Israel’s Dangerous Game at Brinkmanship

By Dallas Darling

It appears that WikiLeaks again has dropped another bombshell. The site revealed that in 2008 Israeli officials told the United States it would continue to keep Gaza’s economy ‘on the brink of collapse’ while avoiding a humanitarian crisis. Three cables were cited showing that Israel’s leaders kept the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv briefed on its punitive and retaliatory economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. WikiLeaks also exposed how Israel’s overall embargo plan, emplaced against over one million Palestinians, was to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” The leaked reports further mentioned how Israel wanted Gaza and its people “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.”

The term “brinkmanship” actually comes from a sensational article in Life magazine that praised U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In an interview with Dulles, the magazine used the phrase, “three times, new disclosures show, he brought the U.S. back from the brink-that is, the brink of major war.” This was in reference to threats Dulles made against Communist actions in Korea, Indochina, and Formosa (Taiwan). Dulles also claimed that, “Of course we were brought to the verge of war. The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art…If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost…We walked to the brink and we looked it in the face.”(1)

Dulles warned too that if the Unites States ever felt threatened, it would “retaliate instantly, by means and at places of our own choosing.”(2) This willingness to go to war, or to retaliate, sent a shiver around the world. It gave the impression the U.S. was willing and wanting and able to push a highly dangerous situation to the limit. It appeared that instead of seeking a diplomatic solution or wanting to concede, the U.S. was only interested in starting wars. But was it really an excuse for the U.S. to militarily intervene in places like Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, and other nations around the world? The U.S. also used brinkmanship to threaten the world with nuclear war during several crises, while newly formed agencies, like the CIA and NSA, were used to toppling governments.

This is the problem with brinkmanship. It is a dangerous and reckless political game that often leads to conflicts and needless wars. In the same year (2008) that Israel was keeping the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse, it invaded the Gaza Strip. Operation Cast Lead killed nearly 1,500 Palestinians. More than half were innocent civilians. Human rights organization later found war crimes committed against civilians. Investigators also discovered that Israeli firepower, which was largely unleashed on Palestinian civilians, was fueled by U.S. supplied weapons systems. American taxpayers paid for Apache attack helicopters, F-16 fighter planes, and (illegal) white phosphorous and DIMES, or dense inert metal explosives.

With President Barack Obama’s signature on a $30 billion, ten year agreement for an expanded military aid package to the Israeli government, look for more Israeli and U.S. brinkmanship to occur in Gaza. Will this also include much of the Middle East, Africa and Asia too? U.S. armament industries might stand to profit from brinkmanship, but for others, especially women and children who often suffer during wars, it means more death and destruction. In fact, Israel just started an extensive military exercise in occupied Golan Heights, next to Syria. Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and hundreds of tanks and aircraft participated in the military exercise. Since Syria considers Israel’s continued occupation of the Golan Heights an act of war, such brinkmanship is a cause for grave concern. So too is Israel’s ongoing threats to destroy Iran’s civilian and peaceful nuclear enrichment program.

All of this is occurring while Egypt is in the throes of massive protests and a major revolution. Egypt, who has been an important and key ally of Israel, has aided Israel in keeping the Gaza Strip under siege. It has also assisted Israel in targeting the Gazan economy. One WikiLeaks report mentioned an Israeli adviser admitting that the “idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Meanwhile, Israel is planning to evict several more Palestinians families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East al-Quds, for the purpose of constructing new Jewish settlements. Regrettably, this kind of brinkmanship will only lead to more wars and deaths.

Brinkmanship might be a dangerous game to be played by powerful empires and their client states, but for those who are killed and suffer from brinkmanship, it is a tragic reality. Due to U.S. brinkmanship, thousands of people in Iran were tortured and killed. In Guatemala, over two-hundred thousands Indian peasants were slaughtered, many buried in mass graves. As a result of U.S. brinkmanship in Vietnam, and when one considers how armed conflict spread to Laos and Cambodia, almost six million people were killed. Perhaps the real enemy is the idea of “brinkmanship” itself, especially when it is used as an excuse to economically punish people or go to war. And someday, looking it square in the face might backfire. Will Israel ever realize this important truth?

– Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for You can read more of Dallas’ writings at and He contributed this article to


(1) Parish, Thomas. The Cold War Encyclopedia. New York, New York: Henry Holt Reference Book, 1196., p. 43.
(2) Ambrose, Stephen E. and Douglas Brinkley. Quoted in Rise To Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938.

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