By Jeremy Salt
“If our dreams for Zionism are not to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols
and our labor for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy
of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we
have maintained for so long in the past.”
— Winston Churchill, November 1944, from his address to the House of Commons on the murder of Britain’s Resident Minister in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, by two members of the zionist terrorist organization, Lehi
Israel’s crimes against Iran in the past decade include the sabotage through the Stuxnet virus of the centrifuges in its nuclear development program, the killing through missile attack of its militia members in Syria, the sabotage of its Natanz nuclear plant in July this year and the murder in recent years of five of its leading nuclear scientists, most recently, a few days ago, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Each of these attacks would have been carried out with at least the approval of the US government, if not the active involvement at some level of both the US and its puppet Iranian terrorist organization, the MEK (Mujahedin e-Khalq). In reverse, Israel would have been closely involved in the US assassination of Qasim Suleimani in Iraq in January this year.
These murders might be state operations but are no different in their brazen nature, their illegality and their brutality from hits organized by Mafia gangs. In the case of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a distinguished physicist, he was apparently dragged from his car during the attack and finished off in the middle of the road. The crime was so heinous that even voices usually hostile to Iran (including the New York Times and former CIA director John Brennan) were appalled.
Each of these attacks is a casus belli for war. Two can play at this game, which means that by these attacks, Israel is virtually inviting the assassination of its own political leaders and military commanders, or its senior representatives abroad. That Iran does not strike back, in the same way, is not necessarily a sign that it does not have the capacity to organize such retaliation. Apart from the criminality and violations of international law that such actions represent, Iran is never going to strike back at a time of Israel’s choosing.
Nevertheless, the government is under pressure from its own people to deal with a devastating counter-blow, not necessarily against individuals but against Israeli infrastructure such as the port at Haifa. Each of these provocations pushes Iran closer to the edge, as intended by Israel. The repeated refusal of the government to respond is being criticized in Iran as a sign of weakness, as the more Israel gets away with the more it will try to get away with.
At the same time, even though Israel is responsible, an Iranian reprisal would trigger off a large-scale military response by Israel and a full-scale war that no one in their right mind would want. It is a further sign of the moral void at their center that Netanyahu and many of the fanatics around him do want such a war and are prepared to drop bombs on live nuclear reactors to achieve their aims.
The general view seems to be that Israel did this so Biden would not be able to sign back on to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018. That may be so, but Netanyahu might have calculated that this latest savagery would be the final spark igniting the war he has wanted for years. Either of these outcomes would suit him.
There are always parallels in history and for Israel’s attempts to provoke an open war with Iran, one parallel would be Israel’s attempts to draw Egypt’s President Gamal Abd al Nasser into war in 1967. This was no ‘preemptive’ war but another war of choice. 1948 was the first, because only through war could the zionists seize Palestine, at least most of it. 1967 was the second launched to destroy Egypt’s armed forces, to destroy Nasser’s Arab world leadership, and to occupy the rest of Palestine.
It was strikingly successful. All Palestine ended up under occupation and the Egyptian military was shattered. Nasir’s pan Arab leadership was not destroyed but gravely weakened by Egypt’s failure to see the war coming and defend itself.
Just as Israel has been trying to draw Iran into the open through the assassination of its scientists and the sabotage of its nuclear plants, so in the year before the 1967 war it set out to draw Nasser into the open through provocations along the Syrian armistice line. These took the form of incursions by armored tractors into the DMZ, triggering off shelling by the Syrian army and then air attacks by Israel.
Although Israel was determined to destroy any Arab nationalist government and to destroy Arab nationalism itself, the main target of these provocations was Nasser. He was the foremost Arab champion and Israel wanted him where it could get at him. It knew that sooner or he would have to respond to its provocations on the Syrian front by taking action on the Egyptian front.
When Israel shot down six Syrian planes in April 1967, the ball started to roll. Israeli politicians talked of going further than ever before, of teaching Syria a lesson, and even of invading Syria and occupying Damascus, 15 years ahead of its invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut.
By the second week of May, war was regarded as inevitable. Nasser moved troops and tanks into Sinai and called for the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) from the armistice line. Although Israel was the aggressor in the 1956 war, UNEF forces were inside Egypt because Israel refused to accept them on its side of the armistice line and as usual, it got its way.
