|[Full title: Israel: Waiting for the ‘Third Miracle’ - Hoping for cool heads to prevail 1]|
First we need to make an essential distinction between rationality and mythical (or mythological) thought. Modern societies, highly developed and technologically sophisticated, are supposed to be run, or managed, using rational thought. Economic development is largely controlled by it: investment decisions, motivated by profit, are made rationally; education and health policies are based on cost- benefit analysis, even though policy-makers try to take into account humanistic dimensions and elements such as respect for human rights, solidarity, generosity, and so on. Efforts are made to eradicate extreme poverty in the world, to fight against hunger and disease, and to seek for peaceful solutions, as opposed to military solutions, even though human beings, despite all their good will, are unable to extirpate the violent conflict which continues to exist. Why is this so?
We have to admit that primarily, at the personal or individual level, the essential decisions that we human beings make are based on mythical thought: falling in love for example, or choosing our friends, or even deciding what to do with our lives. Admittedly, most of us do NOT make these decisions entirely, or even predominantly, on the basis of rational thought. I believe that this is so because many of the essential conditions and realities that control and determine our lives cannot be understood simply by rational thought alone.
The following list (which could be much longer) of questions that begin with ‘Why are some of us’ and end with ‘and others not’ illustrates this very well. Thus: Why are some of us healthy, and others not? Why are some of us born in rich and developed countries, and others not? Why are some of us blessed with intelligence and wisdom (admittedly a small minority), and others not? Why are some of us beautiful (or handsome), and others not? Why are some of us blessed with a good sense of humour, and others not? Why are some of us blessed with charisma, and others not?
We need mythical thought to give credible answers to these questions, of which some examples are: It is all luck, you’ve got to be lucky in life. There must be a reason but I don’t know what it is. Because my religion is the right one. Because God loves my people. Many Jews (including Israelis), and not only those who are religious, believe that they are God’s chosen people, that they have a special Covenant with God, that God punishes them when they do wrong, and rewards them when they do right.
Jews and Israelis have good grounds to believe that they must have been doing things right since the 1880s when they began to establish the Yishuv (the Jewish society in Palestine before the establishment of the state), because they were, in the short history of Israel, rewarded by two ‘miracles’. The ‘first miracle’ occurred in 1948 when the Arabs did not accept the UN partition plan; the ‘second miracle’, in 1967, was the extraordinary victory in the Six Days War. Indeed, in 1948, the part of the historic Palestine that was given to the Jews had a 40 per cent Arab population.
Had the Arabs accepted that partition, the establishment of a Jewish state would have been extremely difficult since it would have been a matter of time, perhaps two or three generations, before the resident Arabs would have become the majority of the population. And then what? Israel would have found itself in a quandary, its conundrum being akin to the squaring of a circle. The rejection of the partition by the Arabs, and the war that followed, resulted in the expulsion of a large part of the Arab population, making possible the creation of a Jewish state. The founding fathers, and Ben-Gurion in particular, who made the excruciatingly difficult decision not to allow back the Palestinians who had fled the war – the precise numbers are contested, but certainly several hundred thousand – knew exactly what they were doing. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were razed and became the Israeli kibbutzim, moshavim and cities. That was the ‘first miracle’.
The ‘second miracle’ was the extraordinary victory of the Six Days War, which enabled the recovery of ‘Judea and Samaria’, where the biblical Jewish kingdoms had existed more than . . . two thousand years ago, and Jerusalem, ‘the eternal capital of the Jewish people’. It was now possible to realize the dream of the ‘greater Israel’. And so began the occupation of the West Bank to achieve the vision of a Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan. (Gaza, which has become such a thorn in Israel’s side, is not part of the dream and thus could be given back to the Arabs as a token of Israeli goodwill - in fact to better lay claim to Judea and Samaria.)
Despite the current difficulties, many in Israel, and not only the religious, believe that a ‘third miracle’ could occur to make the dream of the greater Israel a reality. What might this ‘third miracle’ be? Here, I am afraid, I must enter the realm of speculation: but a speculation informed by the actions, policies, and declarations of the present right-wing Israeli government.
