Late last year I published a analysis in the contrarian American Conservative titled, Bad For You Too? How the Iraq War disappointed Israel , in which I challenged the notion (axiom?) that the neoconservative agenda of ousting Saddam Hussein and spreading "democracy" in the Middle East advanced long-term Israeli interests.
That is certainly not the conclusion that you would draw after skimming through analyses issued by Israeli experts since the collapse of Saddam’s statue in downtown Baghdad and which suggest that America has been fighting the right war (against terrorism) in the wrong place (Iraq). “The war in Iraq did not damage international terror groups but instead distracted the United States from confronting other hotbeds of Islamic militancy and actually ‘created momentum’ for many terrorists,” the Associated Press recently reported of a study conducted by “a top Israeli security think tank.” The Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University said that far from undermining Islamic militants, the Iraq War “has created momentum for many terrorist elements, but chiefly al-Qaida and its affiliates.”
The center’s director, Shai Feldman, suggested in the report that the vast amount of money and effort the United States has poured into Iraq has deflected attention from other centers of terrorism, such as Afghanistan. The focus of U.S. intelligence upon Iraq “has to be at the expense of being able to follow strategic dangers in other parts of the world,” he wrote. The bottom line of this and other similar Israeli studies is that Iran, and not the United States, has emerged from the war in Iraq as the major winner.
Even more intriguing has been the way Israeli officials and pundits have scoffed at the Wilsonian fantasies of the neocons—fantasies of using the invasion of Iraq as the first stage of “democratizing” the Middle East. Not only have most Israeli experts suggested that such a scheme is impractical, they have also argued that the collapse of authoritarian regimes in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan is bound to bring to power anti-Israeli and anti-American forces. As Israeli leaders see it, the Jewish state would have a hard time adjusting to a democratic Arab world in which public opinion, rather than centralized rulers, determined policy.
Yehezkel Dror, a political science professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, recently related the Israeli establishment’s view: “We’re all for democracy, but let us imagine democracy in Egypt or Jordan. Will it strengthen their peace with Israel?” Dror and his colleagues have concluded that the answer to this question is a clear “No!” That explains why Newsweek characterized the reputation of Natan Sharansky—George W. Bush’s favorite author and the prophet of Middle Eastern democracy—in Israel as that of a “scorned idealist.”
“I’m very frustrated,” Sharansky told the international edition of Newsweek. “My ideas are not taken seriously at all [in Israel].” Why? Because they are perceived as “too disconnected from the harsh Middle East reality,” Sharansky explained, noting that most Israelis believe that democracy in the Arab world could easily translate into even greater hostility toward Israel.
In short, there is a growing recognition in Israel that the Iraq War was not so good for the Jews. It has diverted attention and resources from the War on Terror and threatened to unleash anti-Israeli and anti-American forces in the Middle East—such as a Shi’ite clerical government in Iraq that could become an ally of a radical Shi’ite, nuclear-armed Iran, which would pose more of a long-term threat to the strategic interests of the Jewish state than the militarily weak Saddam ever did.
Israel’s enthusiastic support for American intervention in Iraq was easy to understand: an opportunistic response by a client state that had hoped to get a free ride on a successful military operation against an anti-Israeli Arab state. “Unlike during the Roman Empire, this time the current reigning empire is with us,” explained Likud politician Benjamin Netanyahu in the immediate aftermath of the successful U.S. military operation in Iraq. But what many Israelis failed to take into consideration was that the American Empire could fail. “What is interesting is that among the many scholars preoccupied with the war in Iraq, not a single one has discussed the possible outcome of an American withdrawal, in the wake of faulty handling of the war,” Ze’ev Schiff, Ha’aretz’s military analyst, wrote recently. If that happens, Israelis’ “relatively optimistic intelligence assessment regarding strategic threats to the country would be eroded,” he concluded.
