By Mohannad El-Khairy
On February 2, 2009, then foreign minister Tzipi Livni, one of the architects of the 2008-2009 Gaza Massacre and Israel’s recent election winner, addressed a gathering that draws together both Israeli and international participants from the highest levels of government, business, and academia to discuss Israel’s pressing national, regional and global strategic issues — known as the Annual Herzliya Conference.
As her theme centered on how the world around Israel is changing, on how its threats are evolving, and thus how the state was presented with fresh ‘opportunities’, she said something that keeps replaying in my mind:
“Being used to feeling secluded in the Middle East, with the whole Arab world against us, we look around and suddenly notice other countries alongside Israel – Arab, Islamic countries, who no longer view Israel as the enemy, countries who understand that Iran is the main enemy, seeing Iran as no less a threat than we do. Radical Islam is a threat of which these nations understand the meaning better than others do, because they are familiar with the same radical elements at home. And these nations are on the same side as us.”
Broadly speaking, the massacre in Gaza has further bisected the Arab governments along two major ideological lines: One that directs surrendering government to abide by Zionist orders –referred to as “moderates” in Western lexicon; and a second that follows a more pragmatic approach by insisting on appropriate reaction and practical solutions to addressing Israeli Apartheid policies in Palestine.
According the Palestine Information Centre – an independent media group aiming to balance the often distorted pictures presented in mainstream media’s coverage of the Middle East conflict – while Livni gave her address at Herzliya, the Egyptian government detonated tunnels and installed surveillance cameras along the infamous Rafah border crossing with Gaza. As Israel continues its 20-month blockade of Gaza, the Egyptian government also halted the supply of desperately needed fuel citing the Apartheid State’s demands for security. Mark Lavie of the Associated Press (AP) states: “Responding to Israel’s concerns, U.S. Army engineers arrived at the Gaza-Egypt frontier on Sunday to set up ground-penetrating radar to detect smuggling tunnels. Inside the Rafah terminal four army trucks loaded with wooden crates and drills could be seen accompanied by four U.S. Army engineers. The Egyptian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity”. In fact, on December 31, 2008 the Israeli daily Haaretz even confirmed Ehud Olmert saying that “a number of Arab leaders have encouraged him to continue military pressure on Hamas, and not to stop the military operation against Gaza”.
According to Ali Abunimah, a Middle East expert and author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse”, part of the reasoning behind Arab support of the attacks on Gaza is to send a clear message to their own people; that all forms of dissent against them would also be brutally crushed. He writes that “the US-backed ‘moderate’ dictatorships and absolute monarchies led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia supported the Israeli plan hoping to demonstrate to their own people that resistance — whether against Israel or their own bankrupt regimes – [would be] futile”.
It is worth pointing out that the Saudi-Zionist alliance dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. In his book entitled “Churchill & the Jews”, Michael Joseph Cohen exposes the Philby Plan of 1939: an scheme devised by Jack Philby – a British colonial office intelligence operative and advisor to Ibin Saud [the first ruler of the kingdom] – that effectively got the Zionists to set up a £20 million fund that ensures the new king’s succession across the Arabian peninsula, provided that the surrounding Arab nations absorb the fore-seeable creation and misery of the Palestinian refugees. The meeting was held in London with David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizman, where Philby offered substantial Jewish immigration to Palestine if they would support Ibn Saud’s son and eventual successor, Faisal. Months later, accompanied by Saudi foreign affairs official Fuad Bey Hamza, Philby proposed to Weizmann that they pay Ibn Saud the £20 million to be used to resettle Palestinian Arabs. According to Philby, the Zionist leadership accepted the Philby Plan whilst Ibn Saud insisted that the plan be kept secret for fear of being accused of treason against the Arab cause. The short term goals of this agreement were for political and territorial control. Yet there is existed a longer term agenda, the roots of which date much further back; an agenda that Livni categorically exposed in her speech at Herzliya.
The Shia-Sunni division is being nurtured by the state of Israel to further isolate Iran’s role in the region. Interestingly, as Israel’s latest elections demonstrate a clear shift towards fascism, extreme right-wing elements have pushed Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to revive old rifts between Muslims at the expense of thousands of dead, injured, and displaced Palestinians in Gaza; their own co-religionists sacrificed for a fear of “Persian influence” in the Middle East. On January 17th 2009, Sami Moubayed wrote a brilliant piece published in the Asia Times entitled “Old Battles, New Contenders in the Gulf”. In it, he highlights that “the main reason for animosity was Iran. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah argued that Iran was flexing its muscle in the Arab world – via Syria – in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. They feared Iranian power and its pledge to expand the Islamic Revolution of 1979 would inspire Saudi Shi’ites, exposing the weaknesses of Saudi Wahhabi Islam and perhaps bringing down the House of Saud”. In fact, when Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, top Saudi and Egyptian officials saw the war as a blessing in disguise, hoping the Israeli Occupation Forces will complete the job of removing the Shia influence in internal Lebanese politics. The complicit nature of their policies colludes them with the Apartheid state to satisfy American over-lordship in the region.
