Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Will Zionism Self-Destruct?

By Alastair Crooke - April 23, 2024 at 09:51AM

(This paper is the basis of a talk to be given at the 25th Yasin (April) International Academic Event on Economic and Social Development, HSE University, Moscow, April 2024)

In the summer following Israel’s 2006 (unsuccessful) war on Hizbullah, Dick Cheney sat in his office loudly bemoaning Hizbullah’s continuing strength; and worse still, that it seemed to him that Iran had been the primary beneficiary from the US 2003 Iraq war.

Cheney’s guest – the then Saudi Intelligence Chief, Prince Bandar – vigorously concurred (as chronicled by John Hannah, who participated in the meeting) and, to general surprise, Prince Bandar proclaimed that Iran yet could be cut to size: Syria was the “weak” link between Iran and Hizbullah that could be collapsed via an Islamist insurgency, Bandar proposed. Cheney’s initial scepticism turned to elation as Bandar said that US involvement would be unnecessary: He, Prince Bandar, would orchestrate and manage the project. “Leave it to me,” he said.

Bandar separately told John Hannah: “The King knows that other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself, nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria.”

Thus began a new phase of attrition on Iran. The regional balance of power was to be decisively shifted towards Sunni Islam – and the region’s monarchies.

That old balance from the Shah’s time in which Persia enjoyed regional primacy was to be ended: conclusively, the US, Israel and the Saudi King hoped.

Iran – already badly bruised by the “imposed” Iran-Iraq war – resolved never again to be so vulnerable. Iran aimed to find a path to strategic deterrence in the context of a region dominated by the overwhelming air dominance enjoyed by its adversaries.

What occurred this Saturday 14 April – some 18 years later – therefore was of utmost importance.

Despite the bruhaha and distraction following Iran’s attack, Israel and the US know the truth: Iran’s missiles were able to penetrate directly into Israel’s two most sensitive and highly defended air bases and sites. Behind the whooping western rhetoric lies Israeli shock and fear. Their bases are no longer “untouchable.”

Israel also knows – but cannot admit – that the so-called “assault” was no assault but an Iranian message to assert the new strategic equation: That any Israeli attack on Iran or its personnel will result in retribution from Iran into Israel.

This act of setting the new “balance of power equation” unites the diverse Fronts against the US’ “connivance with Israeli actions in the Middle East, that are at the core of Washington’s policy – and in many ways the root-cause of new tragedies” – in the words of Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov.

The equation represents a key “Front” – together with Russia’s war against NATO in Ukraine – for persuading the West that its exceptionalist and redemptive myth has proved to be a fatal conceit; that it must be discarded; and that deep cultural change in the West needs to happen.

The roots to this wider cultural conflict are deep – but finally have been made explicit.

Prince Bandar’s post-2006 playing of the Sunni “card” was a flop (in no small part thanks to Russia’s intervention in Syria). AndIran, has come in from the cold and is firmly anchored as a primary regional power. It is the strategic partner to Russia and China. And Gulf States today have switched focus instead to money, “business” and Tech, rather than Salafist jurisprudence.

Syria, then targeted by the West and ostracised, has not only survived all that the West could “throw at it” but has been warmly embraced by the Arab League and rehabilitated. And Syria is now slowly finding its way to being itself again.

Yet even during the Syrian crisis, unforeseen dynamics to Prince Bandar’s playing of Islamist identity versus Arab socialist secular identity were playing out:

I wrote then in 2012:

“Over recent years we have heard the Israelis emphasise their demand for recognition of a specifically Jewish nation-state, rather than for an Israeli State, per se”;

– a state that would enshrine Jewish political, legal, and military exceptional rights.

“[At that time] … Muslim nations [were] seeking the “undoing” of the last remnants of the colonial era. Will we see the struggle increasingly epitomised as a primordial struggle between Jewish and Islamic religious symbols – between al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount?”

To be plain, what was apparent even then – in 2012 – was “that both Israel and its surrounding terrain are marching in step toward language which takes them far away from the underlying, largely secular concepts by which this conflict traditionally has been conceptualised. What [would] be the consequence – as the conflict, by its own logic, becomes a clash of religious poles?”

