With Jonathan Cook
By Amir Tajik
19 July, 2007
This is the full text of an interview, conducted by Amir Tajik,
published in the English-language Iran Daily on 16 July 2007. Jonathan
Cook is a British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author
of “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic
State” (Pluto Press, 2006) and the forthcoming “Israel and
the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle
You have declared that Israel’s attack on Lebanon’s
Hezbollah was based on a prepared script. Which countries do you think
contributed to this script?
I don’t think there is too much doubt about who was involved in
writing this script. It was a cabal inside the Israeli and US political
and security establishments. My guess is that the Israeli prime minister,
Ehud Olmert, was only marginally in the picture. There is a common misperception
in the West that Israel is not only a democracy but that it is a normal
regime in terms of its political structure. What isn’t appreciated
is that the army and government are more like two “faces”
of the same set of institutions, which is why the same personnel move
so effortlessly between them. In the most important areas of life, the
army is really in charge of the country.
We have quite a lot of evidence for how the script was drafted, a process
that I describe in detail in my forthcoming book, “Israel and
the Clash of Civilizations”.
According to reports in the US media, for more than a year before the
war on Lebanon, Israeli commanders had been discussing an attack on
Lebanon with the Pentagon, which at the time was decisively under the
control of an ultra-hawkish group known as the neocons -- American policymakers
with close ideological ties to the Israeli right. It seems that both
the US and Israel were agreed that they needed to find a pretext to
attack Lebanon. It seems that both the US and Israel were agreed that
they needed to find a pretext to attack Lebanon. The US had also made
sure both to isolate Hizbullah before the attack by using a UN resolution
to force Syria out of the country, and to encourage popular support
for the pro-Washington government in Beirut by helping to engineer a
“Cedar Revolution”. We also know from statements made by
neocons close to Bush that, once Hizbullah had been crushed, they were
planning some sort of strike on Syria.
Why attack Lebanon?
I think we can safely guess that the point was to prepare the ground
for a military attack on Iran. Back in 2004, Israeli generals had warned
that an attack on Iran would prompt intense rocket fire from Hezbollah
over the northern border, so both the US and Israel agreed that Hezbollah
had to be dealt with first. There is nothing worse for an army than
fighting on several fronts at the same time. Crushing Hezbollah and
Syria was therefore seen as the first stage before a strike against
Iran. Israel’s failure to deal with Hezbollah’s rockets
has thrown the whole plan off kilter. That is why we are seeing a lack
of policy direction in both Washington and Tel Aviv. Now they genuinely
are at a loss at what to do next.
Were the Qana attack and demolition of the UN building part
of this script?
That’s too cynical, I think. Certainly Qana was an entirely predictable
outcome of Israel’s over-reliance on airpower when it realized
it could not launch a ground invasion of Lebanon without a major loss
of its soldiers’ lives. In fact, a former head of Military Intelligence,
Uri Saguy, who was one of Ehud Olmert’s informal advisers during
the war, told the Israeli media recently that he had warned there would
be another Qana.
As for the attack on the UN building, that still needs explaining by
Israel. My suspicion is that it was a consequence of widespread feelings
among Israeli soldiers, including commanders, of loathing for anything
related to the UN. The UN’s reputation has been blackened in Israel
by its long association with helping the Palestinians, particularly
in the refugee camps in the occupied territories. Also, of course, we
must not forget that the UN monitors in Lebanon had been recording many
of the Israeli military’s violations of the border following the
Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000. They had, for example,
criticised the almost daily “overflights” of Lebanon by
the Israeli airforce. Many in the Israeli army may have wanted the UN
sillenced or intimidated, and seen this as their chance.
Still, I doubt that such malevolence can be attributed to a ’script’
drafted at the political or military level.
Israel didn’t attack non-Muslim districts of Lebanon during
the 33-day war. Was it deliberate?
