page 2 of 4 Chomsky on
Let me turn to the third
case-Israel-Palestine. Let me start with right today. I'll go back a
little bit to the background but just take a look now. So let's take
a look at the current fighting, what's called the Al-Aqsa Intifada,
and look closely at the US reactions. That's the part the concerns me
most and the part that should concern us most.
There is an official US position - it was reiterated just yesterday
by US ambassador Martin Indyk. He said we do not believe in rewarding
violence. That was a stern admonition to the Palestinians yesterday,
and there are many others like it. And it's easy to assess the validity
of that claim. So let's assess it just in the obvious way. The Al-Aqsa
Intifada, the violence that Indyk deplores, began on September 29th.
That's the day after Ariel Sharon, now prime minister, went to the Haram
Al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, with about a thousand soldiers. That passed
more or less without incident, surprisingly. But the next day, which
was Friday, there was a huge army presence as people left the mosque
after prayers; there was some stone throwing and immediate shooting
by the Israeli army and Border Patrol, which left about a half a dozen
Palestinians killed and over a hundred wounded. That's September 29th.
On October 1st, Israeli military helicopters, or to be precise US military
helicopters with Israeli pilots, sharply escalated the violence, killing
two Palestinians in Gaza. On October 2nd, military helicopters killed
10 people in Gaza, wounded 35. On October 3rd, helicopters were attacking
apartment complexes and other civilian targets. And so it continued.
By early November, the helicopters were being used for targeted political
And how did the US react? Well, the US reaction is interesting-and that's
us remember; we can control this if we choose. In mid September, before
the fighting started, the US sent a new shipment of advanced attack
helicopters to Israel. Also in mid September, there were joint exercises
of the US Marines and elite units of the Israeli army, the IDF-training
exercises for re-conquest of the occupied territories. The role of the
Marines was to provide new advanced equipment that Israel didn't have
and training in usage of it and techniques. That's mid September.
On October 3rd - that is the day that the press was reporting that military
helicopters were attacking apartment complexes and killing dozens of
people - on October 3rd, the Israeli press announced and then the international
press repeated that the US and Israel had reached a deal - the biggest
deal in a decade - for dispatch of US military helicopters to Israel.
The next day leading military journals reported that this included new
advanced attack helicopters and parts for the former helicopters, which
would increase the capacity to attack civilian targets. Incidentally
the Israeli defense ministry announced that they cannot produce helicopters.
They don't have the capacity so they have to get them from the United
States. On October 19th, Amnesty International issued a report calling
on the United States not to send military helicopters to Israel under
these circumstances-one of a series of Amnesty International reports.
Just moving to the present, on February 19th, the Defense Department
here - the Pentagon - announced that Israel and the United States had
just made another deal, a half billion-dollar deal, for advanced Apache
attack helicopters. That brings us about to the present. I've just sampled
Now let's look at how this is dealt with. Well, actually I asked a friend
to do a database analysis on this one. It turns out all of this did
not pass unnoticed in the Free Press. There was a mention in an opinion
piece in a newspaper in Raleigh North Carolina. To date, that is the
total coverage of what I have just described. That's pretty impressive,
Now it's not that it's unknown. Of course it's known. There's no news
office in the country that isn't perfectly well aware of it. Anyone
who can read Amnesty International reports knows about it. In fact anybody
who wants to knows about it. Irrelevantly, it has been brought specifically
to the attention of editors of at least one major US daily, reputed
to be the most liberal one. And there is surely not the slightest doubt
in any editorial or news office that it is highly newsworthy. But those
who control information evidently don't want to know or to let their
readers know. And they have good reasons not to. To provide the population
with information about what is being done in their name would open windows
that are better left shuttered if you want to carry out effective domestic
indoctrination. It simply wouldn't do to publish these reports alongside
of the occasional mention of US helicopters attacking civilian targets
or carrying out targeted political assassination, and reports of stern
US admonitions to all sides to refrain from violence.
That is an illustration, one of many, of how we live up to the principle
that we do not believe in rewarding violence. And again it leaves honest
citizens with two tasks: the important one-do something about it. And
the second one, try to find out why the policies are being pursued.
Well, on that matter, the fundamental reasons are not really controversial,
I think. It's long been understood that the Gulf region has the major
energy resources in the world-it's an incomparable strategic resource
and a source of immense wealth, and whoever controls that region not
only has access to enormous wealth but also a very powerful influence
in world affairs because control of energy resources is an extremely
powerful lever in world affairs. These are incomparable, way beyond
anywhere else, as far as is known - at least easily accessible resources.