And I concluded that
The neoconservative strategic vision assumes that what is good for America is good for Israel, that a global and democratic American empire in control of the Middle East will help preserve Israel’s interests while a strong and democratic Israel will help secure American concerns in the region. Neocons consider this an axiom and are amazed that most American Jews, most of whom did not vote for Bush in the last election, don’t share their perspective. “The surprising thing is not that there are so many Jews who are neocons but that there are so many who are not,” complained leading neocon and former Pentagon official Douglas Feith in an interview with The New Yorker early this year.
Many Americans concluded long ago that Israeli and American strategic interests are not always compatible and that the strong ties with the Jewish state are hurting the U.S. position in the Middle East. Some Israelis are now asking themselves whether they can count on the long-term support of an American Empire that, not unlike the Roman one, is bound to decline and shed its commitments in the Middle East.
After the article was published I received a lot of emails and phone calls from people who expressed great surprise over my conclusions. One of them made the point that he was certain that the Iraq war wasn't advancing American interests, but since he was a "friend of Israel" he had hoped (and was certain) that Israel has benefited from it.
Well, since my piece was published, it seems that my argument is gradually becoming the Conventional Wisdom (CW).Stephen Zunes makes the same point in
Israel not to blame for Iraq mess in Asiatimes.com today.
Key leaders of Iraq's current government and likely future government are part of fundamentalist Shi'ite political movements heavily influenced by Iran. These movements are strongly anti-Zionist in orientation and some have maintained close ties to other radical Arab Shi'ite groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, whose militia has battled Israel for more than 20 years. One of the dominant parties of the US-backed governing coalition has been the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose 15,000-strong paramilitary unit, known as the Badr Organization, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who also helped train Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, the anti-government and anti-US insurgents in Iraq are dominated by Sunni Salafists and radical nationalists, both of whom tend to be anti-Israel extremists. Thanks to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, these insurgents are becoming stronger and increasingly sophisticated fighters gaining valuable new experiences in urban guerrilla warfare as well as terrorist tactics. These Iraqi insurgents have developed close ties with radical Jordanian and Palestinian groups with the means and motivation to harm Israeli civilians, and Israel will undoubtedly feel their impact.
Zunes also argues that
While it is true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among the policymakers in Washington who pushed for a US invasion of Iraq, it is also true that a disproportionate number of Jews could be found among liberal Democrats in Congress and leftist intellectuals in universities who opposed the invasion. Furthermore, while a number of prominent neo-conservative intellectuals are of Jewish background, they have tended not to be religious nor have they, despite their support for the current right-wing Israeli government, been strongly identified as Zionists.
I'm not sure that I agree with him here, since many of these neocons are close political allies of the Likud in Israel and do believe that a American Empire or hegemony in Israel is in the long-term interests of the Jewish state. Again, I don't buy that as far as the conceptual Big Picture argument goes. In Israel: The Weakest Link? I tried to demolish these neoconservative axiom, arguing among other things that
In some respects, Israel's ties with the United States are starting to resemble the relationship between the old political and economic elites and the Jewish community in Europe during the 19th century.
As Hannah Arendt pointed out in her classic study of European anti-Semitism, it was the erosion in the power of those elites — and their growing inability to protect the Jews of Europe — that sealed their fate.
The new and angry social classes and political players turned their frustration against the group they associated with the hated status quo — a group that was also very vulnerable.
A similar scenario could take place on an international scale, when a weaker and less confident United States would be under pressure at home and abroad to reduce its global commitments.
This would leave Israel — its weakest link — vulnerable to attacks not only from Arab and Muslim nations, but from other new anti-status quo powers.
It's interesting to follow the way that neocon propagandists like the New Republic's Lawrence Kaplan have been spinning the issue of whether the Iraq War was good for Israel/the Jews. He accuses those critics who blame the Bush Administration for purshing their pro-Israeli agenda in Iraq of "anti-semitism," although he, Lawrence Kaplan contends that the Iraq War and the Democracy Project actually advances Israel's interests... In fact, in a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal he recycles that argument by accusing American-Jewish organization who call for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq of operating against Israeli and Jewish interests. It's a perverted logic like much of what the neocons preach us.