If, twelve years ago, the protagonists were explicitly moving away from the underlying secular concepts by which the West conceptualised the conflict, we, by contrast, are still trying to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of secular, rationalist concepts – even as Israel quite evidently is seized by an increasingly Apocalyptic frenzy.

And by extension, we are stuck in trying to address the conflict through our habitual utilitarian, rationalist policy tool-set. And we wonder why it is not working. It is not working because all parties have moved beyond mechanical rationalism to a different plane.

The Conflict Becomes Eschatalogical

Last year’s election in Israel saw a revolutionary change: The Mizrahim walked into the Prime Minister’s office. These Jews coming from the Arab and North African sphere – now possibly the majority – and, with their political allies on the right, embraced a radical agenda: To complete the founding of Israel on the Land of Israel (i.e. no Palestinian State); to build the Third Temple (in place of Al-Aqsa); and to institute Halachic Law (in place of secular law).

None of this is what might be termed “secular” or liberal. It was intended as the revolutionary overthrow of the Ashkenazi élite. It was Begin who tied the Mizrahi firstly to the Irgun and then to Likud. The Mizrahim now in power have a vision of themselves as the true representatives of Judaism, with the Old Testament as their blueprint. And condescend to the European Ashkenazi liberals.

If we think we can put Biblical myths and injunctions behind us in our secular age – where much of contemporary western thinking makes a point of ignoring such dimensions, dismissing them as either confused, or irrelevant – we would be mistaken.

As one commentator writes:

At every turn, political figures in Israel now soak their proclamations in Biblical reference and allegory. The foremost of which [is] Netanyahu … You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible, and we do remember – and we are fighting…’Here [Netanyahu] not only invokes the prophecy of Isaiah, but frames the conflict as that of “light” versus “darkness’ and good versus evil, painting the Palestinians as the Children of Darkness to be vanquished by the Chosen Ones: The Lord ordered King Saul to destroy the enemy and all his people: ‘Now go and defeat Amalek and destroy all that he has; and give him no mercy; but put to death both husband and wife; from youth to infant; from ox to sheep; from camel to donkey’ (15:3).

We might term this “hot eschatology” – a mode that is running wild amongst the young Israeli military cadres, to the point that the Israeli high command is losing control on the ground (lacking any mid-layer NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) class).

On the other hand –

The uprising launched from Gaza is not called Al-Aqsa Flood for nothing. Al-Aqsa is both a symbol of a storied Islamic civlisation, and it is also the bulwark against the building of the Third Temple, for which preparations are underway. The point here is that Al-Aqsa represents Islam in aggregate — neither Shi’i, nor Sunni, nor ideological Islam.

Then, at another level, we have, as it were, “dispassionate eschatology”: When Yahyah Sinwar writes of “Victory or Martyrdom”for his people in Gaza; when Hizbullah speaks of sacrifice; and when the Iranian Supreme Leader speaks of Hussain bin Ali (the grandson of the Prophet) and some 70 companions in 680 CE, standing before inexorable slaughter against an 1,000 strong army, in the name of Justice, these sentiments simply are beyond the reach of western Utilitarian comprehension.

We cannot easily rationalise the latter “way of being” in western modes of thought. However, as Hubert Védrine, France’s former Foreign Minister, observes – though titularly secular – the West nonetheless is “consumed by the spirit of proselytism.” That Saint Paul’s “go and evangelize all nations” has become “go and spread human rights to all the world”… And that this proselytism is extremely deep in [western DNA]: “Even the very least religious, totally atheists, they still have this in mind, [even though] they don’t know where it comes from.”

We might term this secular eschatology, as it were. It is certainly consequential.

A Military Revolution: We’re Ready Now

Iran, through all the West’s attrition, has pursued its astute strategy of “strategic patience” – keeping conflicts away from its borders. A strategy that focused heavily on diplomacy and trade; and soft power to engage positively with near and far neighbors alike.

Behind this quietist front of stage, however, lay the evolution to “active deterrence” which required long military preparation and the nurturing of allies.

Our understanding of the world became antiquated

Just occasionally, very occasionally, a military revolution can upend the prevailing strategic paradigm. This was Qasem Suleimani’s key insight. This is what “active deterrence” implies. The switch to a strategy that could upend prevailing paradigms.