Furthermore that crucial importance of Middle East energy resources
is expected to continue and in fact to increase- maybe sharply increase-in
The importance of control over oil-that was understood by about the
time of the First World War. At that time, Britain was the major world
power and controlled a lot of that region. Britain however did not have
the military strength after the First World War to control the region
by direct military occupation. It had declined to the point where it
couldn't do that. So it turned to other means. One was the use of air
power, and also poison gas, considered the ultimate atrocity at that
time. The most enthusiastic supporter was Winston Churchill, who called
for the use of poison gas against Kurds and Afghans.
The British use of poison gas had been suppressed for many years. Records
were released, including Churchill's enthusiasm, around 1980. Every
time I went to England and gave a talk on any topic I made sure to bring
that up, and discovered that everybody's ears were closed. By the time
of the Gulf War information was beginning to seep through, but the details
on how the military followed Churchill's directives were still sealed.
In 1992 the British government under popular pressure instituted an
"open government" policy - meaning that in a free and democratic
society people should have access to information about their own government.
The first act taken under the open information policy was to remove
from the Public Records office all documents having to do with England's
use of poison gas against the Kurds and Afghans and Churchill's role
in it. So that's one that we're not going to know a lot about thanks
to the dedication to freedom and democracy for which we praise ourselves
Alongside of the military component of the control there were also political
arrangements, which in some fashion persist. The British Colonial Office
during the First World War proposed and then implemented a plan to construct
what they called an "Arab facade": weak pliable states which
would administer the local populations, under ultimate British control
in case things got out of hand. France at that time was also involved-it
was a reasonably major power-and the United States though not a leading
power in world affairs was powerful enough to take a piece of the action
there. The three entered into the Red Line agreement in 1928 which parceled
out Middle East oil reserves among the three powers. Notably absent
were the people of the region. But they were controlled by the facade,
with the muscle in the background. That was the basic arrangement.
By the time of the Second World War the US had become the overwhelmingly
dominant world power and was plainly going to take over Middle East
energy resources - no question about that. France was removed unceremoniously.
And Britain reluctantly came to accept its role as a "junior partner,"
in the rueful words of a Foreign Office official, its role gradually
decreasing over time by normal power relations. By now Britain has become
sort of like a US attack dog- an important but secondary role in world
affairs. I should add that the United States controlled most of the
oil of the western hemisphere. North America remained the largest producer
for about another 25 years. It controlled western hemisphere oil particularly
effectively after the Wilson administration had kicked the British out
of Venezuela, which is the major producer.
The US took over the British framework - the basic principle remained.
The basic principle is that the West (that means primarily the United
States) must control what happens there. Furthermore the wealth of the
region must flow to the West. That means to the US and Britain primarily:
their energy corporations, investors, the US treasury which has been
heavily dependent on recycled petrodollars, exporters, construction
firms, and so on. That's the essential point. The profits have to flow
to the West and the power has to remain in the West, primarily Washington,
insofar as possible. That's the basic principle.
That raises all sorts of problems. One problem is that the people of
the region are backward and uneducated and have never been able to comprehend
the logic of these arrangements or their essential justice. They can't
seem to get it through their heads somehow that the wealth of the region
should flow to the West, not to poor and suffering people right there.
And it continually takes force to make them understand these simple
and obvious principles-a constant problem with backward people.
A conservative nationalist government tried to extricate Iran from the
system in 1953. That was quickly reversed with a military coup sponsored
by the US and Britain which restored the Shah. In the course of that
the US edged Britain largely out of control over Iran.
Right after that, Nasser became an influential figure and was soon considered
a major threat. He was a symbol of independent nationalism - he didn't
have oil - but he was a symbol of independent nationalism and that's
the threat. He was considered what's called a "virus" that
might "infect others" - the virus of independent nationalism.
That's conventional terminology and a fundamental feature of international
planning-not just there.
At that point the United States was developing a doctrine that modified
and extended the British system of an Arab facade with British force
behind it - namely it was establishing a cordon of peripheral states
which would be what the Nixon administration later called "local
cops on the beat." Police headquarters are in Washington, but you
have local cops on the beat. The two main ones at that time were Turkey,
a big military force, and Iran under the Shah.
