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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
January 18, 2005
Friend of FLAME:
In the important article that follows, Josef Joffe demolishes the argument
now so often heard, mostly by left-wing "intellectuals," that
the world would be better off without Israel, that the creation of Israel
was a mistake of historic proportions, and that Israel is the cause
and source of most what afflicts the world today. This theory holds
that if Israel were to disappear, "miraculously" or by some
more tangible means, peace and calm would descend on the Middle East
and on the entire world. Not too long ago, the French Ambassador to
Britain said, referring to Israel, that "this sh...y little country
is the cause of all the trouble in the world." (His government
didn't even discipline him for that egregious remark.) A poll of Europeans
last year showed that many regard Israel as one of the greatest threats
to world peace.
Mr. Joffe's article will make it clear that nothing could be further
from the truth and from reality. Josef Joffe (my namesake, but, I regret,
not my relative) is the publisher of "Die Zeit," Germany's
foremost weekly newspaper. He is also a fellow of the Hoover Institution
and distinguished fellow at the Institute of International Studies,
both at Stanford University.
By Josef Joffe
you support FLAME's work in circulating the work of others, like
Josef Joffes excellent article below, and in publishing our
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Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic
malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become
suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent state?
Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly find
itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishful thinking. Far from
creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms than it
Since World War II, no state has suffered so cruel a reversal of fortunes
as Israel. Admired all the way into the 1970s as the state of those
plucky Jews who survived against all odds and made democracy and
the desert bloom in a climate hostile to both liberty and greenery,
Israel has become the target of creeping delegitimization. The denigration
comes in two guises. The first, the soft version, blames Israel first
and most for whatever ails the Middle East, and for having corrupted
U.S. foreign policy. It is the standard fare of editorials around the
world, not to mention the sheer venom oozing from the pages of the Arab-Islamic
press. The more recent hard version zeroes in on Israels very
existence. According to this dispensation, it is Israel as such, and
not its behavior, that lies at the root of troubles in the Middle East.
Hence the statocidal conclusion that Israels birth,
midwifed by both the United States and the Soviet Union in 1948, was
a grievous mistake, grandiose and worthy as it may have been at the
The soft version is familiar enough. One motif is the wagging
the dog theory. Thus, in the United States, the Jewish lobby
and a cabal of neoconservatives have bamboozled the Bush administration
into a mindless pro-Israel policy inimical to the national interest.
This view attributes, as has happened so often in history, too much
clout to the Jews. And behind this charge lurks a more general onethat
it is somehow antidemocratic for subnational groups to throw themselves
into the hurly-burly of politics when it comes to foreign policy. But
let us count the ways in which subnational entities battle over the
national interest: unions and corporations clamor for tariffs and tax
loopholes; nongovernmental organizations agitate for humanitarian intervention;
and Cuban Americans keep us from smoking cheroots from the Vuelta Abajo.
In previous years, Poles militated in favor of Solidarity, African Americans
against Apartheid South Africa, and Latvians against the Soviet Union.
In other words, the democratic melee has never stopped at the waters
Another soft version is the root-cause theory in its many
variations. Because the obstinate and recalcitrant
Israelis are the main culprits, they must be punished and pushed back
for the sake of peace. Put pressure on Israel; cut
economic and military aid; serve them notice that we will
not condone their brutalitiesthese have been the boilerplate
homilies, indeed the obsessions, of the chattering classes and the foreign-office
establishment for decades. Yet, as Sigmund Freud reminded us, obsessions
tend to spread. And so there are ever more creative addenda to the well-wrought
root-cause theory. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace argues that what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians
is a tremendous obstacle to democratization because it inflames
all the worst, most regressive aspects of Arab nationalism and Arab
culture. In other words, the conflict drives the pathology, and
not the other way aroundwhich is like the streetfighter explaining
to the police: It all started when this guy hit back.
The problem with this root-cause argument is threefold: It blurs, if
not reverses, cause and effect. It ignores a myriad of conflicts unrelated
to Israel. And it absolves the Arabs of culpability, shifting the blame
to you know whom. If one believes former U.N. weapons inspector Scott
Ritter, the Arab-Islamic quest for weapons of mass destruction, and
by extension the war against Iraq, are also Made in Israel. [A]s
long as Israel has nuclear weapons, Ritter opines, it has
chosen to take a path that is inherently confrontational.