A key component of the ‘third miracle’ appears to be Iran. It is possible, indeed likely (although there is no concrete evidence so far), that Iran is trying to enter the exclusive club of nuclear powers. Assuming this to be the case, it would join Israel in the sub-region – many cognoscenti believing that Israel, with between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads, and the missiles to deliver them, is, after the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K., the world’s sixth nuclear power. But the idea that Iran would use a newly-fledged nuclear capability against Israel, a far stronger nuclear power and a special ally of the United States, the foremost nuclear power in the world, is simply laughable. So what is the reason – the real reason – for this obsession that Iran must, at all costs, be stopped from becoming a nuclear power?
It may be this: that a war against Iran might result in the collapse of its theocratic regime - and a reassertion of Western control over Iran’s rich petroleum resources; and in line with neo-conservative doctrine, the establishment of a new Middle East, dominated even more than at present, by the U.S. and Israel.
A fresh solution of the ‘Palestinian problem’ could then be imagined -- such as the transfer of the Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan, whose population is largely Palestinian anyway. (Something very similar happened after the Greco-Turkish war of 1921-22: part of the Greek population that had lived for centuries in Asia Minor, some 1,300,000 people, sought refuge in Greece, while 500,000 ethnic Turks who were living in Greece were relocated to Turkey.) So such ‘miracles’ can occur, and did happen in history, and extreme right-wing politicians in Israel – such as Avigdor Lieberman and some others – are aware of this.
But those inspired by past examples of large-scale forced transfer of populations should also bear in mind that, in an attempt to put an end to such tragedies, international law now decrees otherwise.
In reaction to the unprecedented atrocities the Nazi regime had inflicted on civilians in occupied Europe during World War II, in 1945 the Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg condemned the forcible transfer of civilian populations as both a war crime and a crime against humanity. In 1949, the fourth Geneva Convention also prohibited the practice.
Moreover, the envisioned ‘third miracle’ could easily turn into a major, and even fatal, catastrophe for Israel. Iran, in the case of a military attack, would almost certainly retaliate by hitting major Israeli cities with ballistic missiles, and casualties could be very high, despite anti-missile defences. Many Israelis could leave Israel, causing the total collapse of the Israeli nation-state. In addition, Iran could also activate its clients Hezbollah, Hamas, and its allies in Iraq, causing additional trouble in the area for the Americans.
While it is true that the Arab states, which feel threatened by and profoundly dislike Iran – the Shi’a and the Sunni are irreconcilable enemies -- a major military attack against a fellow Muslim state would be unacceptable to the Arab ‘street’ and Arab governments would have to take notice. The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan would also worsen significantly and Al Qaeda would have a field day recruiting new militants. Even without an attack on Iran, Turkey (which has still not ‘digested’ the humiliation of its ambassador at the hands of Danny Ayalon, the vice-minister of foreign affairs) has already begun to ‘review’ its policy options and to realign its position.
This is not to mention the wider economic consequences of an Iranian blockage of the Strait of Hormuz and disruption of the passage of oil tankers. If, as a result, world prices of oil products again soared out of control, the effect on fragile Western economies would be catastrophic.
So is a military option against Iran likely to be put into effect? I do not believe so. I think that the odds are against it but that it cannot be ruled out. What is quite likely on the other hand is that the Israelis, and not only the present extreme right-wing government, but even a centre-right national unity government in which Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party participated, would not give up the ‘dream’ of a greater Israel, or abandon without a fight the hope for a ‘third miracle’.
I believe that the battle will take place primarily in the United States where Israel is very strong. Israel will try to bring down the Obama administration which, unlike the Bush administration that preceded it, it does not see as an unconditional ally. Only a clear defeat in the United States might convince the Israelis to give up their hope and belief in a ‘third miracle’ and eventually agree to bring the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to an end.
We have three critical years before us during which a no-holds-barred struggle will take place in the United States between the Jewish-Israeli lobbies with their evangelical and other allies, and the forces that support the creation of a viable Palestinian state, which they see as better serving the geo-political interests of the United States.
1 I would like to thank Carl Freeman who has read a previous draft and made several useful suggestions -- concerning especially the Greco-Turkish war and the forced transfer of populations, and the catastrophic consequences of a military attack on Iran -- which I have kept and incorporated in the text.