There was a conscious attempt by Israel at the start of its attack on
Lebanon to incite a civil war on sectarian lines. This goal was repeatedly
voiced by Israeli officials. The point was to get the Christians, Druze
and Sunnis to “turn on“ the Shia, and great disappointment
was expressed when the opposite happened. Such simplistic assumptions
about how Arab society can be manipulated are typical of the Israeli
security establishment, which has a history of making profoundly wrong-headed
judgments about Arabs and Muslims over many decades. In fact, there
is a well-established tradition of high-profile racists heading the
Israeli academy and, of course, the political and security establishments.
Not surprisingly, Israeli thinking about the “Arab mind“
has now infected much of the American academia and military.
Do you agree that Israel is the Middle East’s US military
It is one such base, but there are many other countries in the region
that fulfill, or potentially fulfill, a similar role. The intention
was clearly to make Iraq another base -- that model has been officially
proposed by the White House. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made
it plain that US forces will continue with a permanent presence in Iraq
for the foreseeable future. For similar reasons, Afghanistan has become
another American base. But the US has a footing in many other countries
in the region, including Turkey, Jordan, the Persian Gulf states, Central
Asia, and so on.
The key difference in the case of Israel is that it is not treated as
a military staging post as these other countries are. In fact, the US
army is usually loath to be seen relying on Israel in this kind of direct
fashion because of the effect it has on feeling in the Arab world. Instead,
Israel’s army train and advise the US on how to function and fight
in the Middle East, and the two share intelligence. It is an arrangement
that is seen as cooperation between equals.
What ambiguities did the Winograd report clarify for both Israel and
the US? And what ambiguities did the report itself have?
The Winograd Committee’s purpose was not really about clarifying
anything; to do that, the government would have had to set up a much
more serious and independent commission of inquiry. Winograd was about
apportioning blame in a way that would reverse some of the damage done
to Israel’s military image by its failures in Lebanon, and about
acting as a safety valve for some of the frustrations of a wider Israeli
society that felt betrayed during the war. Once the committee was established,
both the prime minister and the Israeli army jointly used Winograd as
a way to deflect the harshest criticism away from the army command and
towards the civilian leadership.
Real criticism of the army -- which it richly deserved -- might have
further dented what is known here as ’deterrence’, that
is, promoting fear among neighboring states that Israel is militarily
The surprising thing about Winograd report is how little it seems to
have discovered about what decisions were taken and why -- the real
point, one would assume, of holding such an inquiry. For example, Winograd
admits being unable to find out how Olmert reached the decision to go
to war -- in what many officials have noted was “record time“.
There are no records of telephone conversations or meetings between
Olmert and the then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. That, I suspect, is because
the decision had already been taken to attack Lebanon as soon as a pretext
arose. These initial meetings between the military and political echelon
were therefore not needed. The system was on automatic pilot. Another
reason there may be no official record of this decision-making process
is that such a record would embarrassingly reveal that outside actors,
namely the Americans, were closely involved.
A core concern in Israel not addressed by Winograd is the fear that
the Israeli army’s dismal performance may one day lead the US
to reconsider Israel’s role as its pitbull in the Middle East.
This underpins a spiritual angst in Israel following the war that has
yet to be dispelled.
Why didn’t Arab regimes support Hezbollah during the 33-day
war? Wasn’t Hezbollah fighting Israel on behalf of the Arab world?
There are a few obvious reasons for the lack of support. One was that
Hezbollah was regarded as a proxy for Iran. The Arab states were not
comfortable seeing a Shiite militia, backed by a Shiite, non-Arab state,
succeed where they have so consistently failed. Then there was the problem
that Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel contrasted with the Arab
world’s own lackluster attempts at standing up to Israel. Hezbollah’s
popularity inevitably came at the Arab states’ expense, and was
presumably seen as having the potential to inflame popular feeling within
their own borders to a dangerous degree. And, of course, the Arab states
that are usually referred to as ’moderate’ by the West,
such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have earned that label only
because they have been induced to cooperate and collaborate with the
West and Israel. It was not, therefore, surprising that they sided with
the West against Hezbollah.
