were stunned
by the escalations in Gaza and Lebanon, though they have refrained from
speaking out while Israeli troops are in battle.
Some Israeli analysts also have privately expressed
concern about the plan for Israel to dictate terms to the Palestinians
on a border settlement once Olmert and Bush complete their
confrontations with Syria and Iran.
These analysts feel that the resolution of the
Palestinian issue must go beyond simply having Israel unilaterally
redefine its borders and annex more Palestinian land. Instead, a
settlement must include creation of an economically viable Palestinian
state with some kind of tunnel or corridor connecting Gaza and the West
According to this thinking, Western generosity
toward the Palestinian people would likely do more to defuse Arab
animosity than anything else.
So, too, might honest admissions of mistakes.
Israel has long demonstrated a skill in winning the propaganda battles
against its Arab enemies, but that has been a mixed blessing because
sometimes the ability to out-debate or out-maneuver an adversary
constrains the moral incentive to do the right thing.
From an Arab point-of-view, Israel’s talent in
presenting itself as always the underdog David facing the mighty Goliath
is unjustified when one takes into account Israel’s extraordinary
military prowess, backed by a fearsome nuclear arsenal and some of the
world’s most sophisticated weapons systems from the United States.
To the Arabs, the Western embrace of Israel –
especially by America – reveals an anti-Muslim bias, which fuels
resentments that feed the violence and help extremist organizations
recruit young Muslims for acts of terrorism.
Facing this conundrum, a logical – though difficult
– course would be try to unwind the decades of hatred and distrust with
the goal of building a future where the vast majority of Arabs see a
financial and personal advantage in integrating with the wider world.
Without doubt, this approach would take time and
confront many obstacles. It would also require patience and tolerance.
At key junctures, Islamic extremists would surely commit outrages
designed to provoke an overreaction either by Israel or the United
That happened in the 1990s when the Clinton
administration made some progress in building bridges between the West
and Islam. Al-Qaeda sought to disrupt these developments by launching
attacks to goad the United States into a clumsy counterattack.
President Bill Clinton’s reactions, however, were
targeted and limited; some Americans would say, ineffectual.
After Bush took office in 2001, al-Qaeda finally
had its perfect foil. By mid-2001, the CIA was picking up al-Qaeda
chatter about provoking Bush to charge headlong and headstrong into the
Over the weekend of July Fourth 2001, a well-placed
U.S. intelligence source passed on a disturbing incident to then-New
York Times reporter Judith Miller, who later recounted the story in an
“The incident that had gotten everyone’s attention
was a conversation between two members of al-Qaeda. And they had been
talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the
United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what
had happened to the [destroyer USS] Cole [which was bombed on Oct. 12,
“And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to
the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the
U.S. will have to respond.’”
The significance of Miller’s recollection was that
more than two months before the 9/11 attacks, the CIA knew that al-Qaeda
was planning a major attack with the intent of inciting a U.S. military
reaction – or in this case, an overreaction.
The CIA tried to warn Bush about the threat on Aug.
6, 2001, with the hope that presidential action could energize
government agencies and head off the attack. The CIA sent analysts to
his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to brief him and deliver a report entitled
“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.”
Bush was not pleased by the intrusion. He glared at
the CIA briefer and snapped, “All right, you’ve covered your ass,”
according to Ron Suskind’s book, The One Percent Doctrine.
Then, putting the CIA’s warning in the back of his
mind and ordering no special response, Bush returned to a vacation of
fishing, clearing brush and working on a speech about stem-cell
After Sept. 11, however, al-Qaeda got a U.S.
reaction that may have been beyond even its wildest dreams. U.S. forces
did dislodge al-Qaeda from its safe haven in Afghanistan, but then –
on Bush’s orders – redirected focus on Iraq. U.S. intelligence agencies
were aghast because they knew Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
The carnage from Bush’s invasion of Iraq further
destabilized the Middle East, gave al-Qaeda a foothold in the center of
the Arab world, and enhanced the influence of Iran’s Islamic regime
because Iraq’s new Shiite-dominated government has close ties to the
mullahs in Tehran.
So, when Bush was seeking a second term in 2004,
al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lent the U.S. President a hand by
releasing a videotape on the Friday before the election. When bin Laden
denounced Bush on television, Bush’s partisans spun the tirade into bin
Laden’s “endorsement” of Democrat John Kerry.
In one national poll, Bush suddenly jumped six
percentage points into the lead. But CIA analysts concluded that bin
Laden was playing a double game, attacking Bush in order to keep him in
office another four years.
“Certainly,” CIA deputy associate director for
intelligence Jami Miscik told a senior meeting of CIA analysts, “he [bin
Laden] would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more
As the CIA analysts reviewed this internal
assessment, they grew troubled by its implications.
“An ocean of hard truths before them – such as what
did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected
– remained untouched,” Suskind wrote in The One Percent Doctrine.
[See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA:
Osama Helped Bush in ’04.”]
Now in Olmert, Bush has a new Israeli ally who
shares a taste for “shock and awe” military tactics. Olmert took over
the government’s reins after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon collapsed with
a stroke in January 2006.
Ironically, Sharon, who had been an architect of
earlier hard-line Israeli strategies including the 1982 Lebanon invasion
and putting Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands in the West Bank,
had decided to move in a different direction, away from confrontation
with the Palestinians.
Many Israelis voted for Olmert because they thought
he would carry out Sharon’s vision. Instead, Olmert came to share Bush’s
strategy of using military force to shatter the old political structures
in the Middle East and replace them with institutions more amenable to
U.S. and Israeli interests.
That strategy, which has foundered in Iraq, is now
being tested in both Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. It may
have future applications in Syria and Iran, too.
While this violence might be satisfying to
Americans and Israelis eager to fight “World War III” or simply those
who wish to inflict pain on Arabs, there is at least a reasonable
argument that reliance on force won’t solve the region’s complex
Indeed, there’s a very good chance that the
bloodshed will just make everything a whole lot worse.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'