Arab countries, the Muslim world, is not about to sit back and let this
happen, so they will seek their own deterrent. We saw this in Iraq,
not only with a nuclear deterrent but also with a biological weapons
that the Iraqis were developing to offset the Israeli
This theory would be engaging if it did not collide with some inconvenient
facts. Iraqis didnt use their weapons of mass destruction against
the Israeli usurper but against fellow Muslims during the Iran-Iraq
War, and against fellow Iraqis in the poison-gas attack against Kurds
in Halabja in 1988neither of whom were brandishing any nuclear
weapons. As for the Iraqi nuclear program, we now have the Duelfer
Report, based on the debriefing of Iraqi regime loyalists, which
concluded: Iran was the pre-eminent motivator of this policy.
All senior-level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraqs principal
enemy in the region. The wish to balance Israel and acquire status and
influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but secondary.
Now to the hard version. Ever so subtly, a more baleful tone slips into
this narrative: Israel is not merely an unruly neighbor but an unwelcome
intruder. Still timidly uttered outside the Arab world, this versions
proponents in the West bestride the stage as truth-sayers who dare to
defy taboo. Thus, the British writer A.N. Wilson declares that he has
reluctantly come to the conclusion that Israel, through its own actions,
has proven it does not have the right to exist. And, following Sept.
11, 2001, Brazilian scholar Jose Arthur Giannotti said: Let us
agree that the history of the Middle East would be entirely different
without the State of Israel, which opened a wound between Islam and
the West. Can you get rid of Muslim terrorism without getting rid of
this wound which is the source of the frustration of potential terrorists?
The very idea of a Jewish state is an anachronism, argues
Tony Judt, a professor and director of the Remarque Institute at New
York University. It resembles a late-nineteenth-century separatist
project that has no place in this wondrous new world
moving toward the teleological perfection of multiethnic and multicultural
togetherness bound together by international law. The time has come
to think the unthinkable, hence, to ditch this Jewish state
for a binational one, guaranteed, of course, by international force.
So let us assume that Israel is an anachronism and a historical mistake
without which the Arab-Islamic world stretching from Algeria to Egypt,
from Syria to Pakistan, would be a far happier place, above all because
the original sin, the establishment of Israel, never would have been
committed. Then lets move from the past to the present, pretending
that we could wave a mighty magic wand, and poof, Israel
disappears from the map.
Civilization of Clashes
Let us start the what-if procession in 1948, when Israel was born in
war. Would stillbirth have nipped the Palestinian problem in the bud?
Not quite. Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon
marched on Haifa and Tel Aviv not to liberate Palestine, but to grab
it. The invasion was a textbook competitive power play by neighboring
states intent on acquiring territory for themselves. If they had been
victorious, a Palestinian state would not have emerged, and there still
would have been plenty of refugees. (Recall that half the population
of Kuwait fled Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseins liberation
of that country in 1990.) Indeed, assuming that Palestinian nationalism
had awakened when it did in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians
might now be dispatching suicide bombers to Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere.
Let us imagine Israel had disappeared in 1967, instead of occupying
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were held, respectively, by
Jordans King Hussein and Egypts President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Would they have relinquished their possessions to Palestinian leader
Yasir Arafat and thrown in Haifa and Tel Aviv for good measure? Not
likely. The two potentates, enemies in all but name, were united only
by their common hatred and fear of Arafat, the founder of Fatah (the
Palestine National Liberation Movement) and rightly suspected of plotting
against Arab regimes. In short, the root cause of Palestinian
statelessness would have persisted, even in Israels absence.
Let us finally assume, through a thought experiment, that Israel goes
poof today. How would this development affect the political
pathologies of the Middle East? Only those who think the Palestinian
issue is at the core of the Middle East conflict would lightly predict
a happy career for this most dysfunctional region once Israel vanishes.
For there is no such thing as the conflict. A quick count
reveals five ways in which the regions fortunes would remain stuntedor
States vs. States: Israels elimination from the regional
balance would hardly bolster intra-Arab amity. The retraction of the
colonial powers, Britain and France, in the mid-20th century left behind
a bunch of young Arab states seeking to redraw the map of the region.
