October Issue 2003

By | Opinion | Viewpoint | Published 18 years ago

A couple of decades ago, when Saddam Hussein was still perceived by the powers-that-be in Washington as a valuable client but Iraq was reputedly on the verge of manufacturing a nuclear weapon, Israeli jets mounted a raid aimed at reducing to rubble the crucial reactor.

They succeeded. The attack attracted universal condemnation: even the United States pitched in. But the deed was done and, true to form, Israel exhibited no remorse.

In a sense, perhaps it’s just as well; a nuclear-armed Saddam would have constituted a much bigger menace. The Israeli action wasn’t motivated by altruism, however. Tel Aviv was merely taking care of its own interests. It is adamant that its own nuclear capability should be unrivalled in the Middle East. And its stance is condoned by the US.

The US-led attack on Iraq in 1991 had as much to do with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait as with the pronouncement a few months earlier of his intent to ‘incinerate half of Israel.’ At the time, the first Bush administration had to use all the powers of persuasion at its disposal to keep Israel from engaging Saddam directly. “Don’t you worry about a thing, we’ll do the job for you,” was the message that went out.

Israel’s role in that war remained undercover, even after Saddam lobbed a few Scuds in Israel’s direction. They did little damage, but won much applause from West Bank Palestinians.

This year’s second Gulf war, waged without provocation by the second Bush administration, was a somewhat different affair. Israeli adamance may have had more to do with it than all the reasons advanced in public by George W, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The Israeli administration has far more confidence in the neo-conservative clique that rules the roost in Washington now than it did in Daddy Bush and James Baker. And with good reason.

Israeli intelligence must have known that the Saddam regime wasn’t concealing any weapons of mass destruction. But Iraq’s army, although depleted and ill-equipped, remained the largest in the Middle East. It posed little or no immediate danger even to its neighbours, yet Israel saw it as a threat in the long run. The regime of Ariel Sharon sought its elimination. And got its way.

It now has Iran in its sights. But although the ayatollahs are under pressure, luckily for Iran the Iraqi experience has been less than heartening for the US. Contrary to Israeli and neo-con propaganda, most Iraqis are less than thrilled by their ‘liberation’ and apparently resourceful groups are waging a costly war of attrition against the occupying forces. Some of them may be the Saddam loyalists and Al-Qaeda activists of Pentagon press releases; others are likely to be Iraqis dismayed by the loss of sovereignty.

In the broader regional context, the upshot is that the US is unlikely in the short term to take on other sources of Israeli displeasure, such as Iran and Syria.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are probably safe unless Israel begins to view our nuclear capability as a potential threat. The fact that it appears not to have been unduly alarmed thus far suggests it has been reassured by Washington that Islamabad is safely under control, so to speak. In other words, the Sharon regime has been informed that Pakistan is unlikely to share its nukes with its friends in the Middle East.

However, Washington’s complacency about a Pervez Musharraf-run Pakistan is evidently not shared by India. And India has lately been cosying up to Ariel Sharon, the war criminal currently in charge of Israel’s destiny.

Last month, Sharon’s much ballyhooed visit to India was disrupted by suicide bombings back home. But the common ground Israel and India have lately found is bound to last, at least until either nation is the beneficiary of regime change.

In the wake of 9/11, India and Israel both strove to establish themselves as leading contenders in the anti-terrorism stakes. With the international media’s attention focused on New York, the Sharon regime considered it opportune to undertake military incursions into ostensibly West Bank towns. New Delhi, meanwhile, hyped up its mantra about terrorism in the neighbourhood, hoping against hope that the impending assault against Afghanistan would somehow encompass Pakistan as well.

Israel’s Likud administration got away with its crimes against humanity — the sort of terrorist actions that provoke the suicide bombings. India seemed desperate to attract American bases, but the US declined the offer and, quite logically, opted for Pakistan instead as a conduit for its aggression.

Although Israel fully supported, while India formally opposed, the American assault against Iraq, both governments continue to exploit the so-called war on terror for propaganda purposes. Sharon’s trip to New Delhi may be reciprocated in due course by Atal Behari Vajpayee. There have also been signs of closer military ties.

The idea of an Indo-Israeli nexus, particularly during a remarkably uneven phase in relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, is the stuff that Pakistani nightmares are made of.

However, while there is cause for concern, it is worth noting that ties between India and Israel (including rumoured links at the military intelligence level) go back a long way. The days when Yasser Arafat was feted in New Delhi as an honoured guest may be a distant memory (and, come of think of it, it’s hard to imagine Indira Gandhi playing host to the likes of Sharon), but vestiges of that era remain embedded in the Indian psyche.

To its credit, the Bharatiya Janata Party government has been unambiguous in its condemnation of Israel’s decision to remove Arafat from the occupied territories — either by forcing him into exile or, as Sharon’s deputy has proudly acknowledged, through assassination — and Vajpayee claims to have relayed to Sharon his concern in this regard. This, among other things, suggests that India and Israel are not exactly locked in an embrace. Not yet anyway.

Besides, Israel does not appear to be unduly concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear capability — it is far more perturbed by Iran’s potential in this sphere. Its complacency about Kahuta is presumably based on reassurances from Washington — corroborated, one would expect, by its own intelligence — that under the present government Pakistan has no intention of sharing either its technology or its weapons with Israel’s enemies.

That could change, of course, once Pervez Musharraf is no longer at the helm. Even so, the nexus that seriously ought to be feared is the one between Israel and the US. Their symbiotic relationship was on prominent display in New York last month, when the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its threatened move against Arafat.

The veto would have been unremarkable, given that the US has for decades more or less instinctively blocked criticism of Israel by the Security Council, but for the fact that a few days earlier the State Department itself had described the anti-Arafat measure as unhelpful. The American excuse for its forked-tongue diplomacy was that the resolution targeted Israel, but said nothing about Palestinian suicide bombings. However, when a resolution moved in the UN General Assembly was expanded to accommodate this point (thereby winning the European Union’s support), the four countries that voted against it included Israel and the US.

It is significant that this particular display of American hypocrisy did not enjoy British support. Tony Blair finds himself in a political quagmire as a consequence of his incredibly stupid decision to play sidekick to George W in the latter’s Iraqi misadventure. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the British Prime Minister won’t make the same mistake again. However, at least under the present Labour government, Britain has been noticeably less biased than successive US administrations in its approach to the main source of Middle East discord.

It is, all the same, hard to imagine London taking an unambiguous stand against future demonstrations of US-Israeli wilfulness. But there can be little question that this particular axis poses a greater threat to international peace and security than any maverick bunch of fanatics or network of terrorists. Worst of all, it constitutes an instrument of regression: in the Middle East; its perverse pressures not only fuel the Islamists but tend at the same time to obscure the contradictions conducive to autonomous regime change.

Pakistan faces little immediate threat in this context. But that could change suddenly, were Washington to lose faith , for whatever reason, in the regime in Islamabad. In those circumstances, a US-Israeli coalition with India — an arrangement that the BJP government has evidently been aspiring for in recent years — would become an extremely dangerous prospect from Pakistan’s point of view.