On May 22, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, the entrance point to the Gulf of Aqaba, but without actually blocking them to Israeli shipping. Under pressure, however, to stand up to the Israelis, he had moved the final piece on the board that set the stage for war.
Israel repeated the rhetoric of 1948. İt was again being threatened with extermination and annihilation at the hands of an Arab ‘ring of steel.’ In fact, it knew, and so did the CIA, that it would easily defeat any Arab army or combination of Arab armies. Behind the panic deliberately set in motion among the Israeli population, the generals could not wait to get going. They vowed to be on the banks on the Suez Canal within a week. This was an opportunity – one they had created – that Israel could not afford to miss. The military would deliver a knockout blow: according to Yigal Allon, “There is not the slightest doubt about the outcome of this war and each of its stages.”
And so it turned out to be. On the Arab side, there is not the slightest doubt that Nasser did not want war. His threats were those of the Arab champion and his intended audience the Arab world, but behind the scenes, he was looking for a way out of the crisis into which he had been maneuvered. An Egyptian delegation led by Vice-President Zakaria Muhi Al-Din was due to fly into Washington on June 7 for talks to begin the following day on bringing the crisis to an end. However, on June 5, with the window of the opportunity for war about to close, Israel attacked.
There is symmetry in all of these wars. Israel plays the role of the victim even while preparing to attack. In 1948 Chaim Weizmann talked of extermination while assuring the Americans behind the scenes that the Arab armies counted for nothing. Israel’s arrogance was checked in the first week of the 1973 war, with humiliation at the hands of Hizbullah waiting in 2000 and 2006. Yet if there is a learning curve Israel does not see it, an example of what long ago US Senator J. William Fulbright called the “arrogance of power.”
Israel applies the same tactics at the micro as well as the macro level. On the West Bank and Gaza, it murders and massacres, and when there is a Palestinian response it has its rationale for more crushing blows. On the West Bank, this usually takes the form of enlarging settlements or building new ones.
From the Zionist point of view, this has been a good year. Following the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, the UAE has gone as far as blocking entry visas to the citizens of a dozen Muslim countries while allowing Israelis visa-free entry. Talks in Saudi Arabia between Netanyahu and Muhammad bin Salman – apparently arranged without the knowledge of the king – open the way to the establishment of diplomatic relations, although for the time being this is not expected. MBS can give Israel most of what it wants without needing to come into the open, and as the nominal custodian of the two holy places, such a move would enrage Muslims around the world, with explosive consequences possible at the time of the hajj.
Israel’s strategic advances also include the commercial, military and strategic relationship it is establishing in the eastern Mediterranean with Greece and the Greek government of southern Cyprus, which has already allowed Israeli military units to train on the island because of the similarity of the topography to southern Lebanon. Successfully playing off fears of Iran in the Gulf, Israel plays off Greek rivalry with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.
Able to attack from the very center of the central Arab lands – occupied Palestine – Israel is now steadily moving into a position that will eventually enable it to threaten Arab states and Iran from the periphery, from the gulf in the southwest and from the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean. It has pushed these doors open and on the basis of all its past behavior, it will keep pushing until it gets what it wants.
The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has antecedents dating back to the barrel bomb murders in Palestinian markets in the 1930s, the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo on November 6, 1944, the blowing up of the King David Hotel in 1946, the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948 and the massacres and destruction that have marked the zionist presence in the Middle East ever since.
Whether the enemy is a state, an organization or an individual, the enemy must be destroyed. The standing refusal of the international ‘community’ to punish Israel for any of these crimes only encourages the zionist state to go still further.
Speaking to the House of Commons after the murder of Lord Moyne, Churchill, a strong advocate of Zionism all along, remarked that “If there to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism these wicked activities must cease and those responsible for them must be destroyed root and branch.” These wicked activities have never ceased, those responsible for them have never been destroyed root and branch, the smoke of the assassins’ pistols now hangs over an entire region and Zionism has produced generations of criminals fully worthy of Nazi Germany.
No state can endlessly endure Israel’s provocations. Iran and Hezbollah are playing the long game, compared to Netanyahu’s greed for instant satisfaction but at some point, there will be a limit to what they can endure and then there will be war, possibly if not probably the most devastating in the modern history of the Middle East. What will the international ‘community’ say then? It will be far too late to regret that it should have done something to stop Israel earlier.
– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.