From the very beginning, Syria laid claim to Lebanon. In 1970, only
the Israeli military deterred Damascus from invading Jordan under the
pretext of supporting a Palestinian uprising. Throughout the 1950s and
1960s, Nassers Egypt proclaimed itself the avatar of pan-Arabism,
intervening in Yemen during the 1960s. Nassers successor, President
Anwar Sadat, was embroiled in on-and-off clashes with Libya throughout
the late 1970s. Syria marched into Lebanon in 1976 and then effectively
annexed the country 15 years later, and Iraq launched two wars against
fellow Muslim states: Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990. The war against
Iran was the longest conventional war of the 20th century. None of these
conflicts is related to the Israeli-Palestinian one. Indeed, Israels
disappearance would only liberate military assets for use in such internal
Believers vs. Believers: Those who think that the Middle
East conflict is a Muslim-Jewish thing had better take a
closer look at the score card: 14 years of sectarian bloodshed in Lebanon;
Saddams campaign of extinction against the Shia in the aftermath
of the first Gulf War; Syrias massacre of 20,000 people in the
Muslim Brotherhood stronghold of Hama in 1982; and terrorist violence
against Egyptian Christians in the 1990s. Add to this tally intraconfessional
oppression, such as in Saudi Arabia, where the fundamentalist Wahhabi
sect wields the truncheon of state power to inflict its dour lifestyle
on the less devout.
Ideologies vs. Ideologies: Zionism is not the only ism
in the region, which is rife with competing ideologies. Even though
the Baathist parties in Syria and Iraq sprang from the same fascist
European roots, both have vied for precedence in the Middle East. Nasser
wielded pan-Arabism-cum-socialism against the Arab nation-state. And
both Baathists and Nasserites have opposed the monarchies, such as in
Jordan. Khomeinist Iran and Wahhabite Saudi Arabia remain mortal enemies.
What is the connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Nil, with the exception
of Hamas, a terror army of the faithful once supported by Israel as
a rival to the Palestine Liberation Organization and now responsible
for many suicide bombings in Israel. But will Hamas disband once Israel
is gone? Hardly. Hamas has bigger ambitions than eliminating the Zionist
entity. The organization seeks nothing less than a unified Arab
state under a regime of God.
Reactionary Utopia vs. Modernity: A common enmity toward
Israel is the only thing that prevents Arab modernizers and traditionalists
from tearing their societies apart. Fundamentalists vie against secularists
and reformist Muslims for the fusion of mosque and state under the green
flag of the Prophet. And a barely concealed class struggle pits a minuscule
bourgeoisie and millions of unemployed young men against the power structure,
usually a form of statist cronyism that controls the means of production.
Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains the antagonisms
in the world around it.
Regimes vs. Peoples: The existence of Israel cannot explain
the breadth and depth of the Mukhabarat states (secret police states)
throughout the Middle East. With the exceptions of Jordan, Morocco,
and the Gulf sheikdoms, which gingerly practice an enlightened monarchism,
all Arab countries (plus Iran and Pakistan) are but variations of despotismfrom
the dynastic dictatorship of Syria to the authoritarianism of Egypt.
Intranational strife in Algeria has killed nearly 100,000, with no letup
in sight. Saddams victims are said to number 300,000. After the
Khomeinists took power in 1979, Iran was embroiled not only in the Iran-Iraq
War but also in barely contained civil unrest into the 1980s. Pakistan
is an explosion waiting to happen. Ruthless suppression is the price
of stability in this region.
Again, it would take a florid imagination to surmise that factoring
Israel out of the Middle East equation would produce liberal democracy
in the region. It might be plausible to argue that the dialectic of
enmity somehow favors dictatorship in frontline states such
as Egypt and Syriagovernments that invoke the proximity of the
Zionist threat as a pretext to suppress dissent. But how
then to explain the mayhem in faraway Algeria, the bizarre cult-of-personality
regime in Libya, the pious kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia, the clerical
despotism of Iran, or democracys enduring failure to take root
in Pakistan? Did Israel somehow cause the various putsches that produced
the republic of fear in Iraq? If Jordan, the state sharing the longest
border with Israel, can experiment with constitutional monarchy, why
It wont do to lay the democracy and development deficits of the
Arab world on the doorstep of the Jewish state. Israel is a pretext,
not a cause, and therefore its dispatch will not heal the self-inflicted
wounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Nor will the mild version of statocide,
a binational state, do the tricknot in view of the civilization
of clashes (to borrow a term from British historian Niall Ferguson)
that is the hallmark of Arab political culture. The mortal struggle
between Israelis and Palestinians would simply shift from the outside
to the inside.