The growing concern over the continuous division between the Arabs and Iran has inspired others to have a more pragmatic approach to deal with Israeli policy (i.e. war crimes) in Palestine. Qatar’s role as the prime broker between the region’s political rivals has emerged as a fresh and much needed alternative to the sell-out regimes of the Middle East. Its popularity had risen dramatically following its engagement and eventual agreement of Lebanon’s political factions. And when the war on Gaza started in late December, Qatar and Syria were the first to demand a ceasefire even though Cairo and Riyadh reasoned that if Hamas was not annihilated, Iran would have gained full control of the Gaza Strip. In fact, Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani “appear[ed] on national television [and] called on Arab states with ties to Israel – a clear reference to Egypt – to sever these links and insisted that all Arabs should attend the summit in Doha [that] Friday – this time a message to Saudi Arabia. Countering his plans, the Saudis called for an Islamic summit in Riyadh on the Thursday to drown the Qatari initiative. Firing back, Hamad called for freezing the Arab Peace Initiative, which was once called the Abdullah Plan”, Moubayed writes. To back up his rhetoric, and as Venezuela and Bolivia expelled the Israeli ambassadors from their capitals, the Emir of Qatar ended trade relations with the Israeli state by closing down its commercial office in Doha.
Despite Turkey’s military, economic, and political ties with Israel, the Gaza Massacre has ignited its streets with demonstrations so passionate and vocal that they’ve exposed the uneasy diplomatic relation with the Apartheid State. As a key mediator in the region stepping up its efforts to promote the channel of dialogue with Hamas, Turkish authorities openly admitted that there will be no cutting ties with Israel. Rather, it chose a more strategic route to engage the Jewish state with diplomatic force, exposing its war crimes to the international community, and seeking an immediate end to the suffering in Gaza. Most of the world has witnessed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s lambasting of Israel to its President Shimon Peres at Davos. And given that Turkey’s real power is centered on its military and security establishment that remains close the US-Zionist alliance, many argued that Turkey’s vocal role was nothing but a false facade without power to instill strong action.
Yet according to Oxford Professor Avi Shlaim (a former IOF soldier), Israel needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Israel. It is this imbalance that not only elucidates Turkey’s strategy, but puts Israel’s right-wing tendencies in a serious predicament. In an exclusive interview with the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman on February 7th, Shlaim explains: “Turkey has begun to realize this role as a mediator particularly in the context of Israeli-Syrian relations. It is Turkey, not anyone else. Not the UN, not the US, not Britain, not the Quartet but Turkey who sponsored the indirect talks between Syria and Israel. It is a major contribution to the Middle East peace process. Turkey is an honest broker. Turkey has very good relations with Israel and with the Arabs. Turkey has a strategic alliance with Israel. It can be an honest broker — unlike America, which has been a dishonest broker”. To drive this point further, on the same day a Shlaim’s interview, Iran’s Press TV carried a report of a law-suit based on Article 13 of the Turkish Penal Code that allows the country’s courts to try those charged with committing genocide and torture, even if the crime was perpetrated in another country. Thus, Turkish state prosecutors have started an investigation into alleged Israeli crimes against humanity and genocide in the Gaza Strip.
Relation with Iran
What Israel is thus managing to achieve is an overhaul of the Pragmatic camp by cultivating a Shia or Persian threat in the form “Radical Islam” in the Sunni Arab world – when in fact it the expansionist ideology of the Apartheid State that poses the greatest threat to the region’s security, independence, and sustainability. The Egyptian and Saudi Arabian positions continue the Israeli rhetoric on Gaza, instead of representing the will of their people, aggressively denouncing the massacre, and join the united stance with the pragmatic players. To them, the enemy is Iran and its supposed influence over the region, playing a tune that compliments the American and Zionist rhetoric, and completely neglects the religious, cultural, and ethnic ties with the Persian state.
For it is a commonly known fact that many Khaleejis (Arabs from the Gulf) either speak Farsi or are Shias. Countries like Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar have strong, peaceful, and vibrant Shia communities. In fact, while growing economic and financial sanctions have led to a reduction of trade between Iran and Europe in recent years, the volume of trade between Iran and GCC countries has steadily increased. Bilateral Iran-GCC trade has increased by five-fold from $1.71 billion in 2000 to $8.71 billion in 2007, according to the Middle East Times. Whilst the Iranian nation counts its historical presence in the region in the thousands of the years, colonial Zionism officially exists for only 61 years. Similarly, whereas the cultural exchange between Arabs and Persians is timeless, the Arab-Zionist alliance is a modern phenomena bent on the dispossession and ethnic-cleansing of its own kind.
When I heard Livni’s speech, I remember asking myself: Are we, as Arabs, finally reaching the point where the unconditional normalization with the Apartheid State of Israel is just around the corner? Is the complete liquidation of Palestinian human rights therefore in the vicinity? And if Palestinian capitulation is what the US and Europe call a ‘true partner for peace’, is the Arab world finally admitting defeat and allowing the Zionist movement to achieve its imperialistic goals in the region? Is Eretz Israel – an Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates – next for us all? Is this the steady state that world leaders and the international community at large refer to when they talk about “peace in the Middle East”?
I then – rather nervously – smirked to myself and thought: Well if anyone could lay out the bottom line, it might as well be Livni. What she said could not have been further from the truth. And for her to address her own supporters with such blatant honesty and revealing statements, not only effectively embarrasses certain Arab leaders, but it quite simply reveals their true nature as part of the same political establishment and world order that Israel’s Apartheid system has come to represent.
– Mohannad El-Khairy is a Palestinian who moved to Dubai after living in Canada for 18 years. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.