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page 2 of 4 Chomsky on middle east

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 assassinations.

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 of course.
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, I think.

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 coming years.

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 effusively.

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" justification.

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.

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