Israel is often touted
by the western media as the only democratic state in the Middle East.
Is that true?
No. Israel is a democracy
if you are a Jew, just as apartheid South Africa was a democracy if
you were white. But that is not what we usually mean by democracy. At
least a fifth of Israel’s population is non-Jewish, most of them
Palestinians, and they are systematically discriminated against in all
spheres, including in access to resources like land and to political
power, and in control of immigration. I have exposed the myth of Israel’s
status as a Jewish and democratic state at length in my book “Blood
and Religion”. It is a necessary myth in the West because it justifies
the huge sums of aid and military support the West gives to what is
effectively a rogue, highly militarised ethnic state.
Efforts by western countries to resolve the Palestinian crisis
are overwhelmed by their concerns for Israeli security. What should
be done to change the situation and achieve a sustainable and fair solution?
The first problem is to understand
that Israel is acting in bad faith in negotiations. All other problems
flow from this simple fact. Israel has no interest in peace or in dividing
the land. It needs war against the Palestinians and against neighbouring
states to justify its image in the West as an eternal victim (first
of European anti-Semitism, and now of Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism)
and its receipt, as a consequence, of Western military largesse. It
was with the help of the West, for example, that Israel was able to
develop nuclear weapons without control or supervision.
And similarly Israel has
no interest in allowing the Palestinians to develop a national home,
even on the 22 per cent of their original homeland that Israel now occupies.
Such a Palestinian state would, in Israel’s view, be the first
stage in the unravelling of the Jewish state. If the land were divided,
the pressure would mount for Israel to stop being an ethnic state and
become a proper state, with normal rules of equal citizenship inside
its own borders. If there were equal rights, Palestinian citizens of
Israel would be able to demand that their relatives enjoy the same right
to return to Israel that Jews currently enjoy to come to Israel. Very
soon, the whole artifice of a Jewish and democratic state would collapse.
In addition, of course, if
Israel were a normal state at peace with its neighbours, it would not
be able to fulfil its chief function for the US: to divide the Arab
world through war, threats and peace agreements with the different states
of the region. It would not also receive billions in military aid from
the US, and the West would no longer be prepared to turn a blind eye
to its nuclear weapons.
Jews were promised “a peaceful land” in occupied
Palestine when they were encouraged to move there from around the world.
Now they’re living like soldiers, constantly fighting for their
own security. Given this background, who is an Israeli?
The idea of who is an Israeli
is very fuzzy, even in Israel. I would argue that the founders of Israel
actually put greater weight on the talents of their lawyers than the
courage of their soldiers. Uniquely, Israeli law has divorced the idea
of Israeli citizenship from Israeli nationality, so one must consider
There is a loose sense in
which there are Israeli citizens: that is, all the people who have citizenship
inside Israel, including 1.2 million Palestinians who are also Israeli
citizens. But this concept is not very helpful as there are different
kinds of Israeli citizen, with different sets of rights. Certainly,
Palestinian citizens of Israel have lesser rights than Jewish citizens,
as expressed in more than 30 laws that privilege the rights of Jews
over non-Jews. Also, Jews are treated under Israeli civil law when they
move into the occupied territories as settlers, whereas Palestinian
citizens are increasingly likely to be treated under Israeli military
law when they visit Palestinian relatives in the “closed military
zones” in the occupied territories.
As for Israeli nationality,
this does not officially exist. Israel offers its citizens a range of
more than 130 different nationalities, including “Jew” and
“Arab”, but not “Israeli”. This is because Israel
is the state of the Jews, so the only nationality that counts in Israel
is Jewish nationality. In this way, all Jews wherever they live -- even
outside Israel -- are in some sense Israeli nationals, whereas Palestinian
citizens of Israel cannot be real nationals because they are not Jewish.