My Enemy, Myself
Can anybody proclaim in good conscience that these dysfunctionalities
of the Arab world would vanish along with Israel? Two U.N. Arab
Human Development Reports, written by Arab authors, say no. The
calamities are homemade. Stagnation and hopelessness have three root
causes. The first is lack of freedom. The United Nations cites the persistence
of absolute autocracies, bogus elections, judiciaries beholden to executives,
and constraints on civil society. Freedom of expression and association
are also sharply limited. The second root cause is lack of knowledge:
Sixty-five million adults are illiterate, and some 10 million children
have no schooling at all. As such, the Arab world is dropping ever further
behind in scientific research and the development of information technology.
Third, female participation in political and economic life is the lowest
in the world. Economic growth will continue to lag as long as the potential
of half the population remains largely untapped.
Will all of this right itself when that Judeo-Western insult to Arab
pride finally vanishes? Will the millions of unemployed and bored young
men, cannon fodder for the terrorists, vanish as wellalong with
one-party rule, corruption, and closed economies? This notion makes
sense only if one cherishes single-cause explanations or, worse, harbors
a particular animus against the Jewish state and its refusal to behave
like Sweden. (Come to think of it, Sweden would not be Sweden either
if it lived in the Hobbesian world of the Middle East.)
Finally, the most popular what-if issue of them all: Would the Islamic
world hate the United States less if Israel vanished? Like all what-if
queries, this one, too, admits only suggestive evidence. To begin, the
notion that 5 million Jews are solely responsible for the rage of 1
billion or so Muslims cannot carry the weight assigned to it. Second,
Arab-Islamic hatreds of the United States preceded the conquest of the
West Bank and Gaza. Recall the loathing left behind by the U.S.-managed
coup that restored the shahs rule in Tehran in 1953, or the U.S.
intervention in Lebanon in 1958. As soon as Britain and France left
the Middle East, the United States became the dominant power and the
No. 1 target. Another bit of suggestive evidence is that the fiercest
(unofficial) anti-Americanism emanates from Washingtons self-styled
allies in the Arab Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Is this situation
because of Israelor because it is so convenient for these regimes
to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels (as Shakespeares
Henry IV put it) to distract their populations from their dependence
on the Great Satan?
Take the Cairo Declaration against U.S. hegemony, endorsed
by 400 delegates from across the Middle East and the West in December
2002. The lengthy indictment mentions Palestine only peripherally. The
central condemnation, uttered in profuse variation, targets the United
States for monopolizing power within the framework of capitalist
globalization, for reinstating colonialism, and for
blocking the emergence of forces that would shift the balance
of power toward multi-polarity. In short, Global America is responsible
for all the afflictions of the Arab world, with Israel coming in a distant
This familiar tale has an ironic twist: One of the key signers is Nader
Fergany, lead author of the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report.
So even those who confess to the internal failures of the Arab world
end up blaming the Other. Given the enormity of the indictment,
ditching Israel will not absolve the United States. Irans Khomeinists
have it right, so to speak, when they denounce America as the Great
Satan and Israel only as the Little Satan, a handmaiden
of U.S. power. What really riles America-haters in the Middle East is
Washingtons intrusion into their affairs, be it for reasons of
oil, terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction. This fact is why Osama
bin Laden, having attached himself to the Palestinian cause only as
an afterthought, calls the Americans the new crusaders, and the Jews
their imperialist stand-ins.
As this analysis suggests, the real source of Arab angst is the West
as a palpable symbol of misery and an irresistible target of what noted
Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami has called Arab rage. The
puzzle is why so many Westerners, like those who signed the Cairo Declaration,
Is this anti-Semitism, as so many Jews are quick to suspect? No, but
denying Israels legitimacy bears an uncanny resemblance to some
central features of this darkest of creeds. Accordingly, the Jews are
omnipotent, ubiquitous, and thus responsible for the evils of the world.
Today, Israel finds itself in an analogous position, either as handmaiden
or manipulator of U.S. might. The soft version sighs: If only
Israel were more reasonable
The semihard version demands
that the United States pull the rug out from under Israel
to impose the pliancy that comes from impotence. And the hard-hard version
dreams about salvation springing from Israels disappearance.
Why, sureif it werent for that old joke from Israels
War of Independence: While the bullets were whistling overhead and the
two Jews in their foxhole were running out of rounds, one griped, If
the Brits had to give us a country not their own, why couldnt
they have given us Switzerland? Alas, Israel is just a strip of
land in the worlds most noxious neighborhood, and the cleanup
hasnt even begun.
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