By 1958, the CIA advised, I'm quoting, that "a logical corollary"
of opposition to Arab nationalism "would be to support Israel as
the only reliable pro-Western power left in the Middle East." According
to this reasoning, Israel could become a major base for US power in
the region. Now that was proposed but not yet implemented. It was implemented
after 1967. In 1967, Israel performed a major service to the United
States - namely, it destroyed Nasser, destroyed the virus. And also
smashed up the Arab armies and left US power in the ascendance. And
at this point essentially a tripartite alliance was established - Israel,
Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia technically was at war with Iran
and Israel but that makes no difference. Saudi Arabia has the oil -
Iran and Israel (and Turkey is taken for granted) were the military
force; that's Iran under the Shah, remember. Pakistan was part of the
system too at that time.
That was very clearly recognized-both by US intelligence specialists,
who wrote about it, and also by the leading figures in planning. So
for example Henry Jackson who was the Senate's major specialist on the
Middle East and oil - he pointed out that Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia
"inhibit and contain those irresponsible and radical elements in
certain Arab states, who, were they free to do so, would pose a grave
threat indeed to our principal sources of petroleum in the Middle East"
(meaning, as he knew, primarily profit flow and a lever of world control).
Saudi Arabia does it just by funding, and by holding the greatest petroleum
reserves by a good measure. Iran and Israel, with the help of Turkey
and Pakistan, provided regional force. They're only the local "cops
on the beat," remember. So if something really goes wrong, you
call in the big guys-the United States and Britain.
Well that's the picture. In 1979, a problem occurred-one of the pillars
collapsed: Iran fell under the grip of independent nationalism. The
Carter administration immediately tried to sponsor a military coup to
restore the Shah. Carter sent a NATO general, but that didn't work.
He couldn't gain the support of US allies in the Iranian military.
Immediately afterward, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the remaining pillars,
joined the US in an effort to bring about a coup that would restore
the old arrangement by the usual means: sending arms. The facts and
the purpose were exposed at once, but quickly suppressed. Bits and pieces
reached the public later when it became impossible to suppress. It was
then called an "arms for hostage" deal. That has a nice humanitarian
sound, even if it was a "mistake": the Reaganites were seeking
a way to release US hostages taken in Lebanon. What was actually happening
was that the US was sending arms to Iran - meaning to specific military
groupings in Iran - via Israel, which had close connections with the
Iranian military, funded by Saudi Arabia. It couldn't have been an arms
for hostage deal for a rather simple reason: there weren't any hostages.
The first hostages in Lebanon were taken later (and they happened to
be Iranian). In fact it was just normal operating procedure.
If any you decide to go into the diplomatic service and you want to
know how to overthrow a civilian government, there's a straightforward
answer. I suppose it must be taught in courses somewhere, though perhaps
it's so obvious that no lessons are necessary. If you want to overthrow
a civilian government, well, who's going to overthrow it? Elements of
the military. So you establish connections with elements of the military,
you fund them, you train them, you establish good relations, you convince
them to overthrow the government, and then you've got it made. It's
very reasonable and it usually works. Indonesia and Chile were two recent
cases where it had worked very well - it didn't work very well for the
hundreds of thousands massacred in Indonesia and the tortured corpses
in Chile, but it worked pretty well for the people who count. And it
was entirely reasonable to try the same policy in Iran.
It was in fact quite public. It's not that it was secret. So high Israeli
officials, including the Israeli ambassador to the United States Moshe
Arens, reported what was happening to the US media; he was quickly silenced.
In an important and prominently presented BBC documentary, Uri Lubrani,
who had been de facto Israeli ambassador to Iran under the Shah, said
that if we can find someone who's willing to shoot down thousands of
people in the streets, we can probably manage to restore the arrangement
with the Shah. Former high Israeli and US intelligence officials reacted
by saying that they didn't know for sure, but it seemed the natural
way to proceed. Apparently, that's what the arms were for - there were,
again no hostages. It was all public, except for the population in the
US. The plans didn't work. The Iranian government discovered the plot,
found the US-Israeli contacts in the military, and executed them. Then
came another phase, that's the Oliver North phase that you have heard
about, but there's good reason to suppose that that's just a continuation
of the first phase. If so, and so it seems, then it is all quite reasonable
and conventional, along with the virtual suppression of the crucial
first phase, in which there is no possible "arms for hostage"
At the same time, the United States was backing an Iraqi invasion of
Iran - that is, supporting its friend Saddam Hussein in an Iraqi invasion
of Iran, again for the same purpose-try to reverse the disaster of an
independent, not Arab in this case, but independent oil producing state.
Saddam's Iraq was also too independent for comfort, but Iran had been
one of the firmest pillars of US policy in the region. Independently
of that, Iran had committed the grave and unpardonable crime of reversing
the US-backed military coup that had blocked the attempt to move towards
independence 25 years before. That kind of disobedience cannot be tolerated,
or "credibility" will be threatened.