In other words, Israel gerrymanders its own definition of nationality
to make sure that all Jews have rights in Israel that trump the rights
of non-Jews, even those non-Jews who are citizens. You need a good lawyer
to decipher the small print in that scam.
How widespread is
the identity crisis among Israelis?
Very widespread. Israel is
riven with ideological, religious, class, and ethnic differences. The
ultra-Orthodox Jews are mostly not Zionists; the settlers are driven
by an ideology that is seen by some as potentially jeopardising the
Jewish state’s earlier territorial successes; the Arab Jews, the
Mizrahim, are treated as inferior Jews by the European Ashkenzim; the
military-industrial elite views the state as a vehicle for their own
financial exploitation of Palestinians and other Jews. But these deep
differences are subsumed in a bigger manufactured Jewish consensus that
regards the “Arabs” as an existential threat to Israel because
they are seen as forever plotting to commit genocide against the Jews.
As long as Jews can be persuaded of this existential threat, they largely
agree to put aside their differences. This is another reason why Israel
has little reason to make peace with the Palestinians.
What differentiates Israeli political parties? What are their
The various Jewish political
parties reflect a fairly narrow internal disagreement about how best
to secure the interests of Israel as a Jewish state. (There are a few
Palestinian parties but by the agreement of the Jewish parties they
have almost no influence on the political process.) That means that
there is a large area of consensus among the Jewish parties: all are
agreed that a Right of Return of Palestinians must be prevented at all
costs; all are agreed that a binational state, a confederation or a
power-sharing arrangement with the Palestinians is out of the question;
and all are agreed that privileges for Jewish citizens must be preserved
and that Palestinian parties should have minimal influence.
Where they differ is on the question of what are the best conditions
needed to secure a Jewish state. The left thinks that some kind of withdrawal
from Palestinian areas will cement Israelis’ identification with
their state and make its borders more defensible. The extent of the
parties’ “leftness” is determined by the extent to
which they believe withdrawal should accord with Israel’s pre-1967
borders and the degree to which they want to let Palestinians have some
taste of sovereignty after this withdrawal. That is essentially why
Meretz is considered more leftwing that Labor. The right, on the other
hand, believes that the Palestinians will continue posing a threat to
a Jewish state as long as they are allowed to lay claim to some of their
historic homeland, or given the space to develop a national identity
that might rival the Zionist one. Into the mix on the right are added
religious sentiments about chosenness and divine promises. So parties
like Likud want the occupation to continue and the Palestinians to be
encouraged to identify primarily with tribal, sectarian or ethnic affiliations.
That said, however, these are more trends that discrete ideological
positions, which is why a loose consensus has directed policy whether
Labor or Likud has been in power. It is also the reason why the centre
party, Kadima, founded by Ariel Sharon, was able to occupy the middle
ground relatively effortlessly in the last election. It was easy to
attract politicians from both the Labor and Likud parties because many
of them found more united them than separated them.
Do you think Israel will ultimately accept the formation of
a Palestinian state?
No, or at least not in the
sense commonly understood as statehood. As might be expected of a state,
Israel has only its own interests at heart -- and, as I’ve already
argued, peace and land division are not considered among them. Instead,
it wants to create a Jewish fortress, from which all Palestinians will
be excluded, including its 1.2 million Palestinian citizens. That Jewish
space will be in expanded borders that will include much of the West
Bank. What will be left to the Palestinians will be the territorial
scraps left over: the Gaza Strip, and a number of isolated ghettoes
in the West Bank, possibly connected by tunnels under Israeli military
control. If it can be engineered, Israel will make sure those ghettoes
come under rival and competing Palestinian leaderships, as it has already
achieved in Gaza. One day those scraps of land may come to be referred
to as a Palestinian state by the international community. I suspect
Israel would prefer such an outcome because then it can argue that it
has the right to transfer its Palestinian citizens into the Palestinian
state. In short, Israel’s goal is to imprison the Palestinians
in a series of ghettoes, but eventually the West may come around to
calling those prisons a state.
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