Both Israel and the US have armies that are conventionally far more powerful than their adversaries which are mostly composed of small non-state rebels or revolutionaries. The latter are treated more as mutineers within the traditionalist colonial framing, and for whom a whiff of firepower generally is considered sufficient.

The West, however, has not fully assimilated the military revolutions now underway. There has been a radical shift in the balance of power between low-tech improvisation and expensive complex (and less robust) weapons platforms.

The Additional Ingredients

What makes Iran’s new military approach truly transformative have been two additional factors: One was the appearance of an outstanding military strategist (now assassinated); and secondly, his ability to mix and apply these new tools in a wholly novel matrix. The fusion of these two factors – together with low-tech drones and cruise missiles – completed the revolution.

The philosophy driving this military strategy is clear: the West is over-invested in air dominance and in its carpet fire power. It prioritises “shock and awe” thrusts, but quickly exhausts itself early in the encounter. This rarely can be sustained for long. The Resistance aim is to exhaust the enemy.

The second key principle driving this new military approach concerns the careful calibration of the intensity of conflict, upping and lowering the flames as appropriate; and, at the same time, keeping escalatory dominance within the Resistance’s control.

In Lebanon, in 2006, Hizbullah remained deep underground whilst the Israeli air assault swept across overhead. The physical surface damage was huge, yet their forces were unaffected and emerged from deep tunnels – only afterwards. Then came the 33 days of Hizbullah’s missile barrage – until Israel called it quits.

So, is there any strategic point to an Israeli military response to Iran?

Israelis widely believe that without deterrence – without the world fearing them – they cannot survive. October 7 set this existential fear burning through Israeli society. Hezbollah’s very presence only exacerbates it – and now Iran has rained missiles down into Israel directly.

The opening of the Iranian front, in a certain way, initially may have benefited Netanyahu: the IDF defeat in the Gaza war; the hostage release impasse; the continuing displacement of Israelis from the north; and even the murder of the World Kitchen aid workers – all are temporarily forgotten. The West has grouped at Israel’s – and Netanyahu’s – side again. Arab states are again co-operating. And attention has moved from Gaza to Iran.

So far, so good (from Netanyahu’s perspective, no doubt). Netanyahu has been angling to draw the US into war with Israel against Iran for two decades (albeit with successive US Presidents declining the dangerous prospect).

But to cut Iran down to size would require US military assistance.

Netanyahu senses Biden’s weakness and has the tools and knowhow by which he can manipulate US politics: Indeed, worked in this way, Netanyahu might force Biden to continue to arm Israel, and even to embrace his widening of the war to Hizbullah in Lebanon.


Israel’s strategy from past decades will continue with its hope of achieving some Chimeric transformative “de-radicalisation” of Palestinians that will make “Israel safe.”

A former Israeli Ambassador to the US argues that Israel can have no peace without such “transformative de-radicalisation.” “If we do it right,” Ron Dermer insists, “it will make Israel stronger – and the US too.” It is in this context that the War Cabinet’s insistence on retaliation against Iran should be understood.

Rational argument advocating moderation is read as inviting defeat.

All of which is to say that Israelis are psychologically very far from being able to reconsider the content to the Zionist project of Jewish special rights. For now, they are on a completely different path, trusting to a Biblical reading that many Israelis have come to view as mandatory injunctions under Halachic Law.

Hubert Védrine asks us the supplementary question: “Can we imagine a West that manages to preserve the societies it has birthed – and yet “is not proselytizing, not-interventionist? In other words, a West that can accept alterity, that can live with others – and accept them for who they are.”

Védrine says this “is not a problem of the diplomatic machines: it’s a question of profound soul-searching, a deep cultural change that needs to happen in western society.”

A “trial of strength” between Israel and the Resistance Fronts ranged against it likely cannot be avoided.

The die has been deliberately cast this way.

Netanyahu is gambling big with Israel’s – and America’s – future. And he may lose.

If there is a regional war, and Israel suffers defeat, then what?

When exhaustion (and defeat) finally settles in, and the parties “scrabble in the drawer” for new solutions to their strategic distress, the truly transformative solution would be for an Israeli leader to think the “unthinkable” – to think of one state between the River and the Sea.

And, for Israel – tasting the bitter herbs of “things fallen apart” – to talk directly with Iran.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

from Ron Paul Institute Featured Articles


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